Sr. Royals Correspondent Justin Ricklefs explains how the World Series bound Royals built a winner by relying on youth, giving chances, taking that big risk, and having patience.
For nearly three decades in Kansas City, baseball season was simply the bridge between the end of a long winter and the start of football season. Grown, working adults have gone their entire lives without a meaningful October baseball game.
That all changes tonight when the Royals host the San Fransisco Giants in the World Series. Residents of this city are still in shock at the stark nature of that sentence. The Yankees, Red Sox and Tigers host World Series games. Not the Royals.
At least not until now. KC has been more well known for its BBQ than its baseball, but the two will combine beautifully tonight as the parking lots of Kauffman Stadium will be full of smoked meat and Boulevard beer in anticipation of the greatest baseball moment in this city since 1985.
There isn’t a pocket of this city that isn’t buzzing. It’s still dark outside as old men gather for coffee at Hy-Vee to read the Kansas City Star. School bus stops are filled with parents in royal blue shirts promising their kids that they’ll be able to stay up late tonight to watch the game. Water coolers are a bit more congested than normal in the office in advance of tonight’s game. KC is fully alive.
But it wasn’t supposed to be this way. Not here. Three short months ago, the Royals had been swept coming out of the All Star break. The pressure was too much to handle. This was the same old Royals. Here we go again.
The trading deadline came and went with no movement. Fans were furious that no attempts were made to improve the club. At least we were nearing football season.
It didn’t start with a full-blown fireworks show, but soon you began to see sparks. Hints of life. Signals that displayed there was still a ton of fight in the ball club our entire city had left for dead.
As we sit here on the brink of hosting a World Series opener, in hindsight we should have seen this coming all along. As is the case in life, it’s often the hard path that we have to clear that is the most rewarding one.
When Dayton Moore took the GM job of the Royals in 2006, after being a key part of the wildly successful Atlanta Braves club for 11 years, people in baseball laughed at him. You can’t win in KC. The economics won’t ever work there. You can’t sign high profile free agents. It’s a career killer.
But Dayton was born in Wichita, KS. A few hours down the road from KC. And he knew what a winner would do for this region. Slowly, methodically and with intention, a winner has been built. Is it sustainable? We’ll see. But for now, we’re soaking up every moment. Was it without frustration? Not in the least, but they have stuck with their plan.
The pillars of the Royals renaissance are applicable to many things in life and business as well. It hasn’t always been pretty, but it’s been worth it. Here are four main themes that the Royals built around all these years that are now paying off:
1. Build and Retain the Farm System
There is value in developing your team from within. Planting deep roots. Sowing seeds that grow into strong trees.
When Dayton arrived, the joke was that the Royals were simply the rest of MLB’s farm system. Guys like Johnny Damon and Carlos Beltran. As soon as they arrived on the scene, you knew you’d lose them to a bigger market. Now, the lineup is littered with guys that have been Royals since the beginning. Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez, Mike Moustakas. The list goes on.
2. Give Someone a Chance
People that want to belong to something bigger than themselves. Sometimes they simply need to be given a shot.
Until the last couple weeks, outside of KC no one knew Terrance Gore, Jarrod Dyson, or Brandon Finnegan. But because Dayton and Ned gave these guys a shot in big moments, they’re becoming household names. Dyson and Gore won’t win batting crowns most likely, but the second they reach base or pinch run, they change the whole game. Finnegan was pitching in the College World Series this summer and now he’s pitching in the real World Series. Maybe there are people around us that are waiting for their turn to shine.
3. Take Risks
There’s no guarantee that the risk you’re wanting to take will turn out roses, but a life of avoiding action because you’re afraid of a misstep is not living rather simply existing.
The Royals dealt a big-time prospect (Wil Myers) in late 2012 for James Shields and Wade Davis. Shields only had two years left on his deal, meaning he is a free agent after the World Series. The Royals’ front office knew there was a window of opportunity. It certainly wasn’t a guaranteed plan, and in fact, after 2013, most in baseball thought the Royals got the raw end of the deal as they missed the playoffs again and Wil Myers showed signs of being a superhero. But now, that calculated risk paid off huge dividends. They added a legit #1 arm and club house rock in Shields that is nicknamed ‘Big Game James’ and an eighth inning relief pitcher in Davis that has been downright filthy.
What if the Royals would have missed the playoffs again? It was certainly possible, but the risk has proved to be worth it. And the fear of not taking any risks would not have gotten this team where they needed to go.
4. Have Patience
Patience is a virtue, the old saying goes.
In a culture of instant gratification, fast food and a 24/7 barrage of news and information, people expect things to happen right now. Same goes for Royals fans. I’m not saying it’s OK to wait 29 years until the next World Series, but the waiting has actually amplified the passion these fans have for the Royals. Every fountain in this city is blue. Families are gathering around TVs and radios. Bars are overflowing. “Let’s go Royals” chants are breaking out at Arrowhead Stadium.
The patience shown to a struggling Mike Moustakas has resulted in him blasting home runs all post-season. The patience shown to an 0ft-criticized Ned Yost has led to three champagne celebrations in the Royals clubhouse. The patience of these fans may very well lead to a parade down the Country Club Plaza like 1985.
It’s been a long time coming Kansas City, can’t wait to see how you look under all those bright lights.
You’ve built a foundation – on youth, giving chances, taking that big risk, and having patience.
Take the crown.
Photo Credit: Associated Press/David J. Phillip
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