FARMINGTON — When Billy Ray Butler was playing T-ball in Jacksonville, Fla., his parents packed the 6-year-old’s bat, glove — and birth certificate.
Because of his size and stocky frame, Billy Ray was always mistaken for being older than he actually was during his days playing amateur baseball, said his mother, West Haven resident Beth Butler.
But those days of having to pull out a birth certificate to get her son on the baseball diamond are now behind her.
Billy Ray turned 26 on Wednesday. The former T-ball player is now a right-handed first baseman/designated hitter for the Kansas City Royals with a four-year contract worth $30 million.
“Since (Billy Ray) was 6 years old, he could hit,” Beth Butler said.
“God gave him a gift, and we just kind of perfected it,” she said of how her husband, J.D., an aerospace engineer with Boeing and part-time sandlot baseball hitting coach, worked with their son.
And when Billy Ray wasn’t practicing or playing baseball — season after season seemingly running into one another in sunny Florida — he was watching baseball, Beth Butler said.
The Butlers knew their son had a special gift when, at age 14 and using a wooden bat, Billy Ray hit a home run out of a Jupiter, Fla., baseball stadium.
“He did nothing but baseball (in high school),” said his former softball player-turned-concessionaire mom.
In 2004, Billy Ray signed a contract to play minor league baseball with the Idaho Chukars, who compete in the Pioneer League with the Ogden Raptors.
The Butler family traveled west in 2007 when J.D. relocated with Boeing, moving from Florida to Clearfield location.
Beth Butler said they enjoy Utah’s mountains over Florida’s mosquitoes.
Besides, J.D’s job transfer put them closer to their son, who was living in Idaho at the time.
After a season with the Chukars, Billy Ray continued to live in Idaho, but bounced around through the Royals’ minor league system, capturing a few batting titles and learning how to play a few new positions along the way.
Billy Ray played third base in high school, only to be moved to the outfield when playing for the minor league Wichita Wranglers. By the time he earned a spot on the Kansas City Royals roster on May 1, 2007, he was a first baseman and the team’s designated hitter.
And although Billy Ray has now played Major League baseball for four years, Beth Butler never grows tired of the reaction she gets at work from patients in the office of Farmington dentist Bradley Palmer when she tells them her son plays baseball for a living.
“We’re blessed,” she said of how baseball has been good to her son and his family — his wife, whom he met as a result of the game, and their 3-year-old daughter.
His family makes their home in Kansas City, Mo.
Anywhere baseball takes Billy Ray, Beth Butler said, she’ll go watch him play.
“I hope we don’t go to Japan,” she adds with a laugh.
And when Butler family members aren’t in the stands, they keep tabs on his box scores and watch highlights by subscribing to the MLB Network on cable television.
The Butlers have already traveled to Arizona this season to watch their son in spring training. They also caught the team’s April 6 season opener in California, where they watched the Royals play Albert Pujols and the Los Angeles Angels.
They have a trip planned to Kansas City in May.
During the 2011 season, Billy Ray batted .291, with 19 home runs, 95 runs batted in and two stolen bases.
Beth Butler said she is not surprised by any of the numbers her son put up last year — including the two stolen bases.
Her son was never really fast, she jokes. That is why, she quips, she encouraged him to hit the ball as far as he could, ensuring he made it safely to second base.
“They say he’s a doubles machine,” she said of the 51 doubles her son hit during the 2011 season.
But as proud as she is to be able to rattle off his baseball card statistics, Beth Butler is even more proud of what her son has contributed to two Kansas City-area charities.
Billy Ray, as part of “Hit-It-A-Ton,” donates a ton of food to a food pantry for each home run he hits, she said. Billy Ray is also part of “Billy’s Doubles Club for Kids,” which serves youths in the Kansas City area.
His work with those organizations earned him the 2011 Hutch Award, given annually to an active MLB player who best exemplifies the fighting spirit and competitive desire of Fred Hutchinson.
The award was created in 1965 in honor of Hutchinson, a former MLB pitcher and manager who died of cancer in 1964 at age 45.