As he tried to kill the interminable final hours before game seven of the World Series, Royals general manager Dayton Moore at one point sat in the dugout chatting casually with a few reporters.
Even if he sat with arms crossed and on the inside probably was about as relaxed as an expectant father, Moore was amiable and reflective as he considered the arduous eight-year road to what felt like an out-of-body moment for so many.
Nearly as soon as Moore took the job in the summer of 2006, his euphoria became diluted with reality.
“Overwhelmed. There’s no way to prepare to be a general manager until you start doing the job,” said Moore, who had been an assistant general manager in Atlanta. “It doesn’t matter where you came from, it doesn’t matter what job description you had, who your mentors were.
“There’s no way to prepare for it until you start doing the job, because it moves very quickly. It’s very easy to make suggestions. It’s harder to make decisions, and now you’re accountable for every decision that’s made on a big stage.
“So you just have to start doing the job. And learning.”
2. The way they were
Moore is too gracious to say this, but what he inherited wasn’t even a blank canvas.
In fact, taking over an expansion team would have been easier because there wouldn’t have been so much to eradicate.
The franchise had bottomed out from years of financial limbo, neglect of essential infrastructure such as scouting and arrested development in its minor league system.
With a three-year record of 176-310 through the end of the season Moore inherited midway through, the Royals arguably had disintegrated into the worst-run organization in professional sports … with no hope in sight.
In his first full seasons, he said, he took some pride in just not losing 100 games as the Royals put as many resources as possible into development for the future.
3. Staying the course
Even so, he recalls being “crucified” for suggesting it would take eight to 10 years for the process to take hold.
Even if the progress on the field was intangible at times and distinctly halting at others (prompting Moore in 2010 to fire the first manager he hired, Trey Hillman), Moore tried to tout trusting the system.
“Not that we’re doing anything any better than anybody else; we’re not smarter than anybody else,” he said. “We just needed to get a group of people who bought into the process.”
To Moore, who also primed the pump with essential trades that brought to Kansas City Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, James Shields and Wade Davis, it was that or bust.
“I always told our guys, ‘We’re just going to do it the right way,’ “ he said. “ ‘If we run out of time, we run out of time.’ “
4. Glass house
Although he has been grateful for the patience of owner Davis Glass, Moore said he didn’t squander any time on fretting over the possibility of losing his job.
But his point of reference on that makes you wonder if he had more unsettled moments along the way than even he realized.
“I didn’t really go there mentally,” he said. “Just like (in) the Wild Card Game.”
The wild-card game, of course, was the watershed moment for all this … but only after the Royals trailed 7-3 as late as the eighth inning before rallying to win 9-8 in 12 innings.
5. A story like no other
I’ve been a sportswriter since 1987 and been fortunate to cover many amazing events, including nine Olympics. This Royals’ season was as mesmerizing and enchanting as anything I can remember.
That’s by any number of measures, but here’s two personal guideposts of mine:
My mom, who lives in New York City and has no connection to this other than her son and daughter-in-law living here. She called the other day to say she was sick to her stomach in anticipation of game seven. She couldn’t get enough of this team because of the way it played and the obvious impact it was having on Kansas City.
And my wife, Cindy, editor of The Star’s House & Home section.
Cindy grew up outside St. Louis in Belleville, Ill. Her mom was a Baltimore Orioles fan because of their past as the St. Louis Browns.
Her sister, Diana, is a major Cardinals fan, as was their father, Vernon, who used to like to say he was a distant cousin of Red Schoendienst — and is thus commemorated on a brick outside Busch Stadium.
But since I met her in 1997, she’s had little interest in baseball … in part because the Cardinals were almost always pretty good. What was interesting about that?
She appreciated how much I was getting into it over the summer, but it was telling that she lasted only about three innings at the one game I took her to.
Of course, it didn’t help that it was “Dress To The Nines” day and we got all gussied up and sat in the sun in right field. But you get the idea.
Gradually, though, she was intrigued by what the Royals were doing. Then she started asking more questions about the players.
Then when she saw those videos Sal Perez was taking of Lorenzo Cain and read about the ways the Royals were sharing this with the community and witnessed the impact this was making on Kansas City, well, that was it:
She started watching games, ponied up big for game one and was riveted to the rest of the series.
When we had dinner on Thursday, we spent more than an hour talking baseball … easily more than in the previous 17 years I’d known her combined.
She said it better than this, better than I can, but what she relished most was the way the Royals seemed to love the game and even love life. It was only incidental to her that they lost game seven.
It was an amazing, unforgettable story to get to cover.
So late Thursday afternoon, alone in the Kauffman Stadium press box, I got up to leave but then found myself just standing there for several minutes.
I gazed out at the field and thought about the singular, transformative season that was.
Maybe these Royals have the makings of winning the World Series soon. Maybe they won’t even make it back to one for years.
But there can’t really ever be anything quite like this again: a season that purged a generation-plus of futility and said you can dare to dream and not get your teeth kicked in for it, a season that reminds us all that every game, every day, is its own entity with its own possibilities.