Apr 7, 2022
- ESPN MLB insider
Author of “The Arm: Inside the Billion-Dollar Mystery of the Most Valuable Commodity in Sports”
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The national champion Kansas basketball team, the mayor of Kansas City and the greatest player in Royals history crammed into a suite down the third-base line at Kauffman Stadium on Thursday — there for Opening Day, but also because they wanted to watch one player in particular.
“Everyone,” Hall of Famer George Brett said, “wants to see the kid.”
The kid is Bobby Witt Jr., the best prospect in baseball, and the local who’s who saw a debut that ended in storybook fashion. Witt’s first major league hit was a go-ahead double in the eighth inning, propelling the Royals to a 3-1 victory against the Cleveland Guardians.
Witt, 21, sporting a mustache teammates call “unfortunate,” a mullet of which he’s proud and the weight of batting in the No. 2 hole in his first big league game, received a thunderous ovation before his first at-bat and approached the plate for his final one with chants of “Bob-by, Bob-by” echoing through the stadium. With two outs and Michael A. Taylor on second base, Witt yanked a second-pitch Triston McKenzie slider into the left-field corner for his first RBI and Kansas City’s first lead.
“I thought I’d be a lot more nervous, honestly,” Witt said. “But beforehand, the introductions, nothing. During the game, nothing. First at-bat, nothing. So, when’s this gonna happen? It was awesome. It just felt right.”
The son of a longtime major league pitcher, Witt was chosen by the Royals with the second overall pick in the 2019 draft. After an eye-opening performance at Kansas City’s alternate site during the COVID-shortened 2020 season, he wrecked pitching at Double A and Triple A last season, combining for 33 home runs and stealing 29 bases with a .290/.361/.576 line.
With Adalberto Mondesi penciled in at shortstop, Witt pivoted to third base this spring with eyes on winning a big league job. He hit .406/.441/.781 with three home runs in Arizona, easily locking up the job and showing the sort of raw talent that has Brett, himself a former third baseman, saying: “The hype is deserved. I don’t see anything he can’t do.”
Witt worked his way around the diamond to get his first hit. He flew out to right field, grounded out to second base and grounded out to the shortstop before he got to McKenzie, who had mowed down Kansas City hitters similar to Guardians starter Shane Bieber. A bravura Zack Greinke effort kept Kansas City in the game to set up Witt’s heroics.
“I wasn’t concerned at all,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said. “Excited, to be honest. It was one of those you could foresee me sitting here having a conversation like this. Like, ‘OK, this is how it’s supposed to go.’
“Getting his name chanted his first day in the major leagues is pretty cool.”
For more than a year, Royals fans anticipating the transition from rebuild to winning have awaited the arrival of Witt — as well as first baseman Nick Pratto and catcher MJ Melendez, who started the year at Triple A. Witt’s debut is the start of it, and from the KU basketball team to Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid, those who came to see it did not leave disappointed.
“It was a dream come true, truly,” Witt said. “And this was the day I’ve been waiting for my whole life. Now it’s here, and I want to just keep doing it.”