By Charles Segebrecht
Painting foul-ball posts blue, assisting umpires with radar, pitching to three batters before allowing a pitching change, moving pitchers two feet farther from home plate or requiring two infielders to remain on either side of second base– all of these are possible Major League Baseball changes in seasons soon to come. Why? To make for speedier games, to protect baseball players and to make games more fan enjoyable. Mr. K (as so many affectionately and respectively called him) would probably have been especially interested with the last two arguments. After all, Ewing Marion Kauffman was all about taking care of the “City’s” team players and expanding their fans’ experiences.
Unique to Kansas City’s fans is Royals Fantasy Camp in Surprise, Arizona, truly a Royals’ baseball fan’s dream experience. Thirty years ago, LQ’s Dave White was one of the one-hundred people attending this boys-of-summer opportunity to become an instant Major League Baseball player for a week. His memorable experience was in the event’s detail–everything for these instant athletes was designed to be authentic in what the actual Royals team see, feel and do. He and other newly crowned players found themselves in legitimate “home” and “away” Royals uniforms and on perfect grass without typical ground undulations, in a real ballfield with real dugouts, pitching mounds and orange foul ball posts; using the actual lockers, cafeteria and even urinals the major league players use. At Fantasy Camp, each team always consisted of twelve players (Dave batted #12 as cleanup) who rotate into daily-played, double-headers, ensuring each player an equal amount of play-time and at-bats (minimum 40). Real coaches and Royals players run the show, providing constant guidance–even scolding!
Fast forward with Dave’s thirty years of fond Camp memories. Why not again? But this time, with his forty-year-old son, David, on his team! The two unhesitatingly aligned to go. David’s opportunity came as a surprise gift from Dad for the recent January 2019 Camp. And for each, “the experience became surreal!”
Tickets proved scarce, having sold out within three hours. George Brett and Willie Wilson coached an opposing team, and Dave and David had coaches Cookie Rojas (for fielding) and Mike McFarland (for pitching) on their team. Each had friends and family in the grandstands. Frank White and other players were floating about, interacting and teaching the new players. Dennis Leonard played catcher and was always approachable, even as he was found getting massages in the locker room after practices and games. A professional Royals trainer was also present, providing heat and ice to the new MLB players.
Dave got to pitch and play second base with his actual age on his Royals jersey, and David played first base and outfield with Bo Jackson’s #16 on his jersey (David had grown up with the Royals). Dave received the Most Inspirational Award for his winning pitching, and David was recognized with the same award for his successful batting. Dave, as committed a player as he was, worked through his pain, having hurt his back the first day. Each tried to get into shape prior to playing their pro-ball and were supported by an aspect of the Camp program consisting of several months of supervised training with fielding, pitching and hitting at a Kansas City indoor facility. This didn’t prove to be nearly enough; each was surprised at how physical the game is even though it isn’t a contact sport.
Both marveled how the actual pros could anticipate a batter’s performance. The ball would always be hit as they predicted, all based on stance, swing, how the bat was held and, of course, their professional experience. Dave and David came away with greater game knowledge and gathered new respect for the players, especially considering the imminent start of another whopping, 162-game season. Helping wrap their heads around what played out each day, and further contributing to reality of their fantasies, was the “Ned Yost” interview with a fake audience in an actual press room.
David’s gifted experience is still very much alive for him–and certainly for Dave. What a father/son treat, especially when they are avid Royals fans. Dave had always followed the team closely. They spoke about their awesome experience as though it just played out and they were still physically sore! Perhaps David’s daughter, Royal (now three), and his son, Remington (now four), will participate with their dad in another thirty years–another great fantasy!
The Kauffman connection
The Kansas City Royals team was properly named. Originally named after the Kansas City Royal bar-b-que contest, the name later remained appropriate because of how Mr. K gifted the Royals to the Greater Kansas City Foundation (the team must remain in Kansas City and the team sale proceeds must go to the Kansas City community). The gift was typical of Mr. Kauffman. “The most generous man who ever walked the streets of Kansas City,” is how President George W. Bush described him. His legacy lives on with his Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, established to unleash the entrepreneurial spirit in students and to strengthen education. According to Carl Schram, Kauffman Foundation CEO, Mr. Kauffman strongly believed, “Anyone deserved a chance. Smooth the road for them. . . there is enough risk as it is.”
President Bush further stated, “He used grit, determination and grace throughout his successful business career”—a career which started with selling eggs and fish door to door and ended with having 3,500 associates (never “employees”) and one-billion in sales. He would see to it the same grit, determination and grace would evolve within the Royals organization. This wasn’t just another business, but another family to him. If anyone within this Royal family needed anything, David said everyone knew to, “just call me.” Dave White remembers well how Mr. K preached and lived his golden rule: “Treat others as you wish to be treated.” He humbly believed, “If I could do it, then anyone could!” “He had a dream and vision that common people could do uncommon things,” according to Jerry Caulkins, a Marion associate.
Dave White was witness to Mr. Kauffman’s living, working and teaching how one individual can make a difference. Dave worked with Marion Laboratories in Cleveland and Detroit before becoming its National Administration Sales Manager in Kansas City. When talking with Dave, anyone can see and hear the positive Kauffman influence: “The more you give of yourself, the more you get in return” and “Those who produce share in the profits.” He would hire people smarter than himself; even with baseball. “I surrounded myself with excellence,” he claimed.
He always had an unwavering kindness to his stadium workers and compassion for shut-ins who relied on baseball for their joy. Examples of his legacy include a longtime police officer working the Royals dugout, who was given an opportunity this year to go to Fantasy Camp gratis. Another recent recipient of a free ticket was a young man who had recovered from a stroke and bypass surgery.
Son David White received more than expected with his Fantasy Camp gift. Yes to sore muscles, yes to a most wonderful father/son experience; but in addition, he was able to witness and experience first-hand Mr. K’s philosophies still at work making a positive difference.