On a goodwill trip to the Kansas City Police Department Special Operations Division last month, Chiefs defensive lineman Xavier Williams was stopped in the parking lot. A friend from his youth in south Kansas City, now a policeman, recognized him and they chatted for several minutes before exchanging phone numbers.
“Things like that didn’t happen in Arizona,” said Williams, who until this offseason played for the Arizona Cardinals of the NFL.
Since Williams, who played at Grandview High, signed with the Chiefs, he has run into and heard from too many friends to count. That is among the happy developments he shares with fellow athletes from Kansas City who suit up for the teams for which they cheered as youths.
Right now, the stars are aligned to connect each of Kansas City's professional sports team with local products.
Royals reliever Jason Adam attended Blue Valley Northwest High. He and Williams join Sporting KC veterans Matt Besler, who attended Blue Valley West, and Seth Sinovic, from Rockhurst High, as local athletes who represent their hometown teams. Another current Sporting KC player, Daniel Salloi, attended Blue Valley Northwest as an exchange student from Hungary.
A former area high school standout doesn’t often land in his hometown. Based on research by the Chiefs and Royals and The Star, fewer than 20 who attended a Kansas City-area high school have suited up for local teams. Sporting KC hits for a better average, with a dozen players from Kansas City-area high schools over the past two decades. Until relocating last year to Salt Lake City, the FC Kansas City women's pro soccer team also had a couple of homegrown products on its roster.
And when Kansas City fielded an NBA team for 13 years, the Kings, a pair of former Wyandotte players suited up, Lucius Allen and Larry Drew.
“It’s hard to find a lot of people from here who’ve made it in professional sports,” said Williams, the new Chiefs defensive lineman. “It’s not like Miami, or California or Texas, where there are more people. You've got a million guys from Georgia or Florida on pro teams.”
The population base here is one explanation. Weather is another,with warmer year-round climates typically producing more outdoor-sport athletes.
So when a KC kid makes it to the highest level — and gets to play in Kansas City — it’s a double cheer: Let’s go see one of our own play for the hometown team.
Adam was like so many who attended Royals games with his youth team in uniform. He remembers participating in a pregame parade around the Kauffman Stadium field.
“We thought that was the coolest thing in the world, walking around the warning track,” Adam said.
Same with backyard baseball.
“I was always dreaming as a kid, picturing myself in the bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, all that stuff,” Adam said. “I was doing it with the Royals.”
The Royals selected Adam in the fifth round of the 2010 baseball draft but traded him to the Twins in 2014 for outfielder Josh Willingham. Willingham helped the Royals down the stretch of the their postseason quest, recording a key ninth-inning single in the 2014 American League Wild-Card game.
The Royals didn’t forget about Adam. They brought him back after he spent nearly three years recovering from arm troubles. He made his major-league debut this season, and it took several appearances before he didn’t have to fulfill a ticket request.
“But I’d rather be here leaving tickets than somewhere in the minor leagues not worrying about it,” Adam said.
Williams, who spent his first three NFL seasons with the Cardinals before signing in Kansas City as a restricted free agent this winter, expects to be leaving plenty of tickets this season.
“The phone didn’t stop ringing for three straight weeks straight (when he signed with the Chiefs),” Williams said. “Everybody, friends, my mom, family going crazy. I was still processing it.”
Williams was coming home to the team he grew up following. Late Chiefs icon Derrick Thomas was his first favorite player. One of the dads on his Little League team worked security at Arrowhead Stadium and found a way to let the kids in.
“Every kid grows up wanting to play for his hometown team, and for me, it was the Kansas City Chiefs,” Williams said.
For Besler and Sinovic, the Royals and Chiefs also were the big teams to follow. For a while, anyway. Sporting KC, or the Wiz and Wizards, as th Major League Soccer team was originally known, didn’t exist until 1996.
Besler remembered attending the Royals' home finale in 1993 when, in his final home game, George Brett kissed home plate. He also got a lesson from his father when he picked uniform No. 5, Brett’s number.
“ ’You know what that means?’ he asked me,' " Besler recalled. "I said I didn’t, and he said, 'Sit down in this chair and let me tell you.' ”
Sinovic, whose father, Bill, was a placekicker for the Kansas State football team, remembers the thrill of playing in a Missouri-Kansas all-star soccer game at Arrowhead, where the Wizards played, as a Rockhurst senior.
“That was a dream,” Sinovic said. “You never think it could become a reality.”
But it did, and it continues to, for the few who are fortunate enough to play at the highest level in their own hometown.
The KC Kids
Research by the teams and The Star came up with this list of Kansas City-area high school athletes who played at least one season for the Chiefs, Royals or Sporting KC:
Bud Abell, LB, 1966-68, Southeast
Dave Martin, LB, 1968, Bishop Miege
Kerry Reardon, DB, 1971-76, Rockhurst
John Strada, TE, 1974, De La Salle
Gary Palmer, OG, 1975, Central
Chris Goulb, DB, 1977, Shawnee Mission North
Brad Budde, OG, 1980-86, Rockhurst
Jack Epps, DB, 1987, Shawnee Mission West
Richard Estell, WR,1987, Harmon
Kevin Wyatt, DB, 1987, Rockhurst
Bruce Pickens, DB, 1993, Westport
Tommie Stowers, TE, 1994, Hickman Mills
Jason Belser, DB, 2001-02, Raytown South
Ryan Lilja, OG, 2010-12, Shawnee Mission Northwest
Donald Stephenson, OL, 2012-15, Blue Springs
Xavier Williams, DT, 2018, Grandview
Don O’Riley, P, 69-70, Northeast
Steve Mingori, P, 1973-79, Rockhurst
Frank White, 28, 1973-90, Lincoln
Ray Sadecki, P, 1975-76, Bishop Ward
Steve Renko, P, 1983, Wyandotte
David Cone, P, 1986, 1993-94, Rockhurst
Steve Jeltz, IF, 1990, Lawrence
Brian McRae, OF, 1990-94, Blue Springs
Russ Morman, IF 1990-91, William Chrisman
Steve Shifflett, P, 1992, Pleasant Hill
Kevin Young, IF/OF,1999, Washington
Dusty Wathan, C, 2002, Blue Springs
Tommy Hottovy, P 2002, Park Hill
Kit Pellow, IF, 2002, Olathe North
Mike Morin, P, 2017, Shawnee Mission South
Jason Adam, P, 2018, Blue Valley Northwest
Diego Gutierrez 1996-97, 2002-05, Blue Springs
Scott Vermillion, 1998, Olathe East
Ryan Raybould, 2005-08, Rockhurst
Will John, 2006-07, Rockhurst
Matt Besler 2009-18, Blue Valley West
Seth Sinovic, 2011-18, Rockhurst
Michael Thomas, 2012, Aquinas
Kevin Ellis 2013-17, Oak Park
Eric Palmer-Brown 2013-17, Bishop O’Hara
Jon Kempin, 2014-15, Blue Valley North
Andy Gruenebaum, 2014, Blue Valley North
Daniel Salloi 2016-18, Blue Valley Northwest
Jaylin Lindsey, 2018, Blue Valley West