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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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