Riley King was disappointed.
He was disappointed in the way any baseball player tends to be multiple times each game on average. In his last at-bat against the Helena Senators on Saturday during the Missoula Mavericks’ first of a doubleheader between the squads, he’d just recorded an out.
Luckily, King was about to get a serious pick-me-up.
As he exited the home dugout and trotted out to center field alongside left fielder Tanner Rheinschmidt, his teammate relayed some second-hand news. The 19-year-old, right-handed swinging King had been picked by the Kansas City Royals in the 24th round of Major League Baseball’s first-year player draft just moments earlier.
“I kind of sat out there for what seemed like a long inning,” King said. “When I came in, my dad was right there and I gave him a big hug. He told me the 24th by the Royals; it was a pretty special moment.”
What Rheinschmidt had overheard, the public address announcer would relay to those in attendance at Lindborg-Cregg Field in between games Saturday. The Royals made King the 714th pick of the draft.
Following the games, the 6-foot-4, 210-pound King said he had an inkling that Saturday could be the day he’d hear from MLB types. Both the Royals and San Diego Padres had contacted him over the previous months. They’d hinted that if either franchise were to pluck him from the American Legion baseball ranks in Montana, he’d be a late-round selection on the draft’s final day.
“It’s such an unpredictable thing,” King said of the 40-round, 1,216-player draft. “Obviously there were a lot of nerves going into it.
“They were kind of talking to me, telling me you’d go anywhere between the 20th and 40th round. It’s just kind of amazing that it could be that wide open.”
Entering Saturday’s games, King was hitting .422 for the Class AA Mavs with four home runs, four triples and six doubles while knocking in 25 runs. The big center fielder has also showed some speed on the base paths with 24 steals in 26 attempts in 34 games this season.
King’s present – marked with colorful jubilation – will soon be followed by a future filled with decisions to make. A multi-sport athlete during his time at Missoula Sentinel High School – from which he graduated in 2012 – King attended Carroll College last year to play basketball for the Fighting Saints. Now comes the choice of which sport’s path to follow.
“I’ve got to talk to them (the Royals) tonight, and obviously my family and figure out what’s the best opportunity for me and what I want to do,” King said.
Missoula Mavs manager Brent Hathaway seemed to have an idea which direction his star center fielder would lean.
“When you get an opportunity to chase a dream, you’ve got to take it,” Hathaway said. “We’re 100 percent behind him; we hope he tears it up and someday can look back and say this is where it all started for him.”
King averaged 6.7 points per game as a true freshman last basketball season at Carroll, adding 2.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.1 steals per game on his way to earning the Frontier Conference Freshman of the Year award.
The only Montana player drafted in 2013, King is the third Maverick in three years to get the call on draft day. Pitcher Andrew Sopko, a Loyola Sacred Heart grad, was picked by the Padres last season in the 14th round. The year before, another Sentinel center fielder, Ben Roberts, was chosen by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the seventh round.
Both players turned down professional contracts to honor commitments at the collegiate level – Roberts at Washington State and Sopko at Gonzaga. Roberts might have had a chance to play for the hometown Missoula Osprey, an advanced rookie league affiliate of the Diamondbacks, had he signed.
The recent three makes as many as eight players chosen overall in Hathaway’s 23 years with the Mavs, he said.
“I think what it says is this program in particular gives them a shot to develop,” he said. “If they’re willing to work and dedicate themselves, we’ll at least give them that platform. And if they’re gifted, as are these kids that’ve been drafted, they have a chance to pursue their dream.”
It’s a dream that King said he’s had for much of his life. Though he grew up a New York Yankees fan, he loved the game enough to watch almost any team. He was never much of a one-team follower.
King may have finally found a favorite now, though.
“Definitely now, the Royals are up there,” he said with a chuckle.