Lorenzo Cain Prepares for What is Likely His Final Games as a Royal
As the Kansas City Royals finish out their final homestand of the season, they also prepare to say goodbye to some of the most successful and beloved players in the history of the franchise. Five players who were on the teams that went to back-to-back World Series will be free agents at the end of the season: Jason Vargas, Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer.
Optimistically, the Royals may be able to re-sign two of them at most. As a small market team, the Royals don’t have the revenue to retain high dollar free agents.
Baseball fans owe a debt of gratitude to the freshman basketball coach at Madison County High School in Madison, Fla. He cut Cain from the basketball team in 2000. Cain was devastated. His mother required that he play a sport of some kind, but basketball was all he knew. It was part of his identity.
He had a friend who played baseball but Cain was not a ballplayer. Sure, he had hit a tennis ball with a stick before, but he had never played little league ball. He didn’t own a glove. As lore has it, he didn’t even know how to hold the bat properly.
Fortunately for baseball fans, the baseball team was shorthanded. Cain was a natural athlete and a quick study. Needless to say, he figured it out.
His baseball journey began uniquely, but he did go on to play Junior College baseball. He was drafted in the 2004 amateur draft. He worked his way through the minor leagues. That was his little league experience. That’s where he learned the game.
In July of 2010, the Milwaukee Brewers called Cain up. He hit .306/.348/.415 in 158 plate appearances that season. A few months after the season ended, the Brewers traded Cain to the Royals along with Escobar in one of the biggest trades in the history of the Royals franchise. The Brewers got a Cy Young Award winner in Zack Greinke. The Royals got a future.
Cain was a great fit for Kauffman Stadium and for a team that valued speed and defense. His speed and athleticism gave him the ability to run down impossible fly balls in the gap in the largest outfield in MLB. His long gliding strides, which have been measured at more than 10 feet in a full sprint, made impossible catches look effortless. He was usually traveling at a speed of more than 21 mph.
While Royals fans were aware of his abilities, it wasn’t until the 2014 postseason that Cain’s performance was on the world stage. Analysts and experts were now calling him one of the best defensive outfielders in the world. During that postseason, time after time, he relentlessly ran down balls that didn’t seem possible for any human to get to. He leapt, dove, and flew like a superhero. He found ways to make spectacular plays on balls that should have hit the ground and bounced to the wall. Cain earned the 2014 ALCS MVP award for his defensive play, but he also hit for a .533 average in the four-game sweep over the Baltimore Orioles.
2015 picked up where it left off for Cain. He made his first All-Star team and was third in the MVP voting. More importantly, he helped the Royals win their first World Series in 30 years. His speed and base running played a significant role in the 2015 postseason.
In the eighth inning of Game Six of the ALCS with the game tied, he went from first to home on a single to right field by Hosmer for the go-ahead run. In the ninth inning of Game Five of the World Series, he battled Matt Harvey through a long at bat for a walk. He stole second and scored on the Hosmer double.
It is improbable the Royals will be willing to match the offers Cain will be getting on the free agent market. As much as they value his tools, his price tag likely will be more than the Royals will pay for a 31-year-old veteran. So, as the 2017 season enters its final weekend, Royals fans are preparing to say goodbye to one of their favorite players.
Fans will remember him for his ridiculous ability to catch the uncatchable balls. They will remember him for his speed on the bases. They’ll remember him for the way he leans back as if playing limbo (the Lo-Cain Lean-back) after a power swing.
However, the thing fans will remember perhaps more than anything else is his infectious smile. The unwritten rules of baseball tell us that players aren’t supposed to enjoy their successes too much – but his joy for playing the game couldn’t be contained. He had to let it show. Sometimes it looked like he was smiling because he couldn’t believe what he had just done. Other times he smiled just because he was having fun. Regardless of the reason, his smile lit up the stadium. It was nearly impossible not to feel the happiness that he was expressing. It was hard not to smile right back at him.
This weekend will be emotional for many Royals fans. While they will be sad to see Cain and the other free agents playing their last games as Royals, they are just as thankful for the contributions these players have made. They are thankful for a championship, for a second golden age of baseball in Kansas City. They are thankful to have been able to watch Cain become one of the superstars in baseball. Cain will undoubtedly be inducted into the Royals Hall of Fame someday. Fans will welcome him back to Kauffman Stadium on that day as a hero. He’ll warm our hearts with his smile once more and he will probably remind us that none of it would have happened if he’d made the basketball team.