At this time last year, Missoula native Riley King was a college basketball player for Carroll where he was named freshman of the year in the Frontier Conference. But things have changed quickly; for the last seven months King has been a professional baseball player with the Kansas City Royals organization after he was drafted in the 24th round last spring.
"A year ago when I was home we were going to the basketball gym to shoot hoops,” recalls King of spending last winter break with his family. “Now we're hitting in the cage so things change and I'm pretty happy right now with the change."
Over the summer King was an outfielder in the Arizona League for his Kansas City Royals organization. In 36 games he hit .212 at the plate; that was about half his batting average his last year playing Missoula Mavericks legion baseball.
"It's a tough transition and the coaches asked me what was your batting average in high school and I could name it right off the top of my head. They said don't ever remember that number again in your career because it's pretty unrealistic in pro ball."
As a multi-sport athlete his entire life, this is the first time King has ever been able to solely focus on baseball. It’s also the first time he’s been able to concentrate on lifting and improving his strength. That’s why when King returned home this off season for two and a half months he trained daily with former all-American javelin thrower Doug Lefler at Access Fitness in Missoula.
"I just said with my javelin background, which is throwing and rotational, it's a lot of the same concepts,” said Lefler. “And I played a lot of baseball growing up so I just felt like I had a lot to offer him."
"Doug's been around this for long enough that you can trust him,” says King. “I feel like I've gotten a lot stronger and I'm excited to see how that transitions on the field."
"He's already achieved a lot with very little, which is a good thing,” explains Lefler. “Before this Riley had never really lifted much so his whole foundation strength level was really low."
King’s been determined his whole life to take athletics as far as possible. Now that he’s a professional athlete he says representing hometown Missoula and the entire state of Montana is a huge motivator.
"This year I was the only kid in Montana to get drafted compared to my teammates are Texas where there's 40 kids from high school that get drafted there,” says King. “I mean it's pretty unbelievable."
"A lot of people don't get the opportunity to do what he’s done first of all,” added Lefler. “But with hard work we still want him to make it to the majors, this is just a step. That's even a bigger example he can set for young kids, especially in this Missoula valley."
"That's definitely one thing that I do love about Montana and am extremely grateful for is how much support you get from the state and how much they love their athletes here," says King.
King flew back to Surprise, Arizona on January 12 for the Royals’ winter camp; he was one of 30 players within the organization invited to the camp which lasts until the end of the month. King will remain there for two weeks of training after camp before coming home to Montana for the second half of February.
Spring training will start up for King and the Royals at the beginning of March. After that, the outfielder likely won’t find out until June where he will be playing rookie ball this summer, but he does know it will be in either Idaho Falls (in the Pioneer League) or Burlington, North Carolina (Appalachian League).