That's when Zack Greinke signed a four-year contract that would keep him with the Royals through 2012, or two years beyond his possible free agency. That proved huge when Greinke stormed through the summer as one of the season's biggest stories.
And when Nov. 17 rolled around, Greinke was the overwhelming choice as the American League Cy Young Award winner. He not only recorded a 2.16 ERA but pitched a one-hitter, had a 15-strikeout game and was named to the All-Star team.
The season also marked the grand reopening of Kauffman Stadium, the culmination of a two-year renovation that reshaped the look and updated the conveniences and amenities for fans.
"I walked through the tunnel and up the dugout steps, and it's certainly an eye-opener and eye-catching," Royals manager Trey Hillman said. "It's beautiful."
By midseason, the new Royals Hall of Fame opened its doors to enthusiastic reviews. Fans responded, and home attendance reached 1,797,887, the most since 1993.
On the field, aside from Greinke, the season was a disappointment for a club that expected to approach .500 and possibly contend in the American League Central. Even Greinke, given the Royals' lack of run production and spotty defense, needed every bit of his excellence to win 16 games. As it turned out, that represented about one-quarter of the team's 67 victories.
The Royals wrapped on Oct. 4 in the final regular-season baseball game at the Minneapolis' Metrodome with eight fewer wins than in Hillman's first season. But at least they claimed a share of fourth place with Cleveland.
The second Royals FanFest commenced on Jan. 17 at the Overland Park Convention Center. Nearly 5,500 fans turned out the first day of the two-day event, rubbing elbows with a host of Royals players, among them left fielder David DeJesus, pitcher Brian Bannister, first baseman Billy Butler, shortstop Mike Aviles, third baseman Alex Gordon and newcomers Mike Jacobs, brought in to be the designated hitter, and shortstop Willie Bloomquist. The players signed autographs and took turns speaking to the fans about the upcoming season.
2009 started with the promising news, announced by general manager Dayton Moore, that the Royals had locked up budding ace Greinke with a deal worth $38 million over four years.
Under blue skies in Surprise, Ariz., the Royals began their second Spring Training under Hillman on Feb. 14. Thirty-one pitchers and nine catchers worked out, as most of the position players also reported for duty. Then, after more than a week of workouts, the Royals kicked off their exhibition season with a charity game against the Texas Rangers.
The Royals had traded away relievers Ramon Ramirez and Leo Nunez during the offseason, so, in an effort to shore up the back of their bullpen, the Royals signed free-agent reliever Juan Cruz, who spent 2008 with the D-backs. The contract guaranteed Cruz $6 million over two years with an option for a third year.
The Royals had seven players take part in the World Baseball Classic, including outfielder Jose Guillen. The Classic began in Tokyo on March 5 with pool play taking place in locations around the globe. The Royals' six other players on Classic rosters were catcher Miguel Olivo, Dominican Republic; Aviles, Puerto Rico; pitcher Lenny DiNardo, Italy; pitcher Dylan Lindsay, South Africa; pitcher Joakim Soria, Mexico; and infielder-outfielder Mark Teahen, Canada.
Sidney Ponson, a future member of the Royals, also took part in the Classic, helping the Netherlands shock the Dominican Republic twice. Ponson parlayed his performance with the Netherlands into a Minor League contract with Kansas City, which inked him on March 17.
After beginning the season by taking two of three from the White Sox in Chicago, the Royals returned home and opened newly renovated Kauffman Stadium on April 10. Royals owner David Glass, Hall of Famer George Brett and a host of government officials helped christen the "New K" with a pregame ceremony. A sellout crowd packed the house, as Ponson took the hill against the Yankees. Some of the good feelings were dampened when New York's Andy Pettitte outpitched Ponson to lead the Yankees past the Royals, 4-1. But Kansas City's new-look stadium was the story of the day.
After throwing a complete-game shutout against Texas on April 18, Greinke took a string of 34 straight scoreless innings -- 14 at the end of 2008 and 20 at the beginning of 2009 -- into his start against Detroit on April 24. Greinke allowed an unearned run in the fifth inning to stop the streak at 38 innings, but he did complete his second consecutive complete game to improve his record to 4-0 with an 0.00 ERA. Greinke's victory also helped the Royals take over first place in the Central division with a 9-7 record.
Greinke continued his torrid start against the White Sox on May 4. He threw his third complete game of the season while improving his record to 6-0 with an 0.40 ERA. "[That was] definitely my favorite game of the year so far, if not ever," Greinke said. "That was a lot of fun." The victory came in the middle of a six-game winning streak that left the Royals in first place with an 18-11 record on May 7.
The Royals pulled off a stunning comeback against the Indians on May 19. Trailing, 5-2, in the bottom of the ninth, Kansas City rallied for four runs against Cleveland's Kerry Wood to take a 6-5 victory. It was the first time since Opening Day, April 5, 2004, that the Royals had rallied from three or more runs down in the ninth inning for a walk-off win. "It's a huge team win, probably the biggest one of the year by far," said Jacobs, who ignited the comeback with a solo home run.
The Royals picked an area product in the first round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, selecting right-handed pitcher Aaron Crow, who played high school baseball at Washburn Rural in Topeka, Kan., and attended the University of Missouri. The Royals also snatched one of the top high school hitters in the country, catcher Wil Myers of Wesleyan Christian Academy in High Point, N.C., in the third round. Myers played part of the season with the Royals' rookie affiliate in Idaho Falls, batting .426.
Luke Hochevar, who started the season at Triple-A Omaha, battled inconsistency when he was called up to Kansas City in May. But Hochevar had one of the best starts of his young career against Cincinnati on June 12, needing just 80 pitches to notch his first career complete game in a 4-1 Royals victory. Hochevar's performance helped spark the Royals to a three-game Interleague sweep of the Reds. "That's tough to describe," Hochevar said. "But that was amazing."
Needing to fill a hole at shortstop, the Royals on July 10 sent Minor League pitchers Dan Cortes and Derrick Saito to the Seattle Mariners for Yuniesky Betancourt. Betancourt, who was on the disabled list at the time, made his Royals debut on July 17 against Tampa Bay, going 2-for-4 in an 8-7 Royals loss.
Greinke, rewarded for his dominant first half, made his All-Star Game debut on July 14 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Greinke pitched a scoreless fourth inning for the American League, inducing a popup from Philadelphia's Raul Ibanez before striking out the Mets' David Wright and another Phillies hitter, Shane Victorino, to end the inning. Hillman had a great seat for Greinke's All-Star exploits, as he served as a coach for the AL squad.
Butler punctuated a strong month of August with three doubles in a 5-4 win over the White Sox on Aug. 18. Butler's productive day gave Butler 41 doubles up to that point, good for second in the American League. Butler, who hit 10 two-baggers in August alone, ended the season with 51, just three shy of Hal McRae's club record 54 in 1977.
Greinke gave the Royals a reprieve from the dog days of summer with a historic performance against the Indians on Aug. 25. Greinke recorded 15 strikeouts, breaking Mark Gubicza's franchise record of 14 K's in one game, set against Minnesota on Aug. 27, 1988. In his next start, at Seattle on Aug. 30, Greinke pitched a one-hitter with only a looping second-inning single marring his brilliant outing. It was the Royals' first one-hitter since, yep, Gubicza did it on June 15, 1995, at Oakland.
Guillen (right knee injury) and pitchers Gil Meche, Bannister and Kyle Davies (all with shoulder problems) saw their seasons end prematurely during the month. They joined others making early exits: Gordon (hip surgery) in April, Aviles (elbow surgery) in May and center fielder Coco Crisp (shoulder surgeries) in June. Gordon, who returned in mid-July, bounced back slowly and eventually had to do a tour at Triple-A Omaha.
Crow, the Royals' No. 1 pick in the Draft, signed a three-year, $3 million Major League contract with incentives. Crow had missed most of two seasons, after opting not to sign with Washington after the 2008 Draft.
Greinke wrapped up his season with a no-decision at Minnesota on Oct. 3 to finish with a 16-8 record and the Major Leagues' best ERA, 2.16. He also had six complete games, four shutouts, 242 strikeouts and held opponents to a .230 average. He gave up just 11 homers, fewest per nine innings in the AL.
The Royals dismissed bullpen coach John Mizerock, a former catcher, and replaced him with Steve Foster, a former pitcher, after the Royals' relief corps finished last in the American League. Nick Swartz, who retired as head athletic trainer after 19 years, was replaced by Nick Kenney, formerly of the Reds and the Indians.
Greinke was an overwhelming choice by the Baseball Writers' Association of America as the American League Cy Young Award winner, receiving 25 of 28 first-place votes. He became the third Royals pitcher to win the award, joining Bret Saberhagen (1985 and 1989) and David Cone (1994). Naturally, he was also the Royals' Pitcher of the Year, while Butler (.301, 51 doubles, 21 homers, 93 RBIs) earned Player of the Year honors and Alberto Callaspo (.300, 60 extra-base hits, 73 RBIs) won the Special Achievement Award.
Making one of the first trades of the offseason, Moore swapped Teahen to the White Sox in exchange for second baseman Chris Getz and third baseman Josh Fields. Teahen, acquired as a third baseman, had moved to the outfield in 2007 and briefly began the 2009 season as the second baseman.
Whitey Herzog, who managed the Royals to AL West titles in 1976-78 before gaining more fame with the cross-state Cardinals, was named to the National Baseball Hall of Fame at the Winter Meetings by the Veterans' Committee, along with NL umpire Doug Harvey. Herzog posted the most victories among all Royals managers with a 410-304 record and the best winning percentage, .574, during his stay from 1975 though 1979. However, Royals founder Ewing Kauffman did not receive enough votes for induction.
The tributes kept rolling in for Greinke as the year wound down, too, as the Royals' ace was honored with the This Year in Baseball Top Starter Award, edging Giants starter Tim Lincecum with 19.8 percent of the vote, compared to 19.6 percent for the San Francisco right-hander.
The only moves at the Indianapolis Winter Meetings were the release of Jacobs and pitcher John Bale but, after returning home, the Royals Jason Kendall to a two-year, $6 million contract. Kendall, a free agent from Milwaukee, is a 14-year Major League veteran. He'll replace Olivo, who became a free agent, and John Buck, who was not offered a contract by the Royals and signed with Toronto. The team also invested about $7 million in a five-year contract with left-handed pitcher Noel Arguelles, a 19-year-old Cuban defector.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. Rustin Dodd also contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.