Vahe Gregorian

Royals are willing to join the crowd off the field

Kansas City Royals players James Shields (left) and Salvador Perez laugh while celebrating on Wednesday, Oct. 15, at McFadden's Sports Saloon in Kansas City Power & Light District in downtown Kansas City. The Kansas City Royals beat the Baltimore Orioles, 2-1, in game four of the American League Championship Series on the big screen at The Royals won the American League pennant and earn a trip to the World Series.
Kansas City Royals players James Shields (left) and Salvador Perez laugh while celebrating on Wednesday, Oct. 15, at McFadden's Sports Saloon in Kansas City Power & Light District in downtown Kansas City. The Kansas City Royals beat the Baltimore Orioles, 2-1, in game four of the American League Championship Series on the big screen at The Royals won the American League pennant and earn a trip to the World Series. The Kansas City Star

Lorenzo Cain pops in to Town Topic, again, for a burger just after being selected Most Valuable Player in the American League Championship Series.

On the morning of that decisive game, Billy Butler takes to Twitter to announce, “Getting a good Breakfast at my favorite spot @eggtcKC to get ready for the game! How do you pregame? #TakeTheCrown.”

Jarrod Dyson, Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez, Jeremy Guthrie and Johnny Giavotella go to an NBA exhibition game Friday at the Sprint Center, toting the AL Championship trophy and shooting some hoops, punctuated with two dunks by the diminutive Dyson.

Ned Yost walks out of Brookside Market, buys some raffle tickets for Academie Lafayette from Isabella Dougherty and tells her to put her own name on them … and, in kind, she puts the school’s name on them.

Via Twitter, Brandon Finnegan is asked for tickets for the ALCS by Royals fan Nicholas Knapple … and delivers.

These are just snapshots of what’s making this time and this team in this town so enthralling and unique.

It was at its most public when Hosmer urged fans to join them at McFadden’s to celebrate the sweep of the Angels.

As Hosmer put it on Twitter before plunking down a credit card for a $15,000 bill toward the cause: “KC you guys showed us so much love all year were returning the favor for you guys tonight at @McFaddensKC #allonebigfamily see.u all there.”

Part of this is the sense of playing for the city, as beautifully chronicled by Sam Mellinger.

But part of it says something else that’s meaningful and powerful, too.

These Royals don’t just play at a theater near you.

They might be in a theater or a barber shop or a restaurant with you.

From Overland Park to downtown to Brookside, they are among you, among us, and real and relatable and accessible and approachable in ways that seemed a thing of the past.

A lot of them remember what it’s like to be you, enough so that they still are like you.

“I think that really starts with the kinds of personalities we have in here,” third baseman Mike Moustakas said. “No one’s better than anybody else in this clubhouse.

“And just because we get to play baseball every day doesn’t mean we’re any different from anybody else.”

Too often now, professional athletes are insulated and isolated by what they make and who they are.

Some of that is no fault of their own, just the practicality and reality of having to gird themselves against being swarmed or badgered when they’d rather have space or privacy.

But some of it is an attitude of aloofness or entitlement that might be attached to status and money that inflate self-perceptions.

All of which might figure to be amplified in the glare of such high-stakes baseball, the franchise’s first postseason berth since 1985 and the first postseason for all but three current Royals.

Surely, the players would withdraw some, maybe even go into a bunker.

Instead, the opposite has happened.

They aren’t hunkering down in their ivory towers.

They’re providing an all-access pass.

If you subscribe to the idea that pressure makes diamonds, that’s certainly happened on the baseball diamond for this team, which went on a staggering 8-0 run in the playoffs entering the start of the World Series on Tuesday.

But it’s also brought out the same shimmering reaction in how they’re determined to keep sharing this with the community.

This isn’t ordinary.

Yost would know. He was with Atlanta for 11 seasons during the heyday of the Braves, during which they missed the postseason just once.

“They never shared the thrill of an accomplishment with fans more than this team has,” he said.

He’s never seen anything like it, he added, and there’s a reason for that.

There is a rare convergence of forces here.

It’s about a blend of appreciation for what the city has endured, what has become an exuberant and close clubhouse, the influence of charismatic veterans like James Shields and Raul Ibañez, a core of outgoing players who came up together and wide-eyed rookie innocents like Finnegan and Terrance Gore.

It’s about the size of Kansas City and the mind-set here, too.

At dinner the other night at the Blue Moose (no relationship to Moustakas) in Overland Park, Butler was walking with his daughter when the entire bar area clapped for them.

He didn’t flinch. He loved it.

“Everyone wants to come say hello to you, and they do, but they’re very respectful,” he said. “There’s no way to explain it other than that you couldn’t do that in other cities.”

Imagine that: pro athletes wanting fans to approach them.

“It makes everything that much more worth it,” Moustakas said.

Moustakas could be forgiven if he felt otherwise after absorbing plenty of criticism, too, but if you think about that it’s another part of this deep connection: Who can’t relate to struggle?

And nearly everyone on this team has had his share to overcome.

So Moustakas feels the city “has embraced us since the first day we got here. It’s kind of like they’re playing with us, too.

“They’re on the field with us every game. They’re out there, and we feel just as much a bond with them as they do with us.”

Never more literally than when Moustakas launched himself into the dugout suite in game three of the ALCS for what became a spectacular catch.

He was both given breathing room to make the catch … and then he himself was caught, maybe even saved, by the fans.

“They just pinned me up against that wall and didn’t let me hit the ground, because I was going facedown to the concrete,” he said. “And they stopped me, and I remember seeing a little kid there had one of my legs, and all of a sudden I’m getting lifted out of the dugout suite.”

The little kid, 11-year-old Max Roberts of Olathe, is a special point here.

Because these Royals, these Kansas City Royals, take us all back to that age and sense of wonder.

Not just because of their exhilarating play, but because you can know them for yourself, too.

“We’re a bunch of kids playing a grown man’s sport,” reliever Scott Downs said.

Downs, 38, a midseason acquisition, produced one of those indelible moments of connection when he played catch with a kid in the stands at Camden Yards.

So what if it was in Baltimore?

“That might be something he takes with him forever,” Downs said. “You don’t know. You don’t know where their lives are going to go.

“But once you think you’re better than that, (this) becomes a job, and it’s not fun.”

Pausing, he added, “This is once-in-a-lifetime thing. If you don’t embrace it, it’s going to pass you by real fast.”

Instead, the Royals are creating more memories than anyone could ask for, on and off the field and among us all.

To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to vgregorian@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @vgregorian. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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