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A CLASSIC AUTUMN

No Royals fan (above the age of 4) will ever forget October 2014. It was a month full of highs, a few lows, one big low, but the joy the Royals brought longtime fans, and those new to the party will be hard to ever duplicate. Even while falling one win (90 feet) short of the BIG prize, the Royals reawakened this city and finally showed the under-35 crowd what an incredibly supportive and passionate baseball community Kansas City is…

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One of many great benefits of the 2014 Royals and the October run was the way it brought generations of Royals fans together. My son John connected with the Royals a long time ago, of course, but it was fun sharing the postseason run with him. As a 15-year-old, he’ll always be able to remember the 11-4 month, including a 6-2 home record. As a kid I never got to experience anything like this (the Cardinals made zero postseason appearances between 1968 and 1982, which spanned my entire childhood). Let’s hope there’s more postseason fun around here in the near future!

Steve11-12.2I took so many photos from late September through the World Series, but this may have been the most joyous moment. Although it’s hard to argue with clinching the pennant vs. Baltimore. But this was the beginning of the celebration after the Royals won one of the most wildly entertaining games anyone can remember. The Wild Card win, on a national stage, helped introduce the Royals to the American public. With this win in their pocket, the Royals were off and running.

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This guy got a lot of attention, and for very understandable reasons. The fans were as much of a star as Cain, Hosmer and Ventura this postseason. The most loyal fan base in baseball, many of whom had stuck with the Royals though decades of waiting, made this such a wonderful story. In such a small market, in the only major professional league without a salary cap, the Royals went toe to toe with three teams with higher payrolls. And the Angels and Giants payrolls were WAY higher than the Royals. Only question for this guy was…what happened to all those dogs?

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This was the first champagne celebration…in Chicago. It was historic, the first such celebration in 29 years. The Royals were still hoping to catch Detroit and win the AL Central, but they came up a game short. Thankfully the Orioles were able to slay the Detroit “dragon” that gave the Royals problems. But the joy on this night at US Cellular Field was special. It meant that most on the roster would play postseason baseball for the first time. It ended a playoff drought and launched one of the best baseball stories in a generation. I got soaked with champagne 4 times this postseason….I came up one celebration short. That 5th party, the World Series victory, will have to wait.

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After the fourth (and unfortunately) final celebration, after Game 4 of the ALCS Fox 4’s John Holt got this photo of Joel Goldberg and me after we were doused. Joel and I arrived the same year, 2008, so we didn’t wait as long as many of you, but having immersed ourselves in all things Royals, we had a good sense of the joy this postseason meant to fans throughout this region.

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These 2 guys were stars long before October, but they both reveled in the most memorable 15 games in more than a generation. Eric was at many of the the games. So was Paul Rudd. They’re among many A-listers who happen to have grown up as Royals fans. We all felt great for George, a franchise icon who was so anxious to share in the postseason heroics of Royals history. The Royals don’t have a bigger fan than George.

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The Royals staff had their 81 game home season stretched by 8 big postseason affairs. The 2012 All Star Game helped prepare everybody to some degree. Every inch of space in the renovated ballpark was utilized to accommodate hundreds upon hundreds of media. This hallway is the tunnel that leads to the Royals clubhouse, and down to the field. To give you some idea of the media saturation, this hallway is normally virtually empty during a regular season game, even on Opening Day. Kansas City AND the Royals made a great impression on the media that spent so much time in our town in October.

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My mother, Marilyn Stewart, made it to Game 1 of the World Series. So many parents, and children, and grandchildren enjoyed the magical October ride. We had to update my mom’s Royals wardrobe. She’s been to spring training several times, but now she’s got her World Series gear as well.

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When I walked into Angel Stadium for Game 1 of the ALDS, it really hit me this was the playoffs. The Wildcard Game was incredible and unforgettable, but for a franchise that had been out of the postseason for so long, it was exciting to be involved in a playoff SERIES. The Angels, of course, finished with the best record in baseball (98 wins), but the Royals won a couple of extra inning games at the Big A, and went on to sweep the Angels…winning their first ever LDS.

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Baltimore also had more victories than the Royals (96), and they were AL East champs. So they had home field advantage for the first ALCS for either franchise in many years. Because of the large traveling parties and the last-minute nature of the postseason, we often stayed in different hotels than we had during the regular season. In Baltimore that meant I had a room that overlooked center and right field of Camden Yards. Having worked in Baltimore for several years, and having broadcast Oriole games, it was a fun and yet at times awkward series for me. The Orioles had a great season and should be good for years to come. The champagne celebration after that one was pretty special, as it signaled the Royals would host the World Series 6 days later.

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This was the final victory celebration of 2014 for the Royals. After their Game 6 win (10-0) over the Giants, the stage was set for baseball’s biggest stage, Game 7. How incredible was Yordano in this game? Rest up Yordano! We’ll see you back here soon (perhaps on Opening Day)!

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On the eve of the World Series, the Royals and Major League Baseball threw a big party at the ballpark for staff, sponsors, media and special guests. Somehow I got invited. The guy on the left is Rob Butcher, longtime media relations director for the Cincinnati Reds, a guy I worked with for several years. Like Royals VP Mike Swanson, Rob works in media relations for a lot of big events for MLB, including All Star Games and the World Series. Rob and I had to pay JoAnn Erickson a lot of money to be in our picture (not really). Rob’s wife Dana (not pictured) works for MLB.com. She’s a big reason I have this blog with the Royals (you can give her credit or blame).

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Every time the Royals travel to a stadium for the first time, I like to do a blog post showing off the venue. Before the World Series the Royals hadn’t been to AT&T Park since 2005, when it was still called SBC Park (and before that, Pacific Bell Park). It is truly one of the jewels of Major League Baseball. Opened in 2000, it is built right on San Francisco Bay and it occupies a relatively tiny footprint, just 12 and a half acres. I highly recommend you go see a game there.

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Of course the most famous feature of the park is McCovey Cove, just over the right field wall. So many boats, and even more with the World Series in town. The right field wall is 24 feet high, in tribute to number 24, Willie Mays. The Say Hey Kid was recognized prior to Game 3 along with fellow Giants Hall of Famers Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal, Willie McCovey and Gaylord Perry.

TOP OF THE HEAP!

The Royals penultimate (I don’t get to use that word much…second-to-last) road trip of the season took them to New York and Detroit.  Tough games…offense struggling to score runs…but the Royals finished 3-3 as they bid farewell to Derek Jeter and managed to salvage a win in the finale against the Tigers.

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Every once in awhile the Royals get to be what I call “accidental tourists” while on the road.  September 7th at Yankee Stadium was one of those days.  By “accidental” I mean they’re the opposition in another team’s ballpark when something special takes place.  The Royals felt lucky to be part of “Derek Jeter Day” at Yankee Stadium.

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After receiving various gifts, and after many friends and relatives were introduced (parents, Reggie Jackson, Mariano Rivera, Michael Jordan, just to name a few), Jeter took to the microphone.  He was very gracious as baseball fans have come to expect, thanking his parents, coaches, teammates, opponents and especially the fans.  With all the other single-digit numbers now retired (most recently Joe Torre’s number 6), Jeter’s 2 is the last one in that category.  And, of course, it’s only a matter of time until it’s retired as well.

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Most of the Royals players grew up watching Jeter play.  Many idolized him.  A lot of the players and staff had their cell phone cameras out.  You can see first base coach Rusty Kuntz at the bottom left in this photo as he tried to get a better/closer angle of the proceedings.  It was a special day..but the best part was the fact that the Royals won!  And they took 2 out of 3 from the Yankees.

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The Royals then headed for Detroit for three big games with the Tigers.  The Royals have an EXTRA large roster THIS September, with 36 players suiting up each night.  Three of those fresh faces (facing away from us in this case) are lightning-fast Terrance Gore, 2014 first round draft pick Brandon Finnegan (who had a memorable MLB debut, retiring all six batters, including a strike out of Derek Jeter) and outfielder Lane Adams, who had an all-star season at AA Northwest Arkansas this season.

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After two days of “under the weather” play by the Royals resulted in two losses to Detroit, there was much angst in both clubhouses before the final game as rain fell much of the day and early evening.  The forecast did NOT look good.  But after just a 42 minute delay, the Royals and Tigers got going and (despite rain off and on throughout the night) they played nine uninterrupted innings.  Big Game James Shields came through with a Big Game…7 scoreless innings.  The Royals won 3-0, moving back into sole possession of first place.  The three Royals victories on the 3-3 trip were by the scores (in order) of 1-0, 2-0 and 3-0.

How The West Was Won

As the Royals rolled through early August they were doing a lot of things right.  They finished July with a 5-2 home stand and then headed west and began August with a 5-1 run though Oakland and Arizona.

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As the Arizona series began, the 100-plus temperatures dictated closing the roof at Chase Field.  Opened in 1998, the first year the Diamondbacks played, Chase Field (formerly Bank One Ballpark) offers fans an air conditioned oasis on summer days and nights.  The ’98 expansion Dbacks weren’t very competitive (65-97), so some days the opening and closing of the new roof provided the most entertainment.  Royals VP Mike Swanson helped get the Diamondbacks up and running, spending nine years with the franchise, before coming home to the Royals in 2007.

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The Diamondbacks may be a relatively young franchise, and one of their franchise icons was already a baseball and TV icons long before they were born: Joe Garagiola Sr.   Garagiola was of course a catcher, and later became a beloved broadcaster.  His announcing career started with the Cardinals, as he’s shown here with Jack Buck and Harry Caray.  He would go on to national broadcast fame with NBC in sports but also as a host on the Today Show, game show host.  So versatile.

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Joe Sr. was a TV analyst for many years with the Dbacks.  It was a family event for him, as his son, Joe Garagiola Jr., served as the teams general manager for many years.  Joe Sr. is  the greatest story teller I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing.  On the broadcast level there’s a mural commemorating his great career.

Walking off after win

The Royals swept of Diamondbacks, and in so doing they finished their western trip with a 5-1 record.  It pushed their record away from home to 33-26, one of the best road marks in the American League.

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When it’s 100-plus outside every day, there is ONE place that isn’t so bad.  Just make sure you’ve got flip-flops to wear so you don’t have to walk barefoot on the pavement.

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In the Bay Area it was much cooler.  The Royals took 2 of 3 from the team with the best record i baseball.  Here former Royal Chili Davis, the outstanding hitting coach for the A’s, with former Royal Coco Crisp.  Coco was not on the disabled list, but was unavailable in the series with a neck injury.  Coco is a major cog in the Oakland offense.

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One improvement evident on our trip to the Bay Area was getting to travel on the eastern span of the Bay Bridge from San Francisco to Oakland (and back).  The Bay Bridge carries approximately 240,000 vehicles per day.  The new eastern span cost over $6 billion dollars and took 11 years to complete.  It is the widest bridge in the world.  The old bridge (on the right), part of which collapsed in the 1989 earthquake, is being dismantled.

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Near our hotel in San Francisco sits beautiful Union Square.  It’s a 2.6 acre public plaza, surrounded by a major shopping, restaurant and hotel area.  The name comes from the square’s original function, as it was a place for rallying around the Union troops during the Civil War.

SAL-VY! SAL-VY!

At the All-Star break the Royals were 5 games above .500 on the road (26-21), with the final victory coming thanks to the 9th inning heroics of this guy:

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There were (and are) lots of Royals fans in the Tampa Bay area…and they were out in force for the Royals series victory at Tropicana Field.  Before I had the chance to do my radio interview with Salvador Perez (who had just hit the go-ahead 3 run homer in the final inning of a 9-game, 10-day road trip), Joel Goldberg interviewed him on Fox Sports Kansas City.  The win made it a 5-4, winning road trip, with one of the teams leaders, Salvy, coming through.  The large Royals contingent was chanting his name, “Sal-vy!  Sal-vy!)

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After he dazzled his former team, pitching 7 scoreless innings in a Game One 6-0 victory, James Shields had the chance to reconnect with his former teammates, including lefty David Price who’s have an excellent season.  There were no complaints from the Royals side that Price pitched the night BEFORE the series began, so they didn’t have to face him.

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Another ex-Ray who’s a big part of this Royals team is Wade Davis.  Price spent time visiting with Wade and Florida native Billy Butler.  Baseball is such a small world, and with all the movement between teams it seems that everybody knows everybody.

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One pregame staple in every ballpark and every clubhouse in June and July was the World Cup. Here the Royals watched as they stretched.  Baseball has become a much more international sport over the years, and soccer fits that same category as World Cup Fever hit the baseball world as it does every four years.

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Even before LeBron James announced he was returning to Cleveland, the skies were brightening.  While the Royals won only once in three games there before the break, at least we had beautiful weather.  We can’t say that often in Northeast Ohio, so we enjoy it whenever we get the chance!  Beautiful sunset near Lake Erie.

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Tunnels of stadiums aren’t usually very interesting places.  They are a means to an end.  But at Progressive Field they’ve spruced up their tunnels with some interesting pictures and quotes.  Here’s one of my favorite baseball quotes, from longtime Indians pitcher Bob Lemon, who later managed the Royals. “The two most important things in life are good friends and a good bullpen”   Well said, Lem!

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When we arrived (and when we departed) Minneapolis we were greeted by the site of the largest plane in the world that’s still flying.  The Antonov An-225 was built in the old Soviet Union.  It’s a cargo plane.  According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, it was headed to the Middle East filled with an enormous payload of air-conditioning units.  The plane went into service in 1988 to transport the Soviet Union’s Buran space shuttle,  This was the only plane of its kind ever made, according to the newspaper.  At 275 feet and 7 inches it is the longest and heaviest plane every built.  It has a wingspan of 290 feet and stands 59 feet 5 inches tall.  Bryan Schapiro, Joel’s pregame producer, snapped this picture for me, which was his biggest thrill of the the summer (until the LeBron news…Bryan is an Akron native…Cavs fan…and even played HS football against LeBron.  Of course Bryan is MUCH more athletic than LeBron, but chose a career in TV instead….ok I’m kidding…just checking to see if you’re still reading!)

SAVE THE DATE! AUGUST 25!

A lot of fans were disappointed Mother Nature got in the way of the final game of the Royals-Yankees series, postponing KC’s salute to future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter.  The 39-year-old will be 40 by the time the Yanks return to Kauffman Stadium August 25th for the makeup game.  The Royals took 2 of 3 in the shortened series, and finished 9-4 in a tough stretch against Toronto, St. Louis, New York and Cleveland.

Jeter battingJeter played in 2 of the 3 games.  He’s always been a player most fans admire, even if they HATE the Yankees.  Prior to the rainout Denny went into the visitors clubhouse to visit with Number 2, having never been formally introduced.  Denny told Jeter how much he admired the way Jeter processed the game mentally, a compliment that humbled Jeter (who’s accustomed to being praised for his offensive records and championships etc.)

Ballpark VillThe Royals won both games in St. Louis.  Prior to Game 2 I made my first visit to the new Ballpark Village.  I was blown away.  It’s sort of a baseball-themed version of Kansas City’s Power and Light District.  The same company designed both projects.  This is just Phase 1…with more to follow in coming years.  Many restaurants are included.  Rooftop seating gives it a “Wrigleyville” feel as well.  Only difference is no disputes with rooftop owners like the Cubs have with theirs…for one simple reason…they OWN the rooftop.

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Trust me when I say you NEED to see it for yourself, and that photos can’t do the massive structure justice.  This is “Fox Midwest Live!” with a gigantic TV over the bar.  But several other restaurants within the complex are also quite large.

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Also within Ballpark Village is the new Cardinals Hall of Fame.  Even if you hate the Cardinals (and I know many of you do) it’s still very much worth seeing.  Make sure to allot enough time to go through it.  Here you see a display honoring Stan the Man.  But there’s a lot more to see.

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During our stay in Toronto, Royals VP of Communications and Broadcasting Mike Swanson turned the big 6-0.  To give you an idea of the high esteem in which Swanee is held by media not just in his hometown of KC but all over the country, when we got to St. Louis, longtime acclaimed photographer Bill Greenblatt insisted he needed to get Mike a  birthday cake.  So he brought it onto the field and here you see him taking a pic with Swanee and Fox Sports Kansas City Royals producer Joe Loverro holding the cake (which was delicious).  Swanee shared it with all the KC and STL media.  Swanee’s only complaint?  “Did you have to put the number on there?!”  Happy Birthday Swanee!

CN Tower

In Toronto, the Royals split four with the Blue Jays.  One cool aspect of where we stayed this year was the fact that our hotel was so close to the Rogers Centre.  And right next store…that building to the right…is CBC Headquarters.  CBC is the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, for more than 60 years the home of Hockey Night in Canada.  Denny, Joel Goldberg and I are among those in the traveling party who are big hockey fans.  That tall structure on the left is CN Tower, the tallest structure in the Western Hemisphere and WAS the tallest in the world for 34 years.  1815 feet high.  In between the tower and the CBC building you can see Rogers Centre.

 

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The trip prior to Toronto-St. Louis was a brief, 3-game stay in Anaheim.  Always good to see Royals Hall of Famer Mark Gubicza.  He’s the TV analyst for the Angels (and his play-by-play guy is Victor Rojas, a Blue Valley High alum and the son of Royals HOF’er Cookie Rojas).  Royals TV analyst and fellow Royals Hall of Famer Jeff Montgomery says he had lunch more often with Guby than with any other teammate.  Two great guys and two great Royals.

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Also in Anaheim, Ryan and I had the chance to meet Mike Morin, Angels pitcher.  Mike is a graduate of Shawnee Mission South High School.  He grew up a big Royals fan.  Really nice young man.  The Royals actually drafted him out of high school in the 40th round.  But like a lot of high school draftees taken in the later rounds, he opted for college, and attended the University of North Carolina, where he was an All-American.  The Angels took him in the  13th round in 2012.  On April 27th he made his Major League debut.

WEATHERING THE BASEBALL SEASON

As the calendar turned from April to May, we all hoped the weather would turn as well (for the better of course).  That wasn’t the case, at least for the Royals.  Here was the rule through the first quarter of the 2014 season: whenever the Royals ARRIVED in a city the weather IMMEDIATELY turned cold. The minute the Royals LEFT a city (or even were preparing to leave a city) it IMMEDIATELY became very pleasant.

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The Royals first West Coast trip of the year is a great example.  By the time the 4-game series wrapped up it had finally warmed into the 60’s…for the first time.  Of course in the days BEFORE the Royals arrived it was in the 80’s…but once we landed…low 50s.  Seattle is such a beautiful place to be and Safeco Field is one of the best.

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For the first three games in the Emerald City, it was cold!  Gloves, ski caps, long johns…the whole 9 yards.  The first night the roof was closed as it rained on and off throughout the day.  Having said that, I like the “open air” set up in Safeco.  When the roof is open it’s spectacular.

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The final game in Seattle included big homers by Johnny Giavotella and Alcides Escobar.  Gio hit a 3 run shot…Escy his first career grand slam.  They did it on Mother’s Day, ,which is a day when many players use pink bats, and wear pink spikes to raise awareness about Breast Cancer research.  As for Joel…Jeff Davenport set him up with some stylish pink sneakers.  The real question:  Is Joel brave enough to wear them on any of the other 364 days of the year?

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Another of the beautiful new age ball parks in the Big Leagues is Petco Park in San Diego.  The Royals won 2 of 3 there.  And OF COURSE it was quite a bit cooler and  breezier than usual.  Of all the “cold” games…it was the most comfortable…as you’d expect in San Diego.  It opened in 2004 and is a real jewel.  Our hotel was literally attached to the ballpark by a walkway.  What a nice commute!

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Before the finale of the San Diego series, a baby dinosaur threw out the ceremonial first pitch…using his mouth (I’m assuming it was a “him”…but that many not have been the case).  The pitch was delivered before I could whip out my camera phone…so I got him running off the field.

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And no jokes about Steve Garvey being a dinosaur!  He’s retired but looks great.  Believe it or not he’s 65…and looks at home in either Dodger Stadium or Petco Park.  He remembered Royals VP Mike Swanson from Swanee’s many years in baseball.  Swanee was also on the media relations staff with the Padres when they won their first-ever NL pennant in 1984.  Swanee’s the one with his back to you in this photo.

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Before the middle game in San Diego, Jeremy Guthrie preparing to take batting practice.  Rex Hudler was nearby for his usual dose of encouragement.  When I asked Jeremy before the game if he liked hitting he said “no not much.  I was never a very good hitter.”  Well an 0-for-2 night did include a sacrifice bunt.  Most importantly he pitched 8 very good innings, allowing just a run.  He gave the overworked bullpen a BIG break.

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Before heading west we` caught a break in the Detroit series at home after a frigid series with Toronto.  By the Saturday game of that series it had warmed up to 80!  Before that game Dayton Moore and members of his staff were there for the presentation of Gold Gloves to Salvador Perez, Eric Hosmer and Alex Gordon (who received his THIRD)  Congrats to the whole organization!

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Before we froze on that home stand versus Toronto, we were in Baltimore, where (typically for the Royals this year) it was BEAUTIFUL when we arrived….but a much different story once we started actually playing a game.  This was the view from my hotel room when we first arrived in Charm City.  We felt humidity, but not too much of it.  It was baseball weather.   Perfect…

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But by the time the series got started the next evening it was 52 degrees and we waited out a 55 minute rain delay.  By the finale of the series it was pleasant…but apparently only because the Royals were about to leave town….

April Images

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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).

GOING OUT WITH A BANG!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

A Definite Upgrade

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.

ExteriorCiti

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.

InteriorCiti

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.

Apple

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.

SheaBridge

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.

Denny42

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.

FansUpEscolator

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.”

Escolator Rotunda

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.

Persistence

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.

HosmerCatching

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.

An Apple A Day

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. 
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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. 

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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. 

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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.

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