A Royal day

Well, today didn’t go anything like the way I planned.

Suffering from the hangover of our glorious weekend, I was up at 6:30 a.m. and getting ready to head to work when I received a text from The Boss.
Check your email about a trip to the Royals today and let me know ASAP if you’re interested.
I checked my email and found a message forwarded to a group of my colleagues from one of our marketing professors. She had planned a trip to Kauffman Stadium for some of her sports management students. They planned to visit with members of the Royals’ front office staff and then catch the night’s game. … And she had a few spots open because some of her students decided not to go.

Nearly breathless, I woke Kates and told her about the offer.

How could she possible say no?

She smiled and said I could go.

I replied to The Boss’s email. “Um, yes, please!”

And with that I changed out of my usual office attire and into something more casual.

We did what we could to focus and get some work done this morning. By 11 a.m., we were hitting the road to Kansas City. The sun was shining, and it was a perfect day for a ball game.

We were greeted by  the Royals’ coordinator of tour and educational programs. He proceeded to lead us through the .390 Club, suite areas and press box and impressed upon us the importance of ensuring fans leave the ballpark with smiles on their faces despite the team’s losing ways. He shared with us how the Royals work to market its product – the team draws its fan base from six states: Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, Arkansas and Oklahoma – and increase revenues while enhancing the fan experience. There are T-shirt Tuesdays, student nights, bobbleheads and plenty of other promotions. Some 350 television screens throughout the ballpark display advertising and promotions before, during and after games, which alone lead to some 2 million impressions each year in Kauffman Stadium.

From the tour, we moved into an executive conference room, where we heard more insights from the Royals’ director of community relations and its marketing coordinator who talked about the strategy behind giveaways and community events as well as traditional advertising and social media.

We heard from one of the Royals’ senior advisers to the general manager, who has had a long and successful career in Major League Baseball, scouting and singing players from some of the league’s top franchises over the last 30-plus years, including the Braves and Phillies. He was the guy who drafted Scott Rolen, one of the greatest third basemen of his era, for the Phillies – and he was the who drafted J.D. Drew, calling the debacle that followed “a year-long root canal.” A debacle I remember well.

We heard from the assistant general manager, too, who was part of the Royals’ front office during its successful run in the 1980s before leaving Kansas City to help build the Braves’ dynasty of the 1990s. He also had stints with the Brewers (where he helped lay the building blocks for the Brewers’ rebirth but was let go during the Selig-to-Attanasio ownership change), Dodgers and Reds before returning to the Royals.

We listened to them discuss the organization’s philosophy and strategy related to player and personnel development. They didn’t hide that they put in long days and rarely get time away when the baseball season is underway, especially now as the trade deadline is looming. This week, they told us, they’re spending nights around a conference table with every team’s 40-man roster taped on the walls, discussing trade possibilities and analyzing video footage of players.

All of it was so fascinating to me. Hearing them speak so passionately and confidently about their work and the organization, it was easy to forget about the Royals’ losing ways.

One other note: There were a surprising number of swipes at former Royals ace Zack Greinke and his unwillingness to be a team player. At the same time, there was some praise thrown at Miguel Tejada for being a quality team player and veteran leader in the clubhouse, which I thought was interesting to hear, considering his not-so-stellar past.

After our exclusive with the Royals execs, the senior advisor took us into the box seats to watch the Royals take batting practice – something the Royals now charge for fans to watch (… which I think is disgusting from a fan’s perspective, but I get the Royals’ need to find revenue streams.)

I took the most delight in watching newly installed hitting coach George Brett throw batting practice and work with the guys. His passion and focus on making them better hitters was all over his face. … Also not lost on us today was the fact that it is the anniversary of the infamous pine tar incident.

Eventually, the Royals’ batting practice ended, and we watched as the Royals core – including Billy Butler, Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas – headed into the dugout just in front of us with George trailing behind. The stadium gates opened and fans began filtering into the seats. We started heading to our seats, stopping for some food at one of the concessions stands along the way.
We settled into our seats beyond left field and basked in the joy of watching a major league ball game.

Oh, what a game it was.

Hosmer got the Royals started with a home run to right field in the first inning. But the Orioles are tough this year and took a 2-1 lead in the fourth inning. When the Orioles added another run in the top of the eighth inning, the Royals’ prospects of winning the game weren’t looking good, and some of our crew suggested we start heading home. … Luckily The Boss is as much a baseball fan as I, and said we were staying.

Things started getting good when Hosmer hit a no-doubter bomb for his second home run of the night – with a runner on base – to tie the game at three.

Then, in the ninth, David Lough hit a ball up the middle that bounced off second base for a single. …And on the next pitch, Alcides Escobar smacked a ball deep to center field. Almost everyone in the stadium seemed to think the ball was going out, but it bounced off the wall instead. Lough scored and the Royals players tore out of the dugout to pile on Escobar in the middle of the field – as the crowd went absolutely wild.

The excitement was so high we almost didn't want to leave. Of all the baseball games I’ve attended through the years, this was arguably one of the most thrilling finishes I’ve seen.

What a day.

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