Southwest Missouri may be St. Louis Cardinals country, but in a Ziggie’s Cafe at the corner of Glenstone and Sunshine in Springfield, Missouri, a dedicated group of around 250 Royals fans showed up to meet and greet current Royals players Aaron Crow, Everett Teaford and Louis Coleman. Joining them were Royals Hall of Famer Willie Wilson, Fox Sports Kansas City broadcaster Joel Goldberg and Royals mascot Sluggerrr.
The Springfield stop was supposed to start at 6:30pm, but with good fan turnouts in Clinton and Joplin, the Caravan arrived around 6:50pm. In a few minutes everything was set up and the players took their seats. Toby Cook, Vice President of Community Affairs and Publicity for the Royals, said a few words about the history of the Royals Caravan, thanking and welcoming the fans who filled Ziggie’s Cafe.
Then Joel Goldberg addressed the crowd, saying he was “All excited for 2012.” Goldberg said many people approach him, saying the 71 win 2011 team was like the recent Royals teams. But he disagrees, asking them, “Were you watching?” He continued, “This team was in every single game for the first time in a lot of years and fans were excited to see the future.” He talked about the Royals debuting 12 new players in 2011 and the Royals chances in 2012. “The media folks and the baseball experts have been talking about the Royals being a real player this year.” After Goldberg introduced the players, fans lined up to talk and get autographs from the players while Sluggerrr hammed it up with the fans.
A couple of the fans in line were John and his young son Sam from Willard, MO. Like most young boys, Sam was a little shy when I tried to talk to him, but he was enjoying the experience. Sam’s father John has been a Royals fan “for a while,” although it was “off and on” during the Royals lean years, when he watched many games where the Royals found a way to lose.
But this year, John has more optimism. “When it starts, I’m optimistic every year. It’s a great time of year, it’s a clean slate. They’ve [the Royals] done a good job with players in the pipeline and if they produce like they did in the minors, there’s lots of reasons to be optimistic.” John continued, “Once they get the team going, they [the Royals] have good fans. They’re going to get more fans when they start winning. There’s brighter days ahead.” He quickly added, “Hopefully.”
Joe Robles, a “true” Royals fan from Springfield, MO, has been a fan since 1969. He attended the 1973 All-Star Game and hopes to attend the 2012 All-Star Game at Kauffman Stadium.
While most fans at the event brought baseballs, baseball bats and hats to sign, Robles brought a Royals toaster autographed by Billy Butler, Mike Montgomery and Kila Ka’aihue. Yes, a toaster that imprints the Royals logo in the toast. He bought the toaster online and he says “I only use it when the Royals win. It’s been in practice, getting geared up. We’re ready for the good times now.” The toaster was a hit with Goldberg and the players, who added their names to the toaster that could toast a lot of bread this season.
Andrew and Amy Christensen, a couple from Houston, MO, traveled 90 miles for the opportunity to meet and greet the Royals caravan and get their baseball autographed. Their favorite players of the group were Willie Wilson and Aaron Crow, with Amy saying with a laugh, “I have high hopes for Crow.”
Andrew and Amy have been Royals fans for around eight years, despite the Houston area being a part of Cardinal Nation. They went to Kauffman Stadium and loved the experience at the ballpark. Amy liked the more affordable prices and kid friendly activities at Kauffman Stadium compared to the prices and kid friendly activities at Busch Stadium. “There’s a whole lot more to do at the K,” added Andrew.
As for expectations for the Royals in 2012, Andrew hopes for “.500 or better. That would be a change.”
The Royals Caravan would not be possible without the work of Royals Public Relations members Amanda Putnam and Toby Cook. Amanda, who works with Royals Charities, was pleased with the turnout at the Clinton and Joplin stops, but she was “very happy” with the turnout of fans in Springfield. “It was nice for the guys to pull up and see everyone lined up outside. That’s awesome to see.”
Cook agreed, seeing the optimism of the fans attending the Caravan. “We’ve had great stops the whole time. This might be one of our best caravan seasons in a long time.”
With the Royals on-field performance in recent years, Cook mentioned the challenges of doing public relations for the Royals. “When times are good, you kind of sit back and enjoy it. You let it come to you. When times are not so good, you gotta go out and make it happen.” But Cook says there’s optimism in 2012. “Once we start winning, and I think it will happen sooner rather than later, we’re [going to] enjoy some of the good will. There’s nothing like winning.”
Cook also talked about Kauffman Stadium hosting the upcoming 2012 All-Star Game and what it could mean for the Royals to be contenders in the Al Central. “Major League baseball has told us you’ll be surprised at the good luck having the All-Star Game will bring a team.”
But it will take more than luck for the Royals to improve in 2012. Players like Royals reliever Louis Coleman know of the challenges ahead. When asked about what the team needs to do to succeed in 2012, Coleman said, “Last year, we played well and competed, but just fell short by one or two runs a lot and [we need] to figure out how to win late in the games. That could win us 15-20 more games and we could have an entirely different season.” Coleman sees the Detroit Tigers as the team to beat in the AL Central.
Coleman enjoyed his Royals Caravan experience and having the chance to meet and greet the fans. “I’ve never done anything like this before. It’s been a lot of fun visiting the Royals community outside Kansas City, trying to promote the Royals and to get everyone excited about the upcoming season as much as we are.”
The fans attending the Springfield stop of the Royals Caravan shared that excitement, talking to the current players about the future and talking to Willie Wilson about the glory days of the 70’s and 80’s. Are the Kansas City Royals and their fans optimistic this year? The Royals new slogan for 2012 is “Our Time.” For the Royals and their fans, 2012 could be when the glory days return.