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Brett pulling for longtime friend

Brett pulling for longtime friend

KANSAS CITY -- Hall of Famer George Brett would look at his cell phone and there would be another update from old pal Jamie Quirk, bench coach of the Colorado Rockies.

"I'd get text messages from him like, 'One down, three to go ....Two down, two to go.' They just kept winning," Brett said. "I said, 'I've got to get over there for a game,' so I flew in there the morning of the fourth game."

That was the final game of the National League Championship Series, swept by the Rockies over the Arizona Diamondbacks. So there they were again in the same ballpark, the Three Musketeers of the Kansas City days -- Quirk and manager Clint Hurdle in the Rockies' dugout and Brett in a box with the club-owning Monfort family.

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"Me, Clint and Jamie lived together for two years," Brett said. "It was our college experience since none of us went to college."

That was in their early years with the Royals when the three players lived just off Ward Parkway, in easy range of KC's party spots at Westport and the Plaza.

Hurdle, the Royals' first-round draft choice of 1975, arrived in September 1977 and was expected to be a rookie sensation the next year -- maybe even the next George Brett.

"He was supposed to be the superstar. The picture on the cover of Sports Illustrated in, I think it was '77, -- 'This Year's Phenom,'" Brett said, missing the year (the magazine date was March 20, 1978) but getting the cover headline exactly right.

"I think when you put that much of a label on somebody, he's due to fail. Nobody's going to live up to the expectations. One of the worst titles you can give somebody, I think, is unlimited potential because they never reach it. And that's what was tagged on him, unfortunately."

Hurdle, an outfielder-first baseman, hit a mild .264 average with seven home runs and 56 RBIs in 1978. He was better two years later -- .294, 10 homers, 60 RBIs -- when the Royals made the World Series for the first time. In the 1980 Fall Classic against the Philadelphia Phillies, the left-handed-hitting Hurdle platooned with Jose Cardenal in right field and did quite well -- 5-for-12 (.417) although he had no RBIs.

Now, 27 years later, he returns to a World Series for the first time since then. As a manager, no less. That must be something of a surprise for an old running mate like Brett.

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"Yeah, kind of," Brett said. "You kind of lose track of people after they get traded from the organization. You follow their career a little bit, but he was piddling around with the Mets' Minor League system for a while and then he was with the Rockies for a while .... But he just kind of stuck it out. He did what players do [when] they love the game of baseball, respect the game of baseball and I guess he always wanted to be a manager in the Major Leagues. He got his chance with the Rockies and, obviously, at first that wasn't pretty. But they've put something together like no other team ever has before."

The Rockies' 21-1 sizzling stretch includes a 7-0 postseason mark. Though no playoffs were involved, Brett experienced a similar hot streak in late 1977 when the Royals won 24 of 25 games en route to the American League West title. Hurdle got in on part of that streak as a September callup.

A year after the 1980 World Series, the Royals traded Hurdle to the Cincinnati Reds and he and Brett bid adieu. Hurdle's playing career faded quickly but he did well instructing and managing players. Now Brett sees him only occasionally and his old roomie has changed since those early KC days.

He views Hurdle as a living testament to willpower and staying power.

"He paid his dues, he got a chance and he took it," Brett said. "It didn't look pretty for a while, but he hung with it and never quit believing at all. And now he finds himself in the World Series."

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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