Mar 27, 2024

⚾ Royals ready for opening day, key vote next week to help fund downtown ballpark

Posted Mar 27, 2024 8:37 PM
File Photo- (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)
File Photo- (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Royals owner John Sherman said jokingly that he doesn't sleep very well under normal circumstances, so just imagine how his nights are going these days, with opening day on deck and a key vote for a downtown ballpark coming up next week.

The Royals play AL Central rival Minnesota on Thursday in their opening three-game series. After an offseason spending spree resulted in a revamped starting rotation, rebuilt bullpen and revitalized lineup, expectations in Kansas City are the highest in years for a club that lost 106 games last season.

“I'm trying not to play the expectation game,” Sherman said Wednesday before a public workout at Kauffman Stadium, the 51-year old building affectionately known as “the K” that the Royals want to replace with a downtown ballpark by 2028.

“We've done a lot to make this team better,” Sherman said. “I'm particularly encouraged by the mix of veterans in the clubhouse, the energy, setting an example for the younger guys. I would say my expectations are high. Time will tell.”

The biggest additions were starters Seth Lugo, who signed a $45 million, three-year deal, and Michael Wacha, who got a $32 million, two-year contract. They will fill out an rotation headlined by opening day starter Cole Ragans, who arrived last year in a trade with Texas, along with Brady Singer and Alec Marsh, who won the final job in spring training.

More money was spilled on the bullpen, where the Royals signed left-hander Will Smith — a three-time World Series champion — to a $5 million deal to close out games, and right-hander Chris Stratton to a $4 million deal to hold onto leads.

The biggest lineup addition is outfielder Hunter Renfroe, who signed a $13 million, two-year deal to provide some pop.

In all, just seven players are left on the 26-man roster from the club that struggled so mightily lsat season.

“That's a pretty significant revamp,” Sherman said.

One of those seven back? Bobby Witt Jr., the Royals' brilliant young shortstop, who committed to their future by signing an 11-year deal worth more than $288.7 million guaranteed to serve as their cornerstone going forward.

That deal also sent notice to weary Royals fans, many of whom will vote Tuesday, that they are serious about winning.

On the ballot in Jackson County, Missouri, is the renewal of a 3/8-cent sales tax that has been paying for the upkeep of Kauffman Stadium and neighboring Arrowhead Stadium, the home of the Super Bowl-champion Chiefs.

The Royals want to use their share of future money to help pay for a $2 billion ballpark and entertainment district in a section of Kansas City known as the Crossroads, just south of the T-Mobile Center and Power & Light District. The Chiefs plan to use their share to help with an $800 million renovation to Arrowhead Stadium after the 2026 World Cup is played there.

“What keeps me up at night? It's really thinking about this decision, this process for our ownership group,” Sherman said. “This is the most important thing we'll probably do while we are the stewards of this franchise.”

Neither the Royals nor the Chiefs have said what they would do should the ballot measure fail. But Sherman is doing his best to allay concerns among voters, which range from traffic to parking to what would happen to current Crossroads businesses. He spent last weekend knocking on doors, attending a church service and taking part in a neighborhood meeting in the 18th & Vine district, which is near the Crossroads and home to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

“I've got my ear to the ground,” said Sherman, who joked that his wife went to a restaurant in the Brookside neighborhood of Kansas City recently and “she had four yeses, three nos and a couple of maybes" in her informal polling.

Royals manager Matt Quatraro made his opinion clear, wearing a shirt Wednesday that read “Vote Yes on 1.”

“When you travel around to different cities in the league, the downtown ballparks put a ton of energy into the city. The players enjoy it. The fans soak that kind of thing in,” Quatraro said. “And what a new ballpark could bring our team — the amenities, the facilities underneath (Kauffman Stadium) are smaller. The operation is continuing to grow, and players need certain things that are hard to provide here. From a player-development standpoint, I think it would be a great thing for the team.”

In the meantime, Quatraro is much like Sherman in that his expectations are high for a better season in Kansas City.

“We came into last year with great expectations as well. We don't come into any season thinking it's not going to be good,” he said. “From a team concept, we expect these guys to go out and try to win every game.”