Standing on home plate as an undrafted 19-year-old, Frank White looked out at the more than 34,000 seats and freshly trimmed field of the old Municipal Stadium. Competing in the inaugural Ban Johnson League All-Star Game at the Kansas City Royals’ old ballpark, little did anyone know the heights that White would go on to reach with the Royals.
Fifty years on, White stood in front of the mound at Kauffman Stadium, with his retired number 20 placed proudly on the outside of the Royals Hall of Fame in the background. Charged with the responsibility of throwing out the first pitch at the 2018 Ban Johnson League All-Star Game, he didn’t want an “embarrassing moment,” so he decided to pitch from in front of the mound. Painting the corner of the strike zone, the small crowd gathered for the game cheered feverishly as a hometown hero walked off the field he called home for 18 years.
“It is really nice that the Royals continue this trend, this tradition, having the All-Star game here at the stadium,” White said, moments before his pitch. “It's great for the players, the families, and I think it really gives them a sense of accomplishment.”
The Ban Johnson League is an amateur league in the Kansas City area that allows for high school and college players to compete during the summer when out of college season. The All-Star game has been hosted by the Royals for the past 50 years, with the first four occurring in Municipal Stadium and the following 46 at Kauffman.
The league itself was named after Ban Johnson, who was the founder and first president of the American League that we know today.
"This is their shot. They're college guys, they're playing to get drafted. Most of them have played together for a while,” White said. “And to be able to make an All-Star team, when they're amongst so many different players, and to be able to put it on display here, at a major-league stadium, I don't think you can beat that.”
White competed in the inaugural game in 1969, and he knows how big of a moment it is for the players on the field. He grew up just eight blocks away from Municipal Stadium and remembers walking out onto the field for the All-Star on a Sunday afternoon.
Fifty years on, the Royals still host the All-Star game annually. It’s not only a chance for college players to get recognized by scouts, but for Hall of Famers like White to pass on their knowledge and experience to the younger guys.
"What you want to tell them is to just block it out. Focus on what you've been doing all the time, don't put any additional things into it,” White said. “Just go out and play the game, and I know everybody can be a star. You've just got to do what your talents allow you to do, and hope that's enough."
The five-time Major League Baseball All-Star had a thing or two to say about the current Royals on Monday evening, too. The Royals left Kansas City on the back of a winless homestand against the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox, dropping their record to 25-64.
“I think whenever you're going through tough times, you have to rely on your veteran guys,” White said. “I think when you have young guys who come up here and try to learn how to play this level, I think it's really important how the veteran guys carry themselves.”