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Patek enjoys spending time with old mates

Special to MLB.com

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Former Royals shortstop Freddie Patek walks around the complex at Surprise Stadium and wishes, at least for one reason, that his playing days had come closer to modern times.

"A lot of things are different," Patek said. "Playing on grass as opposed to playing on turf where it's 120, 130 degrees on Sundays. Walking out here on this stuff, man, I could've played a lot longer. That turf really tore you up."

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Former Royals shortstop Freddie Patek walks around the complex at Surprise Stadium and wishes, at least for one reason, that his playing days had come closer to modern times.

"A lot of things are different," Patek said. "Playing on grass as opposed to playing on turf where it's 120, 130 degrees on Sundays. Walking out here on this stuff, man, I could've played a lot longer. That turf really tore you up."

Even if it was just for a few days, the band of mid-1970s Royals was back together again. A huddle of the likes of Amos Otis, John Mayberry and Dennis Leonard convenes, with one much-smaller figure joining the fray. Patek, one of the shortest players in big league history at 5-foot-5, is long removed from his playing days but was now taking on a new role.

Patek was among the several Royals alumni who were at Spring Training with the club this year, serving as special instructors and guiding the next generation of Royals while the organization celebrates its 50th season as a franchise.

"I'm going to do a lot of that stuff back in Kansas City this summer," Patek said. "But I came down because Amos was coming down, and he said he was coming down because I was coming down. We've got Leonard and Mayberry and Willie Aikens. I mean, you played with those guys, and you know how good they were. You don't see each other a lot, so to get back and be with your old guys, that's a big treat. It is for me."

For much of his post-playing days, Patek has focused on being a father and grandfather. With his grandkids now either in college or in high school, he's eager to take hold of several opportunities to represent the Royals organization.

"I came here years ago, when none of this was really here," he said. "I came to their fantasy camps, but I'd get busy during the summers and even some of the winters with baseball back home. I was here like 20 years ago for the fantasy camp, and this is actually my first year in Spring Training. What I see right now is, I'm coming back again."

The Royals Hall of Famer was a notorious speedster and three-time All-Star during his big league career, swiping 30 or more bases in each season from 1971-78. He was a vital part of Kansas City's first-ever playoff team in 1976, remaining with the franchise through '79.

Patek was roving around the camp, offering bits of instruction to several players throughout the organization, including some who reminded him of his basestealing self.

"I watch Terrance [Gore], I watch his leads, and you can kind of see the pitcher enough, you can see what their mannerisms are," he said. "You've got to learn that. You've got to put it in your mind, and that's what makes you successful. That's how I stole a lot of bases. He has that natural gift to where he can spot and read and check if it's two, three seconds to first or whatever it might be. If you learn to do that, and you watch the mannerisms of the pitchers, with the technology they have nowadays they have a lot more than we got.

"I think your rewards are when you see the kids that really progress and they play well. You see the guys that really want to play. I always used to like to watch the guys that kind of struggled a little bit because they just didn't really have the right advice. You worked with their hands and their glove position and basestealing and stuff with hitting. That was a great reward, to see a young man that wanted to play but didn't have all the ability that he needed, but he gave it 100 percent and eventually after a couple years you could see the progression in his game. That was the fun part for me."

Fabian Ardaya is a contributor to MLB.com.

Kansas City Royals