A Royals spring training workout has just ended, and pitcher Danny Duffy moves about the clubhouse in his official Kobe Bryant socks.
Six hours east of the Staples Center, in a facility that sees more short hops than jump shots, passion for the Lakers runs deep.
Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas has bled Lakers purple and gold since growing up in Southern California.
For as long as Duffy can remember, he has cheered for the Lakers. In the year he turned 8, Bryant joined the team, and Duffy picked the 18-year-old prodigy as his favorite player.
Proof is in his locker: It contains jerseys cataloging Bryant’s career. One is red and white with the number “33” representing Bryant’s years at Lower Merion High School near Philadelphia. Another pair depict numbers Bryant wore with the Lakers: a gold Lakers jersey with a purple “8” on the back, and a purple Lakers jersey emblazoned with a gold and white “24.”
And those socks are almost as loud as Duffy and several teammates were during Bryant’s final game last April. The Royals had played that night in Houston, two time zones east of the Staples Center, where Bryant put on his concluding show.
“Me and Christian Colón watched it in the Houston clubhouse, and then we booked it home at halftime,” Duffy said. “Me, (Moustakas) and (Eric Hosmer) all sat there and watched it. We were just freaking out.”
Hosmer said: “I believe we got to the hotel right as the third quarter ended, so Duffy invited a bunch of us up to his room to watch the end of it, and it was really fun. “Duffy’s a die-hard Laker fan, so it was fun to watch that last Kobe moment.”
As they watched in the hotel room, the excitement amplified. Bryant entered the final quarter with 37 points. He scored 23 in the fourth quarter — including the winning three-pointer with 31 seconds left — to make it a 60-point farewell performance.
“We were screaming,” Moustakas said. “We had a couple of noise complaints — I think because we were getting so loud.”
Moustakas also calls Bryant his favorite basketball player and said he’s the reason he wears No. 8 for the Royals.
“Just the way he was able to go about his business,” Moustakas said. “He was a winner. It’s the kind of guy you want on your team, that you kind of want to model your game after.”
He has held Bryant in such high regard over the years, he said, because of his work ethic, and doesn’t think he would be star-struck if they met.
“I feel like I’d be able to hold it together,” Moustakas said, “but I’d definitely be very excited to meet him and just let him know what he meant to my childhood and what he means to my work ethic because I try to emulate how hard he works. Obviously, it’s nearly impossible.”
Duffy went to high school in Lompoc, Calif., near Santa Barbara, up the coast from Los Angeles. He attended his first Lakers game as a high-school freshman.
“We didn’t get the opportunity very often,” he said. “(The seats) were upper level in a suite. I don’t remember how we got them, but I took my best friend in high school at the time. It was a preseason game, and it was so much fun.”
Duffy wasn’t the first in his family to be a Lakers fan. His father’s mom was a huge fan of Magic Johnson, and his uncles were fans of forward Kurt Rambis, a teammate of Johnson.
“Whenever they were struggling a little bit before Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe got there, we were still really big fans,” Duffy said.
Unlike Duffy, Moustakas said he went to many Lakers games.
“I was born and raised in LA, so being a Lakers fan was kind of not a choice,” Moustakas said. “I just love watching them play.”
Moustakas, 28, has many memories as a Lakers fan, including Robert Horry making key shots, but his fondest is watching them win titles. Bryant and the Lakers won five NBA championships from 2000 through 2010.
If Moustakas and Duffy have anything in common with their childhood idol, it’s that by winning the 2015 World Series, they know what it feels like to be champions.
“Obviously, winning a ring is the No. 1 goal in anybody’s career, but it was cool to be able to feel the way that they felt so many times,” Duffy said. “Getting to that point and being the best team in the world.”
Shelby Hyde is a reporter for Cronkite News at Arizona State University