Royals' Butler named Futures MVP
Outfielder's early go-ahead homer helps U.S. take down World
PITTSBURGH -- First, he was named the MVP of the XM Satellite Radio Futures Game. Then, he was told that the bat he used to hit a two-run homer in Team USA's 8-5 victory over Team World at PNC Park on Sunday was going to Cooperstown. And now, he's expecting to head off to Cuba in late August to help the U.S. baseball team clinch a berth in the 2008 Summer Olympics at Bejing."It's been a good day all the way around," said Billy Butler, the left fielder who was the second consecutive Kansas City Royals prospect to be named MVP of the game that kicks off Major League Baseball's annual three days of All-Star festivities. Last year at Comerica Park in Detroit, Justin Huber won the prize. Butler, a fresh-faced 20-year-old kid from Jacksonville, Fla., won the MVP after going 2-for-3 with a single, two RBIs and the homer, which erased a 1-0 deficit and gave Team USA the lead for good in the second inning, as the Americans quickly jumped out to a 7-1 advantage. The shot to nearly dead center off World reliever Jose Garcia carried into the bleachers just to the right of the dark green batting eye and the word "Pirates" cut out of a lush section of brush. The homer thrilled Butler, who's currently playing for Kansas City's Double-A Wichita affiliate in the Texas League, but the aftermath was even better. Just shortly after the game ended and he was named MVP, Butler was doing interviews near the mound when Brad Horn, an official for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, approached to procure his game bat. "You've got to be kidding me," said Butler, describing his immediate reaction. "It's got to be going to another Hall of Fame, not the real thing." Kid you not! In a split second, Butler rushed to the dugout and pulled the now-famous piece of lumber out of the bat rack and handed it instantly to Horn. The stick, made by the Phoenix Bat Company in Columbus, Ohio, specifically for "Futures Game 2006" and inscribed as such, was signed by Butler below the label and will be whisked to upstate New York. For now, it will appear on the second floor at the end of a baseball timeline as part of an exhibit entitled "Today's Game," Horn said. Butler is no stranger to Cooperstown, he added, saying that he played there twice as a 12- and 13-year-old with his Northern Florida Hurricanes Little League team.
He was also a member of the U.S. Olympic team that qualified for the Havana tournament by taking one of the top two spots in a pre-qualifying session this past fall in Phoenix. The reconstituted team, which will be assembled this summer, is charged with taking the U.S. back to the Olympics, which the Americans missed in 2004 at Athens, Greece. The U.S. was eliminated by Mexico at Panama City, Panama, in 2003.Butler said that he and fellow Royals prospect Alex Gordon, who played for Team USA on Sunday and also went 2-for-3 with a double and a pair of RBIs, will be in Cuba. "I'm going," Butler said. "Me and Alex both are going. That's as far as I know. We've been told. I'm looking forward to it. I hope I get a chance to go down there and represent the USA. It'll be another great experience. Hopefully, we can go into Cuba's house and beat them. I owe them something." But for one day, at least, Sunday's experience was hard to beat: a big win, an MVP and a tiny place in Cooperstown. "No matter what happens, it's something I'm going to carry with me for the rest of my life," Butler said.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.