If you walk up the front sidewalk at the Royals’ spring training camp, you will see some familiar sights. On the right are a series of outdoor batting cages, where the crack-crack-crack of ball hitting bat provides a morning soundtrack. On the left is a long, rectangular conditioning field where pitchers run and players stretch. But there in the middle, in front of the Royals’ clubhouse, is something new: Three large, metallic numbers that used to be a prominent feature at Kauffman Stadium.
“They were in a closet,” said assistant general manager Scott Sharp.
The numbers are 10, 5 and 20 — belonging to Dick Howser, George Brett and Frank White, respectively — the only retired numbers in Royals history. You probably have them memorized.
From April 7, 1997 to the end of the 2008 season, they were on the old crown scoreboard at Kauffman Stadium. But the renovation of the ballpark brought a modernized Crown Vision board and a new set of numbers to fit into the new aesthetic. The old ones were nearly tossed in the trash, Sharp said, but Curt Nelson, the director of the Royals Hall of Fame, saved them and stashed them in a storage closet at the stadium.
“When they took them off the scoreboard, they were going to throw them away,” Sharp said. “Curt was like: ‘Over my dead body. There’s no possible way you’re throwing these things away.’”
For nearly eight years, the numbers stayed in the closet. But two years ago, Sharp was digging around the Hall of Fame in left field, looking for ideas for an upcoming renovation to the spring training facility in Surprise. The numbers were found, tossed on a truck to spring training. And two years later, as the team prepared for its 50th spring training, club officials found a suitable use.
From now on, the numbers of Howser, Brett and White will greet Royals players as they arrive each day.
Better, perhaps, than a closet.