When Dayton Moore took over as general manager of the Royals on June 8, 2006, the tattered franchise was amid its fourth 100-loss season in five years.
Paralleling that, by the time the campaign mercifully was over the team had lured all of 1,372,638 fans to Kauffman Stadium — which actually was 1,457 more than dared enter the house of horrors the year before.
From his first press conference to just about every day thereafter, Moore fixated on not just revitalizing the organization but also resuscitating the fan base … and how the two had to be entwined for the Royals to compete in the second-smallest media market in Major League Baseball.
He believed — correctly — it would take those combined forces, economically and emotionally, to quell a lost generation of baseball and reverse the inertia and apathy of failure into the momentum of success.
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So the events of Wednesday night were monumental to Moore and a profound statement about the remarkable turn of events that now seem to just stack on top of each other after taking so long to hatch.
When Blue Springs’ resident Tony Tucker and his family walked through Gate E at Kauffman Stadium, they symbolically became the 3,074th fan in the building and in the process broke the franchise attendance record that had been set in 1989 (2,477,700).
The crowd of 32,286 made it a season total of 2,506,913 with six home dates left.
Put another way, if the Royals in their final games match their average of 33,426, they will fall just 30,000 or so short of matching in one season the total attendance of 2005 and 2006 combined (2,743,819).
This might not have been the same sort of milestone as taking San Francisco to the limit in the 2014 World Series.
But it wasn’t unrelated, either.
The breakthrough Wednesday defines the symbiotic relationship between this new breed of Royal and this particular set of fans — the longtime faithful, the reformed cynics, the young and the bandwagoners — who have come of age together.
Perhaps especially in the last year or so, perhaps reflecting Moore’s belief that an energized fan base can be worth 10 wins a year.
It was less than 13 months ago, you might remember, that manager Ned Yost riled the base when he wondered aloud how the Royals could be in first place on Aug. 26 and draw only 13,847 people to a dramatic 2-1 win over Minnesota.
It wasn’t a smooth move by Yost, who now raves about the “fantastic” energy fans bring to Kauffman, but it spoke to an elephant in the room:
That sort of crowd in this kind of scenario seems unfathomable now, but way back then the fact is that after all the years of chaos and heartbreak who knew if it was safe to believe or invest?
Then along came the American League Wild Card Game against Oakland, when the Royals uncorked the preposterous rally that changed everything — from down 7-3 in the eighth inning to win 9-8 in 12 — and who’s to say the fans didn’t just about will that to happen?
“You probably could have recorded that on the Richter scale, how loud our fans were that day,” pitcher Danny Duffy said. “It was unbelievable; I’ll never forget it.”
The favor was returned in unique form by the Royals during the course of the next few weeks on and off the field, where players routinely were among the mortals and shared the magic in ways that are rare today as high-profile athletes become more and more isolated.
Yet here they were, encapsulated in Eric Hosmer’s tweet (and subsequent plunking down of a credit card for a $15,000 bill) to celebrate the sweep of the Angels:
That gestured, and others like it, reflected a unique dynamic and emphasis that probably couldn’t work in much larger markets.
“It just speaks to the way this city operates, the way it’s wired,” Duffy said. “They definitely welcome people who come here, for any reason, with open arms. The hospitality is second to none. You see people on the street (or in a store), and it’s not, like, anything over the top.”
A sense of connections with fans is important to any franchise, Moore acknowledged, but he believes it’s more so with “the great people of the Midwest and the great people of Kansas City.”
“They want to be able to identify with their players,” he said. “That’s why it’s always been so crucial and important to grow them from within and to be able to follow them in the draft and through the minor leagues and kind of live through their ups and downs …”
It’s also why Moore has put a premium on scouts and development people, whether here or in Latin America, being conscious of finding and developing talent that “the fans of Kansas City want to embrace.”
It works the other way, too, says Duffy, who tweeted “Bury me a Royal” when he signed a new contract in 2012.
“You go through trials and have some successes as well in order to know that you belong; these fans have helped us get to that,” he said. “They’re everything to us. We feed off of them.”
To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @vgregorian. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.