KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Eight years in the making, the dream became a reality for Bubba Starling as he made his Major League Baseball debut with the Kansas City Royals in an 8-5 victory against the Detroit Tigers at Kauffman Stadium.

Starling, a graduate of Gardner-Edgerton High School, walked and scored in his first plate appearance Friday, July 12.

Starling drew a one-out walk in the bottom of the second against Detroit starter Spencer Turnbull. He scored on a throwing error, breaking a 1-1 tie before a crowd of more than 25,000. Kansas City recorded more than 4,000 tickets sold the day of the game.

The day was unofficially named Gardner-Edgerton and Wellsville night with fans from his old stomping grounds coming out to see Starling.

His father Jimbo grew up in Wellsville. The family lived in Gardner where Starling was a three-sport athlete for the Trailblazers.

Smokey’s in Wellsville had a Bubba special with pulled pork on a bun with egg, onion ring and smoked cheddar. The restaurant also had a watch party in his honor for the debut.

Starling was an All-Frontier League performer for the Gardner-Edgerton Trailblazers in football, basketball and baseball.

He was drafted in the first round of the 2011 Major League Baseball draft by the Kansas City Royals with the fifth overall pick.

The journey was a long one with injuries, setbacks and stops in Rookie Ball, Class A, Class AA, Class AAA and Arizona League ball before his ticket was punched for the Show.

There were a couple of times he thought about hanging up his cleats, but Starling was taught three very important things by Jimbo and Deb from a young age.

“Bubba’s journey to get to where he is has not been easy,” said his sister Jamie Oshel, who teaches in Spring Hill and lives in Paola. “But, I think God gave him, and us, a little bit tougher path to where his is now, so that we would all appreciate it that much more.

“He was blessed from the beginning with unbelievable athletic talent, but I truly believe my parents had a huge role in making us who we are,” she said. “We were taught to be respectful, work hard and not to give up. And that’s exactly what he did. He never gave up.”

Forever Royal

Bubba Starling could be the poster boy for the Kansas City slogan, “Forever Royal.”

Bubba proved he has been a Royals fan his whole life when on the day he was called up by his hometown team he tweated out a picture of him as a child wearing his Royals baseball cap and T-shirt.

Jimbo and Deb Starling took Bubba, Jamie and Jill to the ballpark two to three times a year to see their Kansas City Royals when they were growing up. Bubba and the family were at George Brett’s last game when he kissed home plate.

“I’m so freaking proud of you, Bubba Starling,” Jamie said. “Forever Royal has a whole new meaning now.”

His debut with the Kansas City Royals was a splash as a cooler of water was dumped over Starling during his post-game interview with Joel Goldberg of Fox Sports.

Starling also had two lucky numbers for the debut. He wore No. 11 and batted in the No. 7 spot.

Dream Come True

It was quite a week for Starling. He represented the Omaha Storm Chasers in his first minor league all-star game on Wednesday. The Kansas City Royals bought his contract from Omaha and brought him to the Show on Thursday.

Starling made his Major League debut on Friday. He got his first base hit with a line drive to left in a 4-1 victory against Detroit on Saturday, July 13.

“I’ve dreamed of this moment since I was a little boy,” Starling said. “It’s been quite a journey getting to this point, but I couldn’t feel more grateful. I want to thank my coaches, trainers, teammates, friends and most of all my family who have believed in me and stuck by me through this crazy journey.

“I am grateful, thankful, and most of all, blessed,” he said. “Thank you to everyone who had made this possible for me. It’s time to play ball, Kansas City.”

Starling singled to left against Detroit’s Matthew Boyd, driving in a one run in his first Major League hit Saturday, July 13.

His mother Deb was among those excited to see the historic moment, jumping up from her seat to give Jimbo a high-five and daughter Jill a hug.

Journey Home

Nothing has come easy for Bubba Starling.

He spent eight years in the minor leagues, working on every aspect of his game, adjusting to pitching at each level along the way and battling injuries, which set him back a time or two.

Starling, drafted in 2011, made his professional debut with Burlington in Rookie Ball in 2012 where he hit .275. He hit .241 in 125 games for Lexington in Class A ball in 2013.

He was sent to Wilmington in 2014 where his average slumped to .218 and .177 in a 20-game stint with Peoria.

During the 2014 season he hit .386 in a 12-game stint with Wilmington, clubbing two home runs with 12 runs batted in.

Starling made the jump to Class AAA with Omaha in 2016 where he hit .181 before being optioned to Northwest Arkansas in Class AA. He returned to Omaha in 2017 and 2018 with stops in Arizona and Idaho Falls.

He was hitting .310 with 81 hits, seven home runs and 38 RBI in 72 games with Omaha this season when the Kansas City Royals called him to the Show.

The Kansas City Royals had a suite for the Starling family to watch Bubba play in his Major League debut. Jimbo and Deb Starling were joined by family and friends, including Bubba’s siblings Jamie Oshel and Jill Starling.

“I am thankful for the struggles in the past,” Jamie said. “They make me even more grateful for this experience. I will remember tonight for the rest of my life. I had tears, then chills, then more tears watching him take the field and looking around at the stands packed with our family and friends.

“To all of the people who’ve reached out to our family, know that we are beyond grateful for your prayers and kind words. It has been such a whirlwind these past couple of days. That night was like nothing I have ever experienced.”

It was a special night for everyone, and a winner for the Royals to top it off, Jill Starling said.

“Today was one of those days where you can only dream about,” she said. “This guy. He did it. I have tears and my heart is so happy. This guy is an inspiration to many but before anything else, he is my big brother and is freaking awesome. I love you, Bubba Starling. I’m so darn proud.”

Date in History

Kansas City pitcher Danny Duffy was making his 200th appearance for the Royals as Starling made his debut. Duffy made his Major League debut in 2011, the same year Starling was drafted.

It was also on this date in Kansas City Royals history, July 12, 2016, first baseman Eric Hosmer and catcher Salvador Perez hit home runs to drive in all four runs as the American League defeated the National League 4-2 in the Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Petco Park in San Diego.

Starling was part of a trivia question for his debut. He joined two other Kansas City Royals to make their Major League debut for the team in center field. Clint Hurdle, Pittsburg Pirates manager, played his first game for the Royals at center field in 1975. Gary Thurman debuted at center for the club in 1983.

Sports Editor Gene Morris can be reached at (913) 294-2311 or gene.morris@miconews.com.

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