116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — It's a Sunday postgame at Veterans Memorial Stadium, which means Royce Lewis is standing in the outfield with Cedar Rapids Kernels teammates, signing autographs.
The line for his signature is the longest, as always, stretching almost to the warning track in right field. For perspective, he's standing just outside the dirt between first and second base.
Everyone wants a piece of a first-overall draft pick, which is the main reason for the length of his line. But there's also something else.
Lewis personalizes each of his autographs, a nice little touch that prevents sellers from profiting off him. And he speaks warmly to each and every man, woman or child that approaches him.
'What's your name?' he asks a little girl, holding an 8-by-10 photo of him. 'How are you doing? Did you enjoy the game?'
The little girl's sister also gets a photo signed, and they thank him. Lewis tells them no problem and poses for a quick cell-phone picture.
'Hey, you two stay away from all the boys, all right?' he tells them, kiddingly, as they depart.
Difficult to believe this kid just turned 18 in June because there is so much maturity and character. Not to mention a smile.
Always a smile. If dealing with the excessive attention that comes with being No. 1 bothers him at all, he does an unbelievable job disguising it.
'For his age, the way he handles everything is unreal,' said Kernels teammate Aaron Whitefield, who shares a billet family home with Lewis. 'He always signs as many autographs as he can, talks to as many people as he can. Sometimes I feel like (saying to him), 'Hey, you've got to step back a little bit. Give yourself a little bit of a break.' But the way things are going for him, the way he handles things, I think everything will be fine.'
'It's been fun. It's not too much for me,' Lewis insisted. 'I am very humbled by it, just to have the opportunity, the chance, to be in my position. I am appreciative of it every day. To be able to talk to people, it's very cool, very exciting. I just take the time, think of it as if I was a fan. If I was looking up to someone, what would I expect? And that's what I try to be every day.'
The parent Minnesota Twins considered several players for the first draft pick in June, settling on Lewis, a shortstop from JSerra Catholic High School in San Juan Capistrano, Calif. He signed a contract with them that included a bonus of $6.7 million, hitting a home run in his very first professional at-bat with the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Twins.
Wanting to have him experience a playoff atmosphere, the Twins bumped him to the Kernels and the low-Class A Midwest League. It's the first time a first-overall draft pick has played for Cedar Rapids, not counting Joe Mauer, who was here a couple of years ago on a major league rehab stint.
Lewis made his C.R. debut Aug. 12 and picked up four hits. He had another four-hit game last week, going into Sunday with a .315 batting average in 13 games.
There is little question about the ability part.
'He just doesn't try to do too much at the plate,' said Kernels hitting coach Brian Dinkelman. 'He uses his hands well, has an idea of what he wants to do at the plate. That's the main thing.'
But there are other things than his bat. He has shown a very good glove and throwing arm on defense, an overall understanding of the game that belies his age.
And there are other intangibles: his work habits, leadership potential and a desire to do whatever he can to help his team win a game. From all appearances, he has fit in perfectly with his new club, despite his draft pedigree and being five to six years younger than many of his teammates.
'A lot of energy,' said Kernels Manager Tommy Watkins. 'You see a guy score a run, and he's out in front of the dugout clapping his hands. We never did that (as a team) before. I'm not saying you have to do that, but he just brings a different type of energy.'
'He's constantly grabbing for information,' said Twins minor league infield and baserunning roving instructor Sam Perlozzo. 'He's like a perfectionist already, almost to the point where he's a little impatient that he's not headed to the big leagues already. Which is a good thing ... It's just a real treat watching him go about his business.'
Perlozzo, a former major league manager, agreed that, from what he has seen, Lewis has dealt with the pressures of being a No. 1 pick with aplomb.
'He gets it,' Perlozzo said. 'He understands his responsibilities as a person and as a baseball player. He has fun with it, he enjoys it, he relishes it. I just think if he keeps his head on straight, he's going to be a great player.'
Lewis says his humble demeanor comes from his mother and father. Cindy and William Lewis raised him and his younger sister, Rylie, to be respectful of others, never to think of themselves being above anyone else.
His parents, however, won't take full credit for the way he is.
'Yes, we have tried to foster everything that he is and help contribute and add to it,' said Cindy Lewis, a former college softball player. William Lewis played college football and runs three restaurants in Southern California.
'But I have to tell you, Royce was genuinely born with a kind heart,' Cindy said. 'With a gift, and I don't just mean athletically a gift. I mean a gift to affect people. To have that care and want and need to help people and treat everybody the same.'
She mentioned a story when Royce was in elementary school and stuck up for a meak young boy who wasn't being picked to play on a baseball team. Royce told everyone he wouldn't play if this boy wasn't included, that he'd start his own game, his own team, with the boy a part of it.
His mother called Cindy Lewis to tell her about the gesture and how much it meant to her son.
'The one thing we always say to him is to just keep being who you are and do what you do. Because who he is and what he does is genuinely amazing, and I'm not just saying that just because I'm his mom,' Cindy Lewis said. 'You can ask pretty much anybody that knows him personally, and I'd pretty much guarantee they would all say the same thing. He doesn't see himself as different than anybody else. He's just a baseball player, out there living his dream and doing his thing.'
Lewis — who picked super agent Scott Boras to represent him — said he will use his immense signing bonus to buy his first automobile whenever he gets back home to California in the offseason. You imagine some sort of tricked-out truck or sports car.
But true to his personality, he's got something else in mind. Something much more humble, naturally.
'I want a Toyota Camry,' he says with that smile of his. 'That's the first car that I'm going to get.'
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