KANSAS CITY, Mo. The play that ended Mike Moustakas' football career darn near wiped out the baseball path, too. All because the dude wouldn't stop yapping.
"Let me play," Moustakas nags his coach.
It's Fall 2006. Chatsworth (Calif.) High School. Football practice. The Kansas City Royals third baseman is a 5-foot-10 quarterback with wicked wheels and no fear.
"Let me play."
"Let me catch passes."
"Let me do something."
"I'm tired of standing around doing nothing."
Eventually, the coach gets tired of hearing it. He puts Moose in as a scout team wide receiver.
"So he goes out for a pass and rolls his ankle," Chatsworth baseball coach Tom Meusborn, one of Moose's oldest mentors, recalls with a chuckle.
"It happened early enough in October that it wasn't an issue for (us) come springtime. Mike is just that type of guy. His motor is always running and he doesn't want to stand around."
So Moose sits for a few months, a bundle of misery, until the ankle heals.
"It was pretty frustrating for him, not being able to get on the field," Meusborn continues. "It got infuriating for me. I got tired of hearing him in the dugout. I'd much rather have him on the field. He wore me out. I said, Go you need to go some place else.' He's just constantly talking, talking about the game."
Mike Moustakas is a hell of a talker, as long as the subject isn't Mike Moustakas. Take Sunday. After belting two home runs and driving in three runs during an 11-8 loss to St. Louis, the kid was asked by a reporter if he'd helped his case for selection to the American League All-Star team.
"I think the team played well tonight," Moustakas replied, dodging the premise entirely. "We did pretty good, battled back real well and we were able to come back there, down a couple runs, and were able to tie it up close to the end of the game. Just weren't able to come through."
And, well, that's Moose. It's not about numbers, even though they're outstanding: A .280 average, 12 home runs, air-tight defense, a perfect storm of line drives and leather.
"He's doing a really good job of getting good hitter's counts," Royals right fielder Jeff Francoeur allows. "And I think that's something, last year and early this year, he didn't do a great job of. But he's really coming into his own.
"And I think he's doing a good job of adjusting to how they pitch him, and when he's getting his fastball right now, he's not missing it. And that's the key."
It's not about him, even though you shudder to think where the Royals would be without the guy: As of late Monday night, Moustakas toted a Wins Above Replacement (WAR) value of 2.7 according to Fangraphs.com, tops among starting third basemen in the American League. (Adrian Beltre of Texas boasted a WAR of 2.3; Detroit's Miguel Cabrera was at 1.9; the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez, 1.3.)
"We've been playing against each other probably for the last three years now," offers Cardinals pitcher Lance Lynn, who surrendered two gopher balls to Moustakas on Sunday. "You can't make a mistake. Fastball over the plate, he's going to make you pay on fastball counts, you can't get a fastball by him. And that's what makes him a dangerous hitter.
"You've got to be confident in knowing what you're doing out there and what your plan is. And he has a plan. And for the most part, it works for him."
It's not about the credit, even though at the start of the week, the 23-year-old slugger was hitting .303 with runners in scoring position. Even though over his last 25 contests, he's driven in 18 runs.
"He's not going to turn into a selfish guy and start looking at his own numbers," Meusborn says. "He loves to win. And when it's not happening, he doesn't like it. Those are the guys you want, and I think that's who he'll be. I don't see that changing. It does with some guys, but I don't see that really happening with Mike."
It's not about the hype, even though between last August 17 and June 23, Moustakas hit .312 the third-highest mark in the American League over that stretch for batters with at least 400 plate appearances.
"Tell you what: (At) third base alone, playing defense, he's been phenomenal," Francoeur says. "And he's definitely been a huge part."
Alas, when the updated All-Star tallies were announced Monday, Moose ranked fifth among A.L. third basemen with 968,068 votes more than two million behind Beltre, the positional leader. It's an uphill climb for any small-market player, let alone one with only a year of major-league experience under his belt, to woo the masses.
"There haven't been any (slumps) for a sustained period," Royals manager Ned Yost notes. "He should be very worthy of All-Star consideration."
Worthy. Waiting. This late in the game, though, there's not much anybody can say. Which is fine. These days, Moustakas prefers to let his bat do most of the talking.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org