For the Gardner-Edgerton school district, just outside of Kansas City, Monday night is a school night.
But it’s safe to assume parents and kids, teachers and staff will all set aside homework and possibly stay up a little late to watch the Kansas City Royals game.
The reason for the break from the usual school-night routine? Former Gardner-Edgerton standout Bubba Starling, now of the Royals, will face Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher John Means, Starling’s high school classmate.
The 2011 graduates of the 6A member of the Sunflower League will face each other for the first time as professionals in the 6:05 p.m. game at Baltimore.
“We’ve both worked really hard to get here so, obviously, it’s going to be really cool,” Starling said. “John’s come a long ways, and it’s really good to see him succeeding. I won’t get to talk to him before the game, but probably on Tuesday we’ll get to talk. It’ll be awesome to see him.”
The meeting Monday night was never a certainty.
Starling was the undisputed star of Gardner-Edgerton. Drafted in the first round by the Royals and signed as a quarterback recruit by the Nebraska Cornhuskers, Starling was a dominant force for the Trailblazers’ basketball squad, as well.
Means, meanwhile, arrived at Gardner-Edgerton as a transfer after he was unable to crack the lineup at Olathe East High School, and toiled in Starling’s shadow. Means played well enough to be selected with the 1,406th pick in the 2011 draft (1,401 slots behind Starling) in the 46th round — a round that no longer exists. His options were bleak. With virtually no interest from four-year universities, Means wound up at Fort Scott Community College.
Proving to be quite a survivor, Means pitched just well enough at Fort Scott to earn a spot at West Virginia University. There he pitched just well enough to get drafted again, this time in the 11th round by the Orioles. Means continued to scuffle. Despite decent numbers at each step up the minor league system, he questioned if he would ever reach the major leagues. He contemplated giving up the game when his progress stalled out.
Starling's arduous route to the big leagues has been well documented. Saddled with lofty expectations as the fifth pick in the draft, and under the intense scrutiny that comes with being a local product, Starling floundered. His defensive ability was elite and unwavering. But he struggled to hit at every level of the minor leagues. Every time he seemed to make some progress, he got hurt. So Starling understands what Means endured to reach the majors.
“It shows what kind of character he has, the work ethic he has, to keep working and believing during those challenges,” Starling said. “To see him in the show is really cool, and to see him in the All-Star Game was such a great accomplishment.”
The former Trailblazers have finally reached the pinnacle this year. Eight years after graduating together, the two will finally face off in the major leagues.
Means pitched in just one big league game in 2018 and was uncertain of making the Orioles roster this spring. But he cracked the Baltimore starting rotation, and then pitched so well, he was selected to represent the club in the All-Star Game in July. The left-hander carries an 8-8 record and a 3.76 ERA into the Monday night meeting with Kansas City.
Starling started the 2019 campaign at Triple A, but finally demonstrated enough with the bat to earn the call to the majors. He made his long-awaited big league debut July 12, three days after Means wore the American League All-Star uniform.
The starting lineups for the game will be announced early Monday afternoon. With a left-hander on the mound for Baltimore, it is presumed that the right-handed Starling will be in the lineup for Kansas City. It will be the first matchup of a Kansas-born pitcher versus batter since Blake Treinen (born in Wichita) faced Derek Norris (born in Goddard) in 2016.
When was the last time two graduates of the same high school class faced each other? Perhaps never.
“I guess a few people will probably be watching,” Starling said with a chuckle. “We’ve not had a lot of guys from our town go on to do much in professional baseball, let alone play each other. Growing up, playing on the same team, it’s really cool.
“Tomorrow will be a special time for us, but it’s still baseball, and even though we’re old friends, I’ll be battling against him.”
As of June of this year, Means and Starling have one more connection. Means’ brother, Jake, was drafted by the Royals. A 2014 graduate of Gardner-Edgerton, the younger Means went undrafted out of high school. Following in his brothers’ footsteps, he went the junior college route, heading to Cowley County Community College before winding up at Indiana State.
The Royals selected Jake Means in the 22nd round this summer. The younger Means was a freshman letterman during Starling and John Means’ senior seasons. Jake is currently playing for the Burlington Royals, where Starling spent his first summer as a professional.
“I shot him a message when he got drafted by the Royals, and obviously now that he’s at Burlington, he’s taking kind of the same route as me,” Starling said. “I’ve been really busy since I got up here to Kansas City, so I haven’t really checked on how he’s doing. But I wish him, and his brother, nothing but the best.”