The Royals began 2014 with great anticipation. Through the ups and downs of the first few weeks, we saw beautiful ballparks, (occasionally) beautiful weather and (of course) cold weather. Here are some memorable images from the first few weeks.
Houston was cooler than normal for April…but still nicer than most of the country. As the Royals swept the Astros, they played under the Texas sky with the roof open all three nights (they apparently leave the roof open more frequently now than in the past. The first night we were there was the chilliest evening, as temps dipped into the mid 50′s. Don Free did not bring a jacket with him that evening and with the AC blasting him, he was cold. But being the loyal 29 year Royals employee that he is, he REFUSED the offer of an Astros jacket to wear. Instead he draped himself in the light blankets he uses to cover our equipment he leaves in visiting radio booths once we leave the air.
The last day in Minneapolis was MUCH colder than Houston. The high temperature on that Sunday was around 44 degrees. Minnesota is, of course, a state populated by hearty people who aren’t afraid of a little cold weather. So to see a few people bundled up in the upper deck didn’t seem unusual. What DID seem unusual, was that fact that I took this photo MORE THAN 90 MINUTES BEFORE THE GAME! It’s one thing to sit outside in very rough weather, it’s another to sit out there for the equivalent of an extra 4 or 5 innings before the game even starts.
While the Royals were in Minneapolis, the University of Minnesota hockey team was playing for the national title in Philadelphia, in The Frozen Four. Minnesota is a storied college hockey program and enjoys great fan support in the Twin Cities. What seemed unusual was that police had to set up on campus in riot gear, as the students celebrated the Gophers’ win over North Dakota. This pic was taken after the Gophers lost in the championship game to Union College. Fortunately no major problems developed in “Dinkytown,” a neighborhood adjacent to the campus.
Here was the first pitch of the season at Kauffman Stadium. After a couple of one-run losses in Detroit, the Royals opened the home schedule with a win over the White Sox. Always great to win the home opener. Relatively speaking, the Royals enjoyed pretty good weather for their early April games at home.
On Opening Day we had Missouri Governor Jay Nixon as our special guest on the air. The Governor played all the sports in school. He’s from Desoto, Missouri, a small town where he says EVERYBODY plays all the sports in school.
I CANNOT claim credit for this but it’s obviously an AWESOME photo of the flyover on Opening Day above Globe Life Park in Arlington (the new name of the Rangers stadium). The photo was taken by Louis DeLuca of the Dallas Morning News. He was in a helicopter above the flyover. Wow!
As far as this photo is concerned (another I didn’t take). Well there’s an old saying “a picture’s worth a thousand words.” I’ll just leave it at that. Bartolo Colon, Mets pitcher. (Not Mets hitter).
2013 was the best Royals season in 24 years. Many records were set. It was enjoyable from beginning to end. Fans are already hoping for even better than the 86-76 year just completed. But before we head into the offseason, here’s one more look at some images from 2013.
Teammates congratulate Justin Maxwell after his walkoff grand slam that ended the home schedule with a bang. Justin was a big acquisition by the Royals on July 31st. He was very productive and added much-needed pop. Kauffman Stadium was electric throughout the final homestand as the Royals made a bid for a playoff spot.
Back in April the Royals made an unforgettable 3 city trip to Atlanta, Boston and Detroit. The leg of the trip that made it unforgettable was Boston. The bombing near the finish line of the Boston Marathon happened two days before the Royals arrived. It happened about a block from our hotel. So our hotel was a command center, and every TV network and many local stations were set up right out our windows for the four days we spent there.
Remember May snow? Yes, MAY SNOW! Denny was not pleased, nor were any of us. On May the 2nd the Royals and Rays played three and a half innings. The Royals were leading 1-0, but snow (which came with terribly cold temperatures) ended the game before it became official. Finally in Late August, on a nice, hot summer day, the Royals took care of business and beat the Rays, 11-1.
One sad note from 2013, we lost our friend Fred White. He died in May. The Kansas City Star ran this photo of Fred, Denny and Don Free (above Fred) from a broadcast they did from the upper deck in the 90′s. We all miss you, Fred.
Another part of 2013 I won’t forget was the Yankees visit to Kauffman Stadium. Mariano Rivera pitched at Kauffman Stadium for the final time. At every stop this season, Mariano wanted to say goodbye and thanks to fans and employees of every team he visited. He met with Royals employees and several families who have endured hardship regarding their children. One family had lost a child. Other families had a child with a grave illness. He was, is, and always will be a class act.
One “trick” that the Comerica Park grounds crew figured out was that if you put tons of sand around first base, the league leader in basestealing, the Royals, had a much harder time running the Tigers out of the ballpark. The last two trips the Royals made to Detroit meant seeing members of the stadium crew making things much tougher on the Royals rabbits.
One of the fun aspects of the late season playoff run was seeing fans get so excited. It was obviously the case in KC. But on the road we saw a LOT of fans wearing their Royal Blue. After a four hour game in Seattle, late at night (even for the folks out there), there were a lot of Royals fans hanging out by the visitors dugout after a Royal victory.
By the time the Royals got to Chicago, after an all-night flight, they had already been eliminated from the postseason. But the Royals kept playing hard, taking 3 of 4 from the White Sox. One of the milestones reached in the final series, Greg Holland broke the Royals single season saves record, with his 46th. He broke the record which had been held by Dan Quisenberry and Jeff Montgomery. On the final day of the season, Greg closed out the Royals 86th win, and his 47th save.
The day after he broke the record, Steve Physioc had Greg sign his scorecard from the game the night before. Media are not normally allowed to get authographs from players, but this was a special case. Phys donates his framed, signed scorecards to charity after a big achievement, such as a player breaking a record. It was just one of many, many memorable moments from 2013.
As July turned to August, the Royals completed their best-ever 9-game road trip 8-1. The trip took them to Chicago, Minneapolis and New York. But THIS New York trip gave the Royals the chance to check out the Mets new ballpark, Citi Field. The Mets began play in 1962, replacing the Dodgers and Giants, National League clubs that moved west four years earlier. In 1964 they moved into Shea Stadium. By the time the Mets vacated Shea after 2008, it was time for a new home.
And what a home they built! Citi Field is a beautiful park, now in it’s fifth season. It opened the same year as the new Yankee Stadium (and the newly renovated Kauffman Stadium). Fred Wilpon, the Mets owner, grew up a Dodger fan in Brooklyn. So there are several elements are similar to the Dodgers former home. The exterior facade is very similar to that of Ebbets Field.
The seats at Citi Field are green, as they were at the Polo Grounds, which was the home of the New York Giants baseball team, before they moved to San Francisco. The Mets played at the Polo Grounds their first two seasons. The seats at Shea were red, orange, blue and green. One of the cool things about the Mets primary colors of blue and orange: they are a blend of Dodger blue and Giant orange.
A feature that started at Shea Stadium (which was on the site right next to Citi Field) is the Home Run Apple. A tradition that started at Shea Stadium, a big red apple with a Mets logo on it rises out of the CF batters eye after a Met hits a home run. This apple is new for the new stadium It’s more than four times the size of the previous apple, which stands outside near the entrance to Citi Field.
New York City is linked by more than 2000 bridges (hard to believe isn’t it?). So one feature of the concourse out in right centerfield is Shea Bridge, commemorating the former home of the Mets, and incorporating the “bridge” theme. The Mets have a bridge in their logo as well.
My favorite special feature of the Mets new home is the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. It is a beautiful, touching tribute to the man who broke the color barrier in 1947. Of course he was a Dodger, but it happened in New York. So Fred Wilpon’s wish to honor Jackie is fulfilled when you first enter the ballpark. On the lower level Don Free and Denny Matthews stand in front of Jackie’s famous number.
The Jackie Robinson Rotunda is the first thing any fan sees when they enter the ballpark. As you walk the steps or take the escalator you see monitors to your left and right with Jackie Robinson highlights. You’ll also see his great quote in giant letters in the upper ring of the Rotunda: “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”
Around the Rotunda are nine large photos of Jackie in his various roles in his life. The images represent Robinson’s nine values: Courage, Excellence, Persistence, Justice, Teamwork, Commitment, Citizenship, Determination and Integrity.
What a great time to visit this place, the same year that “42″ was released. This, of course, is the iconic image of Jackie signing his contract with Branch Rickey. No, Jackie was never a Met, but the Mets and their fans have a lot to be proud of in their five-year-old home in Flushing, New York, in the borough of Queens.
The first stop of the trip took the Royals to Chicago for a series with the White Sox. No, Eric Hosmer is not going to become a catcher. He was warming up Miguel Garcia, who is the Royals left handed batting practice pitcher. The Royals went on to beat lefty starters in all three games in Chicago.
The Royals were a hit at the All-Star Game in New York. Greg Holland, Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez all contributed to the 3-0 American League victory. In the days leading up to the big event at Citi Field (home of the Mets), the Royals made their annual visit to Yankee Stadium.
In honor of the All-Star Game being in The Big Apple, 35 baseball-themed apples were spread throughout various landmarks in NYC. I found the Royals apple only a few blocks from our hotel. It was in front of the Fox building on 6th Avenue.
On the night of our first game at Yankee Stadium a thunderstorm popped up in the 5th inning, delaying the game for 59 minutes. Royals VP Mike Swanson tweeted this pic of the Yankee Stadium grounds crew having a MISERABLE time trying to cover the infield after the skies opened up.
Earlier that day it was gorgeous when we arrived for the opener of the 4-game series. New Yankee Stadium is in it’s fifth season, as is Citi Field. Both NYC stadiums opened the same year as the renovated Kauffman Stadium.
In Cleveland we had good weather for our second consecutive visit. The weather in NE Ohio changes in the blink of an eye, thanks in large part to Lake Erie. Just a few blocks from the Royals hotel, right on the Lake are the Great Lakes Science Center and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Inside the GLSC is the NASA Glenn Visitors Center, named for former astronaut and senator John Glenn, an Ohio native.
The Royals made Father’s Day very special. The Royals Senior Director of Team Travel/Clubhouse Operations tried something that was apparently new for a baseball team (hockey teams have done it)…and that was to have a Dad’s trip. The players and other clubhouse personnel were allowed to invite their dad (or in a couple of cases their sons) to join the club for an entire 2-city, 7-game road trip. The trip covered Father’s Day weekend, as we traveled to St. Petersburg and Cleveland.
The trip began with a 4-game series with the Tampa Bay Rays. The Royals team hotel is across the street from the marina near downtown St. Pete. The dads got to fly on the team charter, stay in the team hotel. The Royals even provided a special Dad’s bus about 45 minutes before each game. The team had a reception for fathers and sons in both cities upon arrival. The players and their dad’s really appreciated the chance to spend some in-season time together.
The low point of the trip was when a hard line drive hit Tampa Bay pitcher Alex Cobb in the head. You could hear a pin drop after Cobb went down. He was taken to a local hospital and was conscious the entire time. But at Tropicana Field the incident was on everyone’s mind the rest of the game. It seemed as though everyone in the building had been punched in the gut. The Royals lost that game…the incident really seemed to take the wind out of their sails. Prognosis for Cobb is very good.
The second leg of the Father’s Day trip was Cleveland. Before one of the games they had a special “Dad’s Batting Practice.” The dads and sons had lots of fun. A lot of the dads had played in their younger years…and several reported feeling sore a few hours later. Here, George Brett pitches to his son Jackson, who came along on the trip.
Being mid-June and our first trip to Cleveland, it marked one of the first times in Cleveland I remember not having to worry about rain or cold. Unfortunately, after winning the first game, the Royals lost the next two. But the Royals finished the trip 4-3 and the father/son week gave all involved a memory that will last a lifetime.
The Royals went on a five-game road trip, facing the best team in the National League, followed by the best team in the American League. Normally five days is considered a “short” trip for a baseball team. But an all night bus ride and a game that lasted past 3:00 am changed the description from “short” to “unforgettable.”
In Texas the Royals faced the Rangers, the team with the best record in the American League. In the Saturday game, Royals catcher George Kottaras was a winner TWICE. In the 10th inning he hit a 2-run double to right field. It stretched a 2-1 Royals lead into a 4-1 winning margin. Kottaras hit the double off of Texas reliever Robbie Ross. Before the game George beat Ross in a cow milking contest. George had NEVER milked a cow. He watched YouTube videos to learn how it was done. Pretty smart. The scouts said he had good hands. So did the cow.
I had no idea what this hot dog vehicle was used for. I just had to take a picture when I saw it in the tunnel at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Just checked. They sell a two-foot long dog at the ballpark. The Boomstick dog is as big as six regular hotdogs and is served with brisket, pico, sour cream and nacho cheese Doritos. Cost: $32. In case you can’t tell this is actually a vehicle that somone drives around the ballpark to promote the mega product.
I don’t think the giant hot dog floats, but if it did I might want to drive it in the beautiful pool at our Texas hotel. The good news is it’s a beautiful pool. The bad news is that because of our 7:00 a.m. arrival the first day of the series (after the marathon game in St. Louis) and because Saturday was a day game, there was no pool time in Texas. Didn’t get to sleep until about 7:30 am on Friday…so…oh well…
Speaking of the marathon game in St. Louis, it was something none of us will ever forget. The 7:15 game was delayed an hour at the start (so it began at 8:15) then was interrupted by a downpour at 10:32 in the top of the 9th. The Royals had just taken a 4-1 lead. So we waited. And waited. Yes, we stayed on the air the entire 4 hour 32 minute delay. So total broadcast time was almost 9 hours. Here we see Denny broadcasting a baseball game at approximately 3:10 a.m. It was the latest broadcast in his 45-year, Hall of Fame career. There were about 35 people left in the stands. I actually found a concession stand still open at 2:45 am.
And before the marathon even began it was ALREADY an historic day in Royals history. George Brett was announced as the new Royals hitting coach earlier that day. He had his press conference just as his team was beginning batting practice. George admitted he was “scared to death” of this new challenge, but that he had that same fear when he first arrived in the Major Leagues as a player.
And before the press conference Denny sat down for a 40 minute interview with Hall of Famer Whitey Herzog. We aired the interview with the longtime Royals and Cardinals manager later that night during our rain delay (no we didn’t know there would be a long delay, this was pre planned by Denny). It will also be used as part of Whitey’s interactive display in the Royals Hall of Fame.
Before we arrived in St. Louis we had to GET TO St. Louis. As you may have heard, there was a problem with our plane. So the trip became an overnight bus ride. We were picked up at the downtown airport for our trip by motor coach. Here you see Denny across the aisle from me, as we’re driving right by Kauffman Stadium…on our way to St. Louis. Every player on the team was reliving his minor league days for a night…the all night bus ride. By all accounts the players had a lot of fun on their bus. Our bus was pretty quiet…as we began a very memorable five-day journey.
The Royals visited three American League Western Division cities in May. The results on the field were not too good. It began with a winning series in Anaheim, and became a rough trip after that.
My college fraternity brother (Sigma Chi, SMU) is on the right, Jeff Lovell. Jeff’s father is Apollo 13 commander Jim Lovell (his dad was played by Tom Hanks in the film). Also pictured are Jeff’s daughters Marilyn (named for Jeff’s mom, for whom a mountain on the Moon was nicknamed by her astronaut husband), and Allie, as well as Jeff’s wife Annie (also a former SMU Mustang). Great family.
One of the reasons I’m glad to have Houston in the AL is I love Minute Maid Park. Opened in 2000, it’s air conditioned when it’s hot and humid…which is often. Whenever the roof is closed for a game, they immediately open it so the next day the grass field gets plenty of sunlight before they close it again for batting practice the next afternoon.
The view of Union Square in San Francisco from my hotel room. What a great city, and a beautiful area. Union square became a public park in 1850. The public plaza is 2.6 acres and always buzzes with activity.
Actually the term Union Square refers not only to the park, but to the entire upscale dining and shopping district that surrounds it. The area where the park sits was used for rallies to support Union troops during the Civil War. Great area.
The best thing about Orange County/Anaheim was the winning. The weather was a close second. First time this cold spring we actually felt HOT. It was warmer than normal in SoCal. At the hotel pool even the ducks needed a break.
One more note on springs VERY late arrival. This was Denny sporting an Illinois Wesleyan ski cap in…not March, not April, but MAY! May 2nd. Yes we had snow! Hopefully it was, in fact, a once-in-a-century weather quirk.
The Royals second road trip of 2013 will never be forgotten. It involved a little great weather, a lot of bad weather, a lot of good baseball and one manhunt that shutdown all of Boston. On the field the Royals won 4 and lost 3. Any winning road trip is considered successful. This one was against very good teams in very tough venues for visiting teams. But the Boston experience made it forever memorable.
In Atlanta the weather was warm and the Braves were hot. We played two games against the Braves. Before Game 2 I had my first opportunity to meet Bo Jackson, who still receives votes on the Royals Hall of Fame ballot. He was recently judged to be THE Athlete of the 20th Century by ESPN. Nuff said. He threw out the first pitch on Opening Day in Chicago, as well as for our day game in Atlanta.
Of course Atlanta is a special place for Ned Yost and Jeff Francoeur, among others. Jeff was born and raised in the area and still lives there. He had a team party at his house while we were there. And as a former Brave, and Braves first round draft pick, he is always in demand by autograph seekers and well wishers.
In Boston things were much different. In front of our hotel CNN and MSNBC, among many other networks, set up shop 24/7 to cover the Boston bombing. The bombs went off just a block away from our hotel (2 days before we got to Boston). The city was still in a state of shock over what had happened. And every network in the world was there it seemed.
Streets were closed off right across the street from our hotel as FBI and other investigators went over the bombing area with fine-tooth combs. There were many memorials set up as well. It was an eerie feeling and setting in what what is normally an area with lots of hustle and bustle and tourists.
Before the city shutdown on Friday, I enjoyed dinner with relatives, several of whom live near the site of the bombings. Terry, Andrew, Bill, Feryal and John.
Fenway Park is now 101 years old and ceremonies/Opening Days are always big there. On Saturday April 20th the city of Boston, all of New England and the whole country tuned in to see Boston rally around their team and celebrate the end of the fear that had gripped the area for several days.
Of course David Ortiz got a lot of attention for his rallying cry for Boston fans. His choice of language was jarring to a lot of people, but locals seemed fine with it, after all the city had been through the previous few days. The FCC gave him and all of those broadcasting his remarks live over the air a pass under the circumstances.
The surprise of the day was when Neil Diamond, whose song “Sweet Caroline” is played during every home game with fans singing along, showed up in person to lead the crowd. Was a very special moment and the timing was perfect.
Of course we had an off day built in before each series began…in Atlanta…in Boston…in Detroit…then had the cancellation in Boston because of the manhunt…then (of course) we had a rainout in Detroit…but we finally got to play again. Splitting what was reduced to a 2-game series. So in a total of 11 days, we saw baseball on only 6 of them. A lot of sitting and waiting…but in the end a successful trip and one none of us will ever forget.
After a great Spring, the Royals got the season off to a good start, with a 3-3 trip to Chicago and Philadelphia, followed by a 4-2 homestand. The early returns on the rebuilt starting rotation look promising, keeping the Royals in just about every game. Some early images from 2013:
One sad story occured during the first Friday home game, as Toronto superstar Jose Reyes suffered a severely sprained ankle, on an awkward slide at second base. Former Royals coach John Gibbons, now back for his second tour as the Blue Jays skipper, says Reyes is already the face of the franchise. Not having him until around the All-Star Break will be tough on the Jays. It was great seeing our old friend Gibby again.
The injury created an eerie flashback to early 2012, when Yankee closer Mariano Rivera tore a knee ligament on the warning track at Kauffman Stadium. That injury ended Rivera’s season. And, like New York’s Brian Cashman last season, this year it’s Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos who has to piece things together for basically half the season without a major piece, his star shortstop. Anthopoulos met the Toronto media to talk about the injury the day after Reyes was injured.
The first homestand, of course, began with a fun home opener. Always much better with a victory, as Ervin Santana held the Twins to just 1 run over 8 outstanding innings. The weather was nice, 73 at game time. The Royals won 3-1, and wound up sweeping the Twins.
Before the Royals got home, they finished the road trip taking 2 out of 3 at Citizens Bank Park, facing a tough team and tough Philly crowds. This is year 10 for CBP, a beautiful ballpark that replaced the Vet back in 04. It’s about 2 miles south of downtown Philly. The skyline is visible over the wall in left center.
Across the street from our hotel is historic city hall in downtown Philadelphia. It remains the largest, the tallest and the most expensive of all city halls in the United States. The central tower reaches a height of 511 feet. It’s topped by a massive statue of William Penn, 37 feet tall. It has more than 700 rooms and is larger than the US Capitol (it’s the nation’s largest municipal building).
Of course Broad Street is perhaps the most famous street when it comes to Philly sports. The Flyers hockey teams in the 1970′s were known as the Broad Street Bullies. The street runs from downtown right to their sports complex, which includes not just Citizens Bank Park and the Eagles home, Lincoln Financial Field, but the Wells Fargo Center, home of the Flyers and the 76ers.
The first stop after we left spring training was Chicago, where we spent 6 days (and only played 3 games). Denny treated some of us to a Blackhawks hockey game at the United Center. The game was the evening of Opening Day…so we went right from one stadium to another.
It’s a big arena, the Blackhawks draw better than 21,000 per game. Of course the building is most famous for Michael Jordan’s exploits. Most of his Bulls exploits happened in this building, which replaced the old Chicago Stadium. On this night the Blackhawks and Nashville Predators were tied after regulation and it took not only an overtime period, but a shootout for the home team to come away victorious. Great night at “The Madhouse on Madison.”
While in Chicago we had to have some Chicago-style deep dish pizza. Don Free, Denny and I made a very cold walk about 6 blocks to the original Pizzeria Due. Former University of Texas football star Ike Sewell opened Pizzeria Uno being Italian for one) and one block away Pizzeria Due (Italian for two). He started his pizza empire in the 1940′s Sewell and his business partner franchised the deep dish idea nationwide and made lots of money…and lots of pizzas.
As the Royals wrapped up their 44th season, there was excitement right up to the final night. And Oh what a night!
Royals fans were treated to witness the first Triple Crown that the World has seen since 1967 (2 years before the Royals played their first game.) We had more than 30,000 fans there to witness this incredible achievement by Miguel Cabrera. Kansas City has GREAT baseball fans, BY FAR the most loyal in the Major Leagues. Give St. Louis the Royals results the last 20 years and the Royals the Cardinals record the last 20 years and yes Kauffman Stadium would be packed EVERY night, but not sure St. Louis or any other city would draw 1.7 million. And I speak from experience…I remember my 1978 Cardinals from my childhood. That team was not good… but they were only 10 years removed from a World Series appearance. Total attendance? 1.3 million.
Before being removed in the bottom of the fourth inning (and being given a standing ovation and a curtain call), Cabrera’s final atbat in a magical season ended in a strikeout by Luis Mendoza, who had a fine season in the Royals rotation. Tigers manager Jim Leyland was simultaneously monitoring our game, the Angels game (Mike Trout was chasing Miggy for the batting title) and the Yankees game (Curtis Granderson was chasing him for the home run title). He said afterwards it was the most stressful game he’s EVER managed, including Game 7 of the 1997 World Series.
On that final night Royals owner David Glass, a passionate baseball fan, joined Denny for an inning on our broadcast. He’s at a lot of the home games and he’s excited about the offseason moves the Royals baseball operations department will be making in the coming months.
My thanks to John Sleezer, the outstanding photographer from the Kansas City Star. He took this picture as Denny, Rex, Steve Physioc and Ryan joined me for one of the 162 roundtables we recorded for our Royals Radio Network pregame show. The hardest part about our lively discussions is getting 5 of us together in one place at the same time. Might sound easy, but it’s not. We have a bunch of social butterflies on our crew.
In September I was honored to interview Royals legendary groundskeeper George Toma, just minutes before he was inducted into the Royals Hall of Fame. The “God of Sod” is world renowned as the best. He not only took care of the fields for the A’s, Royals and Chiefs, but of course also oversaw the fields at the Super Bowl for many years. Congrats to a wonderful gentleman who always took tremendous pride in his work. As he told Denny many times, when trying to keep media from standing on the grass, “grass grows by inches, not by FEET!”