Originally posted on Fox Sports Kansas City  |  Last updated 10/18/11
For years now, everywhere Bubba Starling goes, grand tales seem to follow. There is a story that Bubba once hit a 500-foot homer in high school, and that no one actually ever found the baseball. Theres also a story that Bubba, playing quarterback, once kept a play alive for almost 30 seconds as he danced and darted and scrambled back and forth across the field, before nearly collapsing after a 30-yard gain. There's even a story that Bubba the fisherman once netted a 40-pound catfish -- or was it 80 pounds? -- in the pond near his family home. Hey, they might all be true. But once thing is certain stories about Bubba aren't likely to disappear anytime soon. When you've got a name like Bubba Starling, and when you've cashed a 7.5 million signing bonus after being the Royals' top draft pick, you simply can't expect to be forgotten. Another tale already has emerged this fall during Starling's otherwise quiet step into professional baseball. Starling struck out his first six times up in the Arizona Instructional League. But shortly after that, Starling whacked his first homer of the fall, an impressive blast over the left-center field wall at Brett Field, the Royals' main practice diamond at their training complex. Witnesses claim the ball would have bounced off the Royals Hall of Fame structure if Starling had been playing at Kauffman Stadium. A monumental blast? Starling, seemingly embarrassed a little by all the attention, isn't so sure. "I don't think it went that far," he said. "I wasn't really paying attention because I was running hard to first base. Then our first-base coach said, 'Hey, you can stop running now, son.' "But I don't know if it went all that far. I think some guys I've played with (in Arizona) have hit balls just as far, if not farther. I'm playing with some really good hitters, some really strong hitters." Starling said he was simply happy to make solid contact after a rough start. "It took me awhile to adjust," he said. "In high school, guys weren't really throwing anything much over 80 miles an hour. Down here, you're seeing 95 or even 97 or 98. "It takes you awhile to catch up. But I like fast pitching. It suits me." Starling has made some adjustments to his stance, such as raising his hands and closing his shoulders and hips. He also is using his legs more for power, and he is learning to beware of breaking balls being thrown anytime in the count. "I've seen a lot of breaking balls on 0-2 counts," he said. "When I hit the homer, I was down 0-2 and I thought I was done. But I kept fighting back. I fouled off some balls, worked the count to 3-2, fouled off some more, and then I finally got a fastball down the middle." For now, because of a left quad injury, Starling has had to confine himself to batting practice and light fielding drills. He won't play again in a game before the Instructional League ends on Friday. "That part is frustrating," he said. "I want to play so badly. But I know the Royals don't want to take a chance with really injuring (the quad) more. "So I have to patient. But I will say it's been a good experience. I'm happy with what I've learned." Some of Starling's learning experiences came away from the diamond -- such as the night he got cited for having consumed a beer with some of his teammates. Starling wasn't driving, but he was a passenger in a car that was pulled over in Tempe a suburb of Phoenix -- during a random sobriety check. "It was the wrong thing for me to do because I'm underage," he said. "I felt horrible about it, because I knew it might present the wrong image of me. Hopefully, I've learned from it and I will move on." The fact that the incident even became news was an unlucky break for Starling. One of the officers checking the ID cards of everyone in the vehicle was in plain clothes -- and wearing a University of Oklahoma T-shirt. "He was obviously a football fan, and when he looked at my license he saw that it read: 'Derek Starling' -- which is my real name," Bubba said. "Then he said, 'You're not by any chance Bubba Starling, are you?' "Well, I said yes, of course, and I knew right then it would get out -- and people back in Kansas City would find out. "But like I said, that's OK. Hopefully, I've learned my lesson. It's behind me." After Friday, Starling will head to the home of his agent, Scott Boras, in Newport Beach, Calif. -- not for conversation, but to begin working out on his own. "I'm anxious to get the Royals' off-season workout program going," said Starling, who is 6-foot-5 and weighs about 195 pounds. "I need to get stronger, especially in my legs. I want to put on about 15 pounds and just get stronger overall." Where Starling will start play in the minors next spring has yet to be determined, though Class A Kane County seems a good bet. "I just want to be under the lights, playing," he said. "I can't wait to start playing and then someday join the Royals in Kansas City. That's been my dream." Even though baseball is his first love, Starling still continues to follow football, especially the Nebraska Cornhuskers -- with whom he worked out prior to signing with the Royals. "I've seen all their games so far," he said. "I made some good friends up there. It was fun." Asked if he would ever consider returning to Nebraska if his baseball dream didn't pan out, Starling said, "I'm sure I'd consider it. I love football, too. "I met some great people up there. I will say there were some big guys on that team. I thought I was pretty big physically in high school, and then you get up thereman, there are some big guys there. "But I don't even want to think about not making it in baseball. This is where I want to be and what I want to be doing. I want to play for the Kansas City Royals."
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