ARLINGTON -- To understand what this week in Texas meant to Bobby Witt Jr., you’d have to go back a year, to when the Royals were leaving Arlington after a three-game series in May 2022 against the Rangers.
The Royals had just lost the series, and Witt, then a rookie and in the first month of his career, went 1-for-13 with seven strikeouts in front of hundreds of his friends and family there to see the Colleyville, Texas, native play the team his dad had pitched for in the 1980s and ‘90s.
Witt's season OPS was .551 as the Royals loaded the bus headed for the airport, bound for Colorado as their final stop on a three-city road trip. As that bus departed the recently-built Globe Life Field and drove by Globe Life Park, the stadium where Witt grew up watching the Rangers play, a conversation Witt had with coaches and teammates resonated.
“I just realized that, yeah, this is my job, but it’s just a game,” Witt said. “And I need to go have fun and enjoy it.”
Fast forward to 2023, when the Royals beat the Rangers 10-1 at Globe Life Field on Wednesday night to avoid a sweep and end the .500 road trip on a high note as they head into Thursday’s off day. Once again, Witt’s friends and family packed the stadium, and hype surrounded the Royals star shortstop.
But the results were so different.
Witt finished the series 6-for-13 with two RBIs, three runs scored, a walk, four stolen bases and a jaw-dropping catch in Tuesday’s loss. In his last at-bat on Tuesday, Witt sliced a ball foul -- right to his dad in a suite. The first foul ball Bobby Witt Sr. had ever caught as a fan came from his son, and Witt Jr. dated and signed it: “Hit by Bobby Witt Jr. Caught by Bobby Witt Sr.”
“Just a really cool thing,” Witt Jr. said. “... Last year, I tried to do so much with family here, friends here. I needed to step back and realize where I was at. Now, I just take that mindset into each and every day. I know sometimes I get ahead of myself. But I have to take a step back. The highest level of baseball, a great team around me, I’m lucky. So we’ve got to keep pushing forward.”
The 22-year-old was all smiles after Wednesday’s win. He paced the offense, which racked up 14 hits against the Rangers, by going 3-for-5 with two singles, a triple and three stolen bases -- two in the seventh inning.
“He’s just starting to feel like he’s got some timing, got some rhythm,” manager Matt Quatraro said. “The stolen bases, he’s using his athleticism. So the things we know he can do, he put on display in these games.”
Witt showed it all: His hit tool, his defense, his speed. On Wednesday, he became the first Royals player age 22 or younger to have a three-hit, three-steal game.
“I’m happy he’s on our team,” said Royals starter Brad Keller, who earned the win with 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball on Wednesday. “He’s really a game changer. He’s a full, dynamic player all around, and it’s fun to watch.”
And Witt appears to be having fun, too. Even as the Royals return home 4-9, it’s clear they’re sticking with their processes and see themselves turning a corner soon. Kansas City scored 17 runs this series and got production from up and down the lineup.
Reyes got his hustle cue from Witt.
“He is a player to admire,” Reyes said. “Every time you see players like that giving it all on the field, all the ability he has, and how he uses it -- I’ve seen a lot of players who are fast, but they don’t hustle like Bob. … Things like that bring a lot more to the sport. He’s an incredible player. Why not try to be like him sometimes?”