After the Jaw Drop
by Joe Poslaffski
The dust has settled. Winter meetings are around the corner. Players are watching football, fishing, working out and just enjoying their offseason. Some are still in disbelief of what ended up to be not only an amazing season, but one that would shock everyone. For over 25 years, the Kansas City Royals have not only missed the playoffs, but have often been the laughing stock of baseball. Not anymore. The 2011 World Series Champions are basking in the remnants of an unbelievable season.
So, how does a perennial loser make a turnaround and become champs? Lets take a look at the Royals crazy, yet spectacular season…
"It all started with the poster cut-out," says Royals catcher, Jason Kendall. "We started out the season like everyone expected. By the All-Star break, we were fighting for last place." Jason shakes his head and smiles. "Then Frenchy (RF Jeff Francoeur) gets this crazy idea and brings in the poster." The poster Jason is talking about is a life-size cut-out of Royals owner, David Glass…in the buff. "He brings this poster in and everyone just doubles over laughing. We were like 35-56 at the time and pretty much out. And Frenchy has this idea that for every game we win, we were going to put a sticker on the poster to cover up that old, wrinkled body. You know, it was kinda like that movie. It was gonna take like 60 stickers to cover it up and win the division."
That meant that the Royals had to win 60 of their last 71 games to make the playoffs. That would be nearly impossible for even the best of teams. For the Royals, it seemed like a joke.
"No one thought we could do it," says second baseman, Mike Aviles. "But there was something about that poster! No one wanted to look at that! And what made it worse was French would always bring it with him on road trips. That damn poster had its own seat on the plane!"
"The guys really liked that poster…or didn’t like," says manager, Ned Yost. "It really became the mascot. Which was good because we got sick of Billy Butler dressing up like Sluggerrr to try to cheer up the team."
So was it a poster that made the Royals into winners?
"It was a catalyst," says left fielder, Alex Gordon. "Really it just came down to guts. We just started to dominate."
Domination would be a good word for it. Alex Gordon, after being touted as a "can’t miss prospect", finally put it all together. After starting out slow, the American League batting champion hit .360 in July and .421 the rest of the year. He finished the year with a .386 batting average, 34 home runs and an astounding 45 stolen bases. "I just figured it out. I learned how to slide feet first. Coach said I was faster, so I was like…it’s time to dominate."
Alex Gordon wasn’t the only one stealing bases. After trading center fielder, Melky Cabrera, Lorenzo Cain was called up from Omaha. With his addition, it became a competition of who could steal the most bases. Cain had 44, Gordon 45, Escobar 47 and the big surprise was Billy Butler had 69.
"I did a lot of training," says designated hitter, Billy Butler. "Every day, I would do sprints in the Sluggerrr costume. That thing was so heavy! You felt so much lighter with it off. Coach gives the green light, I run. I felt like a gazelle out there."
One of the biggest additions was third baseman, Mike Moustakas. Mike started off slow, but after the All-Star break, the rookie hit an amazing 49 home runs, shattering the club record of 36 set by Steve Balboni in the last year the Royals won the World Series, 1985.
"Mikey was a big part of what we were trying to accomplish," says Yost. "Good kid, smart, got a good head on his shoulders…and he’s got a big stick, you know? He gets a lot of wood on that ball and its goin’ a long ways."
"I was just trying to do my part," says Mike, "I like to hit home runs."
We asked the rookie if he ever thought he could break Balboni’s record and catcher Jason Kendall interrupts…
"He’s just a good kid! He likes to hit home runs! Rewind yourself and listen to what you’re asking! He’s just a kid!" Jason then puts Mike in a headlock and proceeds to give him a noogie.
First baseman, Kila Ka’aihue, also broke Balboni’s record with 38 homeruns.
"It’s kinda unfair," protests Kila. "I had a great year and no one even remembers my name. It’s like I don’t exist. People STILL don’t pronounce my name right."
"What really did it for us was our pitching," says Yost. "Bob (McClure) did a fantastic job with these kids and they really knocked our socks off."
"We started the year a little rough," admitted ace, Luke Hochevar. "But when we heard our good buddy, Zack (Greinke) was leaving baseball to become a professional ‘World of Warcraft’ player, we were shocked. It was like a light bulb that told us we needed to get our butts in gear because this job isn’t gonna last. I mean, that’s fine for him and all…I hear he’s a pretty good ‘World of Warcraft’ player. He’s got like eight dark paladins or whatever…but I’m a ballplayer. That’s all I know how to do. That’s all any of us know how to do."
And, boy, did they pitch this year. After the all star break, Luke led the way with a .44 ERA. He averaged 13 strikeouts a game and won every last decision going 14-0. The rest of the pitching staff followed suit. Jeff Francis, Vin Mazarro and Bruce Chen ate up innings and had a combined ERA of 3.05, but the shocker was Kyle Davies.
"Kyle really turned the corner," says Yost. "I think it was when Bob showed him how to throw a fastball. I was shocked that he hadn’t been throwing one, but you know…sometimes that happens…that’s baseball."
"Yeah, it’s kinda embarrassing," says Davies. "Bob pulled me aside and told me I was throwing like a girl, which helped earn me my nickname (Smurfette). We took a hard look at my mechanics and he showed me how I needed to be throwing. I guess all I had been serving up there were different kinds of change-ups. He showed me a two-seamer, a four-seamer, but I never learned the three-seamer. My velocity went up real good and all of a sudden, I could throw strikes. I also got a hot dog every time I struck someone out. It was a great incentive. One night, I got 14 hot dogs!"
Kyle must have eaten a lot of hotdogs. After the All Star break, he had 138 hot dogs and had the second best ERA on the team at .96, but is he bothered with the nickname ‘Smurfette’?
"No, not at all," says Davies. "I mean the movie came out and I liked it and all. I got it on blu-ray."
Not only did the Royals starters step up their game, but the bullpen ended the season with the best cumulative ERA of 1.98. Led by the team’s lone all-star, Joakim Soria, this group may be one of the best bullpens of all time.
"We had to be," says reliever Robinson Tejeda. "We were told if we didn’t pitch well, we would be forced to run the hot dog race. Man, I hate runnin’!"
Odd ways to motivate may have been the key for this team. One odd way that may have been more uncomfortable to the media than to anyone else was that if you had an AB or appearance on the mound and you either didn’t get on base or you didn’t strike someone out, you would have to give an interview to the media…naked.
"Man, Billy (Butler) was so scared about that," says right fielder, Jeff Francoeur. "He would do anything to get on base. Me, on the other hand…I was all about that! You remember that one with Karen Kornacki?" Jeff is referring to the incident where the journalist from Channel 9 news dropped her notebook and Jeff, always the dashing gentleman, picked it up and gave it to her…with his toes. "She was so embarrassed! It was awesome! I have amazingly talented toes," admits Jeff with a shy grin. "I can actually throw a ball with my feet."
After the Royals won the central division, they breezed through the playoffs and swept the Braves in the World Series. Manager Ned Yost won "Manager of the Year", awarded by the Baseball Writers Association of America. The Royals have spotted 3 covers on "Sports Illustrated."
"It’s nice seeing this city in blue again," stated David Glass. "It’s nice to finally be a winner. I’ve waited a long time for it."
"This city deserves it," says Yost. "It’s a good town…a good baseball town. Fans know baseball. The players deserve it. It’s good for all of us."
So, where’s that poster of David Glass now?
"Someone had this idea of pasting it on the outfield wall, but it got pulled down," says first baseman, Kila Ka’aihue. No one knows where it is. It’s probably in a sealed box with a swastika on it, and it’s being stored in a government warehouse. No one will ever find it. It’s kinda sad, too. That poster started it all."
Yes, it did. And we’ll never forget it.
All names in this post are fictional. If there is any similarities between the names above and actual names, it is purely coincidental. No one was hurt in the making of this post and no one is intended to be hurt by the making of this post.