It was also a real learning year for me. It was the first time I really understood that the better you played and the better your team was the less time you had for yourself. That was a hard lesson for me. I’m not a Terrell Owens type guy, and I’m not into that, Rah, rah, rah, look at me I’m the man, deal. I didn’t like dealing with all the stuff surrounding the game because I had to get into the right frame of mind to play well. I prepared for every game like a football player. I had to sort of work myself up into a rage. So, I didn’t want anybody bothering me during batting practice. I didn’t want to do any interviews. I didn’t want to sign any autographs. That was my time to get prepared to play in a game. I wasn’t ever really good about all the outside stuff when I was playing because I thought it was taking away from my job, which was to play baseball. That was the year that George had that spectacular month and he went up over .400. He ended up batting .390. There was so much attention on his chase, I don’t think anybody even knew I hit .326 that year. I think I broke or tied seven Major League records and nobody even frickinknew it – which was great. I wasn’t ready to be in the spotlight. That’s the year that people started putting me in another category, which sort of messed me up. You are going from a nobody to a superstar in one year. Boom! Boom! Everybody started looking at me differently: the fans, the other teams, the TV, the newspapers. Newspapers want you to say something before and after every game. Before, nobody cared what I had to say, which was fine with me. I just wanted to play. Now the TV wants an interview, the newspaper all of a sudden cares what I think. What it basically comes down to, in a nutshell, your time for yourself is eliminated. I was a person who tried to control everything, and I had no control. If you aren’t a guy who likes the publicity, you tend to shy away from it. That’s where I was. I shied away – and sometimes I didn’t do it very diplomatically.
Because of the year I was having, people started to put more of a spotlight on me. I think George got hurt at one point, then the light on me was even brighter for a while. It was a different kind of pressure because people are looking at me differently, more as a leader. But I’m not looking at me any differently. In my mind, I wasn’t a leader. The leaders were Amos (Otis) and Hal (McRae) and Frank (White) and George (Brett). I was part of a great team, but those guys had been the foundation of those previous playoff teams. In my brain, I was thinking I didn’t want to draw attention to myself because then other teams would start noticing me more and put more attention on getting me out. In one respect, all the attention is great because it means you have accomplished something, and you get a bigger contract and can do this and that. But in the other respect, as a player, your opponents begin focusing on you. One advantage I had in the beginning was that nobody knew me. When I was getting put in some of those other categories, I couldn’t handle it. After the game you were just supposed to turn it off as soon as it’s over. Well, if I struck out four times, it’s hard for me to go, Eh, it’s all right. I was 24-years old. I was cussing myself out. I wasn’t a patient person. Someone would ask me a question after the game, I would go all Jersey on them, man. It would get nutty. Later on when I had cooled down a little bit I would feel bad about it, but by then people are gone. I was just young. I was only 24. I was married. I had a kid. I was going from being a nobody to a somebody. All I really wanted to do was do my job and go home. That’s all. But the better you do your job the less time you have. Everybody wants, wants, wants. And it’s all different. Your kids are wanting stuff. Your wife is wanting stuff. Other players are wanting stuff. Fans are wanting stuff. Reporters want more of your time. The Royals want you to sign all this stuff for them.
What it basically comes down to, in a nutshell, is that your me time is eliminated, and I wasn’t really ready for that. I think teams are a lot better at preparing their players for that now. If I had understood all that before I got to the big leagues, my mindset would have been different. Now, I’m not saying I would have liked it any better or I would have dealt with it any better, but if I had been told in the minor leagues that this was your obligation when you get to the Major Leagues it would not have been such a shock when it happened. Program for New Jersey Sports Writers Association 45th Anniversary Awards Banquet when I was honored as New Jersey Pro Athlete of the Year. It seemed like I was always doing something for somebody else. And every time I would think I was done, one more guy wanted to ask me for an autograph. I’m trying to get to something my kid is doing. Then the guy cusses me out and then I would get mad. I would go, Dude, what the hell! Don’t you have kids? Why are your kids more important than my kids? And someone would hear bits and parts of the conversation and then I’m the bad guy. So, now I really go into hibernation because I just couldn’t handle it. Playing the game during those times was more relaxing to me than outside of the game because I just had to deal with the game and whether I could get a hit or steal a base.
The other thing is this was the first year I was playing this many games. I didn’t know how hard you could play or if you would get tired. People were saying to me, Willie, if you go, the Royals go. It wasn’t just reporters. It was guys on my team So, you’re trying harder for them We finish up the season pretty strong. And now we’re playing the Yankees again in the playoffs. I always loved playing the Yankees, especially in Yankee Stadium because it wasn’t a road game for me. To me it was going back home. My mom was there. All my friends from Summit were there. People from my mom’s church were getting buses to come over. I had a great season against the Yankees that year, statistically, because I was so comfortable there. I knew all the Yankees guys from playing basketball over the winter with them when I was in AA. Jeff Torborg, who was a Jersey guy, got all these players to go around New Jersey, New York and parts of Pennsylvania. We would play benefit basketball games. Some of the guys I played with on those teams were Mickey Rivers, Roy White, Paul Blair, Johnny Briggs, Chris Chambliss … So, when I went to play the Yankees, I had hung out with those guys since AA. When I made it to the big leagues I wasn’t intimidated by them. That also helped me dealing with the Major League guys on the Royals, too. I had been hanging with some superstars over the winters. I wasn’t as intimidated by the Royals guys who had gotten to the playoffs when I was in spring training. But I felt really at home when I played the Yankees. I had a lot of good things working for me. The only problem for me in New York was getting tickets. We got six tickets for every game. I would start trading with guys as soon as I got to spring training. I’d give the guys who lived in California or somewhere else as many tickets as I could so I could get their tickets for games in New York. I don’t know how many tickets I needed every time, but it was a lot. My mother would say, I need tickets for blah, blah, blah. And I would say, You know I only get six, mom
ROYALS RECORDS SET IN 1980 BY WILLIE WILSON Photo Gallery
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