Spring Training is Spring Training and there is no doubt that the regular season is something quite different. But the beauty of the spring is how it so often sets a hopeful stage for the long season ahead. Everything is still possible and nobody knows the surprises, heartaches and even the oddities the late spring, summer and fall will bring.
The promise for Royals fans comes from what we got a small glimpse of last year. At the start of 2011, all the talk about the Royals was the nearly unanimous opinion around the game -- and in the media -- that Kansas City had the best Minor League system in baseball. All that talk started to turn into actual Major League players from the very first game of the season.
Three pitchers -- Aaron Crow, Nate Adcock and Tim Collins -- made their Major League debuts on Opening Day, and they were just the start. Eric Hosmer debuted in May and battled for American League Rookie of the Year honors. Mike Moustakas made the big league jump in June and tied a Royals rookie record with his 15-game hitting streak from Aug. 17 through Sept. 1.
And that wasn't even half the story as 2011 was the rookie campaign for a full dozen Royals. Their success began the transformation from Minor League talk to big league reality.
The special significance is undoubtedly the return of the Major League All-Star Game to Kansas City. It has been 39 years since the game's brightest stars gathered here in America's heartland and later this summer Ron Santo will become the 22nd National Baseball Hall of Famer to have taken the field that night at Royals Stadium. Think about that for a moment.
There are 207 players in the Hall of Fame and 18 of them were on the 1973 All-Star teams. Only 19 mangers are in the Hall of Fame and three of them were part of the 1973 All-Star Game (both managers, one coach). Even one of the nine Hall of Fame umpires was behind the plate that night. And that roster still does not yet include baseball's all-time hits leader, one Peter Edward Rose (who knows if it ever will either).
Willie Mays in his 24th and final All-Star appearance; Henry Aaron; Joe Morgan; Billy Williams; Johnny Bench; Ron Santo; Willie Stargell; Tom Seaver; Don Sutton; Rod Carew; Reggie Jackson; Carlton Fisk; Brooks Robinson; Catfish Hunter; Carl Yastrzemski; Bert Blyleven; Rollie Fingers; Nolan Ryan; Dick Williams; Sparky Anderson; Whitey Herzog and Nestor Chylak.
If this year can come close to that kind of star power we might not even need to turn on the lights at Kauffman Stadium -- they'll fire on the electricity of the ballpark alone.
Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby once said, "People ask me what I do in the winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring."
Well, Rogers, the wait is over once again. It's time for baseball to take center stage.
"Why Time Begins On Opening Day" is the title of book by baseball author Thomas Boswell. I've always liked that title because as a baseball fan it does seem that time begins anew with each Opening Day. The winter is over, spring is here and baseball is back.
Last Opening Day Alex Gordon was beginning the season at a brand new position. Now he is a reigning Gold Glove winner. Last Opening Day Eric Hosmer was looking forward to his first game at Triple-A Omaha. Now, he is on the field for his first Major League Opening Day.
And last Opening Day, it had been 13,764 days since Royals Stadium hosted the 1973 All-Star Game. Now, we are only 95 days from the baseball world returning to Kansas City for the 83rd Midsummer Classic here at 'The K.'
As Buck would still say today, "Opening Day is always a good day... Mmmm hmmm."
Opening Day 1969: Kansas City had been without professional baseball in 1968 for the first time since 1884. The A's move had come to be expected but would have hurt much more without the excitement of a new team on the horizon. The Royals took the field at Municipal Stadium with Kansas City confident they finally had 'their' team. The Royals beat Minnesota, 4-2, in 12 innings.
Opening Day 1977
: Coming off the Royals first divisional championship, the 1977 club went right back to work in Detroit. Three batters into the game Kansas City was already up 2-0 after a George Brett leadoff single and an Amos Otis home run. Paul Splittorff pitched the Royals to a 7-4 win -- No. 1 of a club record 102 victories.
Opening Day 1985
: Willie Wilson's seventh-inning two-run double scored Daryl Motley and Onix Concepcion, powering a 2-1 win in Toronto. Bud Black and Dan Quisenberry held the Blue Jays to five hits and the 1985 Royals' journey began. The come-from-behind victory foreshadowed others that October en route to the World Series championship.
Opening Day 1995
: Kevin Appier held the Orioles scoreless through the first six innings by which time the Royals had posted a three-run lead. Jeff Montgomery slammed the door with two ninth-inning strikeouts. The game was a whole new world for Kauffman Stadium as the first played here on natural grass.
Opening Day 2003
: Three Royals pitchers, Runelvys Hernandez, Jason Grimsley and Mike MacDougal, combine to shut out the White Sox on just three hits. The Royals win, 3-0, to start the season. They complete the homestand by sweeping Chicago and Cleveland, then taking the first four on the road for a club record 9-0 start.
Opening Day 2012
: Here we go ...