Spring Training is always a time of hope, a time to be optimistic. How will this year go for the Royals? Hard to say. It will be an adventure we’ll all experience together. But 2010 began with another solid spring of hard work by the players and staff.
Here’s a taste of some of the things that were happening on the field and off the field (and largely off the field) as the Royals prepared for the regular season.
Arizona was a great host as always. I had the pleasure of having a total of 15 relatives visit Surprise and the surrounding area. Some made the trip to the Grand Canyon. Here I am with my cousin John McGinty. My son John is on the lower left, my nephew Charlie is lower right.
I think you know these guys. George Brett and Frank White play catch as each will throw a round of batting practice as they do so often during Spring Training. Once again the Royals utilized alumni on the field. John Mayberry, Dennis Leonard, John Wathan and Willie Wilson are among those who also sported Royal Blue this Spring.
Over my first three years with the Royals, I’ve spent a total of more than three months in the Valley of the Sun. On the first Sunday of Cactus League games I saw a tarp on a baseball field…and rain…for the first time. The game originally scheduled for March 7th with the Giants was made up a few weeks later.
Rain may be an unfamiliar site, but this is not. Manager Trey Hillman meets with the media at least twice each day. Here he answers questions from Bob Fescoe, Dick Kaegel, Robert Ford and Bob Dutton. This was before the Royals last game at historic Hi Corbett Field, the spring home of the Colorado Rockies (and before that the Cleveland Indians. Spring Training for the film “Major League” was filmed here). The Rockies and Diamondbacks are vacating Tucson and will henceforth train in the Phoenix area.
Here’s the Royals Rookie of the Year! Micah James Lefebvre. Born only weeks before, he made his first visit to Spring Training in late March. Hey Micah…baseball’s an exciting sport!! Really…you’ll see!!
Proud papa and mama Ryan and Sarah. Mom reports Micah was a great traveller on his maiden voyage, from KCI to Phoenix.
As Royals team photographer Chris Vleisides and receptionist Lisa Hemly check on a computer issue, you see the new addition to the wall in the lobby of the Royals Surprise offices. A giant version of the Kansas City Star salute to the 2009 Cy Young Award winner, Zack Greinke. Lisa, by the way, did an amazing job singing the National Anthem before one of the Royals games.
Eat your heart out cold hockey cities! Hockey may not be the first thing you think of when you see palm trees, but inside this building it’s very cold! And very loud!
The Phoenix Coyotes have had a great season after almost moving out of town last summer. I was a huge hockey fan growing up…before I “Rip Van Winkled” on it for oh….about 28 years…but I’ve rediscovered it the last couple of seasons. This was a sellout and a shootout victory in March.
My son the Coyote. John saw his first NHL game…along with several Royals games…on his Spring Break.
The Royals prepare for their final game in Tucson. As previously noted, the D-backs and Rockies will leave Tucson behind (no more 2 and a half hour drives. I’ve made the trip 7 times the past three springs). They’ll be in a more convenient spot. But Tucson is a good town with a long history as a spring training city.
We drive by Picacho Peak State Park one last time. When you go to Tucson for a game from Surprise it makes for about a 12 hour day. Our boss, Mike Swanson, spent 14 Springs in Tucson, in his days with the Diamondbacks, and before that, the Rockies. That’s a lot of long drives…
Don Free drives us home from Tucson one final time. Beginning next year no “road” trip should last more than an hour or so. Most are 30 minutes or less. The convenience of the Cactus League is amazing.
The last week of the season the Royals finally visited New Yankee Stadium for the first time. At a cost of 1.5 billion dollars, it’s an attention-getter. Last year I gave you one last look at the old place.
During batting practice the skies were getting dark. Here Ryan Lefebvre and Fox Sports Kansas City producer Kevin Shank catch up with former Royals Manager Tony Pena, now the Yankees bench coach. Notice the big HD screen in center. It’s big, but not quite as big as CrownVision at New Kauffman Stadium.
There’s a Yankee Museum in the new stadium. Here fans learn about the man who got it all started, the Sultan of Swat, Babe Ruth.
You may have heard the most expensive seats cost 2500 dollars behind homeplate. Well, that price didn’t go over very well. They slashed prices in half, to a still-exorbitant 1250 dollars a seat. You do get to eat in this beautiful club located behind home plate for all that coin. And of course servers bring whatever you want to your seat.
Yankees Manager Joe Girardi meeting with the media before a game. Most Major League managers draw between 5 and 10 reporters for most pregame news conferences. With the Yankees, it’s as though every day is the World Series. Just the way George likes it.
While the Royals were in Detroit, we were lucky enough to be on hand when legendary, longtime Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell came to the ballpark to say “thank you” and, sadly, “so long…”
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Ernie is 91 and was recently diagnosed with inoperable cancer. He visited the Ernie Harwell press box. Here flanked by, among many others, current Tigers broadcaster Dan Dickerson on the left and team President Dave Dombrowski on the right. Ernie looks great and was in great spirits.
In the middle of the third inning he addressed the crowd. He was in full voice, no notes. He was probably the only one without a tear in his eye. Ernie…we all love you…(speaking for baseball fans everywhere….not just in Detroit).
If the game is moving slowly, there is one proven method to make it speed up: give George Brett a microphone! George recently joined Denny and Bob to promote Royals Fantasy Camp next February. The game had been played at a leisurely pace until the 4th. That’s when Number 5 sat down. Total pitches needed for a pair of 1-2-3 innings? 20. For six outs. Every time he stops by, it seems, his visit is cut short by quick innings. I couldn’t get Bob to smile, he was busy working.
On one of our broadcasts in Seattle, Bob made a reference to a song Perry Como performed many years ago, “The Bluest Skies You’ve Ever Seen Are In Seattle.”
Hard to argue. In four days there, we had a couple of brilliantly clear days…and the retractable roof was open for three of the four games. Sure beats last year.
Joining Bob, Don Free and me was Royals fan Kevin Koopman (lower left). He made the three and a half hour flight from Anchorage to see the Royals. He saw Zack’s one-hitter. Kevin grew up in Freemont, Nebraska and is a lifelong Royals fan.
Looking back at part of downtown Seattle from the pier. Breathtaking. Of course the flip side are the dreary winter days (and spring…and fall…and occasionally summer). But when it’s not cloudy, not many places in America are more beautiful.
At the bottom of the hill near Pier 66…is Seattle’s famous Pike Place Market. It’s more than 100 years old.
This is the famous Pike Place Fish stand…where the employees throw fish. Just my luck, no throwing fish while I was standing there. You know what they say…people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw fish….not sure who “they” are…but seriously…
One more shot of the water from the pier. Water, mountains, blue skies. Nice place to visit…especially with weather like this!
Tigers skipper Jim Leyland has been a Major League manager for many years…but did you know there are two Jim Leylands?
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Actually there is only one. But as you can see in the photos above, a Comerica Park security man is a dead ringer for the Detroit skipper. On the left, Jim Leyland visits with Royals Bench Coach John Gibbons and Manager Trey Hillman. On the right is John (didn’t get his last name). He has the same glasses and mustache. Apparently the “Leyland look” is all the rage in the Motor City.
Here’s proof that Jim and John are not the same person. Leyland leans over the railing, talking with Dave Owen and Gibbons (below with catchers mitt). You can see security man John standing watch behind the railing to the right.
So we salute John. No, he doesn’t have a multi-million dollar contract like his lookalike Jim Leyland. But he could prove valuable to the home team. Next time Leyland gets thrown out of a game, perhaps John would lend Leyland his shorts. The Tiger skipper could stay in the game, incognito. And his disguise would be a LOT more convincing than Bobby Valentine’s was years ago…
The Royals will finish their season at the Metrodome, the home of the Minnesota Twins (and Vikings) since 1982. The Vikings will remain in the dome for the foreseeable future.
Some mixed emotions both in the Twin Cities and around the baseball world. The new ballpark, Target Field (seen here on the Around the Horn Blog!), will open in April of 2010. The Royals will be the last regular season opponent in this building in October. The Royals were also the final opponent for the last outdoor game at old Met Stadium.
On the one hand, with the beautiful Minnesota summers, who wouldn’t love to play outdoors? On the other, there’s April…and May…and potentially late October for a chilly World Series. But it will be a much nicer, baseball-only facility.
So this post is mostly about things we won’t miss about the Metrodome…and yet in many ways it’s been great seeing games there. No rain (or snow) delays…perfect (indoor) weather. Courteous people that work there….
Anyway…without further ado…here are some things that we will not miss….
Of course everybody prefers baseball to be played outdoors…weather permitting of course. The Twins will surrender one of baseballs great home-field advantages when they move down the street. It gets REALLY LOUD in there. Just ask the Royals…or the 87 Cardinals…or the 91 Braves. Very hard on the opponent.
Don Free with Denny and Ryan in the visitor radio booth. It’s small, but with a good view right on top of the field. Have to be careful if you stand up too quickly you can hit your head on that overhang. The overhang is only about 5 feet 6 inches off the ground. At least radio’s version is padded. TV’s is concrete. Ouch.
Great, you’re thinking, a picture of a bathroom. Well as you may notice, it’s for both men and women. It’s a unisex restroom. They have one on the broadcast level and one downstairs in the press box. Maybe those fears about the Equal Rights Amendment forcing men and women to share restrooms carried over into the 80’s as they were building the dome…which was completed in 1982…
Metrodome construction predated the Americans with Disabilities Act…so there is one tiny, phone-booth sized elevator. But everybody gets plenty of exercise on these stairs…as well as another staircase you’ll see below. These stairs take you from the press box down to the tunnel that leads to the clubhouses and the media dining room (which we’ll also miss…good food in that place).
The Metrodome apparently offers its tenants precious little storage space. In these trunks in the aforementioned tunnel, the Twins store batting helmets, uniforms and other equipment. This isn’t just the way it looks on a travel day. It looks this way all the time! Presumably Target Field will have more storage space.
Another long set of stairs…from the tunnel down to the dugout. It’s 4 sets of 8 stairs (if I counted correctly). Ryan tells us that Cal Ripken legendarily used to hike these 32 steps in just 8 steps! Hard to believe…but hard to doubt the Iron Man.
Here’s one guy we WILL miss at the Metrodome. John Kinderman has been the the man guarding the door to the visitors clubhouse for 19 years. Before that he was a policeman for 31 years. He says 50 years is enough, so he will not make the move to Target Field. John always seems to have my favorite old TV show on…Hogan’s Heroes. He must watch the all-Hogan’s Heroes channel. He notes that former Twins GM Terry Ryan is also a fan of the show…so apparently great minds do, in fact, think alike.
This is the locker room used by the University of Minnesota football and (occasionally) the baseball team too. The football team is moving to a new on-campus outdoor stadium set to open in September. Baseball will still play a few games here. Ryan Lefebvre has changed and showered in this room many times. But no more football players in this locker room. The Vikings will basically have the dome to themselves after this baseball season ends.
Royals Director of Media Relations Dave Holtzman took this photo of Ryan in the building in which he’s spent so much time, as a player, an announcer for the Twins and, of course, an announcer for the Royals. This is the area behind home plate where the air blows very hard, apparently to help keep the roof inflated.
Dick Bremer, the TV voice of the Twins has a great saying about the unusual “suction” that you feel as you exit…”The game isn’t over til you’re sucked out the door.” Farewell Metrodome.
The Royals Hall of Fame opened after the All-Star break…and the reviews are in. Everybody who’s been through it that I’ve talked to has given it two thumbs up. If they had 3 or 4 thumbs…they’d give it 3 or 4 thumbs up.
I will attempt to give you a taste of it…but to truly appreciate it you need to check it out for yourself. And allow yourself some time. It’s free with your game ticket by the way. And it is open year-round.
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Located in left field…the first thing you see when you walk in is a giant wall that salutes Kansas City baseball history. On display are lockers with uniforms of the three Royals retired numbers: George Brett, Dick Howser and Frank White.
The first thing many rave about is the film you view before seeing the Hall. It’s in the “Dugout Theater,” an exact replica of the actual Royals dugout except that there are two rows of benches and not one (to accommodate more people). The film gives you the history of baseball in Kansas City, going back to the 19th century…right up to today.
And a wonderful touch, down at the end of the dugout, in the theater, sits a statue of Kansas City treasure, the late Buck O’Neil. The smile and twinkle in his eye will never fade.
Among the many displays: the “Pine Tar Bat” that George Brett made famous 26 years ago. George actually owns the bat, but it’s normally on display at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. It is currently on loan to the Royals Hall of Fame until the end of this calendar year.
Here is a great salute to Brett: a giant number “5,” made up of 3,154 baseballs, one for every hit in his great career. Within the “5” is the bat he used when he recorded his 3000th hit. Upon seeing that bat, George noted that his 3000th hit bat actually has more pine tar on it than his “Pine Tar Bat!”
Another cool feature is the Royals Radio Network booth, with a large window looking out on the field at New Kauffman Stadium. Fans can record their own play-by-play. Sorry, Don Free is not included. He’s the one that makes us look good. Seriously, it’s a fun feature of the new Royals Hall of Fame.
This display is a salute to the “Royals Academy,” a revolutionary concept in the early years of the franchise. The idea was to take athletes and turn them into baseball players. Frank White is one of many Academy graduates. In this display case, you can actually read the scouting report on Frank before he became a Royal.
The man who led the Royals Academy was the late Syd Thrift, a longtime baseball executive. Here’s a photo of Syd’s son, Jim, (on the right) with the Director of the Royals Hall of Fame, a guy who did a super job in putting it together, Curt Nelson. Jim Thrift is currently a scout for the Baltimore Orioles. He and his mother have donated several items to the Hall.
On the day the Hall opened, the Royals played in the Willie Wilson Hall of Fame game. Among those who played was George Brett, here talking with former Royal Willie Aikens. The Royals Hall of Famers were decked out in powder blue from head to toe.
While our radio booth is not a hall of fame, we now have chairs that are “hall worthy.” Here Don Free wheels in one of the new chairs in our radio booth. Pretty nice, eh? They were provided by John A. Marshall Company. It’s the Aeron Chair. We all got chairs that are just the right size for our frames.
Here are the gentlemen who brought them over: Barry Scogin and Stephen Marshall, who’s the great grandson of company founder John A. Marshall. We’ve now test-driven our personalized chairs…and it’s unanimous….like the new Hall of Fame…two thumbs up!
As the Royals began the mathematical halfway point in the 2009 season, they visited a couple of first-place teams…Detroit and Boston. After returning from that trip, my 10-year-old son John and I headed to another city whose team was in first place…St. Louis. I saw my first State Farm Home Run Derby and my first MLB All-Star Game! (and, yes, I had to pay for my tickets…)
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Here’s John with St. Louis native and Cardinal fan Cedric the Entertainer. He wasn’t the only celebrity at the game…but he was the only one who stopped by our section in the right field corner. Actually Craig Sager of TNT Sports wandered by too…but Cedric is bigger…both literally and figuratively. Cedric was incredibly nice and patient-signing tons of autographs and taking pictures with lots of fans. We actually missed Carl Crawford’s great catch in left field to take this picture…but it was worth it (nice catch, Carl!!)
This was from our seats at Busch Stadium. Both nights were great. I think that’s Zack pitching…took lots of pics with camera phone…but it doesn’t zoom in. What a great job by Zack!!
OK…confession time…this is the rest stop at Exit 167 on I-70. I…uh…locked my keys in my car at this rest stop on our way to St. Louis for the Home Run Derby. Thanks to Bud’s Towing Service for allowing us to get into the car, and allowing us to make it to the Derby on time. “Bud’s Towing Service, the official towing service of the Royals Radio Network”…has a nice ring to it… At least it was a nice day.
Fenway Park may give the Red Sox the best home-field advantage in baseball. It’s a great place to visit. I recommend it if you haven’t been. Before one of the games, a giant American Flag was draped across the Green Monster for pregame ceremonies. They were honoring those participating in the annual Pan-Mass Challenge, a bike-a-thon that benefits the Jimmy Fund, the Red Sox charity that fights children’s cancer as well as funding cancer care.
These are the Rileys…Kelly and Ron…from Ponca City OK. Ron’s a life-long Royals fan and for a combined Father’s Day/birthday present, Kelly got him a new Royals cap and a trip to Boston to see a Royals game at Fenway. Ron is holding an autographed ball from the 1970 Royals, signed by, among others, Manager Bob Lemon and Lou Piniella. They emailed us in the radio booth (feelthepower.com) and told us they were coming to the game, and bringing a nice piece of Royals history with them.
When the Royals visit the Tigers, the travelling party stays in beautiful, tree-lined Birmingham, Michigan. It’s about 30 minutes north of Comerica Park. It’s a clean, bustling great little town in Detroit’s northern suburbs. Detroit has obviously taken many economic hits the past few years, but this town seems very vibrant. Great shopping, dining, parks. Hard to truly capture its charm with a few photos.
The Royals final six games of interleague play took them to Houston and Pittsburgh. That meant a couple of unique modern ballparks…as well as the chance for me to visit (re-visit) the Johnson Space Center in Houston…the home of NASA (with apologies to Washington DC….Kennedy Space Center in FL…etc)
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PNC Park in Pittsburgh opened in 2001. It offers a great vew of the Alleghany River…the Roberto Clemente Bridge that many fans cross for ballgames…and of course the Pittsburgh skyline.
Before the gates open you get an idea of the impressive total view of downtown. The broadcast booths are very high up…so it takes some getting-used-to when broadcasting a game…but you can’t beat this perspective on the city.
A Saturday stroll through downtown with Don Free and Bob Davis meant bumping into Royal fans in town to cheer on the visitors. They made the trek from Overland Park and loved seeing a new ballpark. Royals coordinator of communications and broadcasting, Colby Curry, also made the trip to see PNC for the first time.
Bob and Denny on the air inside air conditioned (thank goodness) Minute Maid Park in Houston. When it’s closing in on 100 with Texas-sized humidity readings, the roof and AC come in mighty handy.
My cousin (and Houston resident) Jeff Nunn, with me and another Jeff: Jeff Lovell. He was a Sigma Chi fraternity brother. His father is Jim Lovell, a Gemini and Apollo astronaut, and before that a Naval Aviator…an American hero. Tom Hanks played the part of Jim Lovell in Apollo 13.
There’s Jeff Lovell’s dad, Jim, on the left. He flew on that ill-fated mission with Jack Swigert and Fred Haise. Kevin Bacon played Swigert in the movie, Apollo 13. Bill Paxton played the part of Fred Haise.
This is the room formerly used as “Mission Control.” NASA used it on missions from the mid-60’s to the mid-90’s, the “glory days” of NASA. They’ve replaced this room with a new modern Mission Control. They’ve restored this room to look exactly as it did during the Apollo days.
My cousin, Jeff, standing in front of a Saturn V rocket, that would have gone to the Moon if not for budget cuts in the early 1970’s. It now lies indoors in a climate-controlled building. It’s amazing how big it is…and how powerful these rocket ships were.
In the museum at the Johnson Space Center, there are several Moon rocks on display, including this one that the public can touch. This was a piece of a rock brought back on Apollo 17.
This is NASA’s Space Vehicle Mockup Facility. This is where the astronauts train for missions to the International Space Station. It’s in a massive, warehouse-sized building. These “pods” are linked up in space, providing living and working quarters, and this facility allows astronauts to train in an exact replica, minus the zero-gravity of space.
This is a “pretend” space shuttle. Astronauts use this and other shuttle simulators to practice, practice, practice. Here, the payload bay is open. Crews deliver and retrieve satellites, among other things, in this compartment. The Shuttle fleet is due to be retired next year after almost 30 years of use. Ares 1 is due to start carrying Americans into space in 2015.
They say men are from Mars. My cousin and I may never make it to Mars. I hope I live long enought to see people travel there.