Utility Players Can Knock It Out of the Park, Too

What’s wrong with this picture? Willie Bloomquist grinning and blinking in the glare of TV lights.

Royals third baseman Willie Bloomquist isn’t a star. He’s not flashy, and he doesn’t seek glory or publicity for himself. He’s not very exciting, so you don’t see a lot of fans wearing “Bloomquist” Royals shirts. Willie does a journeyman job in whatever position he’s assigned. He’s the ultimate team player, always there to help his fellows. But Willie isn’t a star.

So it was puzzling when yesterday, Ned Yost pulled the humble Willie out from behind the curtain and pushed him onstage to bat third in the rotation for the first time in his nine-year career. Willie batting third? Huh?

Yost’s unusual decision panned out big-time. When Willie came up to bat with one out in the 12th inning, he homered to left field on a 3-2 pitch from Alfredo Figaro. With that beautiful, soaring hit into the stands, Willie surprised everyone, including — or especially — himself. That homer gave the Royals a 4-3 victory in the last game of their three-game series with the Tigers. And by the way, the win snapped the Tigers’ five-game winning streak. Oh, snap!, indeed.

Willie made the front page of the KC Star Sports section today. The headline reads, “BOOM BOOM POW.” The cutline under the picture of Willie being mobbed by his teammates after the homer aptly describes him as “Unlikely hero Willie Bloomquist.”

Actually, Bloomquist didn’t surprise absolutely everyone. In fact, manager Ned Yost had “guaranteed” that with Willie batting third, he would get “a couple of hits” in the game. After Willie got one hit earlier in the game, Yost reminded him, “You still owe me one.” And Willie came through with that game-winning homer.

Is it possible that after all these years, Ned Yost has “discovered” Willie Bloomquist? Or that Willie has discovered himself?

In the post-game interview, Willie grinned goofily and looked a bit stunned. Until now, he’s been the kind of player commentator Frank White respects because he “doesn’t try to do too much.” Unaccustomed to media speaking as he is, Willie was characteristically humble in his comments:

“I don’t hit too many, but I assumed that one was gone,” … “I got pretty much all of it. That’s probably as far as I could probably hit one.” – Willie Bloomquist, after Royals’ 4-3 victory over Tigers.

He said it was “kind of cool” that he got to bat third. The man is a master of understatement.

So how come Willie Bloomquist was the star this time, and not just a supporting actor? Could it be because someone saw something in him that he didn’t even see in himself, and then gave him the confidence to use it?

If so, it goes to show you — even a utility player can knock it out of the park, if you believe in him and give him a chance.