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There's A Lot Of Attention On The Royals In Arizona, And We Know Why

Greg Echlin

Many of last year’s Kansas City Royals (with a few new faces sprinkled in) gathered this week for spring training in Surprise, Ariz., but there was a different feeling on the field and in the stands.

Last fall, Royals fans departed from Kauffman Stadium subdued after losing Game 7 of the World Series. The San Francisco Giants denied the Royals and their fans a chance to celebrate their second World Series championship.

In the clubhouse, the atmosphere was somber, too. Outfielder Lorenzo Cain said the loss hurt.

“It’s tough to deal with right now,” said Cain from the losing clubhouse.

Jeremy Guthrie started Game 7 on the mound and blamed himself for the 3-2 loss.

“It turns out they scored three runs off me early and that was the difference,” said Guthrie.

With a few months to put it behind them and record crowds at the recent Fanfest in downtown Kansas City, the Royals reported to sunny Arizona for spring training. Manager Ned Yost said the team has a spring in its step after last year’s post-season.

“Just look at what they did. How can you not trust what they accomplished last year?” asked Yost. “You know that each and every one of them going through that situation and having that experience is going to come out of it as an even better player. So, yeah, we feel real good about it.”

It’s not just the team that’s energized. It’s the fans, too.

“We’re all good buddies. We come down every year. This is our 13th year,” said Joe Saviano, who lives in Brookside, and attended the first full day of practice with his friends.

Saviano and seven of his friends normally rent a house in March, when exhibition games are underway. In November, he went to reserve a house, but unlike past years he found it completely booked.

“It was booked for the entire month of March. That’s why we’re here this week,” he added.

It wasn’t difficult for Saviano to figure out why.

“Defending American League champs!” he declared. “The boys in blue, the Kansas City Royals.”

Credit Greg Echlin / KCUR
Retired Royals first baseman Mike Sweeney taking throws during workout.

That title figures to spike attendance for Royals games in Surprise. Even after attendance for home games in Surprise last year was 32 percent better than the year before. In fact, spring training attendance overall last year was a record-high with an average of more than 8,000 fans for each exhibition game.

Also as defending American League champions, it translates into more media coverage. Royals spokesman Mike Swanson says credential requests for spring training have gone up.

“There’s a lot of things that have evolved and changed Kansas City-wise in a media perspective and it’s grown,” said Swanson. “Everybody knew that this was the place to be this spring. We’ve had two Phoenix stations here already, a Lincoln, Neb., station and there will be more. So it’s awesome.”

It’s not just the local media stopping by the complex the Royals share with the Texas Rangers in Surprise, Arizona. Swanson said the national media wants to catch a glimpse of the Royals.

“We’re going to have ESPN’s Baseball Tonight bus actually coming for our opening game on March 4. That’ll be a full day of ESPN devoted to us,” said Swanson. “I say it that way because in past years we had to share that honor with Texas."

The Royals regulars like Eric Hosmer and Alex Gordon are used to the routine of spring training. But youngsters like Gardner-Edgerton High School alum Bubba Starling are learning the ropes. Starling watched the World Series from the desolate clubhouse in Surprise as he and a handful of other prospects played in the developmental fall league. Now he’s part of a flurry of activities in his first big league camp.

“For me and some of the younger guys, it’s just good being around veteran players and the big league guys. It’s just cool getting to talk to them and picking their head and learn stuff from.”

One of the most important things that Starling and the other young players are learning is how to win. Something that took the Royals a long time to do.

Sports have an economic and social impact on our community and, as a sports reporter, I go beyond the scores and statistics. I also bring the human element to the sports figures who have a hand in shaping the future of not only their respective teams but our town. Reach me at gregechlin@aol.com.
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