01/17/09 8:05 PM EST
Optimism pervades Royals FanFest
Kansas City players, fans excited about upcoming season
By Dick Kaegel / MLB.com
At one point on Saturday afternoon, eight of the club's infielders filed onto the main stage and tossed souvenirs into the crowd. Ryan Shealy even tossed the pink cap he wore -- a manly pink, to be sure -- to a youngster.
Perched on chair across the stage, they exchanged patter with emcee Tim Scott. Alex Gordon revealed that he and pitcher Luke Hochevar got mohawk haircuts during a trip to Mexico. So Scott wondered if maybe the whole team might get mohawks next season, even hair-stylin' Mike Aviles.
"If everybody does it, I'll do that," Aviles averred.
They were kidded about going to manager Trey Hillman's mini-camp for infielders next week at his Texas home -- a sleepover at Camp Hillman, Scott called it .
Billy Butler told the folks about the new baby girl that his wife, Katie, delivered this winter. Kila Ka'aihue said he didn't mind being called "Hawaiian Punch." Mike Jacobs talked about hitting a home run in his first Major League at-bat.
But it was newcomer Willie Bloomquist who stirred up the first big burst of applause.
"My biggest goal is to be on a team that makes a playoff," Bloomquist said. "It's about time for that to happen in Kansas City."
The fans loved that line and cheered.
That was the overwhelming tone of the FanFest, and club president Dan Glass felt the optimism as he drifted through the 5,500 or so folks that invaded the Overland Park Convention Center on Saturday.
"It's all upbeat, it's all positive. Everybody senses that we're going in the right direction -- little by little, building something special here," Glass said. "They're proud to be Royals fans. They feel proud again."
That fast finish to the season -- 18-8 in September and escaping the cellar -- certainly fueled some passion. So did the addition of guys like Jacobs, Bloomquist, Kyle Farnsworth and Coco Crisp.
"The way we finished last year and with what [general manager Dayton Moore] did this offseason, everybody was real positive going in. And the group of guys and the chemistry we have is real exciting," pitcher Brian Bannister said. "You can really feel the energy in here."
Butler, looking slimmer after a winter of hard work, took to the FanFest like a fat fastball. More square footage was added to accommodate the batting cages, booths, shops and autograph tables.
"I thought last year was unbelievable, but this is even better," Butler said. "We've got more room, more space, more people -- more people than ever loving to come out and see the Royals."
Which put him in a mood to make a vow.
"Let's give 'em a good game at the stadium every time they come out," Butler said. "The people are great, they're so genuine. They just want to have a winning team here. They're starving for one, and we're trying to give it to them. We're doing everything that we can, and now we've just got to put it onto the field."
Even before Bloomquist stirred the folks in his main stage appearance, he felt the buzz.
"There's snow on the ground and all these people showing up that excited about baseball and the baseball season," Bloomquist said. "It's kind of a neat little buzz that's kind of going around. I think people understand that this is an organization that's going in the right direction."
About 25 players plus Hillman, coaches and alumni kept the fans busy throughout the day. The second and final day of the Royals FanFest will run from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.
The theme, obviously, is optimism and progress.
"All we can say is we're going to put a good lineup on the field this year," said the upbeat Butler. "We're feeling pretty confident, one through nine, and with every starter we throw. We're going to have a chance to bang the ball around the park and get anybody out that we want to get out. That's what we've set ourselves up for. Now we've just got to get it done."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.