by Howie Stalwick
If Medical Lake's Jeremy Affeldt fails to stick in the major leagues, he can always fall back on the singing and acting career he's trained for as a pitcher with the Kansas City Royals.
It was bad enough last year when Affeldt's rookie initiation included orders by veteran outfielder Michael Tucker to sing constantly on the team bus. That came to an abrupt end when Affeldt spotted Tucker in a purple suit one day and belted out the theme song from Barney, the children's television show.
Alas, the Royals' veterans saved the best prank for last. After Affeldt won in relief at Seattle late last season, thrilled family members waited and waited and waited for the conquering hero to emerge from the clubhouse... in drag?
It seems Affeldt's teammates thought the rookie left-hander would look just great dressed up like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. So-o-o-o, out came the 6-foot-4, 215-pound, bearded Affeldt in a blue-and-white checkered dress.
And a black wig with pigtails. And red shoes.
Obviously, Affeldt was quite the hit when walking through airports that night. And after the Royals landed in San Francisco -- yes, San Francisco -- the Royals threw "Dorothy" off the team bus a few blocks from the hotel.
"Jeremy said he never ran so fast in his life," says a laughing David Affeldt, the father of Dorothy... er, Jeremy.
Fortunately for Affeldt, the 1997 graduate of Northwest Christian in Colbert looks infinitely better on a mound than in a dress. Just six years after beating up on Class B rivals like Curlew, Inchelium, Selkirk and Republic, Affeldt, at age 23, is a key starting pitcher for the pennant-contending Royals.
"This kid has the potential to be a hell of a major league pitcher," Royals pitching coach John Cumberland said prior to a recent game at Kansas City's beautiful Kauffman Stadium. "I like everything about him.
"I like his [mental] makeup; he loves to compete," Cumberland continued. "His stuff is electric when he's on. He has a major league-plus curveball and a major league-plus fastball."
Affeldt, who has taken to pronouncing his last name AFF-elt because most people choose that over his family's preferred AW-felt, is tied for second on the Royals with five wins and has a 4.76 earned run average. An adjustment on the grip on his fastball appears to have solved a pesky problem with blisters on his throwing hand, and he's helped the surprising young Royals take the lead in the American League's Central Division just one year after the club lost 100 games.
"I'm definitely blessed," the personable Affeldt said after politely delaying autograph requests to grant a dugout interview. "I'm a pretty strong man of faith. I'll be all right."
Affeldt is quick to credit his rapid rise to the majors to The Big Guy Upstairs, his parents and coaches at little Northwest Christian. Not that it was always as easy as Affeldt often made it look.
"I had some rebellious streaks in me when I was first in high school," Affeldt said. "My parents stayed with me... [but] I was thrown out of my house three times. It wasn't my parents being mean; they were right. My dad was trying to teach me how to be a man."
"We did tangle a couple of times," says David, a retired Air Force officer. "He walked out of the house a couple times barefoot in the middle of wintertime. We're cut from the same cloth... it was like two bull mooses meeting head-on."
Affeldt initially struggled a bit after turning down scholarship offers from Gonzaga and the Community Colleges of Spokane to sign with the Royals out of high school for a reported $250,000 (plus college, if he chooses to attend). Affeldt said he occasionally questioned his decision not to play college baseball first, but he soon rewarded the Royals for making a third-round draft pick out of a wild left-hander who, being from a tiny high school, rarely faced quality competition.
"The first two years wasn't that fun for me," Affeldt recalled. "I was getting beat up... [but last year] I got here to Kansas City when I was 22 years old. I would have just been finishing college."
"I know I belong up here," said Affeldt, who posted a 3-4 record and 4.64 ERA last season while pitching mostly in relief. "I know I can pitch here. I know I can have success here."
Affeldt owes much of his baseball development to summer ball in American Legion and with the Spokane Heat select team, but he speaks fondly of his overall experience at Northwest Christian. Affeldt and his family valued the Christian atmosphere at the school, so they put up with the long daily drive to and from Medical Lake, even after the high school moved from Spokane's North Side to Colbert in 1996.
Affeldt frequently drops by Northwest Christian in the off-season, and he donated money to help build the school's new baseball field. Affeldt, whose father's military career bounced the family all over the country for years (including two stops in Medical Lake), began dating wife Larisa when they attended Northwest Christian together. The young couple is looking forward to spending winters in their newly constructed home on Loon Lake.
Affeldt prays -- literally -- that the first winter in his new house will be delayed by a World Series trip. His proud parents are confident that success won't alter their son's upbeat attitude and personality. Besides, as David Affeldt notes, living in the limelight does have its perks.
"They just sold his sweaty old cap for $53 on eBay," David says. "I told him, 'Start sending some of those things up here. I need some money for retirement.'"
Publication date: 07/17/03