The Royals selected Danny Duffy in the third round of the 2007 draft out of Cabrillo High School in Lompoc, Calif. In six major-league seasons with the Royals, he is 36-33 with a 3.71 ERA. | Photo illustration by JEFF PATTERSON jpatterson@kcstar.com

The education of Danny Duffy

Royals pitcher keeps strong ties to his hometown of Lompoc, Calif., but he also is passionate about Kansas City

By VAHE GREGORIAN vgregorian@kcstar.com

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  • Danny Duffy's childhood home in Lompoc, California filled with memorabilia, memories

    See the batting cage where Kansas City Royals pitcher Danny Duffy learned to pitch and hit with the help of his parents, Dan and Deanna, who've also kept many pictures of Danny and other baseball memorabilia at their home in Lompoc, California.

Danny Duffy's childhood home in Lompoc, California filled with memorabilia, memories

See the batting cage where Kansas City Royals pitcher Danny Duffy learned to pitch and hit with the help of his parents, Dan and Deanna, who've also kept many pictures of Danny and other baseball memorabilia at their home in Lompoc, California.

Vahe Gregorian The Kansas City Star

LOMPOC, Calif.

As an infant, Danny Duffy dutifully was read the sports pages of newspapers with the same sort of animation and inflection he’d hear in his children’s books.

 ‘And then, in the fourth inning, with two runners on and one out, Mike Piazza … ’ ” his father, Dan, might begin.

When his mother, Deanna, went out for runs, Dan drove along with little Danny in a child seat as Dan called out her splits through the window.

She called her baby boy “Bear,” and she playfully wonders now if he began thinking he was “part bear” and that that might have subconsciously led to this whole bear suit thing.

“Fur. Sure,” she said, smiling.

Later, on the Stingray bike he’d also use to scramble through his paper route, Danny trailed her runs to yell encouragement.

Gazing out from a car in the small front yard of their first home, she thought of the dirt paths they’d worn into the grass all those years ago playing Wiffle ball and other variations of baseball.

Home plate was the old pine tree just by the street number sign on the house. Another tree stood as first base, with second a hard angle to the left because of the location of another tree before the hedge at third.

“It was kind of a weird diamond,” she said, laughing, during a ride around this town of about 45,000 along an inland wiggle of the Pacific Coast Highway that is adjacent to Vandenberg Air Force Base and was once the flower-seed capital of the world.

Then there was what they put together in the back yard of the cozy home (and temple to dogs) that they moved into about 15 years ago, just blocks from Cabrillo High School — from where he’d walk home for lunch every day.

A batting cage consumed almost all of it, extending from fence line to fence line paralleling the house, and most of the width, too.

Even under the lights, Danny and his friends played here.

Often, Deanna threw batting practice by the bucketload and caught for her son.

Now, the batting tunnel is gone, but they’ll all still play catch when Danny comes home.

The setting and ongoing closeness among them says much about who Duffy is and what he comes from.

“We May Not Have It All Together,” a sign on the fence says now. “But Together We Have It All.”


 
Royals pitcher Danny Duffy was joined by his wife, Sara, following a Jan. 17 press conference discussing his five-year contract extension at Kauffman Stadium. JOHN SLEEZER jsleezer@kcstar.com

A Los Angeles Dodgers baby jacket hangs in a closet of memorabilia in their home, where the 9-year-old Duffy wept inconsolably when Piazza was traded to the Marlins in 1998.

The closet also displays the spectrum of Danny’s jerseys through the years and dozens of commemorative baseballs, including one inscribed thusly by former Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda:

“To Danny,” Lasorda wrote at a predraft workout in 2007, “a future Dodger.”

So no wonder Deanna had to cheer him up and suggest he “just squint” to blur together the Royals font and colors with those of the Dodgers when Kansas City drafted him in the third round in 2007. He still was in his cap and gown at the time; the call came just minutes after his high school graduation.

For that matter, she remembers being gratified and terrified at the same time at the prospect of her only child suddenly just being … gone.

 ‘Where is he going? He’s 18. It’s not like going to college at Cal Poly, an hour away,’ ” she remembers thinking. “ ‘What are they going to be teaching him, and what’s he going to see?’ 

But Duffy and his family would come to see all of this as meant to be for the 2017 Royals’ opening day starter.

Despite some hardships and uncertainty along the way — or perhaps because of them — Duffy came to adopt “Bury Me A Royal” as not just a catch-phrase on Twitter but a virtual life plan.

His parents, too, cherish the Royals organization and people of Kansas City.

“They’re just so generous of heart,” Deanna Duffy said, “and it’s sincere.”

That’s why Danny signed a five-year, $65 million deal in January with the Royals, who otherwise stand at a crossroads with free agency looming for four other foundational, everyday players: Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar.

With his chance waiting to test a market that would have been more favorable if he enjoyed another season like the one he had in 2016, Duffy preferred the sense of fulfillment and stability and home he enjoys with his Royals brethren and Kansas City itself — or, hometown “1A,” as he calls it.

Lompoc still rules his heart, of course, and you can feel the ongoing evidence of this in his reverence for the town itself and his eagerness to recite his long-distance running routes that might take him 15 miles over to the ocean, or in his investment in friend Robert Valles’ barber shop.

But you could see prime testimony to his feelings about Kansas City when he signed the contract, and when he went to Kauffman Stadium to stand among fans on the January night that teammate Yordano Ventura died.

It was as much to offer consolation as to absorb the warmth of others, Duffy and his parents will tell you.

So even if his new contract represents money beyond most people’s comprehension, it still reflects his roots and heart and values.

Money doesn’t make you a better person or make you happy, he’s always been taught.

It’s a tool to pay bills and get what’s needed, the family believed — a philosophy that probably explains why the only fancy car his parents have is the 1965 Mustang that Deanna got for her high school graduation in 1978.

Why wouldn’t he want to keep playing for the organization that has been loyal to him and cultivated him, and believed in him when he even wondered about himself?

Especially when he left the game for a few months in 2010.

Who knew then what he might do?

If he hadn’t gone back to baseball, maybe he would have become a meteorologist, each parent said almost simultaneously, alluding to his fascination with the weather.

Instead, he returned with a vengeance after a reset enabled in part by a chance meeting with Coffey Anderson, whose Christian inspirational music already had been moving him and then spoke to him all the more.

“He is a deep kid,” Deanna said. “Nothing is superficial for him. If he’s in, he’s all in.”


Duffy and the family’s dog, Champ. Courtesy of the Duffy family

For a further sense of how Danny Duffy sees the world, it’s probably useful to know that his parents met in jail.

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, to be precise, where Deanna already was working when Dan was hired in 1983.

His first impression was “Wow, who’s that?”

Hers: “I didn’t like him much.”

That changed when he was unusually quiet one day. She asked what was wrong. It was the anniversary of his father’s death, he told her, and she asked if he had a picture.

So he showed the picture … but she noticed something else, too.

He also carried one of his dog, Taffy.

Next thing you know, she’s unfurling a series of pictures in her own wallet of her dog, Heidi.

“Then I thought there was something more to him,” she said.

So that common connection ignited a 30-year-plus marriage that has included what they call “generations” of dogs together … and a son who wouldn’t have gotten away with much if he’d wanted to.

“There was a method to our madness,” Dan Duffy said, smiling.

If Danny ever was a rebel, well, they never knew about it.

Structure was fundamental, considering his father would become a background investigator and his mother went from the sheriff’s office to several years with the California Highway Patrol.

“She was running dudes down and taking names,” her son says now.

She still misses some aspects of the work, including the sense of camaraderie she felt with her colleagues, but her perspective changed after Danny was born.

She wanted to be home with him, at least in part because the dangers inherent in her job made her think more about a responsibility to be there for her son.

The change also led to another revelation in her life, one that tells all the more about the priorities with which their son was raised.

What began with volunteering at the elementary school became about 15 years of working with special-needs children.

“Those are my people,” she said. “I learned a lot from working with them. What you see is what you get. They just are who they are. They’re real.”

Dan Duffy, who retired in 2014 but is working part-time at the sheriff’s department now, has served their community in numerous ways, too.

Proud as he is of his son, he’s also reveled in seeing so many of his proteges go on to become pillars of the community — including some working in law enforcement and other public-service capacities.

It’s impossible to count how many youth coaching jobs he’s had, including at Cabrillo High, where he remains the public-address voice of the Conquistadors and now is a volunteer assistant girls basketball coach to a former player of his.

That’s a dynamic he relishes similarly to becoming a subordinate in the sheriff’s department to another former player — all part of a mind-set in which he believes it crucial to think in terms of being part of the solution.


Against this Norman Rockwell scenescape, though, the Duffys’ thoughtful and sensitive son wasn’t immune to the sorts of hazards that lurk in any community.

Duffy, who was 5-feet-4 until about ninth grade, was bullied in the latter part of grade school and first part of junior high.

He was pushed around physically and verbally.

Those memories stay with him to this day.

“I was somebody who didn’t really fit in with, really, any crowd for a while,” he said, noting how distance running became an “escape” for him that continues to be therapeutic. “You feel a little awkward, out of place. You don’t really know what to say to latch on to a certain group of people. …

“Bullying is so garbage, man.”

Maybe that experience is why Duffy was one of those who defended a schoolmate with cerebral palsy, and why as he grew both in the game of baseball and as a person, he became obsessive about being inclusive.

The experience also made him stronger, his parents believe — something that could have played out otherwise if he didn’t come from such a home.

As it happened, the issue resurfaced for Duffy early in his Royals career, when a handful of players hazed him in a way that pierced him.

It wasn’t just the ketchup pelted onto his clothes, or having his clothes be shredded or stuff rigged up to fall on him.

It was the spirit in which it was done by about six people who felt it was “their duty to make me feel like I didn’t belong,” he said.

“That does a number on you, man,” he said. “You walk around like you’re stepping on glass. You don’t know what’s right, what to do to appease people who are ‘superior’ to you.”

All of which informs how Duffy sees these things now.

For one thing, he forgives them and won’t name names “because they’re probably good people, but … I’ll never let go of that.”

For another, that kind of nonsense isn’t conducive to a winning culture.

While he notes he’s not “shining my halo over here,” he adds, “I just do my best to love on everybody in here and avoid having to make people feel like they don’t belong here. Because if you’re here, you belong here. …

“Life’s too short, this career’s too short, this time on Earth is too short, to make somebody else miserable for your enjoyment.”


That’s testimony to his unique self but also to the security and love from Duffy’s upbringing, which stood him well in 2010 when he felt compelled to leave baseball and go home and hang out with his parents and “get right with God.”

He worried that people would think of him as a quitter, that no one would understand why he had to get away.

And this is what he heard at home:

If you don’t want to go back, that’s OK.

Everything is going to be OK.

“‘We have your back no matter what,’” his mother remembers telling him. “If he walked away today for whatever reason, it would be a good enough reason for us to support him.

“It’s his life.”

Because of theirs.

“She’s a very strong woman, and my dad’s a very strong man,” he said. “And they both love me very much. I’m very lucky to have a set of parents like I do.”

Vahe Gregorian: 816-234-4868, @vgregorian