Baseball starts for some fans on Opening Day, for others when pitchers and catchers report for spring training.
For the Konrade family of Emporia, baseball arrived Wednesday when a bus pulled up in front of Bruff’s Steak House just off Interstate 35 and out came members of the Royals, including designated hitter Billy Butler and reliever Aaron Crow.
Monica Konrade and her sons Jonas, the oldest at 9, Drew, Eli and T.J., came decked in Royals gear and lined up for autographs at the Royals Caravan, where different members of the organization hit the road in several directions, to sign, pose for photographs and talk baseball.
“It’s a special thing,” Monica Konrade said. “We took the kids out of school for an hour or two. They’ve gotten good grades, so this is a special privilege, and they are very excited. They’ve seen the players from so far away. To see them up close like this, I think they’ll be excited about baseball.”
It’s not just the kids. Players are stoked as well after posting the franchise’s most victories, 86, in two decades.
“If we don’t win the (American League) Central, it’s basically a letdown,” Butler said. “We’ve added to a team that finished 10 games over .500. And we’re expected to compete in the Central and get a playoff berth.”
“The city’s waited a long time for it, and we added to a team that had success last year. There’s only one way to meet the expectations on that, and we understand that.”
The lineup has been bolstered, and Butler, beginning his eighth year with the Royals, called it the best of his career. The Royals retooled the top of their order by acquiring outfielder Noichika Aoki from the Brewers and second baseman Omar Infante from the Tigers.
They’re projected to hit first and second, with Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler in the middle of the order.
Outfielder Alex Gordon, who hit leadoff most of last year, will probably move into the fifth spot and catcher Salvador Perez sixth.
“Aoki is an on-base guy, and Infante hit (.318) last year,” Butler said. “With those guys in the lineup, it’s going to provide more opportunities for me and Hosmer. That’s all we can ask for. To drive in 100 runs you have to have guys get on consistently, and that’s what those guys were brought in to do.”
Butler looks to restore his numbers, which peaked during his All-Star year of 2012. He delivered career bests of 29 home runs and 107 RBIs with a .510 slugging percentage while hitting .311. Last year, the numbers slipped to 15 home runs and 79 RBIs.
“I look at it in terms of team goals,” Butler said. “But you look that the top six, with Sal in the six hole, I’d stack that up with anybody on paper. On paper means nothing, but you can compete with anybody with that lineup.”
The Royals caravans continue today in Lincoln, Blair and Omaha, Neb.; Fayetteville, Ark.; Coffeyville, Kan.; and Wichita.
The Royals’ FanFest is Friday and Saturday at Bartle Hall. Tickets are $15 for adults ($13 in advance) and $9 for ages 6-17 ($7 in advance). Children ages 5 and under are free. Advance tickets can be purchased by calling 816-504-4040, or visiting the Kauffman Stadium box office, open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Tickets also are available at Bartle Hall on the days of the event, which runs 2-9 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday.
There is exclusive admission for season-ticket holders two hours before the general public opening each day.