A few things I am thankful for in the KC baseball universe.
1. The Farm
Royals GM Dayton Moore’s ProcessTM of building through the draft took a quantum leap forward in 2010, and the Royals boast the consensus pick for most loaded farm system in the universe. Royals fans could often look past another lost season at the big-league level and find eye-popping performances from kids down on the farm and dream about things to come. 2010 was an unabashed success on the farm, which was more crucial than a successful year in the bigs. It has been repeated many times in Royals-land, but that’s because it is freaking awesome: It is assumed KC will earn Baseball America’s top ranked farm system this off-season, and the last 10 organizations so named have reached the major league postseason within four years.
2. Royals Nerdosphere
Though Royals followers have not been rewarded with great play on the diamond in recent years, we do enjoy more than our fair share of great Royals coverage from both professionals and amateurs. With so much insightful, passionate coverage of a bad team, sometimes reading, writing and discussing the Royals is more fun than actually watching them. My Twitter feed sometimes reads like a support group for us woebegone fans.
I am not sure if it is a paradox or if it makes perfect sense, but the fact is that while the Royals front office has been infamously dismissive of advances in baseball analysis, a large segment of the fan base has swung the other way and make up some of the brightest minds in sabermetrics. Bill James, the grand poobah, grew up a Royals fan. Rob Neyer, a James protégé, was also a KC fan. Joe Posnanski has long covered KC baseball with a saber-tilt. Names familiar to saber nerds such as Rany Jazayerli, Matt Klaassen, Jeff Zimmerman, and many more belong to Royals fans. Jazayerli put it best:
“Sometimes I wonder if the Royals were put on this earth with the express purpose of teaching the world the core principles of sabermetrics…If you want to know why it seems like so much of the Kansas City media—and increasingly, the Kansas City fan base—is so stat-savvy even though the team itself is stuck in the 1970s, it’s precisely because we’ve seen what happens to a team that ignores 30 years of analytical progress. Royals fans understand the value of a walk, because they’ve seen first-hand the consequences of a dismissive approach to plate discipline.”
3. Joe Posnanski
Posnanski is a part of #2 above, but his greatness deserves its own spot. Pos left the Kansas City Star for Sports Illustrated in 2009, and no one was quite sure what that would mean for his unparalleled coverage of the Royals. Thankfully, Pos is apparently a compulsive writer, prolifically commenting about anything and everything at his blog, and since Joe still lives in KC and attends Royals games as a fan, the Royals remain a part of his writing universe. I have a voracious appetite for baseball writing, but if I could only read one scribe, the choice would be easy.
4. Buck O’Neil’s Legacy & The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum
Buck has been gone for four years now, but his legacy thrives in Kansas City. The Royals honor him every home game by awarding tickets to someone who “embodies an aspect of O’Neil’s spirit” through the Buck O’Neil Legacy Seat program. Barbecue baron Ollie Gates has stepped up and is currently funding rehabilitation of the old Paseo YMCA to turn it into the Buck O’Neil Education & Research Center, and on one side of the building is a new mural of Buck keeping an eye on the 18th & Vine district. Buck’s spirit is most alive at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, and though the museum has seen turmoil since Buck’s death, we should not lose sight of what a treasure it is. No struggle for power or financial woes can eclipse the vitality of the story the museum tells. Just as baseball itself is bigger than the many scandals it has endured, the inspirational story of Negro Leagues baseball is bigger than any problems at the museum.
5. Zack Greinke
Zack may have ruffled a few feathers this season when he voiced frustrations about waiting on a youth movement that may not blossom until after his current contract is up. But the alternative is someone who does not care about winning and/or puts on a filter to ensure they remain uncontroversial (i.e. boring). If Zack had a stricter filter, he would not have told the New York press that he did not want to win with the Yankees but with the Royals. For a franchise that has gotten so much wrong, Zack is the best current reminder that sometimes things go right. And if you think Zack was not good in 2010, I would suggest you take a deeper look at his numbers. In a year that he was not his best, he was still excellent. Now if Dayton Moore can extend Zack instead of trading him, maybe Moore can make my thanks giving list next year.
6. Unions, Cowboys, Packers, Blues, Monarchs, & A’s, Oh My
The history of professional baseball in Kansas City is long and rich, and learning about the teams that preceded the Royals provides context that enhances the present. Pro baseball first came to KC in 1884 in the form of the Union Association “Unions,” and Kansas City has hosted pro baseball every year since with the exception of 1968. We have enjoyed more than our share of great players and personalities: by the count of Curt Nelson, director of the Royals Hall of Fame, 43 members of the baseball Hall of Fame have ties to Kansas City teams.
7. Kansas City Baseball Historical Society & SABR Monarchs Chapter
In that vein, I’m thankful for a couple of organizations geared to people who enjoy the history of the game in KC. The Kansas City Baseball Historical Society formed in 2008, and host an impressive list of Kansas City baseball names as guest speakers at monthly meetings. Moderator David Starbuck does a fantastic job, and the guests relive fascinating and often hilarious stories of KC’s baseball past. The group also puts on a large Kansas City A’s reunion every summer. The Society For American Baseball Research (SABR) is a national institution, represented in KC by the Monarchs Chapter. The chapter meets twice a year, and also pulls in engaging speakers.
8. Kauffman Stadium & Royals Fans Therein
Kauffman Stadium may not get the recognition it deserves on the national level, but Royals fans know what a gem the park is. The recent renovations brought the amenities up to date while maintaining the soul and feel of the park where Royals fans have made memories for 35+ years. On a nice day, there is nowhere else in the world I’d rather be. I am thankful for the Royals fans that keep going to the K and cheering the Royals, losing season after losing season. They are a friendly and good-natured bunch. Relative to the size of our city and the product on the field, I find our attendance numbers impressive. And if #1 on this list pans out the way we all hope, the K will really start rocking again.