Christopher Greca’s childhood dream was to be the next George Brett.
By SAM McDOWELL
The Kansas City Star
A military brat, Greca spent two years living in Parkville, where he first developed an admiration for the Royals in 1977. He especially enjoyed their gritty third baseman with an unorthodox batting stance.
Around this time, if his memory serves him correctly, Greca tweaked his own Little League hitting style to imitate Brett. Some nine years later, once he realized he probably wasn’t destined to be the next George Brett — “The batting stance didn’t work out quite as well for me as it did for him,” Greca acknowledged with a laugh — he joined the Army.
It was this route that led Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Greca to his boyhood idol in the end.
Brett, along with Royals pitcher Jeremy Guthrie, Royals Hall of Famer Jeff Montgomery and broadcaster Rex Hudler, traveled to Fort Leavenworth on Tuesday as part of the Royals’ “Salute to the Military” trip.
As the post command sergeant major for the Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Greca spoke with Brett, Guthrie, Montgomery and Hudler before they signed autographs for military personnel, their spouses and relatives for nearly two hours at the oldest Army post west of the Mississippi River.
“I’m certainly not a young kid anymore,” said Greca, 45, who spent two tours in Iraq. “But the opportunity to meet your idol — and I can say he was honestly my biggest idol as a boy — that was pretty special.”
A baseball Hall of Famer, Brett returned the appreciation Tuesday morning.
“What you said about this being a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, well it shouldn’t be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Brett told Greca. “We should be more involved with you guys and all the bases. ... We all appreciate what you guys do — there’s no if’s, and’s or but’s about it.”
The soldiers exchanged thank-yous with the Royals’ representatives as they passed through the autograph line.
With a dear possession in his hands, Greca stood in line for more than a half hour. He brought with him an autographed, framed Brett jersey — complete with the certificate of authenticity — and asked Brett to apply some fresh ink.
Others brought baseballs, posters and pictures for the players to sign.
A retired major general who grew up in Leavenworth, George Harris proudly carried a navy blue three-ring binder that symbolized one of his completed missions.
A follower of the Royals via the newspaper while overseas, Harris spent eight years collecting every George Brett baseball card made by Topps, Donruss or Fleer. He completed that mission in 1994 while serving as a captain.
“Every time I called back home, I’d always ask how the Royals were doing — and specifically how George Brett was doing,” Harris said. “Just to shake his hand — I don’t want to sound like a crazy kid — but it meant a lot. When I was a captain, I always followed baseball through George Brett.”
Several soldiers — past and current — shared their favorite Royals moments with the players. Some spoke with Guthrie about their lofty expectations for the upcoming summer.
That included Col. Chris Fry, the director for the Department of Distance Education in Fort Leavenworth, who grew up near 18th Street and Vine.
“We just all talked about the old players, old times and watching them play,” said Fry, 47. “I followed the Royals my entire life. I read newspaper clips, checked the internet — whatever I could get my hands on.
“I think this year is going to be a pretty good year.”
While stationed in Washington, Greca had the opportunity to see the Royals play. When the Royals traveled to Seattle, he made a short journey to the old Kingdome and watched Brett and Bo Jackson hit home runs.
He later purchased the jersey he asked Brett to sign Tuesday. Along with his autograph, Brett wrote a message thanking Greca for his service and the visit.
When Brett finished applying his signature, Greca turned the jersey toward his line of sight, read the message and smiled.
“This goes back up on my wall better than it came off it,” Greca said.
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