KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A few miles up the highway, Hallmark world headquarters continues to dispense wisdom and thoughtfulness one tiny little greeting at a time. For the past quarter century, the baseball team residing here in Kauffman Stadium could have boosted the "Get Well" division all by itself.
Obviously, there are some things insurance won't cover. Get well soon.
We'll be so happy when you can come out and play again.
Think of these 25 years as a short detour, without the orange cones.
|Mike Moustakas, the Royals' first-round pick in 2007, is expected to be the next player to get called up from the minors. (Getty Images)|
As the annual Major League Amateur Draft moves center circle this week, odd as this may sound given 12 losses in 15 games, clubs are jockeying to move into the Royals' position. Through several savvy recent drafts, the club's farm system is so loaded, it is practically mooing with glee.
For the first time in a couple of decades, not only is the Kansas City manager's gig no longer a career killer, it's actually desirable.
"It's a terrific job," Ned Yost said at the dawn of another game day. "We're poised to really make a jump."
He's not just talking within the AL Central. An organization that hasn't played a postseason game in 25 years, since the closing of the 1985 World Series, again has momentum. A hardball-loving city that has sweated through 15 losing summers in the past 16 is daring to dream again.
"This town will go nuts if the team starts winning," said television analyst Frank White, second baseman for the '85 World Series champs. "I'm a witness. They're just waiting right now."
Despite the recent dust bowl years, the Royals currently rank a respectable seventh in the AL in attendance.
"They're starting to see now the true possibility that the Royals can contend in the AL Central," White continued. "It's going to get loud. It's going to get exciting. It's going to be fun to be around."
The Royals, who pick fifth overall in Monday's first round, are on the launching pad for a number of reasons:
• First-round pick Eric Hosmer (2008) was summoned from Triple-A on May 6, said hello by belting homers in Yankee Stadium on May 11 and 12 and, at his current pace, will surge past George Brett in popularity here by, oh, July 1.
• Third-rounder Danny Duffy ('07) was installed into the rotation two weeks after Hosmer's arrival.
• First-rounder Mike Moustakas ('07) is expected to join them soon. Until his arrival, the Royals will have to make do with only five first-rounders in their clubhouse: DH Billy Butler ('04), left fielder Alex Gordon ('05), starter Luke Hochevar ('06), Crow and Hosmer.
• Baseball America last year rated the Royals' farm system as the game's best. When the publication named its 15-man 2010 minor-league all-star team, five were Royals -- Hosmer, Moustakas, lefty Tim Collins (currently in the Royals' bullpen), catcher Wil Myers and lefty John Lamb (who will be set back a year or more after undergoing Tommy John ligament transfer surgery on Friday).
• Six Royals were picked to represent the Team USA in the Pan American Games qualifying tournament last year, most ever selected from one organization: Hosmer, Moustakas, Duffy, Collins and lefty pitchers Mike Montgomery and Everett Teaford.
Before now, the only thing you would pick that many folks from Kansas City for would be as judges in a rib-smoking contest.
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It was sometime last summer when Crow realized something that hasn't been available to kids wearing this organization's uniform in a long time: It's great to be young and a Royal.
There he was, with Montgomery, Lamb, Duffy, Moustakas (early in the year) and Hosmer (later) and a hog call of other talented players as Double-A Northwest Arkansas made road kill of the Texas League.
"We'd play other teams and you could tell, top to bottom, by far, we were the best team," Crow said. "You could tell that most players on the other teams, except for two or three, would not be getting past Double A.
"On our team, everybody had a legitimate chance to be in the big leagues."
"Absolutely," said Hosmer, whose .354 average won the batting title in the Carolina League last summer. "We won the A ball championship, so you know we had to be a good team. And then they keep throwing guys in from the drafts."
Now, it's happening at the major-league level. Four of those six players playing in the Pan-Am tournament already are wearing Royals uniforms, three promoted since opening day (Hosmer, Duffy and Teaford).
Yost, approaching his one-year anniversary as Royals manager (May 13), was hired by general manager Dayton Moore as a special assistant two winters ago. One of his earliest memories came in January 2010, when he attended his first organizational meetings.
"I'll never forget those meetings," Yost said. "I wanted to know from our minor-league staff which kids are impact kids. They gave me name after name -- Moustakas, Montgomery, Salvador Perez -- and finally I said, 'Wait a minute. Are these impact kids, or kids you like?'"
That spring, Yost saw for himself.
"I've seen it twice" before, Yost says of a crazy rich farm system.
First time: Beginning in 1991 in Atlanta, the first of 12 seasons he worked on the Braves' coaching staff. Second time: When he managed in Milwaukee from 2003 through 2008.
"This is a lot like the Atlanta situation," Yost said. "In Milwaukee, we had a tremendous group of young, power-hitting fielders, but we had no pitchers and no catchers. We had Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, Prince Fielder, J.J. Hardy. The only pitcher we had was Yovani Gallardo. And we had no catchers, ever.
"Here, we've got everything. Left-handers. Right-handers. Bullpen. Shortstops. Third basemen. Second basemen. Catchers. There was a great array of talented depth in our farm system that excited me. Then, when I got a chance to watch our minor-league staff work, it excited me even more. They're phenomenal at developing these kids.
"In Milwaukee, we had great kids who could hit the ball out of the ballpark. But they really needed to refine their two-strike approach. They needed to work on their defense.
"These kids, they all have an idea on a two-strike approach. They all have an idea of how to run the bases, they have an idea and are proficient defensively. The process is accelerated a little bit more here."
For a town that since 1995 has suffered through a 3-to-1 ratio of United States presidents (Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama) to winning seasons (2003), the acceleration can't come soon enough.
"They're starving for a winner," Yost said. "This is as good a baseball town as you're going to find in the country. They can taste it, they want it so bad. To see these kids make an impact, it excites them. Hosmer, Duffy, Butler, Gordon ... they're excited to have Crow here.
"You're still living on the 'When's it going to come?' They're in a hurry for it, like we all are. But it comes at its own pace."
Time and opportunity have arrived. The outfield fountains haven't danced this joyfully in years. The barbecue even tastes bolder.
With continued development and a little luck, the Royals are poised to boost another division over at Hallmark.
Congratulations! Some people are born to be amazing.
Looks like God is still in the miracle business!
"It would be a dream come true if we were able to take this organization to a place it hasn't been in a long, long time," said Crow, who was raised an hour away, in Topeka, Kan. "If we could get to the playoffs or World Series, either one, it would be an amazing opportunity in my hometown.
"I remember Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye, Carlos Beltran, Kevin Appier, Mike Sweeney. I don't remember Brett and Frank White. That was before I started paying attention."
Some of these Royals on the brink are so young, recent history qualifies as ancient to them. At 22, and on the eve of another draft, Duffy is easily young enough to remember when the Royals made him their third-round pick.
"I had graduated 10 minutes prior," he said, smiling at the memory. "I was still in my cap and gown."
Here's guessing that when he hung up, with the adrenalin pumping through his prized left arm, he hurled that cap higher than anyone else in the Cabrillo High School (Lompoc, Calif.) class of 2007.
Now, as 29 other clubs dive into the pomp and circumstance of the draft, it's nearly graduation day for the Royals.