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Old 05-13-2003, 01:26 AM  
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MLB.COM: Are the Royals this year's Twins?

http://kansascity.royals.mlb.com/NAS...ives&fext=.jsp

Are the Royals this year's Twins?
By Mike Bauman / MLB.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- Are the Kansas City Royals for real? Nobody can possibly know that for sure yet so why don't we all get off their backs and let them enjoy themselves for a bit?

It is very interesting in the Twin Cities this week and no, we are not necessarily talking about the Wild playing the Ducks, although that is a topic that has grabbed a sizable chunk of the local attention. What we are discussing here is the sport with the sticks, but without the ice. In the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome we have the team that was America's Underdog in 2002 against this season's Small-Market Major-Surprise. In other words, the Minnesota Twins against the Royals.

Just the blink of an eye ago, the Twins were the little engine that could, weren't they? From the brink of contraction to the championship of the AL Central. From the edge of extinction to the ALCS. What a story. But now, it's as though they're the Establishment. And the Royals are, for the season's first six weeks at least, the Twins of 2003.

The Royals beat the Twins, 3-2, Monday night. The record will clearly show that, through their first 36 games, the Royals have the American League's second best record, 23-13. Only the mighty Yankees are better. And the Yankees ought to be better. The Yankees' payroll is the size of Alaska and the cost-conscious Royals are much more like Delaware. But this isn't about that. Not for a minute.

"I will not worry about payroll," Royals manager Tony Pena says. "I will not worry about who we should get to be a better ball club. This is what I've got. This is what I've got to work with. This is what I count on. I don't want my players to think about payroll. I just want my players to think about what we can do to be a winner."

For somebody in Pena's position, that is the only way to think. People in his position can sing the Small Market Blues in four-part harmony and it won't gain them one game in the standings. And forget this stuff about being "competitive." Freely translated, that probably means losing a lot of close games.

"You don't play to 'compete,' " Pena says. "You play to win. You play to compete, you're going to lose. It's very simple."

So the mental table is set. No feeling sorry for themselves on the Kansas City club. No setting goals that are too small to be worth reaching. And there is a nice blend of the tangible and the intangible going on here. The Royals have the right attitude, but they also have some real ability.

Monday night, starting pitcher Jeremy Affeldt, making his second start since coming off the disabled list with a blister on the middle finger of his left hand, gave the Royals six strong innings, walking one, striking out eight, leaving with a 3-2 lead, winning the decision. You watch this 23-year-old pitch and you realize that the success he's having is not exactly a quirk. He's throwing the fastball in the low-to-mid 90s, he's throwing the changeup 20 mph slower than that, he's hitting his spots with both and he's mixing in a curve.

"I keep telling people that this kid has the ability to win 20 games in the big leagues," Pena says.

"It is a stereotypical statement, but I'm trying to pitch ahead in the count," was how Affeldt described his intent.

Beyond that, Affeldt gave considerable credit to Pena for setting the appropriate course for this team.

"Tony Pena has come in with a 'we believe' approach," Affeldt said. "For me, attitude is a reflection of leadership. You see the manager providing the leadership, showing the belief that we can win and then we have the attitude, the expectation that we are going to win."

The Twins came in having transcended some early-season difficulties, winning 10 of their last 12. They are still the favorites to win the AL Central, but they are 0-3 against the Royals so far and they can't fail to notice that the Kansas City club has some definite merit.

"They've got good young pitching, they've got some strength in the middle of the lineup, they can really drive the ball," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said Monday. "They've got some veterans mixed in with some kids. They're playing well. They came out with fire and that's the way you want to come out of Spring Training. Get some fire and get off to a good start. They did it."

Certainly, the Royals have been a big surprise to other people. For themselves, there is no surprise.

"We knew it in November," Pena said. "We said in November we were going to be good. Probably my general manager and my staff were the only ones that knew.

"This is a unique group. They could have said: 'Oh, we lost 100 games last year, what are we gonna do?' But they worked so hard in Spring Training. They're giving 150 percent, every day, they're giving everything they have.

"They're like kids, they get so much enjoyment out of playing the game. They're like kids, even the veterans."

This is fine with Pena, who was an effervescent sort during a long and distinguished playing career and who now, even at age 45 and holding the reins of power, has not grown stodgy or self-important.

When Affeldt was on the DL, but starting to mend, Pena, the former catcher, caught him in a simulated game. You don't get this from many managers, even the former catchers. Maybe Pena wanted to observe Affeldt up-close. Maybe Pena just felt like catching a simulated game.

"They know that I'm crazy enough to do that," Pena said, chuckling. "I just want to have fun. I just want to be me. A lot of people, when they become managers, they change their personalities. I can't change my personality. That's me. I'm full of energy. I signed when I was 17, played 18 years in the big leagues and I never changed. And now I'm going to change? Noooo. Life is too short and I'm going to enjoy every minute."

When you're 23-13 and surprising the world, there are a lot of minutes that are available for enjoyment. The long season will provide the long answers. For the moment, with the Kansas City Royals, you can just appreciate the fact that instead of meekly accepting a place in the lower tier of baseball's pecking order, they have approached the game the right way, played the game the right way. That's more than enough for now.
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Old 05-13-2003, 01:31 AM   #2
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Re: MLB.COM: Are the Royals this year's Twins?

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Originally posted by tk13
When Affeldt was on the DL, but starting to mend, Pena, the former catcher, caught him in a simulated game. You don't get this from many managers, even the former catchers. Maybe Pena wanted to observe Affeldt up-close. Maybe Pena just felt like catching a simulated game.

"They know that I'm crazy enough to do that," Pena said, chuckling. "I just want to have fun. I just want to be me. A lot of people, when they become managers, they change their personalities. I can't change my personality. That's me. I'm full of energy. I signed when I was 17, played 18 years in the big leagues and I never changed. And now I'm going to change? Noooo. Life is too short and I'm going to enjoy every minute."
Great stuff. I don't want to say I questioned Pena's hiring, but I wasn't sure passing up Buck Showalter was the right decision. Looking at it now, I'd have to say they picked the right guy. He's definitely a manager you can get behind and root for. I also have to give a lot of credit to Allard Baird...I've ripped him up and down, but besides the Dye trade, he's done a lot of good things for this organization.
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