SURPRISE, Ariz. -- It's tempting to write off the Air Jordan collection as another example of what makes Royals pitcher Jeremy Guthrie, well, Jeremy Guthrie.
Guthrie started recycling programs in previous major-league stops, used to ride his bicycle to the ballpark in Colorado and Baltimore, once did a two-year Mormon mission trip in Spain and loves playing chess.
And, yes, he has 370 pairs of Air Jordans, many of which are locked in a special vault at his house.
"I enjoy it," Guthrie said matter-of-factly. "It's one of those things that I collect, one of those things that has a big meaning for me, so I have lots of shoes."
Can someone find meaning in shoes? Well, yes.
When Jordan gave up basketball to try his hand at baseball, Guthrie was a 15-year-old kid in Ashland, Ore., where he starred in football, basketball and baseball. Teenage years are a formative time, and Guthrie was struck by a conversation Jordan had with Dick Vitale about his playing career .
Jordan's baseball career.
In his one season as a 31-year-old rookie, Jordan hit .202 with the White Sox's Class AA team in Birmingham, Ala. He struck out 114 times in 127 games and made 11 errors in the outfield.
Most remember that 1994 season as a colossal failure. But Guthrie remembers Jordan saying that if he worked as hard as possible to improve himself, that trumps any statistics.
"That's a huge teacher to me as to what success is," Guthrie said. "It's not always about the numbers, but it's about the effort you put forth, the work you put into what it is you're passionate about and accepting the outcome --" good or bad.
"If it's bad and you're not successful, but if you continue to work and do stay positive and do the things that help you become better, you can consider yourself a success even if the world sees it differently."
Nearly 10 years to the day after Jordan's baseball career ended, Guthrie made his major-league debut with the Cleveland Indians. Since then, Jordan's lesson has stayed with Guthrie through some tough times.
Guthrie never managed to find a spot with the Indians, appearing in just 16 games over three seasons before being placed on waivers after the 2006 season.
The Baltimore Orioles claimed Guthrie, and he was 47-65 with a 4.12 ERA in five seasons.
Those statistics may not dazzle a fan, but Guthrie's Adjusted ERA+ in Baltimore was 107, according to Baseball Reference. That means he was an above-average pitcher (for example, James Shields' career ERA+ is 107).
"I saw him for three years when we were in the same division with him when he was in Baltimore," said Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland, who held the same position with the Yankees. "I thought, 'Man this guy is better than what his numbers are showing.' "
Guthrie was traded to the Rockies before the 2012 season, and he faced adversity again, this time in the form of Coors Field. His splits last year with Colorado were frightening:
In Denver, Guthrie was 1-5 with a 9.50 ERA in nine games (seven starts) with a 1.896 WHIP.
On the road with the Rockies, he was 2-4 with a 3.67 ERA in 10 games (eight starts) with a 1.510 WHIP.
"The stretches were very difficult, very tough, because I was never able to get too much momentum in the positive going," Guthrie said . "I was disappointed just because of the faith that Colorado put in me in trading for me and the expectations they had. The biggest disappointment was that I couldn't do for them what they hoped I could do and what I believed I could do."
Guthrie was given a reprieve when he was traded to the Royals in July. Eiland said he suggested some minor adjustments --" keeping the ball lower in the zone, for example --" and Guthrie put together one of the best stretches of his career.
With the Royals, he was 5-3 with a 3.16 ERA and a 1.132 WHIP in 14 games (all starts).
"I was very excited, obviously, to be able to show perseverance and be able to overcome obstacles, because each one of us has them," Guthrie said . "Very few players, if any, have a career where they don't have struggles or poor performance. It's just a testament to a lot of the guys around here who continue to work … and become better because of it."
Guthrie was a free agent at season's end, but the Royals signed him to a three-year, $25 million deal. Returning was an easy decision for Guthrie.
"Every aspect of the organization," he said , "is the reason I came back."
Guthrie, 33, is part of a rebuilt rotation being counted upon to complement a young offense in turning around the fortunes of a franchise that hasn't been to the playoffs since Jordan started his second NBA season.
This season, Guthrie will lace up his blue Air Jordans before heading to the mound and remember the words spoken by the greatest basketball player ever. It's the message he first heard as a teenager in Oregon: Work hard, improve yourself and you will be a winner regardless of how others perceive you.
"Michael, as an athlete, I think he lived that each day," Guthrie said . "He was competitive. He ended up being a (NBA) champion six times, and on top of that, when he wasn't a champion, he shined forth and showed what it is to be a champion."
(c)2013 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)
Visit The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.) at www.kansascity.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services