Starling embraces long journey to MLB as debut ends in win

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (WIBW) - Bubba Starling knew it was coming. He even removed his hat to protect it.

Kansas City Royals center fielder Bubba Starling fails to catch a fly ball hit by Detroit Tigers' Victor Reyes during the fifth inning of a baseball game at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., Friday, July 12, 2019. It was an RBI-double for Reyes on the play. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

Martin Maldonado poured the celebratory water over his head and an eight-year journey to the MLB for the Gardner, Kansas native ended with an 8-5 debut victory for Starling and the Royals on Friday night.

"It was very special," Starling told Fox Sports Kansas City after his debut. "I loved every minute of it. I'll remember it for the rest of my life."

He wasn't spectacular, but he didn't need to be. The Gardner-Edgerton High School alumnus didn't get a hit in four plate appearances, but did walk and score a run in the bottom of the second.

"Once I settled in and started having fun with everyone, it was just another game," Starling said in his postgame interview with Fox Sports Kansas City.

The television broadcast showed his family throughout the game, as well as multiple signs showering support upon the hometown product. But the outfielder was pretty sure even with all that, one family member would be very nervous.

"I'm sure my mom was," Starling told Fox Sports Kansas City. "She was probably turned around the other way, not watching."

That's because there had been so much anticipation for this. Starling was the fifth overall pick in the 2011 MLB Draft. Since then, his career has been filled with obstacles, whether they be struggles on the field or multiple injuries.

However, the former three-sport star in high school said it all taught him a valuable lesson.

"Some people don't know how tough baseball is," Starling said. "You can be as physically gifted as you want to be, but most of it's mental. And when I first came out of high school, I didn't really know that.

""I've matured. I went through a lot of struggles. But I think that has made me be this player today."

That's a 26-year-old who's hoping a Triple-A All-Star season translates to awaited big-league success.

"It's one thing to get here," Whit Merrifield said. "It's another to stay here."

Merrifield would know as well as anyone. The 30-year-old recently became the oldest position player in Royals history to make an All-Star debut. Kansas City drafted him in 2010 and he didn't make his MLB debut until 2016.

So the All-Star has some sage advice for a player like Starling, who would love to emulate his success after a long time in the minor leagues.

"Figure out what makes you good," Merrifield said. "And find some success. And once you find it, build on it. It's a different animal up here, so you got to constantly be adjusting, constantly be learning."

After what Starling has gone through, he seems to have learned one major thing that he couldn't for a while: the joy of playing a game he loves and staying positive.

"You fail so much, you get down on yourself and that snowballs into weeks, days," Starling said. "And I think when you have a great mindset coming in, it's just only going to help you out.

"Obviously, I just don't think there's expectations. Now it's just going out and playing, getting my work in, doing what I can to help this team win ball games."

For now, he can say he's one-for-one there. And no matter what happens, he can say he fulfilled a hometown kid's fantasy.

"When I was a kid, I was running around the bases," Starling told Fox Sports Kansas City. "You dream of this as a little guy."