Here is my last installation - for now - of the four-part Royals interview series that has successfully ran us into the start of Spring Training '09. This time around I caught up with former Royals great Dennis Leonard, a Royals Hall of Famer. Leonard spoke about his recently completed tour of duty as an amabassador for the Royals in their annual caravan trips across the midwest.
Q: Talk about what it's like still getting out and representing the Royals after all this time?
LEONARD: "Basically, it's been a long time since I played, and the Royals initiated those caravans in the days that I played. Transportation is a lot different. I remember when we used to pile five or six guys in a mini-van and take off to different things like schools and banks because they were ticket outlets.
About five years ago the Royals asked if I'd be interested in doing them again taking some of the new (players) and putting them together with a little bit of the old (players). For me, I have the free time and it's enjoyable. It's really amazing on some of these (public appearances) that I see some people that I seen 30 years ago and haven't seen since.
It's a lot of fun to meet the people, and I think this is important because these are the people that support the team and come out and watch you play. It's fun to be able to be in their hometown. They're not watching you on TV, they're not at the game watching you on the field. It's a chance to interact with these people just to let them know you're human just like they are."
Q: Being out of baseball for a few years and watching this teams ups and downs, tell us what you expect out of this team in 2009?
LEONARD: "Obviously, they've had a lot of downs. They've had a few ups. It's just a situation where the farm clubs were depleted. I look back towards the tail-end to when John Schuerholtz was there and Mr. Kauffman was still alive. They tried to build a championship team for him before he passed away, and to do that they got some older veteran players, but they had to trade away a lot of the younger talent.
When Dayton Moore took over a couple years ago, the first thing he did was try to re-build the farm system. He traded away some pitchers like (Mike) MacDougal, and (Andrew) Sisco, and (Ambiorix) Burgos and (Jeremy) Affeldt who had a lot of upside, but they didn't exactly get things accomplished in the two or three years they were here. In return, he's gotten a lot of young pitchers to put in the minor league system, give them some seasoning, and hopefully they will get (to the big leagues).
Not only that, they've went out and spent a little bit more money. Pitchers like Zack Greinke and Luke Hochevar, there's a bright future for the staff. I think most teams would agree, and most people, you're gonna build a winner around good pitching. The Royals are starting to do that. Obviously, they have some needs which they tried to fill getting (Mike) Jacobs trying to hit some home runs. But they need some people to step up who 'haven't reached their potential yet.' They need to reach it pretty soon. As long as they keep their confidence and keep going in the direction they're doing it's not going to be a miracle, nothing over night. I think they'll have a good chance to compete again."
Q: How are you enjoying retirement?
LEONARD: "Retirement is both good and bad. Especially through the spring and through the summer and into fall. When I look out the window and there's no wind and it's a nice day I say, 'It's time to go fishing.' There's other days - especially in the winter - when I look out the windown and say, 'I don't even want to go out.'"
Q: What are you doing to keep yourself busy?
LEONARD: "The wife and I own two Hallmark stores in the Kansas City area. I keep myself busy. In the early spring I help coach a high school baseball team in Raytown, Mo. and I get my little fix of baseball for two and a half months. The Royals have been gracious enough to ask us occasionally to go do some baseball clinics. So I stay busy, but I can always can find time for a little bit of fishing and a little bit of hunting."