Someone who grew up in Kansas City, helped build Kauffman Stadium and played in the last World Series game there probably has a better perspective on what the 2014 Series means to this town than anyone else.
“You’ve seen it; you’ve heard it; you’ve felt it,” says Kansas City Royals Hall of Fame second baseman Frank White. “People are totally excited about what this ball club has been able to accomplish.”
A product of Royals owner Ewing Kauffman’s now-defunct Baseball Academy, White joined the big-league club in 1973 and played for Kansas City until 1990. During that time, he was selected to the American League All-Star team five times, won six Gold Glove awards for his defensive skill and played in both the 1980 and 1985 World Series.
If he could speak to this year’s team as they prepare to face the National League champion San Francisco Giants, White said, he would tell them “Keep doing what you’re doing. You can’t do any better than what they’re doing right now. Don’t beat yourself. Do the fundamental things offensively and defensively. The pitching will be there, so the more runs they can score, the better off they’ll be.”
White would say much the same thing to the Royals’ fans.
“In that one-game playoff with the Oakland A’s, once the Royals got behind, the crowd didn’t die,” he said. “It was more like a football crowd than a baseball crowd. They were on their feet cheering, and it pumped the guys up. That’s what the fan base has been doing every playoff game since. Every time they take the field, the fans chant ‘Let’s go, Royals.’ As a player, that would get me excited. The players feed off the energy this crowd brings, and it’s working for the Royals in tremendous fashion.”
White did his part to amp up fan frenzy during the season, joining County Executive Mike Sanders and members of the Legislature to present a proclamation to Korean social-media sensation SungWoo Lee (@KoreanFan_KC) when he visited Kansas City for a home stand during the Royals’ late-season hot streak. It was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream for SungWoo, who will get an even bigger thrill when he returns to Kauffman Stadium for the Series.
In the off-season the year before he came up to the big leagues, White worked on a construction crew building what was then called Royals Stadium at the Harry S. Truman Sports Complex.
“We had to work in the off-season, from the end of August to April,” White recalled. “You found a job for six months, or you went out of the country and played for six months. Mister K got me a union card and a job working at the stadium.”
White can imagine what today’s Royals are feeling as the World Series approaches.
“Close to game time, you feel that adrenaline rush as the crowd arrives,” he said. “They’re excited to be where they are. This is what they’ve prepared for. Sometimes it never happens for a player, so it’s good to be in a World Series. Your primary objective is to get there, and they are knocking on the door. They need to keep their intensity and focus.”
Maintaining that focus is easier said than done, according to White.
“As a player, any time you get into games like these, the question is can you perform on the big stage; can you slow it down enough to do what you need to do. Your family and friends and the fans are all pulling for you, and you need to control your emotions,” he said.
The Royals’ late-inning relief-pitching relay gives them an advantage, White said.
“The way the bullpen is set up with (Kelvin) Herrera, (Wade) Davis and (Greg) Holland, the other team is at a disadvantage,” White said. “The starters have only got to go six, or even five and two-thirds innings. The Royals are set with (Jason) Frasor in the sixth (inning). He’s more than capable. So San Francisco is limited to how many innings they have to get ahead.”
If the Royals can continue their postseason magic, White said, they will enjoy the victory parade.
“In 1980, they had a parade for even though we didn’t win,” White said. “I was flabbergasted. … It was a celebration of getting by the (New York) Yankees. Most of the guys were looking for another opportunity to go the World Series so they could handle it different or better. In 1985, the winning parade was definitely much better.”