Friday, February 15, 2008

Prospect of Baseball Warms a Winter Day

Hello, and welcome to anyone who might happen upon this, my initial post of what I hope will be an ongoing blog for fans of the Kansas City Royals, or just baseball in general. I live in Minnesota, and today's weather is miserably cold. I think the forecasted high temperature for the Twin Cities was 8 degrees. I try to stay inside. It's depressing thinking about six more weeks of winter that was predicted by Punxsutawney Phil. If you're not skiing, or snowboarding, or ice fishing, days like this can put you in quite a sour mood.

But, even with the freezing weather outside, there's reason to be optimistic, as the start of the 2008 baseball season is a little more than a month away. Yesterday, pitchers and catchers had their first official workout -- even though new Royals manager Trey Hillman convinced his players to show up and start working more than a week ago. So, in a sense, spring abounds despite the fact that I've had to shovel my driveway a couple times this week.

Now, you might be thinking that optimism and Kansas City Royals baseball haven't exactly gone hand-in-hand in recent years. I really can't argue with that. Other than the
Royals' 2003 season, when they challenged for the American League Central title before finishing third with a record of 83-79, fans of Kansas City's Major League Baseball franchise have had little to cheer about. After all, this is an organization that has failed to reach the playoffs since claiming the 1985 World Series crown.

But things are changing for the better, and true fans of the Royals can sense the stirrings of a franchise resurrection in the works. Following 12 years managing in the New York Yankees' farm system, and the past five years guiding Japan's
Nippon Ham Fighters, Hillman is like a breath of fresh air for a franchise that's been trapped in a smoky bar for years. His enthusiasm is contagious. And he led the Fighters to back-to-back Japan Series -- winning the title in 2006 -- by proving his ability to adapt to the hand he was dealt. His 2007 team advanced to the finals despite having one of Japan's most anemic offenses.

In the front office,
Dayton Moore continues to work his magic. Moore, named Senior Vice President and General Manager for Baseball Operations on May 30, 2006, is considered one of the brightest minds in professional baseball. In 2005, while working in the Atlanta Braves' front office, Moore was named by Baseball America as one of MLB's Top 10 Up-and-Coming Power Brokers, while the same publication regarded him as the top general manager candidate in a 2004 issue.

Since he began his duties with the Royals, Moore has focused on stockpiling the organization's farm system with talented young pitchers; has convinced Royals' ownership to add a seventh minor league affiliate -- the Burlington Royals -- joining the Baltimore Orioles and New York Mets as one of just three franchises with seven teams in its farm system; and he's spearheaded an effort to rank among the "top quarter in baseball" when it comes to money spent in Latin America.

But the Royals aren't just making investments in order to have success three to five years down the road. Kansas City owner David Glass, often criticized for an unwillingness to spend money to retain or attract talented players, has allowed Moore the liberty to open the checkbook in order to attract proven free agents to the City of Fountains. Moore's signing ability has resulted in the addition of players such as pitchers Gil Meche and Jose Guillen, while being able to retain stars like 2006 Gold Glove Award-winning second baseman Mark Grudzielanek. The Royals also made competitive offers for free agents Torii Hunter, Andruw Jones, and Hiroki Kuroda during the offseason.

So, yes, there is reason for die-hard Royals fans like myself to be optimistic about the fortunes of the franchise. Moore, whose mentor in Atlanta was former Royals GM John Schuerholz, is working to restore the pride that once eminated from an organization that finished no lower than third in the seven-team* American League West every year between 1975 and 1989 (except the strike year of 1981, when they were fourth).

That renewed hope is enough to brighten an otherwise gloomy and very cold day here in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

*The AL West had six teams in both 1975 and 1976.

(Blogger's Note: This is an edited version of a post I wrote previously on another blog, which I have since aborted.)


Antonio said...

Hey, just a slight nitpick. Moore hasn't ever worked for the Royals before. His mentor, John Schuerholz did.

Mike said...

Hey, antonio, you are absolutely right about that, and I edited the blog to reflect as such. Man, called out on a factual error in my first post. :( Embarrassing. I don't know how I got that in my head, but I've always been under the impression that Moore had previously worked for Schuerholz in Kansas City, as well. Thanks for correcting me.

desertfan said...

Hey, just to nitpick again.

You said the Royals never finished lower than third in the six-team American League West.

There were seven teams in both the East and West, not six.


Mike said...

You're right, desertfan. But I do get partial credit, as the AL West only had six teams in both 1975 and 1976. :)

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