Superstition has a lot to do with what Dave Webster wears to work.
If the Royals won the night before, he’ll put on the same uniform. If they lost, he’ll put on a different one to ward off the losing streak.
This day (a nongame workday), he’s pulling on the uniform of the 1886 Kansas City Cowboys. The heavy, hand-stitched white “K.C.” jersey was made long before elastic was invented. It takes him a few minutes to get all the old, metal buttons fastened and the strings laced where a shirt zipper would be.
After that, Webster shapes his mustache with wax and grooms his mutton chops. His wife doesn’t like them. He doesn’t particularly care for them, either, but it’s part of the persona. He wants to be recognizable to fans. With the Royals’ popularity booming, he is working more and more and can’t even shave them in the off-season.
Finally, he takes off his reading glasses, picks up his old wooden bat and heads up to the Royals Hall of Fame. Webster has transformed himself into the now-iconic Royals historical figure, KayCee Baseball — better known as the “W” Guy.
Before 2009, Webster had never worked in baseball. The Lenexa resident had been in printing sales for almost 35 years, but had had season tickets to the Royals since the early ’90s.
One day, Webster was perusing the job list on the Royals’ website for fun. When he saw that the Royals Hall of Fame was opening that year and needed docents and tour guides, Webster pounced. Most of the people hired for docents were already employed by the Royals, so Webster didn’t expect to be chosen; he didn’t even tell his wife. So when he got the call letting him know he’d be working for the Royals Hall of Fame, he was ecstatic.
One key part of the Hall of Fame experience is a 15-minute film about Kansas City baseball history. The theater fits 30 to 35 people, so the lines would weave down the Hall of Fame and out the door. One of Webster’s duties as a docent was to manage the line and prevent people from touching the displays.
Inside the Hall of Fame, the walls are covered with old newspaper headlines about Kansas City baseball. So when people got fussy or impatient, Webster started telling stories based on what he knew of the headlines. This, Webster said, got the docent director’s attention.
“After my first history lesson, he said, ‘OK, you’re going to stay here, this is what you’re going to do. You don’t need to go and tell people not to touch the exhibits,’” Webster recalled.
Curt Nelson, the director of the Royals Hall of Fame, said that Dave’s role as an “amateur baseball historian” was beneficial in more ways than just keeping people entertained.
“Since that first night when we started doing that, it’s like, ‘Hey, this really is the way to do this because it accomplishes so many things,’” Nelson said. “It highlights the things on the walls, it shares Kansas City baseball history with people who might not know a lot of the great stories from the Royals era, even going back to 1884.”
Soon, Nelson and Webster decided to create a character that embodied the old-timey feel of Kansas City’s baseball history, and they dressed Webster in an old Monarchs jersey. Since then, Webster’s collection of uniforms has grown to nine sets, though he primarily chooses between four of them. The jerseys span from the 1866 Kansas City Antelopes to the 1914 Kansas City Packers.
The spelling of KayCee stems from Webster’s original research. While compiling information for his impromptu history lessons, Webster often ran across out-of-town newspapers calling our teams the Kaycees. Webster said he loved the name enough to make it his alter ego.
Two years ago, Webster also took over as head of the Royals Scholastic Victory Program. The program brings in elementary school-age students for tours and teaches them about math and art through baseball. In the math station, for instance, kids measure the length of bats and the distance between home plate and the pitchers’ mound.
“Dave … has become a huge part of the RSVP program,” Nelson said. “He really heads up our effort on that and that’s separate and apart from KayCee and that’s an important part of what we do.”
But things didn’t take off for KayCee Baseball until 2014.
Before the season, Nelson said he and his Hall of Fame colleagues brainstormed about what they could do after a Royals win that could become a tradition. They needed something visible, something fans would notice, but nothing too in-your-face. And that’s when Webster thought of putting up an old-looking “W” sign on the roof.
“I had no idea how this would go over,” Webster, 58, said. “I figured people would think this is the corniest thing ever and not pay attention to it.”
In his garage, Webster made a few of his own W’s for the beginning of the 2014 season.
“Well, all I knew about it was he said ‘Don’t pull your car in the garage, I’m spray-painting in there,’” Webster’s wife, Colleen, recalled. “When he did (the W) I thought kinda how he thought, that nobody would really notice it. That it would be an inside joke kinda thing.”
Regardless, Nelson soon decided to get one professionally made.
“We just sort of tried to gauge people’s reactions to it and of course it was a great year to be able to do something like that because so much happened,” Nelson said. “It became sort of one other small thread in the whole entire fabric of what was the entire 2014 season. And we’re into the second year now and everybody seems to have taken hold of it and seems to enjoy it.”
Colleen said this opportunity for her husband has helped him come out of his shell.
“He’s never been the one of these who has to be the center of the party, so it’s just so weird,” Colleen said. “When I married him, he was just the shyest person; he hated small talk. And now he can do all this. Having that uniform, now he can talk to anybody.”
Webster also has become a minor celebrity. When he’s out and about in a Royals shirt he’s sometimes stopped for photos and autographs at places like the hardware store, Colleen said..
“Once we were at Nebraska Furniture Mart just trying out recliners and some 20-something with his kids came over and said ‘Hey, are you the guy?,’” Colleen said.
Now that he’s doing so much as KayCee and for RSVP, Webster’s summers can often mean working several days in a row. At one point this month, Webster will work 17 days straight.
Though his schedule can be hectic, his routine as KayCee during home games remains relatively steady. An hour before the doors open at Kauffman Stadium, Webster will walk around with people who have the Royals’ “early bird” experience. During that hour he’ll give them a tour of the Hall of Fame and lead them down to watch batting practice.
As soon as the game starts, he’s back in the Hall of Fame giving his now-famous history lessons. People usually clear out by the third inning, and that’s when Webster gets something to eat and walks around the park to take photos and sign autographs.
“I love the fan interaction,” Webster said. “Everybody’s so nice and they all want pictures, and I really love that.”
If the Royals are ahead at the top of the ninth, Webster heads up to the roof and waits for his cue. If the Royals get the win, he climbs up the ladder, stands on the scanty platform underneath the Hall of Fame Star, and pins up the blue W.
It’s become so popular that fans have paid Webster a big compliment: “I’ve had fans tell me, ‘It’s not a win until you put that W up,’” he said.
According to Nelson, this has been a stand-out year for the stadium tours, RSVP and Hall of Fame attendance. This, he believes, is directly related to KayCee.
“We’re having our best year ever on all of those platforms,” Nelson said, “and he’s certainly been part of it all, of each and every one of them.”
The job has allowed Webster to have grand, unforgettable experiences, but three stand out in his mind: meeting and hanging the W up with SungWoo Lee, the avid Royals fan from South Korea; taking part in the victory lap on the field after the Royals won the American League championship; and getting to travel to Chicago last October, where he witnessed the team clinch a spot in the playoffs.
“We had the W there (in Chicago) and I pulled the W out after we won,” Webster said. “We were down behind the Royals dugout. Salvador Perez kind of motioned to me and I thought he wanted the W so I was going to give it to him, and he said ‘No, no.’ He came out and he picked me up like a child — he’s big — and put me on the field.”
Perez then proceeded to run around the field holding up the W, while Webster got to celebrate by high-fiving everyone and shaking hands.
Webster gives credit for his success and his unforgettable moments to Nelson and the Royals. Working with Nelson, he says, has been one of the best parts of his job.
“Curt is really the Hall of Fame,” Webster said. “He is technically my boss, but he always insists we work together, which is great. I make a lot of this stuff up, and he just lets me run with it.”
Through his experiences as KayCee Baseball, Webster — born and raised in Kansas City — has been able to accomplish one of his childhood goals.
“When I was a little boy, I dreamed of one day wearing a Major League uniform,” Webster said. “I just didn’t realize that uniform would be over 100 years old and I’d be in my 50s by the time it happened. So the moral of that story is never give up on your dreams, you’ll never know when they’ll come true.”
Reach Star intern Katie Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org.