Royals find a shortstop in Mike Aviles
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Is anyone having a greater summer than Mike Aviles?
All that's happened to Kansas City's new shortstop since the weather turned warm is the realization of a lifelong dream, sudden celebrity, the promise of wealth and an affirmative answer when he asked his girlfriend to please be his bride.
"I'm having fun," said the New York native, flashing a smile. "That's the best way to explain it, having fun. All this makes everything that I did to get here worthwhile."
No one can say the 27-year-old rookie didn't work hard to get here. An unheralded seventh-round pick in the 2003 draft, he slowly, painstakingly worked his way up the minor league ladder, from Wilmington in 2004, to Wichita in 2005, to Triple-A Omaha in '06.
He was still in Omaha early this year, too. Then after Tony Pena's batting average plunged to around .150, Aviles was finally brought up.
That was right at the end of the Royals' 12-game losing streak late in May. Since then, Aviles has locked up the starting job and brought a renewed enthusiasm to the entire locker room. He was recognized last week as co-winner of the American League player of the week.
"I never really thought I wouldn't get here," said Aviles. "I just thought if I kept working hard, everything would finally fall into place."
But if it hadn't, he was psychologically prepared.
"If I kept working hard I would at least have peace of mind. I would know I gave it my all," he said. "If it didn't work out, it didn't work out. I just told myself never give up."
All his numbers, so far, are upbeat. He was batting .330 with seven homers and 31 RBIs going into this weekend's series against Minnesota.
And that's a bit of a problem. Having missed the first two months of the season, he probably has no chance to catch up with candidates like Evan Longoria and Jacoby Ellsbury in rookie-of-the-year balloting.
Neither would he have enough at-bats to qualify for a batting title.
But that won't stop the Royals from making him their permanent shortstop, a dream he's had all his life.
"Mike's not the kind of guy who comes out here looking for personal gain," said Royals manager Trey Hillman. "He comes out here and tries to do the best he can every day to help the club win. He works hard and gets his work in. In the last home stand he made a baserunning mistake. The next day he was out there trying to get it straightened out."
A first-generation American, Aviles' mother and father were both born in Puerto Rico. Back home in New York is a huge contingent of aunts, uncles and cousins who are huge fans.
"I'm playing in the big leagues now and they know how long I've worked at it to get here," he said. "They're very proud."
Nobody is predicting he'll hit .330 forever. And there are things to work on defensively -- he's shown a tendency to throw the ball away at times. But he's also shown the capacity to make the spectacular play. Maintaining anything close to the level he's shown his first two months in the big leagues will lead to a megabuck contract that would even widen his circle of admirers.
"The money would be nice, sure," he said. "It would be a way to do things for my family. My mom is so proud of me, and she's always worked so hard.
"But I really don't play this game for money. I go out there and play for the love of baseball. If I was working 9-to-5 in a desk job, I'd be playing in some rec league at night and on weekends, anything I had to do to get my baseball fix. I honestly don't think money is ever going to affect how I play."
During the All-Star break, he and Jessy Poulsen, his girlfriend for about three years, drove to a resort at the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. He carefully picked out a romantic spot to spring the big question.
"It was all part of my plan," he said.
Back came that broad smile.
"She didn't have a clue. She said 'Yes,' and that was great," Aviles said. "I knew I was going to get up here, one way or another. Now I feel confident and happy."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index