In a celebration of Hispanic culture Saturday at Kauffman Stadium, the Royals were clad in uniforms bearing “Los Reales” across the chest, had the game broadcast in Spanish for the first time on local radio and gave away bobbleheads of Dominican Republic native Yordano Ventura.
All of which was punctuated by a fitting ending when Venezuelan Alcides Escobar drove home Brazilian Paulo Orlando with the winning run in the 10th inning as the Royals beat the Astros 2-1.
Dominican Kelvin Herrera got the win, and the Royals’ other run was produced by Venezuelan Sal Perez knocking in Escobar with a sacrifice fly.
Viva “Los Reales,” indeed.
“It’s a special day for Latin guys,” said Orlando, and Escobar beamed with pride over having worn “Los Reales” on his jersey.
Reflecting nearly nine years of a reinvigorated organizational priority since Dayton Moore took over as general manager, the Royals began the game with five starters from Latin America (three from Venezuela, Brazilian Orlando and Cuban Kendrys Morales) and a sixth, Alex Rios, who grew up in Puerto Rico.
Ten men on the Royals’ 25-man roster and 15 on their 40-man version share that heritage.
The broader group includes six from the Dominican Republic, where the Royals’ Latin American Academy has been an incubator and a portal that’s made good on the welcoming sign that reads “donde todo empieza” on one side and “it all starts here” on the other.
In a fine coincidence, the festivities were timed a day after ESPN dismissed radio personality Colin Cowherd for his racist remarks about Dominicans.
“I’ve never bought into that ‘baseball is too complex,’ ” he said Thursday. “Really? A third of the sport is from the Dominican Republic.”
Major League Baseball swiftly condemned the remarks as “inappropriate, offensive and completely inconsistent with the values of our game” and suggested Cowherd apologize to players of Dominican origin “and Dominican people” generally.
When Cowherd tried to “clarify” on Friday, he said he shouldn’t have specified Dominicans with his “clunky” choice of words and might have done better to say “a third of baseball’s talent is being furnished from countries with economic hardships, therefore educational hurdles.”
There is truth in the economics-education and poverty issue, of course, which is part of what makes the stories of many of the players who make it so poignant.
But that element was a late, disingenuous leap from Cowherd that basically inflated the initial insult to include the entire broader group being honored Saturday at The K.
As responses go, maybe it’s hard to top the “scoreboard” approach that Pedro Martinez offered The New York Times in Cooperstown on the eve of his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame: “He needs to get to my level to answer him. I’m in the Hall of Fame.”
Yet the Royals had meaningful views of their own to offer, and few could express it better than Dominican pitcher Edinson Volquez — one of the most engaging, thoughtful men in their clubhouse.
“I’m not worried about what he said, because this is a free country and you can say whatever you want, right?” Volquez said. “It doesn’t bother me, but it looks bad for him.”
As he considered the wider issue, Volquez believes the simple matter of language barrier accounts for some of the ignorance perception of Cowherd and others.
He also wonders if people understand just how off-balance life can be for Dominican baseball players, no matter how teams try to prepare them for the transition here.
Consider first that they often leave home in their mid-to-late teens to try to fulfill their dreams, typically through the Latin American academies every Major League franchise has established.
If they are fortunate enough to make it here, they are away from family six or seven months at a time in an overwhelming foreign culture.
“If you sent somebody from America to the Dominican,” Volquez said, “it would be the same.”
All of this might make others angry, but Volquez just smiled and said, “You know me: I’m cool.”
Volquez’s equilibrium of disposition is part of why he has emerged as a crucial facet of this team.
He’s their most reliable starter in a season of flux in the rotation, and he’s a unifying force in the clubhouse: someone everyone likes to see coming and who as a bilingual speaker furnishes a certain connective tissue.
As Volquez spoke Saturday afternoon, he fidgeted with the empty chair alongside him of countryman Ventura, who was working out in preparation for his start against the Astros on Sunday.
Volquez considered opening-day starter Ventura’s turbulent season, including the oddity of being sent down to Class AAA Omaha on Tuesday only for Jason Vargas to be injured in the second inning of that night’s game and for Ventura to be recalled before he even left.
Then he laughed.
“I was worse. Oof,” he said. “He hasn’t been through anything. He doesn’t know, man.”
After going 1-10 and allowing 50 runs in 46 innings in his first two seasons in the bigs, Volquez started the 2007 season in Class A ball with a list of “rules” he had to follow — like running on and off the field within 12 seconds and using a No. 2 razor to shave his head.
“The rules,” he said, chuckling and shaking his head. “Oh, my God.”
Volquez will tell you he’s always been a happy guy, something he learned from his mother, Anna, whom he always saw laughing and joking and enjoying life.
But somewhere along the way he also learned the value of perspective, enabling him to steady out and find his way back (17 wins in 2008) again and again.
Even when he was cut by San Diego in 2013.
His wife, Roandry, was pregnant at the time with their twins.
“That was the best three days ever in my life,” he said. “Because I’d never seen my wife with the big belly and (been able to) rub it.”
These experiences make Volquez a vital voice to be in Ventura’s impressionable ear at a pivotal point in his season.
“He was trying to do a little bit more than what he could do, putting pressure on himself,” said Volquez, who like others is urging Ventura simply to relax. “The sooner you get those little things, the better you’re going to be.”
Just like the Royals are much better in so many ways for committing to cultivating Latin America — something especially worth celebrating on Saturday.
To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @vgregorian. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com