I’ll never forget the spring of 2002. There was a young kid in camp named Jeremy Affeldt. He had never pitched above AA but he shared my given first name and he was striking seemingly everyone out, that year. According to ESPN he struck out 14 batters across the same number of innings over eight appearances. Only 10 batters reached. Here was the pitcher who was going to save the team from the horrors I had witnessed since I first started following them back in 1998. And did I mention he had my same name?
Of course, as it turned out, Jeremy Affeldt didn’t save the Royals from themselves. He didn’t even pitch particularly well for them. He did eat at the Red Robin I worked at once. But someone else waited on him. Of course, they screwed up his order and disappeared when Jeremy wanted to pay his check so I stepped in to fix both things because that’s what ya do even when the guy isn’t a famous athlete.
I actually have another fond spring training memory. Many of you might not appreciate this one, but I’ll tell it anyway. This was actually the year before. I was visiting my grandma in North Carolina, bored out of my mind, but the Cardinals were playing the Braves in spring training baseball so I decided to check it out. And there was this kid playing third base for the Cardinals. Albert Pujols. Maybe you’ve heard of him. Anyway, this kid had only played one year in the minors. He’d skipped straight from High-A to AAA. But the Cardinals still didn’t think he was quite ready for the big show. During that game I watched him wallop a baseball so hard it went over the centerfield scoreboard. Can you imagine that? OVER THE SCOREBOARD! I knew right then and there that he was going to force his way onto the Cardinals’ roster. And sure enough, he did. I had the foresight to draft or pick him up as an FA in four different early draft fantasy baseball leagues. I won two and came in second in two. Primarily thanks to Albert Pujols playing like an MVP at no cost to me.
There are silly stories, too. The back to back years of the bees invading Royals’ games. The first year they killed them all. The second year Ned Yost was prepared to fight to make sure they didn’t do that again. One of the coolest things the MLB network has done is set things up so that even if the Royals Radio Affiliates aren’t broadcasting a game they still have Steve Stewart doing the game on his own. Because it’s a premium product and spring training means not enough listeners to get advertiser dollars they let you listen to the sounds of the stadium in between innings instead of playing commercials. Steve also interviewed all kinds of Kansas City media personalities in between innings. I distinctly remember him interviewing both Jeffrey Flanagan and Andy McCullough at different points during the 2015 preseason.
Of course, hope springs eternal and this is the one part of the year when you can squint and wonder if there isn’t just a slim chance that everything might come together and turn the Royals into a wild card team. This year I’m hoping to see the story of Kyle Zimmer finally being healthy and effective enough to steal the fifth rotation slot from the presumptive competition. Maybe that would be the kick they need to make a miracle playoff run.
So I’ve told you some of my stories. What are some of yours? I’ve never actually been. Have any of you gone and seen something wild? Or do you remember storylines from seasons that were otherwise lost to history? What do you expect or hope to see this year?