Everything coming together for KC's Butler

Everything coming together for KC's Butler

KANSAS CITY -- Billy Butler was at home in Idaho Falls, Idaho. He and wife Katy and daughter Kenley had just driven back from visiting family in Boise. Butler was so relaxed he darn near forgot he had a workout scheduled later in the afternoon with his personal trainer.

So, whew, he was gassed by the time he got to the phone for a conversation. The guy worked him out and worked him over. Spring Training was right around the corner for Billy and his Royals buddies.

Officially, Butler doesn't have to be in camp at Surprise, Ariz., until Feb. 23. Heck with that, he'll be there Wednesday.

"I'm ready to play, man, I'm ready to see some of the guys," Butler said. "I'm tired of waiting."

Butler, a beefy type, looked fit and solid a few weeks back at the Royals' FanFest in Kansas City. Just 23, he had experienced the kind of bust-out season that stamped him as one of the game's best young hitters and he was eager for more.

"I haven't got a chance to swing the bat as much as other guys," Butler said. "I've gotten to swing the bat a little bit, but I'll feel more comfortable when I get out there. I had a slow start last year and I'm trying to do what I can to prepare myself."

Butler, in his first 18 games last year, was hitting a puny .193 with no homers and three runs driven in. Then he belted two homers in a 4-for-5, four-RBI game against Toronto and was on his way to a .301-average, 21-homer, 93-RBI season with 51 doubles thrown in.

And this was in his first full season of playing first base, a spot that general manager Dayton Moore and manager Trey Hillman repeatedly have said is his to keep. No more of that designated-hitter stuff.

"That definitely gives me a little security, especially with all the guys we're bringing into camp," Butler said. "They're so versatile, they can play first base, too, but I'm glad they're giving me that vote of confidence. I'm getting better every game. Last year was my first year of playing first base every day, so you can't help but think that I'm going to continue to get better. At 23, I've got a lot more time to develop."

Yet, as he contemplates the Kansas City summer from snow-covered Idaho Falls, he's vigilant against complacency.

"If there's not a question as to who's playing first base, I've done my job. I'm working toward that," Butler said. "But you have to prove yourself every day. You can put question marks in their head with just one [bad] game. So you have to do it every day."

Although he grew up in the warmer climes of Jacksonville, Fla., Butler has happily settled in Idaho Falls.

"This is where I opened up my career, it's where I met my wife. It's where my wife's from. We play so many games during the season that I want my wife to be around her family because we're gone a lot. This is my permanent home," he said.

Butler is enjoying fatherhood, too, spending his winter days helping Katy tend to 14-month-old Kenley who, as befits her age, is climbing and is into everything.

"You have to clear everything off the tables. It's awesome just to see how much she's grown in just a year," the proud papa reported. "She has a great personality, she's just a pleasure to be around. She's just very energetic -- she never relaxes, she's going until she falls asleep, man. She'll flop over and just be out. I'm enjoying every day with her now, because when the job calls here in a couple of weeks, it's very time-consuming. I'm just trying to get the time in now."

Once in a while, Billy and Katy go out to dinner or a movie -- "The Blind Side" was their latest and it got two thumbs up -- if they can get a babysitter.

"It's hard to take Kenley to dinner anymore because she's moving everywhere, just all over the place and won't sit still. So Katy's sister will watch the baby for us every now and then," he said.

But mostly Butler hangs out at the house.

"I'm a family guy, so I try to make up for lost time," he said. "The season is very time-consuming and you put your heart into that, and I hate to say you put your family on the back burner, but you do. You've got to make up for that. I felt I didn't even know my daughter after the season, so I had a lot of making up to do."

All of this winter's snow has given Butler the opportunity for some extra exercise, running the snow blower and wielding a shovel.

"Since November, it's been white out the whole time. It hasn't gotten above about 35 degrees. And that's a really warm day," he said.

Butler, after being a first-round Draft choice in 2004, spent that summer at Idaho Falls and led the Pioneer League with a .373 average and had 22 doubles, 10 homers and 68 RBIs in just 74 games. No wonder he feels at home there.

"If a guy like me calls it home, I think it's good for the community and good for the organization. And I had such a good start here and I like the league here so much. It's an awesome place to play; it teaches the guys a lot about the game -- the bus trips and everything like that," he said.

And his second home, of course, is Kansas City.

"I love it there. I'd rather help the team win there my whole career rather than go somewhere else, because that's where I'm comfortable," Butler said. "The fans in Kansas City are awesome, especially with as bad as we've been lately. Obviously, you have to change, and that's what we've been doing. The fans, like at FanFest, are very optimistic, and honestly that's awesome -- because they don't have to be."

In his three seasons with Kansas City, the Royals have finished in the last two spots in the American League Central. Still, Butler is upbeat.

"I'd hate to have to play anywhere else. I'm not a big-city guy," Butler said. "You know me, I'm the type of guy who's right where I belong. I feel like it's just perfect; the city's been so good to me and my family."

And if the Royals organization gives him a vote of confidence, he sends it right back.

"From top to bottom, we just have a lot of good people. The people are trying. From the outside, you may not think so, but they're putting in their work. They're going to get it right, I'm convinced of that," Butler said.

He and Katy are giving back to Kansas City, primarily in terms of feeding the homeless and hungry through the Bishop Sullivan soup kitchen. Under his "Hit It a Ton" program, he donates a ton of food for each of his home runs, as do locally-based companies.

"We're very passionate about it and we're making progress each year. I think this past year we fed the most hungry in Kansas City, so what else can you hope for?" Butler said.

Katy figures that the effort resulted in about 290 tons of food for the needy last year.

"That was good from both ends -- I was happy to hit 21 homers and I was happy to donate that food as well," Butler said. "We love doing it."

In fact, sitting there in Idaho Falls, he loves his life as a rising baseball star.

"I've been playing since I was 5 years old. I can't imagine doing anything different," Butler said. "I put all my time and effort to get here, and now I'm putting all my time and effort into staying here. Now I'm just working toward winning a championship for the Royals. I couldn't want anything more."

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