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How Royals’ Vinnie Pasquantino turned ‘miserable’ injury into something productive

The lineup hung from a bulletin board inside the Royals clubhouse, the plan for Friday’s spring training opener here in Surprise, Arizona, on display. And at some point early Thursday, first baseman Vinnie Pasquantino took a glance.

There it was, occupying the second spot in the lineup.

His name.

Vinnie Pasquantino, 3.

The Royals will play 31 games over the course of the next month-plus, and by the time the real Opening Day arrives, we will have certainly forgotten all about the first exhibition.

OK, not all of us. Pasquantino? He’s had this date marked, at least figuratively, for more than half a year. It has been 259 days since he’s played in a game, whether that game counted toward the standings or not, after shoulder surgery robbed him of the back half of the 2023 season.

And, well, it’s been an emotional ride.

“I’m still getting over it,” he said Thursday. “I wear it. I’m not trying to hide how I feel. It sucks. I was miserable.

“But (Friday), I get to play baseball.”

On a Royals team that arrived in Surprise after an uncharacteristic spending spree, their most valuable addition is still one of their own. There have been a lot of (necessary) adjustments to a 106-loss team, but, when right, Pasquantino is the most dangerous left-hander in the lineup, and the Royals spanned the last 100-plus games without him.

And he is right, he says. But let me back up.

Miserable, he called those months. You read that. An additional word he could have used: productive.

The former first. The Royals were in Baltimore when Pasquantino agreed that surgery would be the best long-term option to heal an ailing shoulder. That might seem insignificant, but it’s just about as close of an American League ballpark to his hometown in Virginia as any other. And therefore, the Pasquantinos packed Camden Yards. Parents. Grandparents. Anyone who could make the trip.

His first reaction, therefore, was not the misery. It was remorse. Guilt, even. He literally apologized to his family when it happened.

Their response?

“Pardon my french,” he said, “but basically they were like, ‘What the (bleep) are you apologizing for?’”

The Royals had recommended Pasquantino get away from everything for a bit. Go to a beach somewhere maybe. Try to relax.

He stayed in Kansas City with his fiance, who he since married this winter. They watched a beach setting instead — binged “Love Island,” a dating show with the backdrop of paradise.

Life was anything but.

On the day of his surgery, the Royals were in Detroit. He wanted to watch it. “Those are my guys,” he said. But too difficult. They wouldn’t allow him in the dugout after the surgery — his shoulder in a sling prompted a safety risk in the event of foul balls — so he set up shop in a stadium suite. But that wouldn’t work either.

He had to strategize how to best follow the games in a manner he could stomach, which landed with this: going to dinner in a restaurant that would have it on TV.

“I could pay attention without being too upset about it,” he said.

That’s at least partially how he arrived at the productive aspect. See, there’s something you should know about Pasquantino, in case you don’t already. He hates free time. He spends his offseason working because, well, he enjoys it. On Sunday, the Royals had an off-day here at spring training. Know where Pasquantino spent it? At the facility. Working.

So — arm in sling last summer — his solution, after a couple of hours of rehab work, was video.

A different form of work.

Hitters. Pitchers. Fielders. His own film. How peers handle the pitchers he could face when he returned. Why they swung at certain pitches. How they avoided swinging at others. The best defensive first basemen in the bigs. Pasquantino dove in to all of it.

All the time in the world, after all.

The Royals catalog clips on iPads, handing them out to players. The intention is to carry enough for the active roster, plus a few extras. But Pasquantino came back day after day for rehab, wanting to take one of the devices home with him.

“I think I was annoying them so much that they just let me keep it,” Pasquantino said. “Like, I’ll leave you guys alone. Just give me one so I can watch at my house.”

There’s no replacement for playing the game. That’s obvious, right? But there is a next-best-thing.

It’s suggestive of why I’m talking about an 11th-round pick that will hit in the meat of the Royals lineup — of how he’s generated the most of his ability.

“Where can I get better within the margins, knowing what I can and can’t do?” he asked out loud. “I got to dive into some things that I otherwise would not have been able to do. I’m excited to hopefully see the fruits of that labor.”

The first glance arrives Friday. It’s certainly understandable why a game that means nothing for the whole carries a heck of a lot of significance for one.

The video has always been at least part of his routine, by the way. It’s that he not only didn’t take a break — he enhanced the hours he’d put into it during the injury layoff. And it’s stuck around. He spent two hours Wednesday night watching clips, he said.

As for Thursday, a day before his return?

“I probably won’t sleep,” he said.