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EARLY IMAGES

As the first homestand wound down, All-Star Fever was beginning to heat up!  When you add the exhibition schedule to the regular season, the players’ journey is 194 games….so looking at it that way, we’re about a quarter of the way through!   Here are some of the things we’ve encountered on our journey through 2012:
 
Number 5 came by the booth, in his role as the Ambassador of Kansas City’s All-Star Summer.  George Brett was a 13-time All-Star as a player.  Normally whenever he pays us a visit, the inning flies by and 3 outs are recorded in 7 or 8 pitches, leaving us very little time to talk with him.  This was a rarity:  six Royals batted, three got hits and one scored (Billy Butler on a Humberto Quintero double).
 

A great sight:  Royals catcher Salvador Perez watching batting practice…walking without crutches.  It’s still going to be awhile before we see him again crouching behind homeplate, but his rehab is going great and he should be good-as-new before too long.  It was such deflating news we received in spring training that Sal would be lost for 3 months or so…but the Royals still expect him to be one of the best in baseball.  And, oh by the way, he won’t turn 22 until May 10th.
 
 

 

 

 

A breathtaking sight:  A fly-over by a Stealth bomber on Opening Day at Kauffman Stadium.  The crowd that day was 40, 230…the largest crowd since the renovation in 2009.
 

 

 

 

The Royals opened the season in Anaheim.  Here are your 3-4 hitters for the next several years in KC: Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer.  Yes Cabrera/Fielder may be the most dangerous 3-4 in baseball right now, but there will come a time when these two will be feared by opponents in a similar way (at a price well south of the 400 million dollars those guys having coming their way).
 

 

Before we opened against the Angels, the Royals played an exhibition game at beautiful Petco Park in San Diego.  And you probably know these Hall of Famers:  Denny with Padres TV broadcaster Dick Enberg, who for years was the lead announcer for NBC Sports, before moving to CBS.  When Denny started with the new Royals club in 1969, Enberg was the radio voice of the Angels. 
 

 

 

Did I mention we were in San Diego?  Having worked in both leagues and having travelled to every city in both leagues there are a lot of things to like.  The American has Boston and Seattle among other great places to go.  The National League has San Diego…ahhhhh.  What a place.  We were fortunate to visit two years in a row.

 

 

Here I am with Mark Stephen. The first baseball game I ever broadcast was in April of 1987 with this guy (he wasn’t much of a dresser back then either).  That first game was the Calgary Cannons (our team) visiting the Las Vegas Stars, in Pacific Coast League play. Mark is a native Calgarian, and these days is the radio voice of the Calgary Stampeders of the CFL.  Mark and his family visited AZ for spring break and took in a game between the Royals and Angels.

 

My son John was very lucky.  He made TWO trips to spring training this year.  Here he is with my (young) aunt, Melinda McGrath.  Melinda has become a Royals fan.  She’s a lifelong fan of Missouri’s “other” team (who knew Missouri had another Major League team?).  She was one of about 20 of my relatives who visited Surprise in March.

IT’S A LONG, LONG ROAD

 The young Royals club faced the toughest test of their young  big league careers in late August and early September.  As the “dog days” of August were hitting them, they took off for what was, in effect, a 20 day, six-city road trip.  While one of those cities was KC, the adventure was 17 out of 20 on the road in a 20 day period.  So the three-day stop at home almost felt like just another part of an extended, three week trip.  The good news was the young Royals handled it well. They went 9-8 in the road games, and 10-10 overall.  The stretch also finished a stretch in which they played 40 games in 41 days.
 
Stop number one was Toronto, where former Royal Jose Bautista has emerged as one of the premier power hitters in our game.  In 2004 he bounced from Baltimore to Tampa Bay to Kansas City to Pittsburgh.  So a former journeyman, and future home run king has gone from anonimity to being featured on billboards around the Greater Toronto Area.  In a town where hockey dominates, a new baseball hero sings the praises of Booster Juice (wasn’t Michael Keaton in that?…oh sorry..I was thinking of Beattlejuice).  Royals took 2 of 3 in Toronto.
 
 
 
 
 
 
The Royals then spent a weekend in Cleveland, where the Indians were trying to hang on in the AL Central race.  Adding to the buzz, the return of Jim Thome.  The 41 year old slugger came back, as the Indians were hoping his bat would give the Tribe the edge they would need.  The “Welcome Thome” celebration created a nice story, and in a tight series (3 one-run games), the Indians took 2 out of 3.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The trip continued with 4 games at Comerica Park, where the Tigers were marching toward an AL Central title.  As the season moved along, the Tigers emerged as the best team in 2011.  But the Royals battled them to a 2-2 split in this series (which included a make up game from a rainout earlier in the season.)
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
So after 10 days away (and a 5-5 trip), the Royals came home for 3 days.  It was a chance to do laundry, and play three quick games over Labor Day weekend.  The weather was gorgeous, but Cleveland took 2 out of 3.  Because it was such a short stay, it almost felt like another part of the road trip.  Of course it’s always great to be home, no matter how short the stay.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
So after the quick stop at home, it was off to the Bay Area.  The Royals stay in downtown San Francisco.  The weather there was perfect…The three-game series in Oakland got off to a great start…winning the first two games.  A little too much Guillermo Moscoso (Oakland’s starter in Game 3) prevented a sweep, but winning 2 of 3 set the stage for the final four games of this three-week journey.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Few places in North America can rival the beauty of a sunny day in Seattle.  In the four-game series at Safeco Field, the roof never closed once.  While the Mariners won the first two games (Game 2 best remembered for Jeff Francoeur’s incredible home run-robbing catch in right field), the Royals bounced back after losing the first two and won the final two games of the series and  (in effect) their three-week road trip.  And to top it all off, the trip ended on September 11th.  And as every club did, the Mariners saluted firefighters and police on the 10th anniversary of the attacks.  Once the game began, rookie lefty Everett Teaford made his first Major League start and he and his teammates beat the Mariners, completing a 4-3 trip and a 10-10 three-week trek through the Eastern, Central and Pacific time zones.

3 Cities, 3 Timezones

The Royals final road trip before the All Star break took them to three of America’s great cities: San Diego, Denver and Chicago.  As has been the case too often this season many games were close, but the wins were not as plentiful as we would have liked.

There are many beautiful, new ballparks throughout the Major Leagues, but Petco Park in San Diego is hard to beat.  Built in downtown San Diego not far from the water in the Gaslamp Quarter area, it opened in 2004.  Hitters don’t like the large dimensions, but fans love it.  And all those buildings you see beyond the outfield walls have sprung up the past 8 years, with many condo-dwellers having the chance to see baseball from their living room.

Nothing says baseball in San Diego like Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn.  Tony is not only a part-time TV analyst for the Padres, but the Head Coach at San Diego State University.  Among the guys who played under his Gwynn: Stephen Strassberg.  Tony’s hall of fame induction was in 2007, the same year as Cal Ripken.   That was also the year in which Denny Matthews received the Ford Frick Award.  Tony is one of the true ambassadors of our game.

The water and waterfront is beautiful in this coastal community.  The Seaport Village next to this marina has lots of restaurants, shops and great views of the water.  Also nearby is the USS Midway, an aircraft carrier that was in service from 1945 until 1991.  It’s a great spectacle to visit, as is just about anyplace in San Diego.

How did you spend your Fourth of July?  We spent it a mile above sea level, as the Royals visited Coors Field for intereleague play.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

The 16th Street Mall in downtown Denver is a great area of restaurants and shopping.   It opened in 1982.  A free shuttle bus service….known as Mallride helps those who don’t want to walk up and down this great shopping district.  Further down this road….maybe a mile….is the State Capitol  building.

 

 

 

 

 

pionship ring.  This one belongs to Gene Honda, longtime public address announcer for the Chicago Blackhawks, as well as the White Sox and the Men’s college basketball Final Four.  Pretty impressive. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You Might Be a Sportscaster if…

You never know who might show up in our radio booth or on our air….

You might be surprised to learn that comedian Jeff Foxworthy is not only Ned Yost’s neighbor near Atlanta, but also one of his best friends.  They spend much of the offseason hunting together.  While the Braves are Jeff’s favorite team, the Royals have become his “other” favorite team, thanks to Ned.  Jeff is a super nice guy, and he was good enough to come by the broadcast booth and spend an inning visiting with Bob and Denny.  He also took batting practice before the game.  Ned says his swing has improved over the years (of course so has his bank account).  Foxworthy says Ned is one of the funniest people he’s ever met….high praise from a pro…

 

 

Othere celebrities were in our midst in June, including a graduate of Shawnee Mission West High School and KU, actor Paul Rudd.  Here he takes batting practice prior to the Big Slick Celebrity Whiffle ball Game that also involved fellow KC native Rob Riggle, as well as actor Jon Hamm.

 

 

 

 

Paul was in Clueless, Anchorman, The 40-year-old Virgin, I Love You Man, How Do You Know, among many other films.  He was also a regular on the TV show Friends, playing Mike Hannigan, Phoebe’s boyfriend and later husband.  He’s a lifelong Royals fan.  He was at Game 6 of the 1985 World Series.  Was not able to be at Game 7.  He’s also a diehard KU fan, where he went to school.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here was the Big Slick Celebrity Whiffle Ball Game, played on the Little K at Kauffman Stadium.  Great crowd turned out before the Royals-Cubs game that evening.  The contest benefitted Children’s Mercy Hospital.  Besides Rudd, Riggle, and Hamm, celebrities included former Royals George Brett, John Wathan and Al Fitzmorris.  Chiefs QB Matt Cassel was in the game as well, along with several local media personalities.  Cassel and Jon Hamm were named the games MVP’s.   It ended, appropriately enough, in an 11-11 tie.

 

 

 

Another June highlight was the induction of former Royals pitcher Kevin Appier into the Royals Hall of Fame.  He becomes the 24th person so honored.  “Ape” is the all-time Royals strikeout leader and was one of the better starting pitchers of his era.  Kevin is never really comfortable in a suit.  But for this occasion he was happy to get dressed up.  Denny was master of ceremonies for the onfield induction, and then invited Kevin up to the radio to booth for an inning to talk about his fine career and some of his favorite memories.

 

 

 

My son John made yet another couple of appearances at Kauffman Stadium for  the Cubs series.  His Aunt Maureen was kind enough to bring him to one of the games.  John always seems to be around for wins….ever year.  The Royals record with him in attendance this season is 5-4.  Maybe we need him at the ballpark more often!  If it weren’t for all those darned school nights…and summer trips…and little league games…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Royal Journey

The Royals first three-city road trip of the year started successfully…with three wins in the first four games.  It ended with a 4-5 mark…but the team never stopped fighting.   This was the first of  three trips this season that take us to three cities.  The Royals played in Anaheim, Oakland and St. Louis..

The first game in Anaheim was also the Major League debut for “Mooooose!”…that would be Mike Moustakas.  He played his first big league game not far from Chatsworth High School…where he was all-everything.  He had upwards of 50 relatives and friends on hand for the three-game series.  Moose did not disappoint.  His first game produced his first hit.  His second game produced his first home run.  He actually had a hit, a walk and a run scored in each of his first four Major League games.

Here’s a performer that is particularly entertaining to ballplayers.  Ladies and gentleman…I give you….Batting Stance Guy!  His name is Gar Ryness (almost rhymes with Your Highness…but he’s not royalty).  Who is Gar Ryness?  As the New York Times wrote “Ryness has a singular talent:  an ability to perform comically dead-on impressions of Major League hitters upon request.”  He had the entire Royals team in stitches as they waited to start batting practice.  Check him out at battingpracticeguy.com.

Angel Stadium, aka The Big A.  Besides Batting Stance Guy, and the Angels, the ballpark has seen many other performers entertain here.  A beautiful venue.  While we were there, Taio Cruz performed a postgame concert.  A few days later U2 was in concert.  Royals Senior VP of Business Operations Kevin Uhlich helped oversee the renovation of this great ballpark, just as he did later with Kauffman Stadium. 

A very good sign you’re in San Francisco:  the cable car.  The San Francisco cable car system is the last of its kind in the world.  It’s the only transportation system you’ll find on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Across the bay in Oakland, the A’s continue to play at the Coliseum.  It’s had many names, but the current one is O.co (rebranding of Overstock.com.  For a few months it was the Overstock.com Coliseum).    The A’s are doing everything they can to get a new ballpark.  Their hope is to move to San Jose.  It’s a political football, because the San Francisco Giants consider San Jose part of their territory.  While it’s outdated in many ways, I like to think about the history…all those great A’s teams and Raiders teams that played on that field.

The former voice of the Kansas City/Oakland Athletics stopped by our radio booth.  Monte Moore.  What a nice man.  He moved west with the A’s when they left KC after the 1967 season.  Frank and Bob are among those who listened to his calls over the years.  From 1961 until 1977 he saw a lot of great ballplayers wear an A’s uniform.  During his KC days he also spent time broadcasting KU basketball, including one season with a center named Wilt Chamberlain.

As the final series of the long road trip opened in St. Louis, the Royals stretch before taking batting practice before game one.  It was a tight series, with each game ending with a 5-4 score.  The Royals took the first game, but could not take the series as St. Louis came back to win the last two games of the trip. 

One of the nice things about this series was the united effort to help those hit in Joplin by the tornado in May.  Aaron Crow and Mike Moustakas both wear Joplin High School Eagles caps for batting practice.  Both teams wore them during warmups….autographed them…then the caps were auctioned off to help those folks in Joplin.

Here are two guys who have seen a lot of baseball over the years, Mike Shannon and Jay Randolph.  Mike played nine seasons for the Cardinals.  Beginning in 1972 he entered their radio booth, where he still works today.  For many years Mike also did televised games with Randolph…who’s had a long, distinguished career doing  just about every sport you can think of and many of those sports at the network level.   In the pre-cable days, they were Cardinals television.

So Long Splitt…

The news that our dear friend Paul Splittorff had passed away hit everyone in the Royals family hard.  The winningest pitcher in Royals history will always be remembered as not only a great Royal but a great person.  I think it’s safe to say that anyone who ever met him considered him a friend.

I met Splitt before coming to Kansas City, when I was still broadcasting for the Cincinnati Reds.  The first thing Paul did was ask me what I needed to know about the Royals.  He proceeded to answer every question I had, and within a couple of minutes I felt like I had known him all my life.  That’s just the kind of guy he was.  And when I came to Kansas City he couldn’t have been more welcoming.  We’ll all miss you Splitt…and you’ll never be forgotten…

The Royals Senior Director of Team Travel/Clubhouse Operations Jeff Davenport did a great job to quickly have these patches with “Splitt” emblazened on them available within a couple of days of receiving the sad news.  These patches will be worn on the right sleeve of all the Royals various uniform tops for the remainder of the 2011 season.  Royals Vice President of Communications and Broadcasting  Mike Swanson will also have this logo on all Royals press materials for the rest of the year.

Royals Third Base Coach/Infield Coach Eddie Rodriguez shows me the patch on his sleeve.  All of us who knew Paul are aware that he would never want all this attention.  That’s just the kind of guy he was.  But in talking to those in uniform, they’re all proud to have it adorning their sleeve. 

 

 

 

 

 

Fellow Royals Hall of Famer Frank White was Splitt’s teammate for 12 seasons.  Those teams won a lot of games.  Frank has many great memories of Paul both on and off the field.  His best memory was when Number 34 helped pitch the Royals into the 1980 World Series.  As you can see here, Frank’s shirt has the “Splitt” patch on the sleeve as well.

Kind Road Off The Field, Unkind On

The Royals trip through Texas and Cleveland was forgettable from a baseball standpoint.  Very little went right.  But in a week spent on the road, there are always things that get your attention:

Not too far from the Ballpark in Arlington you can find the historic Fort Worth Stock Yards.  It’s a great area that allows you to get a true Western flavor.  The food, music, shopping and atmosphere all reinforce the old Texas adage “Dallas is where the East ends, Fort Worth is where the West begins.”  Of course my friends in Dallas during my days at SMU used to like to say “Fort Worth has one thing Dallas doesn’t have…a major city within 50 miles of it.”  Actually, though, Fort Worth is a great town, and like every other part of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, it’s growing like a weed.  The Stockyards are definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area.

Here’s something great that started in Fort Worth (not Dallas)…Joe T. Garcia’s Mexican Restaurant.  Great food, and indoor/outdoor seating.  In beautiful weather like you’ll find in April, be prepared to wait in line if you want to sit outside.  But if you have the time, the wait is worth it!  Joe T’s opened back in 1935.  Warning:  it’s cash only! 

 Another attraction in the Stockyards area is the Cowtown Coliseum, which opened in 1908.  Not only is it the home of the Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame, but it’s still a busy place for a variety of events.  Elvis Presley performed here.  They have weekly rodeos.  It is also the home of the Fort Worth Sixers of the National Indoor Football League.  It seats 3418 people and was renovated in 1986.  It holds the distinction of being the first building in the country to house indoor rodeos.  Got a feeling they didn’t have air conditioning back in 1908.  Probably got a little toasty in there…

Here’s something you don’t often see when walking down the street: a kid on a Texas Longhorn.  But at the Stockyards, you too can be photographed this way (for a nominal fee…).   Besides being the mascot for the University of Texas (Bevo), and being the official mammal of the state of Texas, the Texas Longhorn is also the official symbol of Forth Worth.  And that’s no bull…

There was baseball played in Texas, unfortunately the results were not what we were looking for.  We have a great view at the Ballpark in Arlington, which has drawn some packed houses in the afterglow of the Rangers first-ever World Series appearance in 2010.  Denny had to find several paper weights, with winds gusting into the 30 and even 40 mph range.  All pertinent game-prep material was secured, and no important paperwork blew out the window.

While we watched baseball on Easter Sunday, my son John was back in KC enjoying himself.  My Aunt Maureen was good enough to play Easter Bunny and make sure that all requisit kid Easter “stuff” was taken care of.  So here’s the obligatory “cute kid pic”…

Ever wonder where the name “Cleveland” came from?  No?  Well here’s the origin anyway.  This is a statue in downtown Cleveland of General Moses Cleaveland, who founded the city in 1796.  Moses was a lawyer, politician, soldier and surveyor from Connecticut.  He founded the city while surveying the Western Reserve.  The name was shortened to “Cleveland” so it could better fit on the Indians uniforms.  Just kidding.  Although the actual story may not be that far off.  One popular explanation is that the editor of the newspaper the “Cleveland Advertiser” found the original spelling to be too long for the form they used when printing the paper, and so the first “A” was dropped.

A guy much better known than General Cleaveland, or Cleveland, was the late legendary Bob Feller.  Rapid Robert was the greatest pitcher in Indians history and a war hero.  He passed away this past offseason.  He was 92.  The native of Van Meter, Iowa lived an incredible life and the Indians have commemorated his nightly presence at their games by marking his seat in the press box.  A replica of his Hall of Fame plague sits just below where he sat.  Several mementos are under glass right on the spot where he trained his eyes on young ballplayers almost every time the Indians played a game.  I had the great honor, in the summer of 2010 of sitting in the seat right next to his and interviewing him during a Royals-Indians game.  We will be re-running that interview this summer when a rain delay allows us time to do so.

Feller volunteered for the Navy on December 8, 1941, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  The Cleveland great was the first Major Leaguer to volunteer for military duty after the attack.  He was understandbly proud of his service, but he didn’t brag about it.  He never once expressed regrete for almost four years of lost baseball time that he gave to his country.   He had an incredible memory.  To hear him tell stories of pitching to Lou Gehrig and Ted Williams was enough to give you chills.  The Indians put Rapid Robert on the cover of their 2011 media guide and are remembering him throughout the season. 

And finally we salute John Adams, lifelong Indians fan, and the man who has been drumming in the bleachers since 1973.  He celebrated 3000 games of drumming up fan support at old Municipal Stadium and later Progressive Field while we were there.  A very nice man and a huge fan, he misses only home day games, since his day job is 9-5 with the phone company.  And, yes, he pays for his tickets (his and his drum each need a seat, and he does get his for half price).  And the beat goes on….

Winning Road Trip!

After a winning opening homestand, the Royals kept the good times rolling with a winning first road trip of the year.  Was the weather dicey at times?  Yes, but April in Detroit and Minneapolis is supposed to be a little tricky.  And I’ll take a winning record up against those two tough teams in any weather…

 Upon arrival early in the morning  for the Tigers home opener the image through the bus window was not an inviting one.  For the Royals it was the second Opening Day (having opened the season at home vs. LA).  For the Motor City Kitties, it was their third opener (at the Yankees and at Baltimore).  Opening days are always festive and fun, whether you’re home or the visitors.   The hardy Michiganders didn’t let the  cold and rain bother them much, as there was plenty of tailgating all around the ballpark. 

Flash forward several hours and despite 43 degree temps, we were rain-free and ready to get the  home opener underway.  As is the case in every Major League city, Opening Day is a big deal here.  Among the ceremonies for this years opener, the Tigers honored the late Sparky Anderson, who as manager led them to the 1984 World Series title.  He passed away last November.  Sparky was a marvelous person and was the first manager to win a title in both leagues (something Tony LaRussa has since also accomplished).  Sparky also led the Big Red Machine in Cincinnati to championships in 1975 and 76.  He was always quick to defer all credit to the players.  The games in Detroit were exciting, and after losing the first one, the Royals bounced back and won games 2 and 3 to take the series.

After Detroit, it was on to Minneapolis, where the Twins are now an outdoor team.  We had a day off in the Twin Cities, and as I walked all around downtown the Minnesotans were enjoying unseasonably warm weather.  One thing about folks in the North Country, they don’t miss any opportunity to get outside when the weather cooperates.  Minneapolis has a very inviting downtown, with plenty of shopping and dining.

As I explored downtown I walked by the Metrodome, but before that I passed by the old Minneapolis Armory.  This building is just a couple of blocks away from the Twins former home.  Built in the 1930’s, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.   From the 30’s through the 70’s it was used for political conventions, concerts and even the old Minneapolis Lakers played some home games here, including all of their games during the 1959-60 season.   A native of Minneapolis, Prince, used this building to film the music video “1999” back in the 80’s.   It’s now mainly used as a parking garage, but at least they were able to  save this great old building from the wrecking ball.

  The Metrodome (now known as Mall of America Field) is now the exclusive home of the Vikings.  The Twins won the “good timing” award, opening Target Field just last season,  so that when the roof collapsed it didn’t have much of an effect on them (other than causing them to move their Winter Fanfest to the suburbs.  They had planned on having it in the dome).  Looks different without that puffy white roof above it.   The Vikings are still hoping to play there next season (if there is a next season).  Repair work continues…

Right in the heart of the downtown shopping district Mary Richards (the statue saluting Mary Tyler Moore’s character from the 70’s sitcom) is always there smiling and ready to throw her hat.  If you haven’t been to Minneapolis lately you’d enjoy it (especially in summer)….and especially with the new ballpark that opened in 2010.

Speaking of Target Field, it has proved to be a spectacular new home for the Twins.  I highly recommend a visit.  They lived a charmed life in terms of weather in year one last season (no rainouts, one rain delay, mild weather in April).  It’s proved to be a pitcher-friendly ballpark too.  The ball just doesn’t carry that well, as Joe Mauer’s ONE 2010 Target Field will attest.  But think about a trip up I-35 when the Royals go there, you’ll enjoy it.  The Royals split their 2 games in Minnesota, finishing their first road trip 3-2.

ROARING START

2011 got off to a great start for the Royals, playing well against two talented, high-profile, high-payroll teams.  Bottom line: fans were actually a little disappointed at a 4-2 start against the Angels and White Sox!  The first weekend of the season also meant a glimpse into what promises to be a promising future.

      On Opening Day, one of the greatest guys and ballplayers to ever wear Royal Blue had the honor of throwing out the first pitch.  Here Mike Sweeney walks off the field arm-in-arm with the man who caught his first pitch, George Brett.  Sweeney had signed a one-day contract days earlier so that he could retire as a Royal, the team with which he spent the vast majority of his outstanding career.  The sellout crowd loved it.  They had a great time, despite temperatures in the 40’s, and despite falling to the visiting Angels.  The days ahead would soften that disappointment.

     On the first Saturday of the 2011 season, following  a second straight victory over the Angels, Royals fans got a glimpse into what promises to be a bright future.   Appropriately enough, it was called The Futures Game, and it featured many of the organizations top minor league prospects.   The newly renamed AAA Omaha Storm Chasers battled the AA Northwest Arkansas Naturals on a big league field in front of a fan base anxious to see them come to Kansas City permanently.  It was a fun event and it gave fans the chance to see “live” many of the men whose names they’ve heard, but whose talents they’ve never witnessed in person.  It was great to see so many fans stick around for the minor league portion of the twin bill.

    One of the players the fans were anxious to see was Eric Hosmer, the slick-fielding, all-fields hitting first baseman who has quickly advanced through the Royals farm system since they made him the third overall pick in the 2008 draft.  With the giant Crown Vision in centerfield, it gave these young men a thrill to see their images on a larger-than-life scale, and gave the fans a chance to see what their future Royals look like.  Fans also got to see lefty Mike Montgomery pitch for Omaha and dominate the hitters he faced.  Mike Moustakous had fans who had never seen him play before chanting “MOOOSE.” 

The Royals had an amazing run of late success during the season-opening homestand.  I spent a lot of those late (and extra) innings in the camera well, just beyond the Royals dugout, waiting to interview whichever Royal turned out to be that days hero.  With games going 13 and 12 innings, that was a lot of standing.  But it was worth it!  It’s a great view.

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If it was a lot of standing around and waiting for me, imagine what it was like for Slugger!  Nobody loves Royals baseball more than he does, but after all those extra inning games, even he go5 a little tired.  Well…good things (usually) come to those who wait, and good news eventually came to the Royals popular mascot…

Another walk-off win!  As Yankee voice John Sterling used to say “The Melk-man delivers!”  Melky Cabrera with the game winning hit in the bottom of the 13th inning.  There are few regular season moments in baseball better than a walk-off win.  Melky signed with the Royals this winter hoping to re-ignite his career.  He came to camp in great shape, and started hitting from day one…and he carried that success into the first week of the season as well.  Four straight wins in their last at bat!

POSTCARDS FROM SUNNY SURPRISE

As the Royals were wrapping up Spring Training 2011, a “new beginning” with all the prospects we were lucky enough to watch (the ones who make up baseball’s NUMBER ONE farm system!!), a few images from Season 9 for the Royals in Surprise, Arizona….
Beautiful Surprise Stadium continues to lead the way as perhaps the most most beautiful setting in the Cactus League. Now nine years old, it still looks new.
This was a very common site, minor leaguers and major leaguers signing autographs for Royals fans. Eric Hosmer had just finished signing before heading to the clubhouse. He and so many other prospects were very impressive, before being sent to minor league camp. And the crowds for the minor league games were huge by minor league standards.
Royals Hall of Famer Frank White is always sought out by fans.  He was a big part of spring training, working here as a coach but also as a broadcaster.
As if 15 Major League Baseball teams holding Spring Training in one metropolitan area isn’t enough baseball, the Valley of the Sun is also home to an iconic college baseball program…Arizona State. My son John has decided he’d like to play there one day, a very lofty goal to be sure.  So I took him to a game, in which the Sun Devils beat Oral Roberts.

A very good crowd, especially for a non-conference game,ASU’s historic program has produced so many Major Leaguers, including Reggie Jackson, Rick Monday, Barry Bonds, and Royals Hall of Famer Larry Gura among many, many others. George Brett told me when he was in high school ASU wouldn’t give him the time of day.  Later after he had established himself as a big league star, George asked Bobby Winkles, the former ASU coach who at the time was a White Sox coach, “Am I good enough to play for ASU now?”
Of all the Cactus League ballparks, Scottsdale Stadium may be the most “festive,” located in Old Town Scottsdale. Of course this season it was extra special as its longtime residents, the Giants, celebrated their 2010 World Championship.  The other park this spring that created a huge buzz was the new home of the Dbacks and Rockies, also in Scottsdale, Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.  Spring training facilities have come a long, long way in the last decade.
No trip to Phoenix would be complete without a stop (or two) to In and Out, a West Coast burger joint with delicious hamburgers and cheeseburgers.  Boy, the lengths I go to bring you the best of the Valley!!
Palm trees do not grow naturally in Arizona, but there are thousands of them imported and they add that tropical touch that helps make it truly feel like Spring Training.  This is a glance at the Wigwam Resort in Goodyear, down the road from Surprise.  It’s a beautifully manicured resort, and many Royals fans stay there each March.  They’re renovating, including completely remodeling both swimming pools.  The last snag in the remodeling is the water slide, which has been under construction for more than three months now!  So I’m assuming once it opens, it will be a really, really, really great water slide!!
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