Longtime baseball fans may have noticed a familiar face coaching first base for the Kansas City Royals.
His name is Rusty Kuntz, and he’s one of the best ballplayers in the history of Cal State Stanislaus. He’s a member of the Stanislaus Hall of Fame for his role in the Warriors’ NCAA Division III titles in 1976 and ’77.
Kuntz, 59, advanced from Turlock to a career as a designated hitter and outfielder for the Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins and Detroit Tigers between 1979 and ’85. In the decisive fifth game of the 1984 World Series, his shallow fly ball became a sacrifice fly that resulted in the winning run for the Tigers.
Since then, Kuntz – raised in Orange, Wichita, Kan., and Paso Robles – has burnished his reputation as one of baseball’s most respected bench coaches. He’s worked with the Houston Astros, Seattle Mariners, Florida Marlins, Atlanta Braves, Pittsburgh Pirates and the Royals.
Though he’s the Royals’ baserunning and outfielders coach, Kuntz plays a bigger-than-you-might-expect role as first-base coach.
He’s enjoyed an up-close view of the Royals’ recent run that has carried them to the top of the American League Central. Local fans have witnessed Kansas City’s streak firsthand. The Royals won five of seven over the A.L. West-leading A’s and swept a three-game series from the Giants over the last two weeks.
And Kuntz hasn’t exactly stood idle near first base.
In their 7-4 victory over the Giants last Sunday, the Royals stole seven bases, the most against the Giants since 2009. Kuntz was credited for the team taking full advantage of Giants starter Tim Lincecum, who often doesn’t devote much attention to men on base.
“We did a good job of pressuring him all day on the basepaths,” Royals star Alex Gordon said. “Rusty did a good job of letting us know that he’s slow to the plate and we could maybe steal some bases, and that’s what (Alcides) Escobar, (Jarrod) Dyson and (Nori) Aoki did.”
It’s been an eventful season for Kuntz. He underwent surgery in April for a fractured wrist after he was struck by a line drive off the bat of Salvador Perez during batting practice in Cleveland. Kuntz stood in shallow center field and prepared to hit fungoes to the outfield. When he reached to pick up his bag of baseballs, he felt something strike his arm.
“I turned around and I looked – I thought somebody hit me with a baseball bat,” Kuntz told the Kansas City Star. “It was like, ‘Oh my God. What the hell?’ And that was the first time I’ve ever broken a bone.”
In better news, Kuntz no doubt has admired the progress of his son Kevin, an infielder for the Lexington (Ky.) Legends, the Royals’ Class-A team.
All things said, Kuntz has turned baseball into his career. His Stanislaus coach, Jim Bowen, one of the valley’s most passionate baseball men who died in 2009, would approve.