An unfamiliar word was used to describe Kansas City Royals fans during the team’s caravan stop in Wichita Thursday night – bandwagon.
New or lapsed fans aligning themselves with the Royals would have been a preposterous concept 10, five, or even three years ago, but now that Kansas City is on the brink of American League contention, many are claiming or reclaiming the Royals as their own.
Academy Sports handed out 150 autograph passes Thursday for the Royals caravan, when players Lorenzo Cain, Johnny Giavotella and Donnie Joseph, along with media personalities and former players Jeff Montgomery and Rex Hudler, stopped in Wichita after a three-city tour of similar events.
Mike Engelmann of Andover was 17th in line, noting that it was important to arrive early after he missed out on autographs last year and because a large crowd was expected – and delivered, as about 20 fans were in line without passes after the store ran out.
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“A winning season is amazing for the bandwagon,” Engelmann said.
The Royals are thinking big after an 86-win season kept them in the thick of the AL Central and wild-card races into the final month of the 2013 season. The Royals missed the playoffs for the 28th consecutive season, but the enthusiasm shown toward the team suggests many believe that skid will soon come to an end.
Some Royals fans are buoyed by past disappointment, allowing their hopes to soar because if the season turns out poorly, it will be nothing they haven’t experienced before. For that reason, they’re not reigning in their imaginations.
“We talked about that coming up here,” said Salina resident Dennis Arnold, who traveled with friend John Estep. “We hope it’s better than last year. I hope for the best, but sometimes it doesn’t pan out that way.”
A year after trading for ace right-hander James Shields, Royals general manager Dayton Moore again became heavily involved in hot-stove season, replacing the still-unsigned free agent pitcher Ervin Santana with lefty Jason Vargas and patching up the lineup by signing second baseman Omar Infante and trading for outfield Norichika Aoki.
Kansas City’s roster presents a dichotomy in that the starting position players seem settled but the final two spots in the rotation, behind Shields, Jeremy Guthrie and Vargas, will be chosen from a handful of candidates. Bruce Chen, Wade Davis and Danny Duffy will be in the mix along with youngsters Kyle Zimmer and Yordano Ventura.
The Royals consider all of them strong options, and a changed but blossoming rotation is still a reason for high expectations.
“We went out and made moves that they thought would definitely help our team this season, so we’ll see,” said Cain, slotted to be the Royals’ center fielder. “We’re just trying to take advantage of it. We’ve got guys in the right places – we’ve got the pitching, we’ve got the defense, and overall I feel like we’ve got a pretty good team.”