One year ago, David Lough was a first-time call up to the majors and realizing the dream he had been chasing since he was playing youth baseball in Green. When he returned to the Kansas City Royals this May, the paradigm had shifted a bit for the 27-year-old outfielder. Instead of simply being happy to be in the big leagues, Lough's focus had moved to carving out a lasting place for himself in the majors.
One year ago, David Lough was a first-time call up to the majors and realizing the dream he had been chasing since he was playing youth baseball in Green.
When he returned to the Kansas City Royals this May, the paradigm had shifted a bit for the 27-year-old outfielder. Instead of simply being happy to be in the big leagues, Lough's focus had moved to carving out a lasting place for himself in the majors.
"Being able to come up this year and make an impact on this team, I feel a lot more comfortable, a lot more confident," Lough said prior to the final game before the All-Star break as the Royals wrapped up a three-game series with the Indians. "I've just been able to get used to the surroundings here and it's just normal baseball now."
SOURCE OF MOTIVATON
Despite playing well last season when he was called up for the final month and continuing his quality play in spring training at the start of the current season, Lough found himself assigned to Triple-A Omaha to start the year. Returning to the place he had played each of the last three seasons could have been a source of bitterness or disappointment, but Lough used it as motivation to push himself and continue to work hard in order to get back to the majors.
"It was more a motivation. I had a really good spring training and thought that I could have made the team out of spring training, but it was a motivational thing for me," Lough added. "I wasn't going to let it eat me up. I was just going to go out and work hard to try to get back up here."
Once he received his call-up, Lough wasted little time making an impact. After playing sporadically in his first week with the Royals, manager Ned Yost inserted him into the lineup on a more consistent basis starting with a May 25 game against the Los Angeles Angeles. Two games later, Lough had a four-hit contest against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Two weeks later, he hit his first Major League home run, going deep off Detroit ace Max Scherzer, who leads baseball in wins with 13. Lough took Scherzer deep to right field, keying a two-run rally that tied the game. He has since added two more home runs to his ledger, including a solo shot off of former Indians ace and current Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia in a 3-1 win at Yankee Stadium.
Hitting one out at Yankee Stadium is a feat many young players dream about, but Lough said that while it was a nice accomplishment, he only takes time to enjoy such moments after the fact, when he can reflect on what he has done.
Page 2 of 3 - "Maybe a little bit afterward, after I soak it in after the game," Lough said of the home run against Sabathia. "I try not to give a lot of pitchers too much credit. We know CC is a great pitcher, Max Scherzer is a great pitcher and they're having stellar years, but I just go out and take it as a normal baseball game and then after, kind of reflect back on it."
HUSTLE AND FLOW
With a .294 batting average that ranks third best on the team and with 17 extra-base hits in 170 at-bats entering the break. Lough is creating scoring chances for his team despite not possessing Miguel Cabrera-like power numbers. Royals hitting coach and Baseball Hall of Famer George Brett pointed to Lough's constant hustle and energy as a prime reason for his success.
"There have been four or five times when he has stretched a single into a double just by running hard out of the box and hustling, putting that pressure on the outfielder to field it clean and make a good throw," Brett said. "David is a really intense competitor and a very hard worker and there is never a time when he's not in the cage working and taking extra batting practice."
Lough has appeared in 46 games so far, starting 42. He has become the Royals' everyday right fielder as the team has looked to build upon a solid start and stay in the American League Central race behind the Tigers and Indians. A three-game sweep by the Indians leading into the break set Kansas City back to eight games off the Tigers' division-leading pace, but Lough is confident that the team has the necessary firepower to make a run in the second half.
"We know what we're capable of doing and I think we have a great team," he added. "We all get along together and we have great leaders in the clubhouse, but it's just trying to get over the hump, trying to get back to .500 and then hopefully put together some good winning streaks and climb back into it."
Support from family members, friends and former coaches has been a constant as Lough has progressed through his professional career after being drafted coming out of Mercyhurst College in the 11th round of the 2007 draft. His family comes to games whenever the Royals visit Cleveland and can be heard cheering for him when he comes to bat.
Lough also returned to Mercyhurst in the offseason to complete his degree and although he wasn't able to attend graduation and received his degree in the mail, it was an accomplishment he was happy to reach even though it meant spending less time back home in Northeast Ohio.
Page 3 of 3 - While it may sound more pragmatic, Lough says he doesn't have quite the same overwhelming experience in playing at Progressive Field as he did last September, when he played on the field for the first time after dreaming about the experience and attending games there growing up. Now, the Indians are just another opponent and Progressive Field is simply another place he and his teammates must go and compete in order to get where they want to be.
"Last year in September was where I kind of soaked it all in, just growing up here and coming to games with my family. Now, it's just coming here, playing a baseball game and leaving," Lough observed.
With that new mindset has come an increased comfort level that has allowed him to be steadier and calmer, not worrying that an 0-for-4 night will lead to him being sent back to the minors or losing his spot in the lineup.
"Having that comfortable feeling, you're not trying to battle for a position or in a spot of not knowing if you're going to be playing every day...I like to play every day and I feel I can play every day at this level. I'm thankful that I have the opportunity to right now," Lough said.
Brett has also noticed Lough settling in and noted that young players often have a degree of uncertainty about their status and may question whether they belong at the big-league level.
"I think you've really seen him get comfortable this year. When you first come up, you're not sure if you're going to stick or if you belong here," Brett said.
Starter or not, Lough still has less than one year of MLB experience and that means he still receives the rookie treatment from Royals veterans. Last season, the veterans engaged in the time-tested tradition of taking away the rookies' clothes after a game and leaving embarrassing outfits for them to wear on the team bus and flight home after a road series. Lough ended up dressing like an old maid and expects more of the same at some point this season. He has carried more than a few bags as well and looks forward to the day when he is on the other side of the rookie-veteran dynamic.
"I'm looking forward to the day when that's over," Lough said with a laugh.
Reach Andy at 330-899-2872 or andy.harris@TheSuburbanite.com.
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