Then and Now: RC Q&A with Keith Lockhart

Keith Lockhart played for the Royals from 1995-1996, resurrecting his career as a 30-year old rookie after ten seasons in the minors. The second baseman was also part of one of the most controversial (at the time) trades in Royals history, being shipped to Atlanta along with Michael Tucker in exchange for Jermaine Dye and Jamie Walker. Lockhart is our latest guest in this edition of "Then & Now."

Royals Corner: Thanks for joining us, Keith. You grew up in Covina, California, where you graduated from Northview High School in 1982. Did you have any scouts coming out to watch you in high school, and was getting drafted for professional baseball a long shot or something you thought could happen at that time?

Keith Lockhart: No, no scouts came to watch me in high school. I didn't even consider any drafting at all until JUCO, and at that time, some scouts came to watch, although not to see me. We had some All-Americans on my team like Rob Nelson, who went in the first round with the Oakland A's back in 1983. He was an 18-year-old phenom that tore up the junior college league out there and that seemed to bring a lot of attention to our team.

So I mean, it wasn't until junior college that I really got any interest, because we had a coach there who was very well connected and had coached in pro ball with Baltimore. He just had a lot of connections all over, and he's the one that made some calls that helped me ultimately get a scholarship to Oral Roberts University. And basically, I got that without them seeing me play at all, just from his word of mouth.

RC: What are your favorite memories of ORU?

KL: Just the stadium was state of the art. We had probably the best lighting in college baseball. I mean, it was just phenomenal. We didn't travel a whole lot because teams wanted to come play at our place. Jim Brewer was our pitching coach and he was with the Dodgers for a lot of years, just an outstanding coach. Pat Harrison was another one who played pro ball and actually had the home run record at USC before (Mark) McGwire broke it.

RC: You were ultimately selected by the Cincinnati Reds in the 11th round of the 1986 draft. Was that about the round you expected to be taken, and did you have a good idea that Cincinnati would choose you?

KL: I kind of had a feeling that it would be Cincinnati, yes. Larry Barton Sr. was the main scout who watched me from the Reds, and he was an older guy that was at every one of our games. So, he tested a lot of us and had our eyes checked, did a lot of different things. He showed a lot of interest in me, and I wasn't a player a scout came to see. If you watched one game, I wouldn't catch anyone's eyes, but if you watched over a couple of weeks, you'd appreciate what I brought to the table.

Anyway, Jim Brewer always talked to the scouts about me and informed me that he thought I'd get drafted, although I didn't know what round. I was excited to go in the 11th round though, to be honest with you

RC: What do you remember about the moment you got the call on that draft day?

KL: I remember being at a friend's house, and we were just waiting and waiting, and after awhile, we couldn't take it anymore. We had a park down the street where we grew up playing Babe Ruth and Pony, so we took a break and went and watched some games, and sure enough, once we were away for 20 minutes, the call came.

My little brother came running and said I had phone call, and that's when Larry Barton called me on the phone, and he was from that area, so he came over with all the paperwork and it was a pretty cool thing. Just something you kind of dream about, but for me, I was definitely not one of the superstar players growing up that was going to play pro ball. I just kind of kept getting better as I matured and it (going pro) didn't really become something I thought about too heavily until I got to JUCO and had some coaches and people tell me that I may have a chance.

RC: You began your professional career at the end of 1986, splitting time between Billings and Cedar Rapids. How tough of an adjustment was it to go from college baseball to professional baseball, both on and off the field?

KL: The biggest adjustment was going from playing 60 some games in college to playing every day. I remember playing short season in Billings and you played 70 games and I remember thinking, "Next year, I can't believe we're going to play double that many."

Just getting used to playing everyday and mentally preparing and teaching yourself not to get down if you went 0-for-4 or 0-for-8, because you had to strap it on the next day. And learning how to properly get your rest and work out and kind of stay ready for battle every day; that was the biggest adjustment.

And actually, I didn't mind the travel and bus rides, and we always seemed to play in a stadium that was a middle ground, so the longest bus ride was 10 hours and nothing compared to some teams. But yeah, that everyday grind was the biggest adjustment

RC: You watch movies like Bull Durham and hear the stories of the long bus rides, no money and lots of girls around. Are those accurate assessments of how the lower minor leagues are?

KL: Yeah. Our buses weren't quite as nice, though (Laughs). You put in those baseball movies, they play cards and stuff, but I always tried to take a pill and sleep on the luggage racks; you really just do whatever you can. But I loved all that, I didn't mind it at all. Some guys don't like being away and don't like travel, but I really enjoyed it, and it was actually sometimes easier bussing down in the lower minor leagues than it was to fly in Triple-A. And in Triple-A, you flew in the morning and that was tough.

RC: In 1987, you played your first full season in the minor leagues for Cedar Rapids, and hit .313 with 23 HR and 84 RBI. What do you remember about that year?

KL: I adjusted well and got more power from adjusting to wooden bat. It was one of those years where I never really had a slump. Everything kind of came together offensively and just hitting home runs and for average. And we didn't have a great team that year, but I just kind of really learned a lot about hitting that year and using the whole field, and my power numbers got better as a result. People look at my baseball cards and say, "Goodnight, how'd you hit so many home runs?" But you saw a lot of fastballs in that league and I was always a fastball hitter. Lot of fun that year.

RC: 1988 found you in Double-A at Chattanooga, where your average dipped to .266 with 12 HR and 67 RBI. We ask each player we interview where the biggest jump in the minors is, and they always say from A-Ball to Double-A. Do you agree with that, and what differences do you remember?

KL: Yeah. You're going from organizations combining two and three A-Ball teams to one in Double-A. So, you're going to get the best A-Ball pitchers, and you start noticing guys. In A-Ball, people pretty much have one pitch they can go to when there's a 3-1 or 2-0 count, and you knew a fastball was coming. When you got to Double-A, pitchers had two pitches they could go to. A slider or offspeed pitch they could throw you on the fastball counts, so that was the biggest challenge, just adjusting to that. Guys would pitch you backwards a bit and it was just learning how to hit off-speed.

But that was by far the biggest jump, bigger than Double-A to Triple-A.

RC: What was it like winning the league championship at Chattanooga in 1988? Do those types of wins and awards mean anything to the typical minor league player, and what did it mean to you?

KL: That was huge. We had kind of a scrappy team and didn't have the best team in the league, but we always got hot at the right times. Everything just gelled and came together. Tommy Runnels was the manager and later went on to the same position in Montreal. We ended up beating Greenville to win the championship, and I wore that championship ring for years after that. I had numerous off-season jobs and I think I wore that ring until I got with the Braves.

And a lot of people in Chattanooga who I still talk to always remember that year. And I do too, because anytime you win a championship, regardless of the level, there are memories that stay with you forever, especially with the team we had. Kind of a bunch of scrappy bunch of guys that just played together. There was some fighting amongst the team too but when we got on the field, we gelled and were ready to play.

RC: You say you had a lot of off-season jobs. What were some of them?

KL: I did a lot of things. I worked at Circuit City selling stereos. I did Christmas lights, and even cleaned chimneys one year when we were living in Nashville. A teammate thought it'd be a good idea (Laughs). I taught a lot of batting lessons, too. You just kind of made enough money to get you to Spring Training and did whatever you could to get by.

RC: 1989-1991 saw you with Triple-A Nashville where you essentially had the same year each season, hitting .267, .260 and .260. Was there a point during those three years where you began getting frustrated and feeling like your time was passing, or was baseball still enjoyable with a positive outlook for you?

KL: Still enjoyable. I got to Triple-A quick, but it's like, anytime you spend more than one year somewhere, there are guys right behind you that are bigger prospects that are coming up, and you see opportunity and when it kind of passes, after the second or third year in Nashville, I knew it was getting to where it might not work out with Cincinnati, and I was getting discouraged. I think I started thinking about what else I could do and started thinking that, "This might be the end," and I guess when I went to Oakland, you go to a new team and you get new life and start thinking, "Hey, maybe this will be the team."

And that's how I looked at it; just tried to play well enough and after I left Cincinnati and Nashville, I felt like I got better and it was just a matter of finding a team to give me a shot. But it does get discouraging, and guys don't normally spend three or four or five years in Triple-A. You do see a lot of veterans. And plus, then your salary starts getting up and you're making $35,000 or $40,000, and that's tough to walk away from because your thinking, "What else can I do making that kind of money in a five-month time span?"

But you start wondering whether or not this is going to be the end, and it's a tough way to think since you've been doing it since you were a kid and you see your dream kind of getting away.

RC: Like you just mentioned, in the spring of 1992, you were traded by the Reds to the Oakland Athletics. What were your thoughts about leaving the Cincinnati organization and heading to an unknown place?

KL: I was traded by Jim Bowden, who is with Washington now, and he told me he'd trade me if I didn't have a chance to make the team in spring training. He traded me to Oakland, and I thought that was going to be a great opportunity just because their middle infielders were Mike Bordick and Lance Blankenship, and neither one of them had much more experience than me. And I figured that if I did well, I'd have a chance of making the team. I think Bordick was hitting .400 and I don't think Blankenship made an error the first couple of months, so nothing opened up.

But, the good part was that I ended up playing for Bob Boone, as that was his first year managing, and it didn't seem like much at the time, but it kind of came full circle down the road when he became manager of the Royals. And actually, that's one of the reasons we signed with them in the minor leagues later on. I felt maybe I finally had someone on my side and it kind of worked out for us.

RC: You spent 1992 at Triple-A Tacoma and hit .278 in 107 games. Did you feel closer to the big leagues with Tacoma than you had in Nashville?

KL: Yeah. I don't know, sometimes just going to a new organization, sometimes you can become stale when you're at one place too long. Even though you have strengths or weaknesses, it seems like the weaknesses override. So just getting a fresh start gives you a chance to show the good things that you do and I felt like getting a fresh start, even though it didn't work out, was great.

RC: Following the 1992 season, you signed with the St. Louis Cardinals and ultimately spent the 1993 season at Triple-A Louisville, where you hit .300 with 13 HR and 68 RBI. That was the first time you had hit .300 since the 1987 season in Cedar Rapids; how did that feel and do you feel like that season really got your career moving forward again?

KL: Yeah. It was kind of weird, because I went to Spring Training with them and really, there wasn't even a spot for me in Triple-A. I spent the first couple of weeks not even playing. They had some guys from the Big Leagues that needed to play, and I just kind of was there. Then somebody got called up, and I started playing and just went crazy. And it seemed like each month I was at a different position, whether it was third, second, or the outfield, and I really fine-tuned my utility skills. I thought I should have gotten a call-up in September, but then after that, I ended up getting a tryout in Japan that off-season. It didn't work out, but I was over there trying out and then I think some Big League teams started showing some interest, and the biggest thing about that next year was just finding out which team wanted me to sign more.

So, my agent and I tried to target lower market teams that would give me a chance. We just felt like San Diego was the best team to do that.

RC: After signing with San Diego, you ultimately ended up making the 1994 Opening Day roster, and got your first taste of the big leagues after eight seasons in the minors. Before we talk about that, talk about your favorite memories of minor league baseball and some of the friends you made?

KL: Just the championship season in Chattanooga, that's one. Just playing on a team that won everything and also, the first year in Chattanooga with the guys we had on our team. Chris Hammond is one guy that stands out that I had a long friendship with.

Another great memory was in Nashville. I'm not sure what year it was now that I think about it, but we made it to the championship game and were playing in Omaha. And when I was in Nashville, Buffalo was a big time rival for us. At the end of the year, we both had same record, and we had a one game playoff. And it was 18 innings and we edged out Buffalo just to get into the playoffs. So now we're playing Omaha, and two days later, we played a 21 inning game and lost that one 1-0. So in a couple of days we played 39 innings.

But that series with Omaha went to seven games and I hit a grand slam to tie the seventh game. The end result was we ended up losing, but just to get to the playoffs in that type of atmosphere and hitting the grand slam, I enjoyed it.

I also remember getting my 1,000 hit in the minor leagues off of a buddy of mine that was a left handed pitcher, and I hit a home run off of him. I remember when I played in the Big Leagues and Jeff Blauser got his 1,000 hit, and I remembered that I had 1,000 hits in the minors and 100 HR. You spend a lot of time down there and different memories and milestones down there just really don't register to anyone but yourself.

But the minors, a lot of hits, a lot of travel and a lot of friends that just come and go because you play in so many places. Maybe you should have been in the Big Leagues but for whatever reason, were never given a shot. I feel fortunate because I could have just as easily been one of those guys who had 10 or 11 years in the minors, but leave the game as just a bunch of memories.

RC: Did you have a good idea you'd have a shot of making the Padres out of spring in 1994?

KL: I did when I first signed. But then a couple of weeks later, they signed Harold Reynolds, who was playing for the spot that I was vying for as a utility guy. With his experience and name, I knew it'd be a given that he'd make the team. But as we got into Spring Training, I was tearing the cover off the ball, and he was hitting about .150. And the funny part was that he was encouraging me everyday; it was almost like he knew something would happen. But it went down to the last week of Spring Training, and we were playing the Angels at their place and that morning, Harold got traded over there, and that basically opened a spot for me. So about three or four days before the season started, we went to Las Vegas for a couple of exhibition games and there were only 25 guys with us, so I kind of did the Math and kind of knew I'd made the team, but nobody said anything. So finally, Jim Riggleman came to me and said, "Hey, you made the team, you had a good spring, and we just have to work out the paperwork stuff."

So I was fired up, my wife and my one son were with me in Vegas and I called down and told them, and it was just an awesome feeling. Eight years in the minors and to finally make it, even if it was just for a short time, was just the greatest feeling in the world.

RC: You played in 27 games that year, but hit just .209 in limited at bats (43). Your first Major League at bat came in the pinch hitting role on April 5th against Atlanta. Tell us what you remember about that first at bat?

KL: I remember Mark Wohlers was throwing about 150 MPH, I remember that (Laughs). I think I flew out to left in my first two at bats against him. You faced guys that were throwing hard and in the 90's, but he was just on a different level, he just brought it. My first two at bats weren't successful, and my 3rd was against Greg McMichael of the Braves, and I battled him to a 3-2 count and ended up hitting a bouncing liner past Mark Lemke, who dove for it but couldn't get it. So I got my first hit off of McMichael and remember tying the game.

But next day, I got my first MLB start against Florida playing 3rd base and hit two home runs. One off of David Weathers and the other off of Robb Nen. I ended up getting both of those balls and have them in my basement. It was just unbelievable feeling to do that in my first start. You kind of do that and you think, "Man, this is great, I'm here to stay."

RC: What was it like playing under Riggleman and who were some of the teammates you became close with while in San Diego?

KL: Archi Cianfrocco, I got to know him real well. He was a utility player as well. Brad Ausmus was one of the catchers on the team. It was a pretty young team. A lot of guys that played aren't playing anymore. But it was kind of short lived.

As for Riggleman, he did a great job for the team he had. It was funny because after I got with Atlanta and I saw him with Los Angeles, it seemed like every time I saw him he would apologize for sending me down (Laughs).

RC: As we mentioned earlier, your stint in San Diego ended in 1994 after you appeared in just 27 games, and you were optioned back to Triple-A Las Vegas. What did they tell you when they sent you down?

KL: Well, it was tough to not play the next day after crushing two home runs in my first start. The biggest thing for me was that I was just in awe being in the Big Leagues, and I don't think I was able to relax and play the way I normally did. We were just that type of team, kind of getting beat a lot, and we made some changes and guys went on the DL, and I was just kind of the odd man out, They sent me down thinking I'd come right back up, but it just never happened. So I went down to Vegas and hit over .300 down there, and that was kind of the end of that.

The only other thing I remember about that year was that I think it was during the strike, and for a media thing, me and another guy, Kevin Higgins, they came up with the idea of having him and I play all nine positions during one game, so we did it during the strike, and it got some attention and was kind of fun. I started out on the mound and he started out catching, and we actually did real well in that game and I was at short, him at 2nd to end the game on a double play. It was really neat. It's the first time two people had ever done it in the same game, all 9 positions. But every once in awhile, people will have these bloopers shows on the weekends, especially back in Vegas, and its still on those shows, they still run it every once in awhile.

RC: Following 1994, you signed with the Royals, marking the third straight season you'd switched organizations as a free agent. Why did you choose Kansas City, and were you frustrated at that point in being 30-years old with limited big league chances?

KL: Yeah, I was definitely frustrated. But we looked at it as a great opportunity because of Bob Boone coming over to KC, and they were aggressive with signing me and told me they'd give me a good shot out of Spring Training. I was fired up and thought it was great and would work out good. Got to Spring Training and it was a big crossroads. The whole replacement player thing kind of came up, and a lot of guys that I knew chose to play, and the reason why I didn't was because I had just gotten to the Big Leagues the year before, and I knew that if I'd have done the replacement thing that my career would have been over. But the hard part was sending us all home. I was out of Spring Training with no pay for three weeks, just kind of waiting. A lot of guys I played with and knew that chose to be replacement players were guaranteed jobs in Triple-A, and it was just my shot at making the team out of spring training was just going away and sitting out. Basically no Spring Training and once they settled, they released a lot of guys that held out, guys at my position. And for some reason they didn't release me. They allowed me to go to Omaha. And I remember them telling me, "We have eight or nine replacement players at Omaha, and if you have a problem with it, we'll give you a release."

I said, "No, I want to play" and we went to Omaha and I think that year they carried 28 players on the Big League roster for the first month. In reality, I thought I'd be there for a month and as soon as they sent down three players, I'd get released. But I played third and just tried to do the best I could and not worry about getting released and I ended up doing well. I was hitting .360 something and right in the middle of getting hot, up in the Big Leagues, Chico Lind didn't show up one day. They were going on a road trip to Texas and he just didn't show up. They couldn't get ahold of him and his agent didn't know where he was, so they had some guys they were going to call up and Bob said go ahead and call me up because I was hitting so well, and I met them in Texas. And I think I was hitting 3rd, playing third base, and George Brett is sitting on bench. I'm sitting next to him, and he had made a comment to me and said, "You were going to win a batting title and they screwed it up and called you up."

And I said, "George there ain't no money for winning the batting title in Triple-A, so they did the best thing." (Laughs)

The next day, they found Chico Lind and they ended up trading him. But once that had been made official, they just kept me up there and I just kept hitting and ended up hitting over .300 rest of the year.

RC: You were actually hitting .378 for Omaha at the beginning of 1995 when they called you up. How did you like playing for the O-Royals and at Rosenblatt Stadium?

KL: Well, it was a park I was very familiar with, just from playing in Nashville. But it was fun. Mike Jirschele was the manager and he kept telling me that I was stressed out, he could sense it, and he told me as soon as they cut to 25, I would still be fine and not to worry about it. And I just enjoyed playing there and I always hit well playing against Omaha, so it was a nice stadium and they did a lot of work for it with the College World Series. It was fun.

RC: Like you said, the Royals called you up on June 5th after Jose Lind left the team. What do you remember about the exact moment you found out, and how shocked were you?

KL: We were at Oklahoma City, and I was sitting at a Dairy Queen type of restaurant eating, and it was probably 12:30 and was raining, so we figured our game would get rained out. We were hanging out and Jirschele called me after I got back to the hotel room and said, "You're going to Kansas City, you're meeting them in Texas."

I said, "WHAT?!?," and he said, "You're tearing it up down here."

And I was just ecstatic, because I felt like I was getting a second chance and I think the second time I got called up, it was just different. For one, I was really hot. And normally, a guy that gets called up never plays right away. But being hot and swinging the bat and throwing me right in the lineup, I just felt comfortable and relaxed and I just told myself that I wasn't going to be in awe about being up there. Rather, I'd just play the same way as Triple-A, and I think that doing well off the bat made me feel like I belonged there.

RC: You were ultimately in the lineup that same night (June 5th) against Texas in Arlington, and went 0-2 with an RBI. What do you remember about your first day with the Kansas City Royals?

KL: Just for one, flying into Texas and seeing that big old stadium. It was just unbelievable. I got there early and they had a restaurant in right field, and I ate there and was watching guys take BP overlooking the field. Just the clubhouse was great, too. The good part about me and the Royals was that they already had six or seven guys that were replacement players that were up there, so when I got called up, I was the only one who wasn't, and it was just an overwhelming difference. We had a lot of veterans on the team, guys like Mark Gubicza, Jeff Montgomery, Kevin Appier, Wally Joyner, Greg Gagne, Gary Gaetti, and they all just made me feel welcome and at home.

Here I was with some big time players, and they were just totally open to me, and I don't think it was the same for the other guys. They would just kind of mark people. But for me, it was an awesome feeling.

RC: What do you mean about certain guys being "marked?"

KL: Well, they didn't fit in. They had them room together on the road. During the games, you can tell which guys are getting thrown at. It was frustrating because some of the guys in the Big Leagues were only there because it was a favor they (the Royals) were returning to some of the guys. It was not good; it was just not a good energy around them. At that point right there, I knew I made the right decision, regardless of if I ever got back or not.

RC: One of the more memorable parts of 1995 for you was when you hit safely in 10 of 11 games from June 20th to July 4th at a .545 clip to raise your average to .422. During that stretch, you also hit your first AL homer off of Scott Erickson. How exciting of a stretch was that for you, and did you feel like the Royals were starting to believe in you?

KL: Yeah, I did. I just felt like everything was coming together and I was hitting guys that had a real good reputation. I just started having a lot of success and driving in runs and we had a decent lineup. I was kind of the hottest at the time, and when you get guys that you play against like Eddie Murray, Kirby Puckett and guys that comment on you, even Cal Ripken, they make comments to you on base, and you're like, "Wow, I'm not just a career minor leaguer with no chance to stick in the Big Leagues. I'm kind of a Big League player now."

And that kind of gave me the confidence to be there and made me feel I belonged. You always feel like you're a Big League player, but a lot of guys are career minor leaguers and get a chance to play in the majors, but just have a short stint and that's it. But after that stretch, I really felt I belonged there.

RC: Overall, the team went 70-74 that year and finished in 2nd place. Personally, you hit .321 with 6 HR and 33 RBI. When you headed into that off-season, did you finally feel like you were in the majors to stay?

KL: Yeah. I felt like that off-season, the Royals did the caravan and I was a big part of that. They were trying to do a youth movement type of thing and part of that was they wanted to get guys living in Kansas City in the off-season because not too many were living there. So they were offering guys like me to move there, and in exchange, I think they covered a down payment on a house and in return, you'd do so many appearances. So for me, I was kind of a journeyman living out of an apartment, and that was a no-brainer, so I did that and felt secure as far as the next year and being part of what they had and what they wanted to do there.

RC: You made the Royals out of Spring Training in 1996, and one of your biggest games that year was on April 27th at Boston when you drove in 5 RBI with a home run and double. Do you remember that night in particular?

KL: Yeah, and I remember that I always hit well in Boston for some reason. I remember that day because for some reason, they've got a Keith Lockhart that is the conductor of the Boston Pops and he made his debut somewhere right around there, although I'm not sure if it was the same day or not. But we had a game there and having this conductor, the fans were all over me that game just cheering me and kind of rooting me on. The other Keith Lockhart was some young guy that was going to add a lot of energy to the Boston Pops and he got popular real quick. But ever since then, I just love going back to Boston and playing there, and my numbers always seemed to do well there.

RC: Did you ever meet the other Keith Lockhart?

KL: Na. I think the PR department exchanged pictures and I sent him a jersey, but it never worked out that we were in town when they had a concert in town. So no, never met him personally.

RC: This is kind of a random question, but one thing I've always wondered is how much the typical Major League hitter remembers about pitchers that he has faced in only 10 or 12 at bats. In most cases, would you actually remember pitchers that you'd see only a few at bats a year, as far as what they threw and what they had done to you in previous at bats?

KL: You have the luxury in the Big Leagues of having a lot of film. Every at bat is pretty much covered, and whether or not you face a guy once or 20 times, they've got footage on it, so you can kind of go back and see how they got you out. Some guys relied on that a lot, and if you didn't face a guy but once or twice, I just didn't give pitchers that much confidence that they'd remember how they got me out.

Actually, a lot of pitchers put guys in categories. They'll put me in a category of a certain type of left handed hitter and throw all lefties like me in that group. But that's the luxury of being in the Big Leagues – you can get video footage of anybody and everybody, and all the teams I played for always had good video libraries of all of your at bats, so it was just kind of a good refresher if nothing else to see how guys pitched you.

RC: Mike Sweeney said earlier this year that he can figure out what a pitcher is going to throw 60% of the time from seeing the grip before the ball is even thrown. Do most big league hitters like to try and look for that, or does it mess with your approach from guessing?

KL: Well, that's one thing I learned from Bob Boone when he was managing Kansas City. When they played in Philly they had a running bet of who could pick up the pitches first. He showed me things to look for, how guys hold their glove on fastballs and curve balls. You start from the feet and work your way up, and sometimes the first step is shorter on an off speed pitch. So if you're not playing, you kind of just make it a game to look and see what they do differently. Most guys will do something different to tip off their pitches, and if you can do that and know at least when they're throwing you a slider or forkball when there are two strikes, it gives you a big advantage.

I didn't play with too many guys who didn't want to know what was coming, so Bob taught us how to study the pitchers and just see little things. We faced some guys that did that a lot, like Latroy Hawkins, who used to stick his tongue out on a curve ball. He didn't know it but you pick it up and tell the guys on the team and use it to your advantage.

Or, you could just watch the second baseman and shortstop and how they'd move over on an off speed pitch. You learn different things like that and how to pick up pitches. Not sure if that answers your question or not?

RC: Yeah, definitely. Sorry to get off track (Laughs). 1996 was your first full season in the majors, and the team went 75-86 (5th place). Individually, you hit .273 with 7 HR and 55 RBI. What do you remember most about 1996?

KL: I remember getting off to a hot start, and I remember at the All-Star break, just doing real well and the fans were doing their All-Star voting. I don't know if I was even on the ballot, but if they were going to pick one guy on our team, I was having the best year. I think Bob was chosen as one of the coaches and they ended up taking Jeff Montgomery, but I remember when Bob came back from the All-Star Game, he said, "You have no idea how close you were to making it."

And he told me that Roberto Alomar slid into first just prior to that and hurt his finger, and he didn't show up and his agent didn't know if he would, so I can't remember who was the manager, but he asked Bob, "Is Lockhart available?", which obviously I was (Laughs) – you make yourself available.

Anyway, the manager was going to give Alomar another 30 minutes for his agent to call before he replaced him, but he ended up showing up and playing. But, I was pretty close to being an All-Star that year.

RC: While you were with KC those two years, 629 of your 707 at bats (89%) came against right handed pitchers. Were you frustrated at all that you didn't get more of a chance against lefties?

KL: Yeah, because I just know in the minor leagues I always hit lefties better than righties, and I was never platooned at all. And Bob was just big on that, I think he kind of learned a lot from Gene Mauch, and that was kind of something they just stuck with. And trust me, once you don't face them for awhile, it's tough.

RC: You came to Spring Training with the Royals in 1997 and expected to play all year with Kansas City. However, on March 27th, you were traded to the Atlanta Braves with Michael Tucker in exchange for Jermaine Dye and Jamie Walker. Did you have any clue the trade was coming in the days leading up to it?

KL: About a week prior to that, there were a lot of trade rumors and it seemed like my name was in a lot of them. Just different teams, but I never heard anything about the Braves. And I remember being in Spring Training and Bob Hamelin pulled his chair up by my locker and he said, "You're getting traded to Atlanta."

I didn't want to go anywhere because we had a house in KC. He mentioned Atlanta, and I guess he had a good relationship with a scout for KC who had kind of been watching me, and sure enough, by the end of that day, I found out it was true. There were two days left in Spring Training, and I kind of went up to Bob Boone and said, "I know there are a lot of rumors. Is this true or not?"

And he said, "Well, yeah, you got traded to Atlanta."

We were playing in Spring Training with the Royals and Michael Tucker was playing right field. I think all they were waiting for was Mr. Glass to fly in and approve the whole thing. So they had to yank Michael out of the game and we just kind of waited for the game to be over and it was finalized. I talked to John Schuerholz on the phone, and he welcomed me aboard.

RC: You arrived in Atlanta and played under Bobby Cox and with the Braves from 1997-2002, never missing the playoffs once. Before we talk more about that, what do you remember about the first moment you stepped into the Atlanta clubhouse?

KL: Just how welcoming it was right away. Everyone was kind of packing up, and they had just made a trade about a week before when they traded (Dave) Justice and (Marquis) Grissom to Cleveland, so everybody was just trying to settle back and pack up for the season. So it was a weird feeling at first, and I remember looking at my locker and being #1 and thinking "goodnight." I wasn't real keen about #1, but I was starting that game at second base and ended up hitting a home run in Spring Training, so that kind of definitely helped ease the moment and I felt pretty good. I played five innings and Bobby took me out, and it was just kind of a welcome aboard type of thing. Got out and flew on the plane to Atlanta. They made me feel welcome right away.

RC: What was your first impression of your new teammates and the surroundings, and how did they compare to Kansas City?

KL: When we got to Turner Field, we played an exhibition against the Yankees, who had just won the World Series the year before. I remember from a couple minutes before the game, just how serious everything was. It remember everybody high-fiving before the game and the excitement just before the first pitch even though it was just an exhibition; we never had that in Kansas City. You could tell it was a team on a different level, and then we were playing the Yankees and Pat Coralles was coaching first base, and him and Charlie Hayes, they were screaming at each other. And I was like, "Goodnight, this is a Spring Training game."

It was intense right away, and I was like, "This is going to be cool." It was definitely a different environment. Not that Kansas City wasn't like that, but you could tell it was a different type of team and what they were used to, which was winning and expecting nothing less. Going from rebuilding to a team like that was kind of a neat feeling.

RC: 1997 and 1998 saw you guys make the NLCS but lose instead of making the World Series. How frustrating was it to miss out on the World Series, but on the other hand, how exciting was it for you to taste the post-season atmosphere?

KL: Awesome. I was kind of a utility player and pinch hitter, and I think the first year there, it was week or two before the playoffs, Lemke turned his ankle and had a high ankle sprain, and I kind of went from pinch hitting to being the starting second baseman in the playoffs against Houston. It was intense and I remember Blauser yelling over, "Hey, you got a heartbeat over there?"

My heart was racing 100 MPH. And I remember that series against Houston, too. I don't think I got a hit, I made an error, and I wasn‘t myself, but we ended up sweeping them so it didn't really show up. The next series against the Marlins I think I was 8 for 16 and did well, and I remember just having a great series and wishing we could have gotten to the World Series.

That's one thing the guys said: They just expected Atlanta to be in the World Series every year, and you just do, you expect it. For that not to happen, it was frustrating, but to play in the post-season, it was awesome and you can see why it was the place to play and that's what you had to work hard for.

RC: In 1999, you guys beat the Astros and Mets before ultimately getting swept by the Yankees in the World Series. Even so, what was it like playing in the World Series?

KL: Just getting there was unbelievable. Playing the Mets and going up 3-0 on them and then having them come back to win two games; I can see it to this day. I was in the game and I got taken out. I was in the dugout and Kenny Rogers was throwing to Andruw (Jones), and he walked him with the bases loaded for us to win. And I just remember the relief of getting to the World Series, it was huge. And even though we got swept, just to play in one was phenomenal, and to get a ring on top of that, it was even better.

I just realized how many players play and never got a chance to play in the World Series, let alone a playoff game, and it's something I'll always remember.

RC: 2001 saw you guys make the NLCS after sweeping the Astros, but you ultimately lost to the eventual champion Diamondbacks 4-1. What do you remember about that year and that series?

KL: Just remember one game in particular. Randy Johnson was pitching, and we had his pitches down. We could tell when he was throwing a slider and whatnot, and I remember we had a meeting in the dugout and everybody was there. When he tilted his glove a certain way he threw a slider, and how he'd get people out was that he'd throw the slider in the dirt and everyone would swing at it. But we finally got it down, bases loaded, we're about to break through and I remember Brian Jordan went up, and he gets a slider away and in the dirt, and he ends up swinging away and striking out with the bases loaded. Right away, Chipper (Jones) said, "What are you doing, couldn't you tell his glove?"

And Brian was like, "What are you talking about?"

Evidently, Brian was in the clubhouse the whole time we were talking about; he missed the whole thing. And we got beat that game and that was kind of the turning point of the series. They were loaded with pitching and they hit real well, especially with Craig Counsell doing the way he was – we couldn't get him out.

RC: 2002 was the last year you spent with the Braves, and you guys made the playoffs again but lost in the first round to the Giants. Was that a tough way to go out in Atlanta, and did you know you'd likely not be back in 2003?

KL: Yeah, it was a tough way to go out. We felt like we should have won that series, especially after we went to their place and had a dramatic win. I hit my first postseason home run there in San Francisco, and everybody just felt like it was meant for us to go on. We had just a great season that year, and to have it cut short, it was brutal.

And yes, at that time, I kind of felt like my time was coming to an end there, and once the off-season came, I was taken off the roster, so we kind of knew it was time to move on. I think I was 38 at the time, and I knew I was kind of getting close to the end. But we had the Mets and Padres calling, and since I grew up in California, I just thought it'd be nice to play out there and closer to my family, so that's why we chose them.

RC: What was it like playing under Bobby Cox during your six years in Atlanta?

KL: Best I ever played for. Just a players manager, a guy that would treat me just like he would Greg Maddux. You just felt like he believed in you and he just was very loyal. You made an error and lost a game, and the next day at the park, you'd never see anything in the paper about it, and he'd made you feel like it didn't happen. As a player, you appreciate that and it gives you more confidence and makes you want to win more for him. He was just awesome.

RC: Which Braves teammates were you closest to, and do you still keep in touch with a lot of them today?

KL: When I was there I was real close to Walt Weiss and John Smoltz, who I still talk to quite a bit. Darren Holmes as well when he pitched here. But that's about it, just some guys here and there at different events. But probably the one guy I still talk to quite a bit is John.

RC: Was it tough leaving Atlanta to sign with the Padres prior to the 2003 season?

KL: Yeah. You just get used to being in that type of atmosphere with that type of team and with championship caliber teams. At that point, going to San Diego, they were trying to load up that year and I think right away in Spring Training, Trevor Hoffman had gotten hurt and was going to be out the whole year, and it kind of changed the direction of where they were headed. Then Atlanta went crazy that year during the season, won all kinds of games, and I thought they'd go all the way that year. Which, I don't know, you felt like you still wanted to be a part of it. But you just kind of go where you're wanted and go where you're needed, and that's kind of how it was.

I felt fortunate for just being around that long because it seems like utility player have lots of turnover, as do bullpen guys, and I felt fortunate to have been there for six years.

RC: 2003 would be your last season in the Big Leagues, and you played in just 62 games for San Diego, where you also began your major league career way back in 1994. What was Bruce Bochy like and what do you remember most about that season?

KL: Bochy was awesome. Just a great organization from top to bottom. Ownership was great and the coaches were great, too. Just a fun year, although I ended up going on the DL for quite a bit, and had a tough time getting off the DL when I was healthy just because there wasn't a spot for me. San Diego was beautiful and it was fun, I enjoyed it. Only downside was my family being out here in Atlanta, so I couldn't see them often and that's what it made it tough.

RC: What made you decide to retire, and how long before you officially did so did you know it was time?

KL: I kind of knew after that San Diego year it was time. I had back issues and told my agent that if something came up more on the east coast, I'd consider it. I think I saw my family seven weeks out of the seven month season, and as we got closer to January of 2004, usually you start working out and start mentally getting prepared, and I just didn't find myself doing it. The teams that were interested were on the west coast, and I didn't want to do that again, so I never really told him that I was retired, but I just kind of said that unless something opens up on the east coast, I was done.

There was never really an official retirement date or anything, just spring training started and I wasn't working out, and I knew if a team called, I wouldn't be ready, so mentally in my mind, it was probably mid-January of 2004 that I knew I was done.

RC: What is your single most favorite memory from playing professional baseball?

KL: Probably my first Big League start and hitting the two home runs - I even remember running the bases. In fact, we were staying at an aunt's house at the time who I didn't even know existed before that, and they didn't even have cable. I was calling my buddy and telling him I hit two homers and that it'd be on ESPN and I needed him to tape it. And of course, Kent Mercker threw a no-hitter that night so it was barely a blurb (Laughs).

RC: (Laughs) Sounds like your luck is a lot like mine! Getting back to Kansas City, what are your favorite memories of KC, both on and off the field?

KL: Just the type of people that were there. I just think that's an awesome baseball town. I think it deserves a better team. I don't know what's going on with ownership, but I know people there know baseball and I still keep in contact with some of the Lancers and I wish there was a way they could put a better product out there and at least have the finances to do that. I don't know if that will ever happen, but I loved playing there.

George Toma, now you want to talk about an awesome field, that was the best field I ever had, and even as old as the stadium is, it's just immaculate. Just always loved it, and even though I made it up with San Diego for a brief time, my career started in Kansas City, and I've got the jersey hanging in my basement to remind me of it. That's where it all happened.

RC: When was the last time you were in KC, and do you still follow the Royals at all?

KL: I haven't been back in a long time. I still follow them and still kind of look, but (Mike) Sweeney is probably the only one I still know there. When I was there he was up and down a bit, him and Sal Fasano were kind of the two catchers. One could hit but couldn't catch, and one could catch but couldn't hit - too bad you couldn't mix the two (Laughs).

RC: What do the Royals mean to you when you think back today?

KL: Just the beginning. That's where everything started. Those were the guys that gave me a real shot, and I remember just growing up and loving George Brett and Pete Rose, and being able to sit next to Brett on the bench. Those are memories that will never fade. I was in KC when Cal Ripken passed the Japanese guy (Sachio Kinugasa) for career games played, and I have a poster in my basement of that. I got a picture of Paul Molitor and his 3,000 hit when he got a triple and I was playing third, and those are just memories I have that I'm surrounded by in my basement.

RC: Speaking of third baseman and Kansas City, we've got another third baseman featured in next week's "Then & Now" in Kevin Seitzer.

KL: Kevin Seitzer - best hitting instructor in baseball right there. I saw so many guys come through with Mac and Seitz, and I was surprised when he finally got a job that it wasn't there in Kansas City. That guy knows his stuff, man, and I'm telling you, he's the best. It takes a different guy to correct things, and I'm not talking about the obvious. I couldn't believe it took him so long to get a job. That'll be a good interview.

RC: For sure. Any chance that Keith Lockhart will ever get involved with professional baseball again?

KL: Not sure. Right now, I've got three kids and my youngest is five. I'm coaching a travel team here, and my oldest is 14, so I get enjoyment out of that and watching him play. We were qualified last year for a new league and the World Series by winning the tournament, so we went to Johnson City, Tennessee and were 21 out of 25 teams and were expecting to hopefully win a game or two. We got all hot at the right time and went 8-0 and won the whole thing, and it was pretty cool.

Anyway, it's the last year with them, the kids will go to high school after that, but I'll probably start over with my youngest if he wants to play. I enjoy coaching, and until they get to be 12 and 13, the fields they are playing on are so small, so you can't really teach double cut offs and small things like that, but once the fields open up, you can teach them actual baseball.

RC: Nice. Finally, what has Keith Lockhart been up to since 2003, and where will we find him today?

KL: I'm just working with kids and coaching, and also doing land development. A friend of mine who is also a neighbor has an engineering company and our kids play together, so we've developed a friendship and bought some property, both residential and commercial. I'm still outside quite a bit and it's been fun just learning it. I've enjoyed it, and I still break away from here and coach the team. I took probably a year and a half to two years off just to regroup and figure out what to do with the rest of my life. You're 39-years old and retired, and you wonder what the heck to do.

But the three kids keep me busy, and I feel like I'm doing some things I really like, although down the road, I would really like to coach, whether it be high school, college or at the professional level. But right now, to get back into pro ball, I'm just not ready for it.

RC: Well if you ever are, maybe you can come back to Kansas City and turn around the Royals.

KL: (Laughs)

RC: Thanks a lot for your time. Anything else you'd like to add?

KL: No. Just that I enjoyed it so much in Kansas City. I just know the kinds of fans they have there and I know they are great baseball fans. And I wish, and not to knock anyone, but I wish they had a better product out there, because I know if they did, the fans would come out there for sure. That's it and I appreciate it Dave.

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