Spring Training baseball is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
My friend Mark and I traveled to Surprise,Arizona in hopes of watching a couple of games and maybe getting a couple of autographs. We were completely unprepared for the amazing experience that awaited us.
For two days, we watched batting practice, situational drills, and throwing games. We saw Kevin Seitzer pitching extra batting practice and making a game of it—Eric Hosmer and Jarrod Dyson beat Mitch Maier and Clint Robinson by one point. We saw the outfielders practicing their throws to every base—Alex Gordon beat Jeff Francoeur in that game. Frenchy demanded a one-throw rematch. Danny Duffy threw a bullpen session and looked phenomenal. Johnny Giavotella and Billy Butler spent hours fielding rocket shot ground balls. But one of my favorite memories from Spring Training 2012 is Elliott.
Wherever Elliott went, he was surrounded by ballplayers. The six-year-old blonde-haired kindergartner from St. Joseph knew the names and numbers of everyone and wasn’t afraid to ask the hard questions. When introduced to Bubba Starling, Elliott asked, “Bubba, when will you be in the majors?”
Bubba smiled and laughed, “I don’t know yet, Elliott, I just don’t know.”
On Monday, before warm-ups, the players gathered around Elliott and started quizzing him on who wore what number. Elliott answered every one correctly. One of the players even responded, “I didn’t know he wore that number.” (Elliott has always been a numbers guy. His dad used to let Elliott stay up late watching the games on TV while using various scenarios to teach him math skills—a brilliant parenting strategy.)
Elliott got the opportunity to step on the field during batting practice, watching Seitzer help the players make their adjustments. Moustakas and Hosmer and Gordon all spent some time with him in between swings. Jason Kendall gave Elliott a fungo bat to practice his own swings. Gordo watched Elliott swinging and commented, “The kid’s a natural.”
I spent a few minutes visiting with Scott, Elliott’s dad, and learned a little more. Elliott has loved baseball from the age of 2. Most evenings after dinner, Scott and Elliott would watch the Royals on TV and play ball on a makeshift diamond in their living room. Elliott was a couple of months shy of turning three when he attended his first game. At the game, he knew all the names and the numbers of the entire roster. However, the numbers were too large for his vocabulary. Instead of saying, “Twenty-five,” Elliott would say, “Two and five.”
Since that day, it’s been nothing but Royals baseball for Elliott. He has participated in a couple of summer baseball camps sponsored by the Royals in 2010 and 2011. He practiced his throwing and hitting while making friends with Bruce Chen, Chris Getz, Tim Collins, and Nate Adcock. He amazed all of them by quoting their statistics from the week and quickly won their admiration.
One of Elliott’s highlights from Spring Training was visiting the locker room. He was the center of attention. From the players to the front office staff, everyone overwhelmed Elliott and his family with kindness and compassion (and pictures and autographs, too).
Elliott, you see, has spina bifida. On March 1, he underwent his twelfth surgery, a VP shunt revision. Elliott focused on the important things going into the surgery, telling anyone who would listen, “I’m feeling brave today. My cousins are gonna come visit and I’m going to Spring Training next week.”
Elliott stayed for the duration of Monday’s game which the Royals lost 2 – 1. On the way out of the stadium, Elliott spotted his favorite player, Alex Gordon. Gordo high-fived Elliott and spent a few quality minutes with him. It was the perfect ending to a perfect Spring Training experience.
Two days after returning home from Arizona, Elliott is playing baseball on the Wii and waiting for the start of the regular season. He’s already making plans to head back to Surprise next year.