This featured story appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun in July 2003.
By Ed Odeven
Brian McFall isn’t having any trouble adjusting to the minor leagues.
Now playing for the Arizona Royals I, one of two Kansas City rookie ballclubs in the eight-team Arizona League, McFall has made a smooth transition from junior college to the minors. And while doing so he has shown the same productive hitting stroke that made him a star at Sinagua High School and a standout at Chandler-Gilbert Community College.
Through Thursday, McFall was batting .301 with four homers and 24 RBIs, both of which are tied for second in the short-season rookie league that started in late June. McFall’s 12 extra-base hits are tied for fourth. He has a .566 slugging percentage and a .371 on-base percentage.
Instead of patting himself on the back for his offensive accomplishments, McFall has decided to focus his attention on improving the mental aspects of his game.
“What I like is that I’m trying to make more mental adjustments right now, because I don’t feel that anybody can physically dominate me or physically is above me,” McFall said after the Royals’ 9-7 win Thursday over the Peoria Mariners at the Peoria Sports Complex.
“(All the players) in professional baseball, I’ve learned, … are all good obviously,” added McFall, who was the 72nd overall pick by the Kansas City Royals in Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft in June. “I think the people that move up are the people who can make the mental adjustments and be able to do that.”
What adjustments is he trying to make?
“Right now I’m just trying to keep (my cool),” McFall continued. “I’ve always been intense in the game and when I get out I get pretty fired up about it. I’m learning to forget about it and not take it out in the field and not take it to the next at-bat. Now (in the Arizona League) we’ve got 60 to 70 games, and next year I’m going to have 140 games. One at-bat really doesn’t mean anything.”
McFall, who was a shortstop and pitcher at SHS before graduating in 2002, has played first base or designated hitter in all 21 of the Royals’ games this season. He demonstrated his fundamental understanding of playing first base in Thursday’s victory, calling off the charging pitcher on a high pop-up — “I got it, I got it, I got it!” he shouted as the players avoided collision — flawlessly handling all his chances at the bag and completing a 6-3-5 double play with a quick, accurate throw to third in the eighth.
“I think I have decent range for first base because I grew up playing shortstop, so I think that helps,” said McFall.
Royals I manager Lloyd Simmons, who coached Seminole (Okla.) State College from 1976-2001, said McFall has made a positive impact since the season began.
“He’s a hard worker,” Simmons said. “He loves the game. He loves to play. And he’s willing to put in the time and the work to make a change, a new position. He’s done a great job for us.”
On Thursday, McFall, the cleanup hitter, went 1-for-4 and delivered the big hit for the Royals — a three-run go-ahead homer to left-center in the seventh. He showed patience at the plate, too, making the opposing pitchers throw strikes.
Simmons declined to compare McFall to other players, but offered some solid insight.
“The hitting coach (Tom Poquette) and me, he’s always asking us questions,” the veteran skipper said. “He wants to be a great player, and, like I’m saying, he’s not scared to work hard, whether it’s in the weight room, on the field, extra ground balls. Whatever it is, he’s willing to put in the extra effort, and that’s what it takes to be a great player. And I think he will be.”
When Simmons speaks about a player’s potential, people listen. He is, after all, a legend. Simmons is the winningest coach in collegiate baseball history, compiling a 1,643-312 record at Seminole State. During his years there, the school made 13 appearances in the National Junior Collegiate Athletic Association World Series. He was inducted into the NJCAA Hall of Fame in 1997.
In short, Simmons said successful teams — the Royals I are the Arizona League’s first-place club — need to have guys like McFall on their roster.
“When you go through that many guys in that many years and you’re blessed with that many wins over those years and go to the (NJCAA) World Series a record number of times and everything, you have guys like him,” Simmons said. “You’ve got to have guys like him that are willing to put out their effort every day to be a great player.”
For the first time in his life, the 19-year-old McFall is focused only on baseball. There are no classes to worry about, no final exams to prepare for. And he’s loving every moment of it.
“Just playing every day and just meeting guys from a whole bunch of cultures, (like) the Dominican guys, that’s awesome being able to see all these cultures,” he said.
And it’s a good way for him to improve speaking Spanish.
“I studied it in high school, and (now) I’m picking it up,” he said. “I’m getting pretty good, communicating with everybody.”
He’s also gotten used to an early-morning training regimen. Simmons’ squad arises around 5:15 a.m., goes to breakfast at 6:30, begins its workouts at 7, walks off the field at 9:15 or 9:30 for a small snack and then prepares for the 10:30 games. Due to the stifling summer heat in the Valley, the rest of the season’s games are scheduled to be played at night.
“The only thing I wish would be a little better is most rookie leagues are in stadiums where 5,000 people come to watch the game, and this one is in 110-degree heat and nobody watches the game,” McFall said.
If this season is an indication of things to come, McFall should be playing before rowdy crowds in the future.