Schnepf: Royals follow similar path to playoffs as Minnesota has in previous years
FARGO - Mike Cummings was 4 years old the last time a Kansas City Royals baseball team reached the playoffs in 1985. His first memory of Major League Baseball came two years later when he watched the Minnesota Twins win the World Series.
Tonight, the 33-year-old Cummings – a 2000 Fargo South High School graduate – will be in the press box as the assistant director of media relations for the Royals. That’s where the Royals will host the Oakland Athletics in a one-game playoff.
“It’s pretty nuts here in Kansas City,” Cummings said.
And for good reason.
Much like 1987 Twins’ fans, Royals fans are experiencing something new – what it’s like to cheer for a winning team. In the previous 12 seasons, they witnessed five 90-loss seasons and four 100-loss seasons.
Sound familiar Twins fans? Your team just suffered its fourth straight 90-loss season – which prompted management to fire longtime manager Ron Gardenhire on Monday, the same day Kansas City was feeling on top of the world.
“It’s tough to blame the manager when you don’t have the players to contend for the playoffs,” said Cummings, in his second year with the Royals. “It’s too bad. Gardy is really a good guy. I know our manager Ned Yost is a big fan of Gardy.”
Call it quirky coincidence: the Royals have built a playoff team in much the same manner as the Twins built their playoff teams. They developed talent through their farm systems and made some trades to bolster their lineups.
“The way the Twins have done things and the way the Royals are doing it now, it shows there are ways smaller-market teams can do it,” said Cummings, whose favorite team since childhood – the Oakland A’s – is a perfect example of just that.
It was just a few years ago when Cummings was working at the University of Kansas, where he was one of the first ones in Lawrence, Kan., to watch the movie “Money Ball” – an account of how the 2002 Athletics assembled a competitive team.
Now, it’s Kansas City’s turn to be competitive and Cummings can’t quite fathom that he is a part of it all. Last Friday night, he was at Chicago’s U.S. Cellular Field where the Royals clinched a playoff spot with a win over the White Sox.
“Unfortunately, we were in one of the smaller clubhouses of the league,” said Cummings. “We had 14 to 15 cameras in the locker room. It was kind of a mess.”
But through it all, Cummings was able to meet most of the interview requests he was besieged with by the media. He even got Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer to call ESPN for a live interview on “SportsCenter.”
When the team returned to Kansas City on Sunday night, fans were at the airport and the stadium to greet them. More than 5,000 fans showed up for Monday’s batting practice.
And with a Monday Night NFL game being played at Arrowhead Stadium – just a hop, skip and jump from Kaufman Stadium – Cummings left his office in the afternoon just to get out of the parking lot.
“Kansas City (is) the place to be for the next two days,” said Cummings, who spent Monday night at home finishing his postseason media guide.
Cummings, a 2004 University of North Dakota graduate, has worked with this kind of excitement before. Working in the sports information department at Virginia Tech in 2005, ESPN’s “College GameDay” visited the Blacksburg campus twice in one season.
When he worked a similar job at Kansas from 2006 to 2013, the Mark Mangino-coached Jayhawks football team beat Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. Cummings was also at Kansas the year the Jayhawks football team was upset by North Dakota State.
“I got to be a part of that historic 6-3 game,” Cummings said with a laugh.
But nothing seems as historic as to what Cummings is experiencing this week with the Royals.
“All of this probably won’t set in until a couple of weeks after the season ends,” said Cummings, who played baseball at Fargo South. “Baseball has always been my passion. I think every kid dreams of playing in the major leagues someday. But I never thought about working in baseball in the capacity that I’m doing now. It’s pretty cool."