Witt's Opening Day debut a family affair

April 6th, 2022

KANSAS CITY -- When Bobby Witt Jr. walked out of the Royals' clubhouse at their complex in Surprise, Ariz., on Tuesday morning, giddy with relief that he had made the Opening Day roster, the first call he placed was to his mom, Laurie, and dad, Bobby.

Thirty-six years earlier, the elder Witt remembers making a similar call to his dad, outside the Rangers' Spring Training complex in 1986, when Bobby Valentine told Witt, then 21 years old -- the same age Witt Jr. is now -- that he was breaking camp with Texas.

“It was about 100 years ago,” Witt said. “That was before cell phones and all that, so I immediately went to the pay phone and called my dad. And shared the news with him. It was a special time. I will never forget that, and I will never forget the call Junior made to us.”

The younger Witt will make his Major League debut Thursday as the Royals’ starting third baseman. Bobby and Laurie will be at Kauffman Stadium, as will Witt Jr.’s older sisters. They will watch Witt Jr. run out of the dugout and take his place on the Major League infield for the first game of what will likely be a long career.

“I think that’s when it will really sink in,” Witt Sr. said. “I’ve been able to watch him play his first game professionally, got to watch him play with Team USA in Panama, some really good, cool events. Last year in Double-A and Triple-A was awesome. Then this year in big league Spring Training. But to actually see him out there on a Major League game on Opening Day, I think it’s really going to sink in. I don’t think I’ll be able to describe it.”

Witt Jr. doesn’t think he’ll be able to describe it either. It’s everything he’s worked for, from the time he picked up a bat, decided that he loved baseball just like his dad and saw himself rise to the No. 1 prospect in baseball. When he came onto the field for Wednesday’s workout at Kauffman Stadium, he took a moment to look around and realize where he was standing.

“It felt real,” Witt Jr. said. “… Just being around the guys now out there, it’s got that buzz and energy. It’s awesome.”

Thursday will feel more special. Witt Jr. grew up going to the Rangers’ Opening Day games; his dad had stopped playing after a 16-year pitching career by then, but he was still part of the Opening Day fanfare and traditions.

“I got to miss school for it, so I was always ready for it,” Witt Jr. said. “Then now, to participate in my first Opening Day, it’s just started to hit me now, and I’m just super excited. I want to go out there and take it all in. Then once the first pitch is thrown, lock it in.”

Now the work begins. Witt Jr. wants to help bring winning baseball back to Kansas City, and the Royals will look to him and the other young talent to help their veteran core do so. The journey won’t be without struggles, but that’s what Witt Jr. has prepared for -- and the Royals believe he's talented enough to adjust quickly and efficiently.

That’s the message from the organization as Witt Jr. begins his Major League career.

“Every single night, Bobby Witt Jr. is going to face one of the best pitchers he’s ever seen in his life, every single day in the Major Leagues,” president of baseball operations Dayton Moore said. “There’ll be an adjustment period. But he’s a unique talent in the sense that he’s extremely athletic. … He’s a legit five-tool player with skill. And a mind and a heart to support all of those talents and attributes.

“We’ll need him to face some of those challenges, ups and downs, because that’s ultimately what’s going to grow him and mature him into a consistent All-Star-type talent. … It’ll take some time to learn that, but the only way to learn is actually getting the opportunity.”

That’s also the advice Witt Jr. got from his dad. Witt Jr. was 1 when Witt Sr. won the World Series with Arizona in 2001.

“You got to go out there and do your job,” Witt Sr. said. “You got to be able to be consistent. Go out there and not get too high, not get too low. I think he takes that approach on his daily walk of life. And it’s going to help him.”

And Witt Jr.? He’s ready for it all.

“I think it’s one of the best things for you, honestly, because you learn from your mistakes,” he said. “You got to fail for you to learn from that. … This has been the ultimate goal, so now it’s staying here and try to win a lot of games.”