Gordon gets a surprise as KC honors Minor Leaguers

March 6th, 2023

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- For about an hour Monday morning, the Royals’ batting cage at their Spring Training complex was transformed into a stage presentation as an area big enough for players from both Minor League and Major League camps to filter in for the organization’s annual Minor League awards ceremony.

Sitting in the front row were Royals legends.

George Brett. Bo Jackson. Steve Busby. Dennis Leonard. Willie Wilson. Mike Sweeney. Ned Yost, the newest Royals Hall of Famer.

And Alex Gordon.

After recognizing several Minor Leaguers, the Royals had a surprise for Gordon.

They’re creating a new award for the upcoming season called the Heart and Hustle Alex Gordon Award, awarded to the player who represents “everything you should want to be when it comes to playing baseball,” general manager J.J. Picollo said.

“The work ethic, the preparation, the drive, getting knocked down, getting back up,” Picollo continued. “We’re lucky to have him in the organization. He has made such a tremendous impact on our organization, leading us to a World Series, hitting one of the most iconic home runs in Royals history.”

Gordon wasn’t expecting the honor; he even told his son, Max, that he could go inside as the ceremony was wrapping up.

“Sure enough, when he went inside, they said all that,” Gordon said. “But what an honor. I grew up a Royals fan watching Bo Jackson, George Brett. To be able to play for Kansas City as long as I did, and then having an award like this, it really means everything to me. All I ever wanted to do was represent Kansas City the right way when I was playing, so hopefully I can continue to do that now that I’m living the retired life. To be in the same category with those guys is a true honor.”

The Royals honored their 2022 affiliate award winners Monday morning and presented their organizational awards by bringing in several of their alumni to speak and give advice to young players.

“You got more knowledge sitting up here in these first two rows than anywhere in baseball,” Jackson said. “You got Sweeney, Brett, Wilson, Gordon, Leonard, all these guys. Yost is here. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. They walked down the road that you’re trying to sprint down right now. They know what to expect. Don’t ever think you’re ever bothering someone or disturbing them. That’s why these guys are here.”

Outfielder Tyler Gentry, the Royals’ No. 8 prospect per MLB Pipeline, received the George Brett Hitter of the Year Award, presented by the Hall of Fame third baseman himself. Gentry posted a .982 OPS between High-A and Double-A last year.

Kansas City native Ben Kudrna (No. 2) was given the Paul Splittorff Pitcher of the Year Award after posting a 3.48 ERA across 72 1/3 innings with 61 strikeouts in Single-A Columbia. Leonard handed out the award in honor of his close friend and teammate, Splittorff, who died in 2011.

“You don’t realize how much you miss the uniform until it’s too late and you’re a little bit older,” Leonard said. “It’s great to be back in uniform.”

Tyler Tolbert was the recipient of the Willie Wilson Award, recognizing the top baserunner in the organization. Tolbert went 60-for-60 in stolen-base attempts in High-A Quad Cities in ’22.

Wilson, known for his blazing speed, set a club record with 83 stolen bases in 1979. In ’80, he became the second player in MLB history with 100 hits from each side of the plate. He learned to hit in Triple-A because of a suggestion from the Royals, and it changed his career.

“What it did was make me realize I could get on base more,” Wilson said. “And when you get on base more, you can steal bases and score runs. Because of switch-hitting in Triple-A, I was able to do that.

“I’m sure George liked it because he knocked me in about 75 times a year.”

Gordon, an eight-time Gold Glove winner, presented the Frank White Award to the organization’s top defensive player. Catcher Freddy Fermin posted a .992 fielding percentage and made just five errors in 581 innings in Triple-A last year.

Carter Jensen won the Mike Sweeney Award, recognizing a player who best represents the organization on and off the field. Yost presented the Dick Howser Award to Arizona field coordinator Omar Ramírez, recognizing a player development employee for outstanding contributions to the organization. The Art Stewart Award, given to the organization’s most outstanding scout, was presented to Major League/special assignment scout Terry Wetzel.

And Marcelo Martinez was the recipient of the Carlos Fortuna Award, which recognizes a player who is dedicated to improving his English, work ethic and conduct. The Royals also recognized six Latin players who passed their English education program, as well as members of the championship-winning Surprise Saguaros of the Arizona Fall League.