KANSAS CITY – Left fielder Alex Gordon has been with the Royals long enough to experience the very bad times.
He recalls the wintertime conversations with teammate Billy Butler, when they pondered what exactly needed to be done to turn their team into a winner.
That’s what makes the good times so sweet.
Everything you thought you knew about Major League Baseball has been turned upside-down this October thanks to the Royals, who have gone from longtime doormat of the American League Central to World Series favorite in the eyes of many.
“There’s been a lot of bad times for sure,” Gordon acknowledged on the eve of Game 1 against the Giants. “There’s been a lot of off-seasons where (Butler) and myself thought, ‘What do we need to do to get to this point?’ We finally made it.”
In an age where teams fight for the right to dump truckloads of money on high-priced free agents, the Royals are winning in large part because of home-grown players who worked their way through Kansas City’s farm system. It’s not flashy, and it takes a healthy dose of patience from a front office. But the Royals are reaping the benefits from a stable of high draft picks who have developed into impact players.
Gordon, a Gold Glove left fielder, and Butler, the Royals’ longtime designated hitter, were first-round picks who both debuted in the big leagues in 2007. They were a part of six consecutive teams that finished with losing records from 2007-12, including four teams that finished at least 20 games under .500.
Third baseman Mike Moustakas was the second overall pick in the 2007 draft and first baseman Eric Hosmer was chosen third overall a year later. Don’t forget about catcher Salvador Perez, who was signed as an international free agent out of Venezuela at age 16 in 2006.
“We knew from Day 1 we had to grow our organization from within,” said Royals GM Dayton Moore, who took over the reins in summer 2006. “It’s very rewarding. It’s special for ours scouts and special for our development people.”
The Royals have relied heavily on a shutdown stable of relievers and their excellent team speed, as they led the majors with 153 stolen bases in the regular season. But in the postseason, their foundation pieces have come up big.
Hosmer is batting .448 (13 for 29) in eight playoff games. Moustakas has a team-high four home runs and Gordon has collected a team-best nine RBI. Butler is hitting just .222 in the playoffs but is a veteran anchor in the middle of the batting order.
They’ve contributed to what’s materialized as a fairy-tale run for an organization that hadn’t qualified for the postseason since 1985. Part of the allure of this squad is the bond that has formed between team and fan base, and that’s more likely to happen when fans get to root for the same faces in the lineup as they develop season after season.
Of course, there are other ways to win fans over.
After the Royals swept the Los Angeles Angels in the American League Division Series, Hosmer and some of his teammates celebrated by going to McFadden’s – a local hangout not far from Kauffman Stadium – where Hosmer picked up the tab for a one-hour open bar for all fans who happened to be there.
Photos caught Hosmer and Royals closer Greg Holland spraying champagne over the crowd. That’s one powerful way to connect with the masses.
“It’s hard to describe,” Kansas City manager Ned Yost said. “It’s been a wonderful experience, I think, not only for our players, but this is a fan base that’s been longing for this for a long, long time. You see our guys out on the town embracing our fans and enjoying our fans. It’s been a really special experience.”