Officially he is a left-handed pitcher for the Kansas City Royals, paid well for his talent and work and if that’s as far as Danny Duffy went it would be enough.
His adopted hometown — “1A,” he says, to his childhood home of Lompoc, Calif. — is deep into a renewed love affair with baseball that’s driven record attendance and the highest local TV ratings in the sport.
Duffy has been part of that, and after a career season that convinced the Royals to offer him a five-year, $65 million contract, he’ll be a bigger part going forward. But these words here are less about baseball and more about Duffy’s other role — a sort of swag coach for the greater Kansas City area.
Bury me a Royal is more than a line he used on Twitter once. It’s how he honest-to-goodness feels, and tells anyone who will listen.
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“Just being a Royal, something about it, man,” Duffy said. “I’ve spoken to dudes from other organizations. They speak with less pride than we do. I’m not saying they don’t have pride in what they do, but it’s different. It’s different here, dude. I know that for a fact.”
Duffy, all of a sudden, is the Kansas City area’s most prolific and visible cheerleader — with the possible exception of mayor Sly James.
He has, quite literally, grown up with the Royals after being selected in Dayton Moore’s first official draft with the club in 2007. Established as a long-term Royal, and now 28 years old and comfortable in his skin, Duffy says “it would be irresponsible” not to use his profile for good.
So he is donating time and voice to the KC Pet Project, where he offered Royals tickets and a year’s worth of dog food to adopt a particular new dog. He spent part of his offseason buying every Yordano Ventura piece of memorabilia he could find, with the intention of sending it to his late friend’s grieving mother.
He pledged $500 per strikeout to Noah’s Bandage Project, which raises money for fun bandages and pediatric cancer research. If he matches his 2016 season, that will mean nearly $100,000 — not counting so many matching pledges and raised awareness from his involvement.
He wears a Roos sweatshirt courtside at UMKC basketball games, befriends fans on social media, and helped raise money for the family of Blue Valley High School football coach Eric Driskell, who recently passed away from a brain aneurysm.
“I try to treat anybody I’m around like I’m sitting on a couch with one of my boys watching the Lakers,” he said. “It’s a pretty easy way to meet people, and be part of people’s lives. Kansas City is a great place to do it, if you’re just real, and not (something else) that a lot of athletes tend to be or pretend to be.”
He is one of the few professional athletes to live in Kansas City year-round, renting a house with his wife in Leawood.
We have no beach back home, and the oak mites tested him, but Kansas City feels enough like home that Duffy sometimes sounds like a real estate agent selling you on our comforts.
“Kansas City is an easy place to be, an easy place to fall in love with,” Duffy said. “You sit down at a restaurant, and anybody who is waiting on you is so polite, so in touch. Lot of mom and pop places out there, the people are great anywhere you go. Everybody’s so helpful. They want to enrich each other’s lives. You don’t find that everywhere. I’ve been to 49 states, and Kansas City and Lompoc, they stick out.”
Maine is the exception, if you’re curious, and whether he knows it or not Duffy’s words and actions are particularly welcome in a city that too often suffers a civic inferiority complex.
Some of this is circumstance, of course. Duffy is earnest, and genuine, and would’ve wanted to love whatever city he played in. His timing has been perfect, too, as part of the wave of talent that dragged a long, sorry baseball franchise to the top and put a parade in a city that only had one in the previous 45 years.
His first season back from Tommy John surgery was the Royals’ first winning season in a decade, and his first full season back was their push to the World Series.
Moore has always talked about building around homegrown players, of the advantages not just from a baseball standpoint, but in parents knowing they can buy their kid a jersey without worrying about the player leaving in a year.
The Royals have a terrific track record here, most notably on the current team with Alex Gordon and Sal Perez signing a combined four contracts to stay in Kansas City long-term. Both are likely to be in the Royals’ Hall of Fame someday, and are sincerely happy with the organization and the city.
But Duffy, at least at the moment, is a little different in such a full embrace of his second home.
“I wasn’t in tune with a lot of the history of Kansas City and their athletics,” Duffy said about when the Royals drafted him. “But I quickly fell in love with the team, and the story, and being such an underdog. (Eric Hosmer) was talking about it the other day, it used to be that just getting to .500 was a victory.
“Now we’re expected to succeed, and excel. That alone is worth remembering, and trying to build on. We’ve cemented ourselves in Kansas City history, and we want to continue to try to write that story.”
Baseball is wildly unpredictable, and Duffy’s 26 starts and 179 2/3 innings last season were career highs. But assuming he is just now entering a prime that will cover most of his new contract, Duffy has a chance to push his way into the franchise’s all-time leaders in most major statistical categories.
Duffy doesn’t want to hear about that — “I can’t even sit at the same lunch table with those guys,” he says — but it’s in play.
Duffy’s has been a particularly winding path here. He momentarily quit baseball in 2010, uncertain whether he even wanted to do this anymore. There were control problems, and then the blown elbow ligament. He was the Royals’ best starting pitcher in 2014, but only pitched 4 2/3 innings in the postseason with a ribcage injury the team hid from public knowledge.
Maybe that makes him appreciate his current status even more. He’s been so close to not making it, more than once. Duffy is the type to embrace all of life anyway — the laughs as well as the hurt — so this must make the big league life even sweeter.
His full bro hug around a place that too often feels overlooked and under appreciated means Kansas City is hugging back and not letting go.
“Grass ain’t always greener,” Duffy said. “This city has made it so easy for us to be part of it. It’s a two-way street, man. We’re very fortunate. I’m not just blowing smoke. We’re very fortunate to have a very genuine, authentic group of people in that place. It’s cool for us, too.”