The Kansas City Monarchs are the city's best shot at a championship-winning baseball team
As the Kansas City Royals try to avoid their worst season ever, an American Association team in west Wyandotte County is building a tradition of winning.
Winning baseball does exist in Kansas City. It’s in Kansas City, Kansas, where the independent league Monarchs are on the verge of their second championship in the last three years.
After a 9-6 win Tuesday night against the Chicago Dogs, the Monarchs have a two-games-to-one lead in the American Association’s best-of-five Miles Wolff Cup Final series.
And though the Monarchs aren’t affiliated with any Major League franchise, they do have something in common with many championship teams: They expect to win.
Since its transfer from Duluth, Minnesota, in 2003, the franchise has won three independent league titles; two in the American Association and one in the Northern League. This season, the Monarchs — formerly known as the T-Bones but renamed in 2021 with the blessing of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum — won the West Division by 7 1/2 games.
The success has attracted a fair share of former big-leaguers taking what could be their last swing at reaching the majors.
Some of the names, like former Royals pitcher Brandon Finnegan, have a familiar ring around Kansas City. In 2014, he became the first in baseball history to pitch in the NCAA’s College World Series and MLB’s World Series during the same season.
“I told myself, if I had to play any ball, I want to do it somewhere in a town I liked,” said Finnegan, 30, who signed with the Monarchs this spring after playing in the Chicago White Sox system last year.
“Of course, being here in 2014 and ‘15, I loved Kansas City. I loved the fans,” he said.
Many of Finnegan’s fans this season are like Melissa Jacobson, curiously attracted to Legends Field in western Wyandotte County by the team’s winning tradition.
“I really have enjoyed watching them play,” said Jacobson, an athletic trainer who moved to Kansas City from Emporia, Kansas, this year. “I’ve only been to a handful of games, but I think there’s some great talent on the team and I look forward to continuing to watch them play.”
‘What could be better?’
The Monarchs’ roster is a mix of players who’ve experienced winning at the highest level mingling with those who’ve never reached the majors. Their winning comes despite consistently high year-to-year roster changes — a common feature of independent league teams.
Relief pitcher Grant Gavin, a graduate of St. Pius X High School in Kansas City, still holds out hope to reach the big leagues. At 28, Gavin has pitched in the Royals and San Diego Padres organizations, but no Major League-affiliated teams have extended a contract offer to him this year.
“When they didn’t, I was like, ‘What could be better than to live at home and play for one of the best teams in independent ball?’” said Gavin, who played college baseball at Central Missouri University.
Chris Herrmann, a catcher who played for four big league teams, tied for the American Association lead with 88 RBIs this season, and was named Player of the Year.
At this stage of his career, the 35-year-old said he knows his role.
“I’m the old guy on this team, and guys here know my track record,” said Herrmann. “Everybody looks up to me as one of the leaders on the team and it’s been fun.”
His achievements could grab a major league team’s attention, but Herrmann’s stopped trying to figure out those decisions.
In 2017, his first time as a lead-off hitter in the starting lineup for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Herrmann homered. Then, to his puzzlement, managers never penciled him in as lead-off hitter again.
“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s kind of crazy.”
‘What makes a decent team a really good team’
Before advancing to the championship series, the Monarchs faced elimination last week, trailing, 5-0, against the Sioux City Explorers. But they scored a combined six runs in the seventh and eighth innings to pull out the victory.
It matched their biggest come-from-behind win this season, and was equivalent to winning the American League Championship Series.
The most vocal player in the postgame celebration on Legends Field afterward was the former Royal who made it to that ALCS championship game, Brandon Finnegan.
As he popped the cork on a bottle of Champagne to celebrate, Finnegan chalked up the success to team chemistry, and that expectation of winning.
“It’s just something that really, in my eyes, sets teams apart,” he said. “It’s what makes a decent team a really good team.”
The Kansas City Monarchs will play the Chicago Dogs in the game 4 of the American Association’s Wolff Cup Finals on Wednesday, Sept. 20, at 7 p.m. at Legends Field, 1800 Village West Parkway, Kansas City, Kansas 66111. If necessary, game 5 is on Thursday, Sept. 21. Ticket and streaming information is on the league’s website.