All good things must come to an end. As regular season baseball came to a close, in early October, the Kansas City Royals suffered a painful 14-2 loss against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Despite the loss, Kansas City fans were witnessing one of the most enjoyable but bittersweet moments for their hometown team.
Players Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar and Jason Vargas, who were instrumental in the Royals’ ride to prominence and wildly popular with fans, played the final game on their contracts. Once these contracts are up, players become free agents and are welcome to accept other teams’ offers. For small market teams like Kansas City, this often means losing their star players to teams with deeper pockets.
These are players that rose to stardom together in the 2011 season. Moustakas and “super–prospect” Hosmer worked hard through the farm system to arrive in the same Spring Training class, kicking it off with a somewhat cheesy photo shoot that was recreated to honor their time so far with the team.
The Royals gained Cain and Escobar in a trade that fans remember vividly. Ace pitcher Zach Greinke and then-shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt were sent to the Milwaukee Brewers for a handful of players that didn’t seem too promising. Greinke was a fan-favorite in a time when the Royals were finally turning things around. Watching him dominate pitching for other teams was tough. The eventual performances of Cain and Escobar all but erased the heartache of losing him.
Vargas arrived in 2013 and enjoyed quiet success in an average starting pitching rotation. Vargas missed more than a year of playing due to Tommy John surgery, a common procedure for MLB pitchers that replaces a torn or worn out elbow ligament in the pitching arm. This could have been the climax of his career.
Instead, Vargas came back in the 2017 season. He was the first pitcher to reach 11 wins, he led the majors with a handful of pitchers after his 18th win and he finished the season one win shy of topping them all. His skill was much needed since the Royals had lost pitching ace Yordano Ventura to a car accident before the 2017 season. Vargas stepped up to the plate and pitched with “the ligament of Cy Young,” a joking reference to one of the MLB’s all-time greats.
A complete list of accomplishments for these five would be too long to include here. But their collective accomplishments and milestones are what truly outshine their individual resumes. They propelled the Royals to their first playoff run in decades in 2014, going undefeated in the playoffs before losing to the San Francisco Giants in the World Series in seven games. They then gained a much-anticipated World Series victory the next year with a string of explosive plays and nearly impossible comebacks. The four fielders have all been Golden Glove recipients at least once. All five have been elected All-Stars, including a 2016 All-Star Game MVP for Eric Hosmer.
For Royals fans, the real treat has been the players’ personalities. Beloved equally as people and players, each has a fan-given nickname: Hos, Lo Cain, Esky, Vargy and Moose, the last of which is yelled loudly by fans whenever Moustakas approaches the plate or even makes a minor play.
Their on-field chemistry has been a delight to watch. During the 2015 season, an inside joke developed in the clubhouse from Cain’s walkup song “Trap Queen.” The song begins with the line “17-38,” and Cain made an apparent reference to it in a post-game interview, saying the opposing pitcher “was like 17-38 at the plate.” The reference spread as Hosmer and Moustakas also snuck 17-38 into comments. Eventually, the team began an unofficial fine if players failed to say it in a post-game interviews. Fans listened closely for it after every game.
These players love the fans back. Late in the night after the team secured their spot in the 2014 World Series, Hosmer partied with fans in the Power and Light District, buying the crowd free drinks and spraying champagne to celebrate. At their final game of the 2017 season, and perhaps their final game as Royals, each tipped his hat to thunderous applause and a standing ovation from a nearly-full stadium. Hosmer even treated fans to a hard-hit homerun on his first at-bat.
In the middle of a very emotional game that hadn’t been going well, the four fielders were substituted out. They hugged and locked arms, and fans cheered as “Trap Queen” played.
It’s possible none of them will return. These are five of League’s best players in the middle of their respective careers. Through their agents, Hosmer’s especially, they will play the market and ask a high price that the Royals might not be able to afford. With the MLB playoffs still in full swing, it’s been too early to make any real speculation as to where they will end up. Even after a World Series champion is crowned, it might be too much for Kansas City fans to consider.
Even if the worst happens, they will always be players that rose to stardom in Kansas City. The memories they created together and with fans will never be forgotten. Behind the dugout as they said goodbye to 2017, a sign in the stands spoke on behalf of every Royals fan: “We Are So Grateful.”
Photo courtesy of ABC News.