The irony of Danny Duffy facing mentor, former Royal James Shields on opening day

(AP File Photo)

As if opening day didn’t already have enough intrigue, the pitching matchup between Danny Duffy and James Shields offers a glimpse into the Royals' past, while showcasing the very remains of the pitcher Duffy has long hoped to become, and now needs to become.

It’s been well documented that Duffy’s greatest baseball influence and the person he most credits for achieving initial big league success has been Shields, after the veteran spent the 2013 and 2014 seasons in Kansas City.

For Duffy, Shields represents everything he was, is and hopes to become.

Both have positive, charismatic personalities, reign from California, were drafted out of high school, stand at 6’3 and possess some of the most competitive fire the game has to offer.

Shields was 31 when he arrived in Kansas City, Duffy just 24. The young lefty had only 133 major league innings under his belt, with Shields totaling 1,454 major league innings pitched. The end result was a great mentorship that helped Duffy control his emotions, channeling that young fire into his pitching mindset and mound presence every five days.

It led to Duffy’s first great season in 2014, where 25 starts resulted in a 2.53 ERA. That’s still easily his best season ERA-wise, and was also Shields’ last season in Kansas City. Both played key roles in leading the Royals to the playoffs and World Series for the first time in 29 years.

Since then, Shields has been a far cry from his once dominant self. At age 34 he failed to pitch 200 or more innings for the first time in nine years and was traded from San Diego to Chicago. He now relies more on gamesmanship and crafting the strike zone, while Duffy, age 29, still has dominant stuff.

It’s age 29 that was the key year for Shields and will ultimately be for Duffy as well. Both had been solid starters beforehand, but it was at age 29 when Shields finished third in Cy Young voting with a 2.82 ERA, took the hill for 33 starts, clocked in a staggering 249 innings pitched, 11 complete games, four shutouts and 16 wins.

Shields had a streak of ten straight years with 30 or more starts, a single season mark Duffy has yet to reach in his career, but Duffy has also consistently produced a lower ERA than Shields. If Duffy takes that same step forward at age 29 and produces anywhere close to the innings Shields did, he too may find himself earning Cy Young votes.

Off the field, Duffy hopes to have the same team impact and growth as he enters his 30’s. Shields helped establish a winning culture in Kansas City by providing a swagger and drive to win every single game. Maintaining a winning culture will be harder to do now in a rebuilding year, but if anyone has the ability and desire pull the role of Shields off, it’s Duffy.

Establishing that winning mindset starts on opening day, and it’s no surprise that both teams are sending their strongest competitors to the bump. It’s Duffy’s second straight Opening Day start and first one at Kauffman Stadium.

Shields is making the eighth opening day start of his career, two of which came during his time in Kansas City. Regardless of how much Shields taught Duffy or the opening day experience, it’s a game that on paper the Royals should have a definitive upper hand.

If Duffy wants to leave a clubhouse impact like Shields, while also having a similar career year at age 29, there’s no better time to start than on opening day, against the man who helped create the ace Duffy is today.

First pitch from the K is set for 3:15 p.m.

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