Matthews ready to begin another Royals season
KC broadcaster hearkens back to years past with ease
KANSAS CITY -- This will be the 43rd Opening Day for the Kansas City Royals, and the 43rd time that broadcaster Denny Matthews will be describing the occasion.
It all began on April 8, 1969, at old Municipal Stadium in Kansas City, where the Royals supplanted the A's, who had fled to Oakland.
"I always say I'm like a hitter who gets his first hit, a pitcher who wins his first game," Matthews said. "You always remember your first. That was my first Major League game. I remember that one more vividly than any I do any of the other games I've ever broadcast."
Matthews was remembering this before a Cactus League game against the White Sox, the 43rd time that he's prepared for a season during Spring Training. Broadcasters have to fine-tune their vocal chords, after all.
Despite the quick comeback of Major League Baseball to KC -- there was just a one-year hiatus -- Municipal Stadium was not close to full.
"Small crowd, 17,000 or thereabouts, cloudy, pretty cool -- cold. I remember [Senator] Stuart Symington was down by our dugout with Ewing and Muriel [Kauffman] for the first-ball ceremonies and all that," Matthews said. "I remember mostly the end of the game."
And well, he should. This was against the Minnesota Twins and it went extra innings. Matthews was new to the Major League scene, selected to team with veteran announcer Buddy Blattner as the new Royals began business.
"The Twins were good, they had Killebrew, Carew, Oliva and that gang. Billy Martin was managing them. It was a game that went into the 12th inning," Matthews said. "I was working with Buddy at the time, and when we went into extra innings, we started trading innings off. So I did the 10th, he did the 11th, I did the 12th. And we won it in the 12th. Joe Keough got the pinch-hit, he hammered a double over Tony Oliva's head in right field and we scored the winning run. Joe Foy scored the winner, I think."
Foy did, indeed, and the 4-3 victory made a winner of reliever Moe Drabowsky. The Royals' leadoff man, a young center fielder named Lou Piniella, went 4-for-5 with an RBI.
"Just by happenstance and luck, I was the first person to broadcast and say, 'The Royals win!' Buddy was the No. 1 guy but I had the chance to say, 'Royals win!', or however I called it," Matthews said. "It was just a really, really neat game, a great experience, very memorable."
Matthews also recalled the first opener at Kauffman Stadium, then called Royals Stadium, in 1973.
"The first game in '73 was very cold and the stadium was so dank. There wasn't anything in the outfield. It was very sterile," he said. "It was a beautiful ballpark. We thought we were going to get in it the year before and everybody was fizzed up, but we had to play another year in Municipal Stadium."
That reminded him that when a 1972 opening for the new stadium was still a possibility, groundskeeper George Toma hustled out after the final out of '71 at Municipal Stadium to dig up home plate for a transfer to the new digs.
"It was a big deal. The players weren't even off the field yet and Toma was down there digging up home plate," Matthews said. "And I guess they put it in a helicopter and took it out to the new stadium. But they had to bring it back. And he dug it out again after the '72 season."
The Hall of Fame announcer also recalled the first game at the new stadium was played after the remnants of a snowstorm had been cleared away. He remembered, too, the 1979 opener at Kansas City for weather reasons.
"We just got back from Florida and during the day I was out running errands wearing shorts and a T-shirt and it was about 83 degrees. Man, this is going to be really cool," he said.
It was cool but not in the way he expected.
"So we get out to the ballpark and it was warm, like the middle of August. We scored -- John Wathan had a big role, I think it was a bases-loaded triple or something -- against Toronto," Matthews said.
His memory was spot on. Wathan did clear the sacks with a triple and the Royals rolled up nine runs in the second inning.
"And right after we scored those runs -- you know how the weather in the Midwest can change -- that wind turned from northwest and, I swear, the temperature dropped 47 degrees in about six minutes," he said. "The whole stadium just emptied out. It was 9-0 Royals in the third inning, the place had just been jammed, and I looked down in the fifth inning and there was nobody there. It was just freezing."
Matthews smiled at the memories, and, as he gazed out on the sun-baked field at Camelback Ranch in Arizona, he was asked how he prepared for a season. Shhh, he's about to give you his secret.
"What I do is I go to the store and buy all the baseball magazines, and then I take them into the Royals office and make copies of each team," he said, showing a sheaf of papers that on that day told about the White Sox. "And put them together in a neat little package and then go through and highlight what I might be able to use. I sit down, write down my lineup and I'm ready to go!"
So he does do some studying.
"Or, as I call it on the air, exhaustive research," he said with a grin. "Exhaustive research. People think I'm down here slacking, but you know better."
But, in addition to this exhaustive research at Spring Training, does he find time for just a wee bit of golf?
"That too," he said.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.