On May 4, 2016, more than 38,000 students, chaperones and other Royals fans filed in to Kauffman Stadium to watch the defending-champion Royals take on the Washington Nationals. The Royals weren’t setting the world on fire like the previous year, but they were still above .500, and even though Kris Medlen was having a rocky start to the year, the fans probably expected a good game.
The Royals lost 13-2.
It was not the worst School Day at the K. It was not even close to the worst School Day at the K.
This was the worst School Day at the K. It happened 10 years ago today, and I was there. It was awful. It was elephantine. It was the greatest Royals game I have ever witnessed.
Let’s back up for a second. This is the perfect year to tell this story, because the Royals have decided to use “Raised Royal” as their slogan this year. If you grew up in the Kansas City area in the mid-2000s, there was no greater part of being “Raised Royal” than School Day at the K. You got to go to a Royals game with tens of thousands of other kids. Usually, the oldest grade in the school would go, so it’s something you looked forward to for a long time. And if you didn’t come from a family that could afford to go to a bunch of games, or didn’t like sports, this was probably one of the only Royals games you got to attend as a kid.
Hey, before we forget about the slogans, let’s quick go back and check what the Royals’ slogan was in 2007.
“True. Blue. Tradition.”
And, real quick, can we check the Royals’ record in 2007?
Yep, that sounds about right.
Anyway, School Day at the K was — and, I assume, still is — a big deal for elementary students in the area. Even though the Royals were absolutely terrible those years, everyone was still excited to go to the game. And hey, we thought, even the worst teams win more than a third of their games. Who says the Royals can’t pull out a win today?
We should have known better.
It wouldn’t be School Day at the K if you didn’t learn something, and because “Hey, who’s that funny-looking guy out in right field oh it’s Shane Costa” isn’t on most schools’ curriculum, we instead got to learn about weather.
Some local TV station — I think it was WDAF/FOX 4 — landed a helicopter in the outfield, and that’s literally all I remember from the lesson. If you’re trying to get 30,000 kids to pay attention and learn something, you don’t lead with the helicopter. I vaguely recall the meteorologists from the station trying to hold our attention with hands-on experiments tangentially connected to weather, but did you see that helicopter it landed right over there how cool was that?
That helicopter was the most fun we’d have all day.
The box score for this game contains the perfect amount of absurdity for a mid-2000s Royals game. Every time I look at it, I find something new and ridiculous. Did you know Mike Piazza played for these 2007 Athletics? Yes, that Mike Piazza! Granted, he wasn’t all that good anymore. He did not play in this game. If he did, simply having it show up in his game log probably would’ve kept him out of the Hall of Fame. And without Piazza, the star power in this game was extremely absent.
The best player on the field that day was, hands-down, Dan Johnson. He went 4-for-4 from the plate with two dingers, four RBIs and two walks. He was a machine. The Royals could not get him out. Dan Johnson ruined the days of thousands of schoolchildren. And I hope, when Dan Johnson searches for “Dan Johnson” on Google, that sentence is what pops up. Dan Johnson needs to understand what he did and feel remorse. I’m changing all the SEO keywords on this post to “Dan Johnson.”
But the thing is, I don’t think many of the kids there that day remember Dan Johnson, because of the man who batted after him in the A’s lineup:
Jack Cust was a journeyman outfielder who played for six teams over his 10 years in the big leagues. He was in Oakland from 2007-2010, and he led the league in strikeouts for the first three of those years.
Jack Cust was not generally a good baseball player, but what a name! The 30,000-whatever students in attendance tittered with delight when he walked up to the plate in the second inning. The game was scoreless, and we still felt pretty good about our chances.
Then he crushed a two-run bomb to right-center field.
Well, the cool kids did, anyway. Cust smoked another home run in the seventh inning, going back-to-back with Dan Johnson. Jack Cust became an archvillain to all of us that day.
Do you remember what Brandon Duckworth looked like? I don’t. It’s nothing special. Do you remember that he pitched for the Royals from 2006-2008? Do you remember that he had a career WAR of -1.4?
None of that matters. If the A’s had villains, the Royals had to have a hero. Brandon Duckworth was that hero. Of the six pitchers the Royals brought out to face the A’s Murderer’s Row Lite, Duckworth was the only one to escape without giving up a run. He pitched a scoreless ninth. You couldn’t say that Brandon Duckworth saved the day, because the day was beyond saving well before he entered. But he still came out and tried really hard and pitched his best and set an example for the kids.
On the bus rides home, dozens of teachers were almost certainly telling their students to be more like Brandon Duckworth.
Hey, Zack Greinke pitched in this game, too! I’d forgotten that he pitched out of the bullpen for much of 2007, but there he is in the box score, entering the game in the eighth inning and walking in a run. It was his first bullpen appearance of the year. He’d been demoted from rotation after his previous start.
That walked-in run raised his ERA to 5.80 on the year, and that’s as high as it would get. He brought it down to a respectable 3.69 and got back into the rotation by the end of the year. Just two years later, he’d win a Cy Young award. Instead of flashes of brilliance, we got to see him walk in a run.
And let’s be fair — there were no flashes of brilliance in this game, Dan Johnson notwithstanding. Only two players who made appearances during this awful School Day at the K are still playing in the big leagues this season. Greinke is one. The other is Alex Gordon, who was a late replacement for Mike Sweeney at first base.
As thoroughly as the Athletics beat the Royals that day, the only players from that day to survive the test of time were on the team that lost by 14 runs. And both were integral parts, one way or another, of the championship that team finally pieced together eight years later.
Nobody knew it at the time, but were we to have the right sort of foresight, we at the ballpark on May 10, 2007 would have been able to see the foundation being laid for that championship team. Who really won the game that day?
It was the Athletics. Let’s not get in too deep here. The Athletics won 17-3. It was terrible.
Throughout the 2000s, the Royals were really bad and lost a lot of games. This was one of the worst. The team did a lot of dumb stuff over the years, but rarely would they let a game get as far out of hand as 17-3. Ken Harvey would deliver a baseball straight to the unsuspecting noggin of Jason Grimsley, sure, but the Royals would only lose that game 5-3. A score like 17-3 is only reserved for special occasions.
The Royals lost 679 games from 2001-2007. Here are their other fifteen worst margins of defeat over that time, and how the School Day at the K game stacks up:
By margin of defeat alone, this loss was one of the worst in the darkest period of Royals baseball. And then consider the attendance: Thanks to School Day at the K, 31,006 people showed up to watch the Royals get pummeled. That was their sixth-highest attendance of the season. If you remove Opening Day and the series against the Yankees, it becomes the Royals’ second-most attended home game of 2007.
While the kids who watched last year’s School Day at the K meltdown at least got to watch Nationals stars like Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg (along with proven Royals greats), those that had to sit through 2007’s experimental performance art didn’t even get that consolation. The biggest star of the game was on the bench and probably wouldn’t have done much, anyway. The highlights came from Dan Johnson and Jack Cust. Jack Cust!
In the Kansas City Star the next morning, the headline simply read “Not in front of the kids!”
Over the offseason, Matt LaMar posted a “Recap Coda” of an old Royals win. That’s where most of the idea for this story comes from; consider this a sequel. And in that vein, here is the only thing resembling a recap I could find on Royals Review from May 10, 2007:
Buddy, Dayton, You’re Doing a Heckuva Job
by Freneau | May 10, 2007, 4:40pm CDT
11-24, last place by 6 games.
We'll always have those magical memories from the 1st, 3rd and 9th innings, when the team really showed what they are made of. Ohh was it grand when the Royals stormed back to make it a 12-3 ballgame! Everyone has bad games, but we could all rest assured that a line had been drawn and that there'd be no more silliness in the seventh, eighth and ninth. And thats just what happened.
A's Home Runs: 6
Royals Hits: 4
Thankfully, it looks like the Indians will lose, so we'll still only be 10 games out of first.
Things are really coming together, and win or lose, you know the Royals will compete hard every inning of every game.
... Building a champion, stick to the plan. Keep paying taxes.
I have one more distinct memory from this game. I went back and checked the weather for that day, and the temperature only got up into the mid-80s, but at the ballpark, it sure felt like it was pushing 95. Around the fourth inning I went to the concourse to buy a frozen lemonade or an ice cream or something. Despite being a sixth grader, I recall being relatively unsupervised, which seems like a terrible idea. Even if I were supervised, there had to be plenty of kids roaming the concourse without a chaperone. There’s just too many of them. It’s a miracle all the kids get home safe after the game.
Anyway, I get to the concession counter, and it turns out they’re all out of frozen desserts. It’s only the fourth inning, and they had to know that it would be a hot day with tens of thousands of hungry kids at the ballpark. But the stadium was completely out. I guess they just didn’t prepare well enough.
And, well, if the inability to eat good ballpark food while your lovable losers get shellacked by 14 runs in front of 30,000 kids doesn’t sum up what it means to be #RaisedRoyal, then I don’t know what does.