Andy McCullough is leaving The Star and hopes he did the Royals’ remarkable story justice

Kansas City Star reporter Andy McCullough took part in a MLB Network show at Kauffman Stadium to discuss the Royals-Giants World Series in 2014. A season later, McCullough was chronicling the Royals’ first World Series championship in 30 years.
Kansas City Star reporter Andy McCullough took part in a MLB Network show at Kauffman Stadium to discuss the Royals-Giants World Series in 2014. A season later, McCullough was chronicling the Royals’ first World Series championship in 30 years. jsleezer@kcstar.com

I was trying to interview Lorenzo Cain after Game 5 of the ALDS when Rusty Kuntz wandered over with his iPhone.

“Smile, Andy!” Kuntz said. “You’ll never look better than you do right now.”

In the photograph, Cain beams like he always does. I look like an oversized schlub in need of a diet featuring more greens, looking awkward and waiting for the moment to end. I asked Kuntz to text me the picture, because I thought it would make my mother laugh. The more I think about it, the image captures my relationship with these past two Royals seasons. I am happy to have been a bemused bystander to a period of such joy.

In January I’m leaving The Kansas City Star to cover a different team for a different newspaper. My editors asked me to write a story encapsulating my time following the Royals in 2014 and 2015. But no single article could do justice to the distance this franchise has traversed during these past two years.

When I joined The Star two years ago, people on the Internet used the phrase “#Yosted” whenever Ned Yost committed a gaffe. Others believed Dayton Moore had committed an act of moral hazard by trading away Wil Myers, the reigning American League Rookie of the Year. Fans clamored, loud and often, for David Glass to sell the franchise.

I will leave Kansas City with the team flying one American League pennant high above Kauffman Stadium, and with a World Series flag ready to rise on Opening Day in April. Glass now receives cheers whenever he appears in public. Moore has reclaimed his place as one of the game’s premier executives. Yost will likely retire as the greatest manager in franchise history.

Yeah. A lot happened.

The arc of this team’s rise is well-known now, a journey already written into franchise lore. The Royals ended a 29-year-old playoff drought with an 89-win season in 2014, not enough to win a division, but good enough to earn a spot in the American League Wild Card Game. The night of Sept. 30, 2014 looms as a transformative one in the history of the franchise, when the Royals erased a four-run deficit in the eighth inning, toppled Jon Lester and the Oakland Athletics and awakened this city’s long-dormant passion for the sport.

Last fall ended in heartbreak. Alex Gordon finished the season only 90 feet away from tying Game 7 of the World Series. As the Giants celebrated at Kauffman Stadium, some of the Royals wept inside their clubhouse. One image stuck out — the sight of Art Stewart, the team’s octogenarian scouting legend, wiping his own eyes in a corner of the room.

“Well,” Stewart said. “Guess I’ll head down to Arizona on Monday to go see some prospects in the Fall League.”

There was something heartbreaking and beautiful in that ethos, one personified by general manager Dayton Moore. He held organizational meetings the next afternoon, as his city and his players still mourned the loss. The Royals would not rest on their achievement as AL champions.

From the ashes of that defeat, the team rose to dominate the entire field in 2015. The Royals ran away with their division, survived a harrowing first-round series in Houston and went 8-3 in the last two rounds en route to their first championship since 1985. An estimated crowd of 800,000 jammed the streets of downtown Kansas City to welcome the conquering players back from New York after their comeback Game 5 victory.

The Star's Blair Kerkhoff and Andy McCullough recapped the Royals' 7-2 win in 12 innings over the Mets in World Series Game 5 on Sunday night in New York, which clinched the championship for Kansas City for the first time since 1985.

To chronicle a story like this, and do so for a paper like The Star, represents a professional dream fulfilled. I do not know if I will ever cover a team more interesting than the Royals from 2014 to 2015. I hope readers believe The Star captured that story. We did our best, and I felt such pride in the daily product we produced these past two seasons.

I grew up outside of Philadelphia, went to college in upstate New York and spent the first five years of my career writing for a newspaper in New Jersey. My only experience with Kansas City was a three-day visit in 2013 when the Yankees played the Royals. As I prepare to depart, I am not sure what I will miss the most, for the choices are too vast.

I will miss Bill, the clubhouse security attendant at Kauffman Stadium, and I will miss John, Andy and Mike in the pressbox cafeteria. I will miss mocking Joel Goldberg and I will miss the text messages from Ryan Lefebvre when my sesquipedalian verbiage forced him to consult a thesaurus. I will miss working with reporters such as Sam Mellinger, Vahe Gregorian, Blair Kerkhoff and Rustin Dodd. I will miss the care my stories received from editors such as Jeff Rosen and Chris Fickett.

The Star's Andy McCullough and Fox Sports Kansas City broadcaster Ryan Lefebvre crossed paths several times while covering the Royals this season. Here are a few of the best moments.

I will even miss Ned Yost insulting my pants.

When I applied for this job two winters ago, the hope was the Royals would be a competitive club, and I would have a chance to write some interesting stories. The team did its part. I hope I did mine.