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Royals already prepping for All-Star game

Tuesday, February 14, 2012 | 9:10 p.m. CST; updated 9:14 a.m. CST, Wednesday, February 15, 2012

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Dayton Moore stood in a small conference room inside a suburban Kansas City convention center in early January, the cold nipping at him whenever someone opened the door.

The Royals' general manager was there to hand out awards to his team for last season, but he was already looking ahead to the future — to the warmth of spring training, now less than one week away, and to the heat of mid-July, when baseball turns its spotlight onto Kansas City.

"The All-Star game is going to be an unbelievable event for us," Moore said with a smile.

Yes, even in the heart of basketball season, in a city that has grown all too accustomed to losses on the diamond, folks are ready to welcome one of baseball's marquee events.

"Major League Baseball is going to see how special the Royals fans are, because we're going to embrace the All-Star game, in my opinion, better than any city in recent years," Moore said.

The midsummer classic is returning to Kansas City for the first time since 1973, when Sparky Anderson and Dick Williams were the managers, Bobby Bonds was the most valuable player, and Curt Gowdy and Tony Kubek did the television call for the National League's 7-1 victory.

Kansas City also hosted the game in 1960 at the old Municipal Stadium, though that was when the franchise in town was still the Athletics.

The Royals landed the summer spectacle after a sales tax referendum passed in 2006 that paved the way for a $250 million renovation to Kauffman Stadium. The concourses were redesigned, restaurants were improved and a new scoreboard in center field was installed, adding to what has long been considered one of baseball's most picturesque ballparks.

"It's a great opportunity for the city," said Royals outfielder Alex Gordon, who many believe was snubbed by All-Star voters during a breakout 2011 season.

"I know everyone's been talking about it," he said. "It's a big deal."

It's an especially big deal for guys like Gordon who have invested so much in a long-suffering franchise. Gordon considers Kansas City his hometown after he was drafted by the Royals with the No. 2 overall pick in 2005, and with that comes a certain measure of civic pride.

Of course, Gordon knows it'll be enjoyed much more by the hometown fans if the Royals can land more than just their annual token player in the game.

"When you start winning games, people start noticing, and that means we're producing on the field," he said. "(Relief pitcher) Aaron Crow had a great year and deserved to be on the All-Star team last year, but hopefully we can get a couple guys playing well that people are noticing."

Perhaps that's the biggest value in hosting the All-Star game.

The Royals have epitomized baseball's backwater ever since winning the 1985 World Series. They've failed to return to the postseason every year since then, losing at least 100 games four times, while cross-state rival St. Louis has celebrated two more World Series championships.

But discussions around Kansas City this offseason, from talk radio airwaves to the nightly news telecasts, reveal a sense of hope about the coming season.

Kansas City will field one of the youngest lineups in baseball, anchored at first base by Eric Hosmer and third base by Mike Moustakas, a pair of 20-somethings who shot through the minor leagues and made their big league debuts in impressive fashion last season.

They'll be joined by fellow 20-somethings Salvador Perez at catcher, Alcides Escobar at shortstop, Johnny Giavotella at second base and Lorenzo Cain in center field.

"That last month and a half of the season, the guys in the clubhouse always believed, but now we've made the people in Kansas City believers," Hosmer said, recalling a strong finish to last season. "And they feel we can do this, and that's the key, to have them behind our back."

Royals manager Ned Yost has been involved with enough All-Star games to understand how special the moment is for players who are selected, not to mention how important the outcome is now that the winning league secures home-field advantage in the World Series.

But he also understands how important the game is to the host city.

Fans flocking to an old cattle town known for its stockyards and barbecue will fill hotel rooms, dine in its restaurants and leave enough cash behind to generate an economic impact that will be measured in the tens of millions of dollars.

"Having the All-Star game is very, very special," Yost said. "The city will see that this season, how the excitement starts to mount up, and then you get to the All-Star week and the festivities, and the games, starting with the Futures game and everything that goes with it.

"You have to experience it to understand it."

Yost just hopes that there are plenty of hometown guys who get that chance.

"It's like the whole Major League Baseball family comes to Kansas City to your house for Christmas," he said. "You get to enjoy a special time, and together with what we have here with these kids, it's going to make for a special summer."

Royal exercise option on Yost for next season

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Royals have exercised their option on manager Ned Yost to keep him with the club through the 2013 season.

The team announced the move Tuesday, six days before pitchers and catchers are due to report to the Royals' spring training home in Surprise, Ariz.

Yost was hired in May 2010 to replace Trey Hillman. He signed a two-year extension that July that included a club option for next season.

Yost is just 126-163 since taking over the Royals, but he's been credited with helping bring along one of the youngest rosters in baseball. A youthful team led by Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas is expected to begin contending in the AL Central for the first time in years.

Yost last fall shook up his coaching staff, parting with pitching coach Bob McClure and bench coach John Gibbons. He replaced McClure with former Yankees pitching coach Dave Eiland, who will be asked to develop a young rotation that was long on talent but short on results as the Royals finished 24 games out of first place in the AL Central.

McClure oversaw the development of former Cy Young winner Zack Greinke, now with the Brewers, along with starters such as Luke Hochevar and Danny Duffy. He was often criticized for a pitching staff that walked far too many batters — the Royals were fourth in the majors and led the American League with 557 walks — and consequently struggled to get deep into games.

Headed into this season, the Royals have at least upgraded their starting rotation by trading Melky Cabrera to San Francisco for left-hander Jonathan Sanchez, and bolstered their bullpen by acquiring Jose Mijares and Jonathan Broxton.

And all that youth hasn't dampened the enthusiasm. Hosmer last season put together one of the finest rookie seasons in franchise history, hitting .293 with 19 homers and 78 RBIs, and former No. 1 pick Hochevar, Duffy and Felipe Paulino all showed promise.



 


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