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Notes: Better Butler looks forward

Notes: Better Butler looks forward

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Billy Butler graciously signed autograph after autograph as fans lined up at the Hy-Vee for the Royals caravan stop.

While they were Royals fans, most were also Kansas Jayhawk fans. The Jayhawks are unbeaten and ranked No. 2 in the basketball polls.

Butler, who hit .292 in 92 games as rookie, grew up in Jacksonville, Fla.

"I'm definitely not a KU fan," Butler said. "I'm a North Carolina fan."

Mention North Carolina in the shadows of Kansas University and some will insist you need to wash your mouth out with soap. After all Roy Williams left Kansas to coach North Carolina to a national championship, something he failed to do at Kansas. Many Jayhawk fans still have not forgiven Williams for his departure.

North Carolina was unbeaten and ranked No. 1 until losing last week to Maryland. The Royals caravan final stop on their three-day, nine-city tour of Kansas was at Allen Fieldhouse to watch the KU-Iowa State game.

Kansas was a 24-point favorite and it was pointed out almost a "guaranteed" victory.

"I wouldn't go that far to say guarantee," Butler said. "That can bite you. North Carolina was a 21-point favorite against Maryland at home and lost."

The Royals delegation, which also included outfielders Joey Gathright and David DeJesus, and Royals Hall of Fame right-hander Dennis Leonard, were introduced to the packed Allen Fieldhouse crowd. The Jayhawks pounded Iowa State 83-59 to remain undefeated.

Butler played first base in winter ball in the Dominican Republic before getting married this off-season. He said former Blue Jays manager Carlos Tosca helped him at first base, hitting him grounders daily in the Dominican.

"He's a pretty good guy to have working with you," Butler said. "I think I've improved (my fielding). I haven't taken a day off since the season ended."

Sans southpaws: Odalis Perez made 26 starts and Jorge De La Rosa 23 starts last season, but neither left-hander may be in the rotation in 2008. Perez is a free agent and won't be back, while De La Rosa is competing with a multitude of others for a spot at the back end of the rotation.

"This year we might not have any (left-handed starters)," general manager Dayton Moore said on Wednesday during the caravan. "I think Jorge is probably the favorite to win a spot there. That's one of the reasons why we felt it was important to have three lefties in the bullpen."

The Royals signed veteran left-handed reliever Ron Mahay, plus return left-handers Jimmy Gobble and John Bale. They also have Neal Musser, who appeared in 17 games as a rookie after spending most of the season with Class AAA Omaha.

"One thing about all those left-handers is they can get right-handers out as well," Moore said. "I know Jimmy (Gobble) was statistically a little higher than you like to see against right-handers, but we've seen him get right-handers out in the past. We've got some versatility there."

Right-handers hit .319 off Gobble last season, while he held left-handed hitters to a .241 average.

Targeting 200: DeJesus led the Royals with 102 runs last season, but his .260 average was his lowest in the Majors after hitting .295 in 2006 and .293 in 2005.

"It was the first year David went the entire season without any injuries," Moore said. "I think David is capable of doing a lot more. He'll tell you that. David, in my opinion, has the most consistent swing of any of our starting players and he hangs in there good against left-handed pitching. David is capable of 200 hits and that is what he should get every year."

DeJesus stroked 157 hits last year. He was also hit by an American League-leading 23 pitches, which was a club record.

Smallest fan: Isabella Glotzbach, all of one month old and accompanied by her mother, Valerie, attended the Royals' meet-and-greet in Topeka.

"She slept right through it," Valerie said.

Alan Eskew is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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