Ex-Royals know All-Star Game will be special
Players excited about return of Midsummer Classic to KC
KANSAS CITY -- Bret Saberhagen was an American League All-Star twice with the Royals, but the games were played in Oakland and at Chicago's Wrigley Field, not in Kansas City.
So he was ecstatic when he heard Wednesday that the 2012 All-Star Game had been awarded to Kansas City.
"Wow! That's cool!" Saberhagen said by phone from California. "I think that's awesome for Kansas City."
It will be the city's first Midsummer Classic since 1973.
"That was in my Little League days," Saberhagen said.
Saberhagen was wrapped up in Kansas City's last big Major League event, the 1985 World Series, which he ended with a Game 7 shutout over the Cardinals. His memories are fond.
"For me, Kansas City is one of those southern-hospitality places," he said. "It's a Midwest town, but it's so genuine and it's a great place to play baseball, a great place to raise a family. I can't say enough good things about KC. I really enjoyed my playing time there and we got on top of the world in Kansas City, so it's always got a special place in my heart."
The ultimate determining factor in Kansas City getting the Midsummer Classic was the extensive renovations to Kauffman Stadium.
"I didn't even recognize it this year when I was there for Zack Greinke's Cy Young Award," Saberhagen said. "Everything had changed, from the clubhouse to the exterior to the stadium club. When I walked through the glass doors, it was like walking into the Taj Mahal."
Saberhagen started the 1987 All-Star Game in Oakland and was the winning pitcher in '90 at Chicago. He also was a National League All-Star in 1994 with the New York Mets at Pittsburgh. He's now a player agent.
John Mayberry represented the Royals at the 1973 game at Kansas City, and he was among the honored guests for Commissioner Bud Selig's announcement at Kauffman Stadium.
"It was one of the greatest moments of my life," Mayberry said. "That's the dream. You want to make it to the big leagues, but you want to take it a step further and be an All-Star. That's the ultimate, to be an All-Star."
Mayberry had two of the AL's five hits in a 7-1 loss in '73.
"I got a nice double to the wall, a line drive," Mayberry recalled as he greeted present-day Royals in the dugout. "Everybody wants to get a hit in the All-Star Game, especially here in Kansas City, where I was playing. That was my first one and I was so nervous -- I had my mother and father here for the game -- and I got a hit off a guy that I came up the Minor Leagues with in the Houston chain, Wayne Twitchell."
The recollection of Twitchell made Mayberry laugh.
"When we were kids, [Twitchell would] talk to me about getting to the big leagues and 'my fastball will get by you' -- you know how you are when you're 19 -- and I finally caught up with his fastball and hit a line shot," Mayberry said.
Five-time All-Star Frank White also was present for Selig's announcement, and he noted a big change in the Classic since his playing days.
"In the old days, the All-Star break starts on Sunday, [it's] travel on Monday, play on Tuesday, back to your hometown on Wednesday and ready to play on Thursday," White said. "So I think it's neat now that they made it more of an event, it's more entertaining for the fans."
White has bittersweet memories of the 1986 game at Houston. His seventh-inning homer turned out to be the winning run in the AL's 3-2 victory. But it was also the last game managed by Dick Howser, skipper of the 1985 World Series-champion Royals. Shortly after the game, Howser was diagnosed with a brain tumor that ultimately took his life.
"I was able to hit a home run in the game and make a couple of nice defensive plays at the end," White said. "And, unfortunately, it was the last game that Dick managed in and I was able to get a win for him. That was nice."
Mike Sweeney, now with the Mariners, was a five-time All-Star as the Royals' first baseman and was delighted to hear of Kansas City's selection.
"My thought was, 'Well, chances are I won't be playing in 2012, but I'd like to be at that game,'" Sweeney said by phone from Seattle.
Sweeney said his Mariners teammates were wowed by Kauffman Stadium and the city during their early-season series.
"There were so many guys with the Mariners this year that had never been to Kansas City, and they were raving about the clubhouse, the stadium and the field and just how awesome the city of Kansas City is -- the Plaza, the restaurants, the barbecue," Sweeney said.
Sweeney showed them around like a proud parent.
"For many years I called Kansas City home and for it to be recognized for the All-Star Game, I'm already making plans for July 2012," he said.
"Hopefully, we'll see Zack Greinke or Billy Butler or Joakim Soria in the game. Or Mike Moustakas, you never know."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.