A few hours before the final game of a home stand, Royals rookie Nicky Lopez sat at his locker, packing a couple of things into his getaway bag. The first road trip of his MLB career is on the horizon, with stops in Los Angeles and St. Louis on the docket. And one special guest is ready to join him on the road.
The Royals will hold their annual fathers’ trip for the seventh consecutive season, a large contingent of players’ dads prepared to fly with the team Thursday evening after the series finale against the Texas Rangers.
“It’s like he’ll be following me around, but I’m new to all this, so I’ll be following everyone else around,” said Lopez, called up for his MLB debut this week. “It’s kinda cool my first ‘show’ flight is with him. I’ll have no clue what’s going on though.”
The Royals began the tradition in 2013, modeled after the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team. A team fathers’ trip is a common occurrence in the NHL. It’s an abnormality in baseball.
But certainly a welcomed one in Kansas City.
“I had never heard of it,” said Royals relief pitcher Jake Diekman, who’s on his fourth major-league team. “It should be a pretty sweet gig. They’ll get to see how we travel for a week. I told (my dad) that the next six days is probably going to feel like forever to him. But it’s a short road trip.
“I don’t know if we should treat them like rookies or not — boss them around, you know?”
The Royals have scheduled daily functions for the fathers and sons during the trip. Some dads will tag along in Los Angeles, others in St. Louis and many for the duration of the weeklong trip.
The main events each day, of course, are the games themselves. As you might expect, baseball is a bond many of the players share with their fathers, offering the latter a good excuse to take a week off work.
A return to their roots in some respects.
“He’s one of my biggest fans,” said Royals third baseman Hunter Dozier, whose father will be taking part in the trip for the first time. “I grew up with me and him in the backyard, him throwing to me every day, doing everything he can. So it’s going to be a cool trip to have him along. We’ll enjoy it.”
The concept quickly won over Royals manager Ned Yost, who said it’s not much of a distraction to the task at hand — winning baseball games.
“It’s a very special trip for both sons and dads,” Yost said. “These guys have worked really, really hard to get to the big leagues, and it’s been constant support and encouragement. They’ve been behind them the whole way.
“To go on a road trip and experience what their sons are doing — I wish we had it when I was playing.”