The Royals are producing big hits, thrilling finishes and lead the league in come-from-behind wins. But their last go-round with their current core wouldn’t be complete without Michael Wheeler, a superfan who has attended nearly every Royals game since 1985, five years before Salvador Perez and Eric Hosmer were born.
Wheeler appeared on the video screen at Kauffman Stadium during the 2015 World Series, running in slow motion through the concourse, dressed in a Superman outfit with a finely trimmed blue-dyed beard.
It was a proud moment for Wheeler, a fan favorite who has missed only three games this season.
“I just love putting smiles on people’s faces,” he said. “That’s my calling.”
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Wheeler, 66, is a recognizable figure in Kansas City. He runs everywhere — from the Plaza to Westport to downtown to Kansas Speedway — all while wearing his red cape. The slender, 5-foot-7 black man has only worn his Superman outfit for six seasons, but he started sparking energy into Kauffman Stadium crowds when the club won its first title in ’85. Wheeler has never been a season-ticket holder, but instead is provided free tickets from different fans.
“Michael is kind of amazing. He’s a fixture here,” said nine-year Kauffman Stadium attendant David Dickson. “It’s crazy on a hot night, you see him jogging around the concourse around 20 times. But all the people enjoy it.”
Wheeler compares himself to Forrest Gump. He remembers being bullied as a kid and wanting to run away.
“I got bullied a lot because I was really quiet and timid,” he said. “So I came home crying to my mother saying, ‘I’m sick of these old bullies’ … I started running around the house training and then just like the movie, when the bullies come up, I’m gone.”
Wheeler eventually ran head-on into serious depression. After being called into the Army and serving in Vietnam, he battled drug addiction and even had suicidal thoughts.
Then, he started running again.
“I put on my running shoes and took out the door running again,” Wheeler said. “I never looked back.”
But there’s more to him than the running shoes and costume.
Wheeler is a man of faith. He has “Jesus” written in the center of his Superman shirt and gospel messages scribbled over his cape. After his sister was brutally murdered in 1978, Wheeler became involved with former Kansas City councilman Alvin Brooks and his anti-hate group.
Often times, the group gathered in heavy crime areas. In 1989, Wheeler was marching around a drug house near 33rd Street and Benton Boulevard. He went around the block seven times before a dealer came out and beat him with a 2x4 wooden board. Wheeler was hospitalized and scarred in several spots around his body.
The confrontation was so extreme, news reached the White House. A couple of months later, President George H.W. Bush visited Kansas City to meet Wheeler and discuss anti-drug and anti-crime efforts.
Wheeler said, “That’s what motivates me to keep going. I see people on drugs … I’ve been there before. I see people depressed and suicidal … I’ve been there. But if I can make that person smile, then that gives me strength.”
Whether it’s with his outfit, personality or lifestyle, Wheeler aims to brighten your day. He’s literally run all over the country, visiting all 50 states and competing in more than 140 marathons. Still, his favorite workout is running around Arrowhead Stadium and Kauffman Stadium on game days.
“I feel like I’m part of the team,” Wheeler said. “I feel my connection with them. … The city smiles at us.”
Royals general manager Dayton Moore will likely move on from the club’s core players after this season. However, the man dashing around Kauffman Stadium in a bright red cape promises to be back — and Wheeler doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
“I’m running until I breathe my last,” he said.