Ned Yost pressed his face to a glass door at Union Station and stared out at a mass of humanity. Inside a city of 467,000, an estimated crowd of 800,000 Royals fans gathered to salute the world champions. The bodies packed from the steps outside the station to the grass of Liberty Memorial.
“Pretty good view,” Yost said.
Behind him, the winners of the 2015 World Series prepared to walk into the public eye. Alcides Escobar, the team’s leadoff hitter, led the way, holding the Commissioner’s Trophy aloft. Yordano Ventura slung the flag of the Dominican Republic across his shoulder. Eric Hosmer laughed with Mike Moustakas while Salvador Perez snapped pictures. Lorenzo Cain sipped a can of Pepsi. In the background, Jonny Gomes carried an American flag.
The group arrived on Tuesday afternoon after riding 2.3 miles from the Sprint Center down Grand Boulevard, mimicking the route the Royals took when they captured their last championship, in 1985. This team authored new memories to replace the one that sustained this city and this fanbase during all those years without playoff baseball.
The Royals completed a journey of redemption this past season. The team atoned for finishing 2014 with the tying run 90 feet away in the final game of the World Series. By downing the Mets in five games, the club placed themselves among the pantheon of all-time greats. During the afternoon, Hall of Famer George Brett would declare them the best group Kansas City had ever seen.
“After watching them play the last two years, I want to congratulate them for two things: Winning the World Series in 2015, and becoming the greatest team in Kansas City Royal history,” Brett said as the crowd went wild. “These guys are the best team ever. Ever!”
The rally at Union Station featured stirring speeches from members up and down the roster. Gomes behaved like a professional wrestler, offering an address both moving and bizarre. Perez hijacked the microphone, effectively retired Fox Sports Kansas City announcer Ryan Lefebvre as M.C., and later posed with Cain for a selfie with the crowd as their backdrop. All linked themselves to the crowd: The best team in baseball, they said, played in front of the best fans.
But first, the group needed to bask in the glow of the parade route. The players, coaches and members of the front office boarded trucks to roll down Grand. Alex Gordon’s son, Max, waved from his truck. Johnny Cueto waved a streamer. General manager Dayton Moore leaned from both sides and offered his thanks.
The multitude before them was stunning. All along the route, waves of Royal blue packed both sides of the street. Fans climbed up fire escapes to stand atop roofs. Other leaned out of office windows. Wade Davis could not believe the number of fans standing in the trees. Ryan Madson felt the turnout compared favorably to the parade he rode with Philadelphia after winning the 2008 World Series.
Once inside Union Station, the group stood in a hallway, waiting for the cue to go on stage. Yost turned to them and said, “Let’s go,” leading his team out into the sunlight. The players all wore black hoodies or T-shirts bearing the same message, “Thanks, Kansas City.” Their speeches hit similar notes.
“From all of us, we thank you guys for the atmosphere, for the energy you brought us,” Hosmer said. “There’s a reason why we had all those comebacks, especially at home.”
“The only I want to say is thank you to everybody,” Escobar said. “And let’s go Royals.”
“No. 1, we’re the best team in baseball,” Moustakas said. “And I just wanted to say thank you guys for being the best team in baseball.”
“Now we have been crowned,” reserve outfielder Jarrod Dyson said. “2015 world champs, baby.”
“We love you guys,” Cain said. “You couldn’t ask for better fans.”
The rhetoric maintained a tone of cheerful, enjoyable blandness, until Gomes secured the microphone. Gomes did not swing the bat once in October. He did not make the playoff roster in any of the three series. But he left his mark on the city, and on this team, with his remarks.
Gomes strutted across the stage, still in possession of the flag. He referenced all the personal losses his team experienced this year. Moustakas’ mother died in August. Chris Young lost his father in September. Moments after he pitched in Game 1 of the World Series, Edinson Volquez learned of his father’s passing.
Gomes asked a moment of silence. He thumped the flag into the stage and bowed at the waist. Then he popped up, his voice rising.
“It’s unbelievable what those boys did,” Gomes said. “It’s unbelievable what they did! It’s unbelievable what they did! They stole bases. They hit homers.”
Now Gomes shifted gears. In the first round, the Royals faced the Houston Astros’ Dallas Keuchel and Carlos Correa. Keuchel is likely to win the American League Cy Young Award. Correa is likely the Rookie of the Year. in the next round, the Royals bested Toronto’s Josh Donaldson, the presumptive MVP, and the rest of the Blue Jays.
“Hey guess what?” Gomes said. “Cy Young winner. Not on our team. Beat ’em.
“Rookie of the Year? Not on our team. We beat ’em.”
Gomes turned to the players behind him.
“MVP of the whole league? Sorry, guys. Not on our team. But we beat that guy, too!
“Do you know why we beat ’em? Because all y’all people had our backs. And Dayton Moore put this team together. And Yost delivered it by being the captain of the ship. Y’all want to be politically correct? I’m the un-politically correct person. We whooped their (behind)!”
Gomes tossed the microphone high in the air. The players converged in a mosh pit. By now it became clear the speeches were fueled by some combination of adrenaline, exhaustion, Budweiser and Crown Royal.
After Gomes’ filibuster, the rest of the afternoon felt like an anti-climax. Jeremy Guthrie explained the team’s postgame rituals to the crowd. Fetty Wap’s “Trap Queen” played. The fans roared for Christian Colon, the man who notched the game-winning hit in Game 5.
The team’s three starters from the Dominican Republic — Cueto, Ventura and Volquez — stood together, their flag draped over the Commissioner’s Trophy. Cueto expressed his gratitude about calling himself a world champion. Ventura tested out his burgeoning English. Volquez told the crowd how much it meant to pitch in front of them, and how badly he wanted to pitch Game 5, just days after his father’s funeral.
“I may be crying right now,” Volquez said. “It’s too much.”
After Ventura spoke, Volquez reclaimed the microphone and declared the team would win a championship again in 2016. The core of this team will return, but many critical pieces may not. Cueto is a goner. It is difficult to imagine the team re-signing both Gordon and Ben Zobrist. Both may depart in free agency.
The last man to speak was Gordon. He joined the organization in 2005 and made his big-league debut in 2007. Gomes grabbed the mic and led the crowd in chanting his name.
It was Gordon who launched a game-tying, series-altering off Mets closer Jeurys Familia in Game 1. He may sign elsewhere this winter. But his legacy in Kansas City is secure.
As he spoke to the crowd, Gordon reminded the fans of all the hard years he endured, during the team’s seemingly endless rebuild. Then he looked up at half a million fans. His mind cast back to Game 3, when Mets starter Noah Syndergaard challenged the toughness of the Royals. The team provided an answer in swift fashion.
Now they stood alone, with the sun shining on their faces and a title in their grasp.
“All I’ve got to say is we had a trick up our sleeves, too,” Gordon said. “And that’s World Series champs.”