Cactus League games haven’t even started, but Royals fans already are clinging to the chain-link fencing at Surprise Stadium, often to catch a glimpse of nothing more than players stretching and going through drills.
They come anyway, from Kansas City, Independence, Oak Grove and more. They come to see the World Series champions.
“I came out here to see the ‘want-to’ in their eyes,” said Eric James, a long-haul truck driver from Kansas City. “Last year I came out here, and I saw that want-to. They were all business. I went back to my truck and put a $50 bet on them to win the World Series.
“That obviously paid off. So I came back to see the same want-to this time. I see it. I am going to place the same bet.”
James said he’s been a fan “since before the Royals were the Royals,” participating as a boy in the contest to name the team. His first date with his wife, Aimee, was at a Royals game, and they saw the Royals play in Cleveland on their honeymoon.
Aimee’s enthusiasm for the Royals has endured right along with her husband’s.
“I love coming out here and seeing the guys,” she said. “They’re all so friendly and nice. I love that they will stop and sign autographs. It’s really neat. We got this fancy camera and I’ve been taking some really cool pictures of them.
“It’s really exciting. Salvador Perez, Eric Hosmer, (Mike) ‘Moose’ (Moustakas), Lorenzo Cain, Bubba Starling. I even got one of (Eric) standing with George Brett.”
Like the James family, many of the fans arrive early at spring training hoping to get closer to the players that they love to root for when the real games begin.
“I was really hoping I’d get to get some autographs from (Yordano) Ventura, which I didn’t get to get,” said Larry Dady of Oak Grove. “I hollered at him, but he said he’d come back. I don’t think he’s going to. But we saw Hosmer and Moustakas.”
Larry and his wife, Mary, have been fans of Kansas City baseball since the Athletics played there. The couple spent most of February in Arizona visiting a daughter and son-in-law, and were pleasantly surprised to be able to visit their hometown team in the meantime.
“(We are) going back Saturday,” Mary Dady said, “but we really enjoyed coming out here and watching them. We got to holler at them.”
Not all fans come just to get close to the players. A few are serious about evaluating the team. Michael Bagwell came from Wakefield, Kan., and apparently it was worth the trip. He’s pleased with what he’s seen so far.
“Biggest thing I see is the team dynamic,” Bagwell said. “They don’t rely on one guy, so they just have a lot of fun out here. They get back to the basics. It’s kind of cool to see them doing what you started doing in Little League.”
Cuyler Meade is a senior in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.