'Chairman' Tejada leaving Sunday for Classic
Royals to be without without respected Latino leader for as many as 17 days
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Miguel Tejada is leaving the Royals' clubhouse on Sunday to play for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic. He could be gone for as long as 17 days if his team reaches the finals.
Which means the morning roundtable of Latin American players in the clubhouse is going to be without its chairman of the board. Tejada is the breakfast club story teller, counselor and laugh leader for the Royals' sizable contingent of Latinos.
"He tells stories about when he was young and what he was doing. He's always in a good mood and full of energy," said Luis Mendoza, from Mexico. "When he plays, it's fun to watch the energy he projects."
There are, to be sure, gales of laughter coming from the bull sessions and card games.
"Funny stories," Mendoza said. "He's had like, what, 15 years in the big leagues, so he tells about what he was doing when he started playing. He's easy-going, he tells us stories, gives us advice -- everything."
This is part of what the Royals figured they were getting when they signed Tejada, 38 years old and 11 years removed from his American League Most Valuable Player Award. They also believe he might be an experienced, savvy and solid backup player for a team that might well develop into a contender this year.
"Coming in, the report on him was he was always a good guy in the clubhouse and a good teammate," manager Ned Yost said. "And what a good teammate does is he makes his teammates better. And that's what he strives to do every day. He works his tail off, he presents a great example on the field through his work ethic and he strives to make everybody on the team better, and that's important."
In his heyday with the Oakland Athletics and the Baltimore Orioles, Tejada was a shortstop. His MVP award came with the playoff-bound A's in 2002 when he played all 162 games, hit .308 and had 34 home runs and 131 RBIs. That was during a period when he played 162 games for six straight years with the A's and the O's.
Now, after being out of the Majors all last season, he's in the backup mode of his career.
"This group of guys is young with a lot of talent, so I think by having me here they have somebody who has played for a winner," Tejada said. "I'm a winner, I love to win, I love to go out there every day and try to win so I think that's what I can give to these guys."
It's no accident that Tejada was given the dressing stall right next to shortstop Alcides Escobar.
"Especially with the Latinos, we speak the same language and they can take advantage of having me here. They can see why I've been in the game for so long," Tejada said. "And I think it's especially important to Escobar who plays the position I used to play every day and he can learn from me something he can use in the future."
And Escobar is listening.
"He helps me every day and I listen to him because he played like 15 years in the big leagues," Escobar said. "He's a great guy, been an MVP, he knows about this game."
But Escobar made it clear that Tejada gets around to all areas of the field and clubhouse.
"He talks to everybody in here. Everybody knows him. He's Miguel Tejada and he helps everybody here," Escobar said.
So far Yost has used Tejada primarily at third base because that's the position he'll play for the Dominican in the Classic, but before Spring Training is over, that'll expand to shortstop, second base and even first base.
"I've never played first base but I'm happy to be here and I'm honored to be following orders here," Tejada said. "Whatever the manager thinks I can do to help this team win, I'm going to be out there."
There's a full complement of potential backup players going for a limited number of spots. Take a nine-man lineup, a 12-pitcher staff and one extra catcher and there's just room for three backup infielders or outfielders combined. Or if there happens to be 13 pitchers, just two spots.
At the front of the line with Tejada are infielders Elliot Johnson and outfielder Jarrod Dyson. But then there's what do with the loser in the second-base battle between Chris Getz and Johnny Giavotella. Also in camp are infielders Irving Falu, Christian Colon, Anthony Seratelli and Brandon Wood, along with outfielders David Lough, Endy Chavez, Xavier Nady, Luis Durango and Willy Taveras. Early hitting standout Max Ramirez, a catcher, has been playing first base.
Lots of names, limited openings.
Although Tejada left the Orioles' Triple-A Norfolk team after 36 games last summer, he sharpened his game this winter with Aguilas in the Dominican. He played 63 games with a .269 average, 32 RBIs and 20 extra-base hits. Then he joined the Dominican club in the Caribbean Series.
After going 1-for-4 in Thursday's 5-4 win over the Padres, Tejada is batting .231 (3-for-13). He had an error on an overthrow from third base in the game.
Starting Sunday, Tejada's spring bid will be on hold until the Dominican team is eliminated or wins the Classic. He also played for the Dominican in the previous two Classics, 2006 and '09.
"I'm looking forward to representing my country," Tejada said. "This year is really special for me because this is probably going to be my last WBC. This time I'm going to put in hard work and see if we can put this team into the final."
Then it'll be back to the Royals' camp and the breakfast club.
"I'm enjoying those young guys and hearing everything that they say," Tejada said. "They like to be around me and that's something that really makes me proud."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.