Desire to be the best fuels Shields' success
Right-hander unafraid to take reins of pitching staff on new club
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- There's a streak of fierce competitiveness in James Shields, the Royals' new No. 1 starting pitcher, and he comes by it naturally.
"Growing up I had two older brothers. I was the youngest one and I always wanted to be better than them. I always wanted to beat them at everything. I never could beat them growing up but I always wanted to try," Shields said.
"Just the way my mom and dad raised me, I've got to where I feel like I'm a competitor."
That was back in Valencia, Calif. His parents are Jack and Cindy Shields; his older brothers are Jason, his senior by about five years, and Jeremy, about 2 1/2 years older.
"They beat up on me quite a bit," Shields said, grinning. "We had a few broken noses when I was younger. But it was awesome. It was nice having older brothers to kind of show me what's going on and having competitions against. Whether it came to street hockey or three-on-three basketball or just playing a game of 'horse' out in the front yard, we were always just competing against one another."
Jack Shields was a building contractor for about 30 years and competed for business. That trait was passed down to his sons.
"He always wanted me to just go out there and learn things on my own and just kind of coach me when I'd get home," James Shields said. "He never was that dad that was always involved in the coaching and things like that, he just always let me go out and figure it out on my own."
The drive to compete was accompanied by provisos.
"He taught us how to be competitive but how to really stay true to yourself and be accountable for your actions," Shields said. "Anything I did growing up, he always made me accountable for what I did."
His mother, Cindy, was competitive, too.
"She raised three boys, she had to be," Shields said. "She was catching bullpens until I was about 8 years old and then she had to stop. She was out there playing catch with us and then we got to the point where we were throwing too hard for her."
Shields brings that competitive drive from Tampa Bay to Kansas City this year. He was on display at Spring Training camp on Wednesday under the noonday sun, throwing batting practice for the first time.
While warming up, Shields snapped some pitches into catcher Salvador Perez's glove with an impressive pop. Perez chuckled appreciatively and coach Jim Brower, who was minding the ball bag on the mound, cautioned: "Easy, easy!" Then Shields worked with serious intent against hitters including catchers George Kottaras and Adam Moore.
When it comes to a competitive nature, manager Ned Yost was reminded of an old Milwaukee teammate.
"Pete Vuckovich always had an attitude that when he steps on that mound -- and he lived it -- that, 'Hey, when I'm facing the opposition, they're trying to take the shoes off my kids' feet, the food out of my family's mouth,' and he fought like that was it," Yost said. "And that's the mindset and the attitude you have to have every single day when you step out there."
Shields fits that picture and his drive and his success with Tampa Bay have put him at the forefront of the Kansas City pitching staff.
"I have had some Opening Day starts in my career but I don't really think of it that way," he said. "The bottom line is, if you're the No. 1 guy or the No. 5 guy, you've still got to do your part of win games. Hopefully we can have a tight-knit group as a starting rotation because that's where the game starts. It all starts with starting pitching and if it's not doing well, more than likely you're not going to be winning ballgames."
He believes the background of pennant races and postseason experience that he and Wade Davis bring from the Rays to the Royals will have a positive impact.
"Over the last five years, I've been part of probably one of the best staffs in baseball, so I definitely can bring a good experience," Shields said. "Wade and I definitely know how it works and we can bring something to the table."
Shields obviously is enjoying his new surroundings.
"This is a blast. Obviously, the next couple weeks I'm going to really get to know these guys, but all the guys have been great," he said. "We've got a good, positive vibe in this clubhouse, a good group of young guys that are willing to work. What I've seen so far is that these guys want to work every day and really try to win. So if we can bring that fun factor and that good chemistry in Spring Training along with their work ethic and mentality, I think we're going to be all right."
All right would include something that Shields already has done in Kansas City -- celebrating a division championship. But that came on Oct. 3, 2010, when he was wearing a Tampa Bay uniform. The clincher came with a 12-inning, 3-2 victory over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium.
"We ended up doing some slip-and-slide runs in the clubhouse and everything," Shields said. "Hopefully we can do that on the other side this year. I'll be all about doing some champagne celebrations there in September or October."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.