SURPRISE, Ariz. -- It's always good to start with a laugh, and that's what the Royals did on Thursday as they embarked on their first full-squad workout of Spring Training.
Veteran pitchers James Shields, Brad Penny and Jon Rauch got it started by walking out to practice abreast with OLD GUY stitched on the back of their jerseys instead of their last names above the uniform numbers.
Then along came fellow pitchers Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar and Jeremy Guthrie wearing OLD GUY on their backs. But leave it to Guillermo Mota, 40-year-old non-roster right-hander, to provoke the biggest laughs. The back of his jersey read: REAL OLD GUY.
The gag began when Shields read a published comment on MLB.com by rookie pitcher Kyle Zimmer saying he was picking up tidbits from "the old guys" in the clubhouse. Shields, of course, chastised Zimmer in a bit of clubhouse comedy. Zimmer, the Royals' top-ranked prospect, tried to retreat with a "I was misquoted" defense.
"I thought I said 'older' guys," he said later with a smile.
Zimmer vowed, however, never to utter the word "old" in any context around the clubhouse.
No matter. It got the first full day of Spring Training and the official start of a long season off in a light-hearted way.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.