JOPLIN, Mo. - Brandon Duckworth is encouraged by the enthusiasm he's seen from the fans at the first two stops of the 2008 Royals Caravan.
“It's fun to see all the people and the excitement the public has with the team,” said Duckworth, a pitcher who is entering his second season with the Kansas City Royals.
The appearance at Cycle Connection came on the heels of stops in Fort Scott and Pittsburg, Kan.
“We've been going since 8 a.m. and there's been a lot of enthusiasm from the fans,” Duckworth said. “We really like to see that.”
The entourage arrived about a half-hour late, but stayed an extra hour to accommodate the crowd, which was estimated at more than 250.
“The level of interest we've seen today gives us a good feeling that this season has a lot of optimism and that everyone is looking forward to it,” said Frank White, a key player on the Royals' 1985 championship team.
Also on the trip were catcher John Buck, pitcher Luke Hochevar and broadcaster Ryan Lefebvre.
The first leg of the caravan continued to northwest Arkansas and Springfield, Mo., today then swings back up through northwest Missouri on Friday.
Duckworth won a spot in the Royals' starting rotation out of spring training in 2007 and made two starts before being moved to the bullpen. He spent a good part of the season on the disabled list, but finished with a 3-5 record with a 4.63 ERA in 26 games.
“We have made a lot of trades, shoring up the bullpen and bringing in some power bats,” Duckworth said. “This is an exciting time. Coming out to do the caravan kinda gets the blood pumping and gets you ready for spring training.”
The Royals were active in the off-season, landing catcher Miguel Olivo and left-handed reliever Ron Mahay.
“We have our work cut out for us, but at the same time, we know we can compete,” Duckworth said. “We know we can beat a lot of these teams and be right up there with them. We were in pretty much every game. The year before that, we were getting blown out every five or six games.
“Last year was a big experience for all of us since we have such a young team,” he said. “That will be a positive because everyone knows what to expect. We're going to continue to mature.”
The Royals finished last in the American League Central again but averted yet another 100-loss season, going 69-93.
One of the biggest off-season moves though as the hiring of Trey Hillman as manager.
Hillman, former manager of the Nippon Ham Fighters and minor league manager of the New York Yankees, succeeded Buddy Bell.
“I have heard a lot of good things about him,” Duckworth said. “He just wants us to go out and play hard and let the ball bounce where it bounces. I really liked Buddy though - he was a good man and a good manager, It just happened to be the time he wanted to step down.”