The Royals' new manager has an off-field role, too.

A Royal Peña 

The Royals' new manager has an off-field role, too.

Tony Peña, in front of the Kansas City media for the first time, turned to Allard Baird and thanked the Royals' general manager for believing in him and making him field manager. "I will not put you down," said a very sincere Peña.

Most of the print media cleaned up the quote and inserted the word let for put in the following day's editions. It was the first of many funny things Peña said at his inaugural press conference, but it may be weeks before he and the media are comfortable laughing together at his occasional fracturing of the English language.

We don't quite know how to behave. In a town where race still influences every aspect of residents' lives -- from where they live to the quality of their education -- the ascendancy of a Puerto Rican to leadership of the Royals is a big development. Hispanics make up almost 5 percent of the Kansas City area's population base, and their numbers have more than doubled since 1990. That community took notice of the Royals' leadership change.

Luis Lozano is giddy about Peña's hiring. "I am overly excited about this," says Lozano, a buyer for Bushnell who lives in Overland Park.

Ramon Murguia, chairman of the Kansas City Hispanic Development Fund, says he was relieved to hear that Peña was the Royals' new skipper. "The Royals and other baseball franchises have failed in the past to promote Hispanics into the managerial role," Murguia says. "It was almost inspiring to hear that Peña was their choice." Murguia, who practices law from his Crown Center-area office, realizes that some Kansas Citians may have a difficult time understanding Peña's Puerto Rican accent. "I think he does a fair job of speaking English. I can at least understand him," Murguia says. "From the clips I saw of Tony Muser, he didn't say a lot anybody needed to hear."

The president of Kansas City's Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, CiCi Rojas, hopes Peña will be active in the Hispanic community. "We are hungry for a high-profile role model here," Rojas says. The Royals have not been very aggressive in supporting local Hispanic festivals and events or in marketing their product to the Latino community. "The Wizards have done a good job with that," Rojas says. "They have created a very comfortable environment at their games for the Hispanic community."

The Royals started a Latino Night a few years back, but few view it as a success. "The Royals really haven't been there for us," Murguia says. "One night is not going to get any results at the box office." Murguia understands that the Royals face many other problems -- such as pitching and hitting. "They have a lot of issues they're working on," he says. "Marketing to Latinos probably isn't real high on their list."

Peña wasn't Cris Medina's first choice. "My first thought was, 'Who's Peña? What managing experience does he have?'" says Medina, executive director of the Kansas City Guadalupe Centers. "I wanted them to hire the guy from Montreal [Felipe Alou]." The Guadalupe Centers are active in getting young Hispanics to play organized baseball, and leaders would love to have Peña and the Royals' Latino players become a part of the Hispanic community.

The Royals have progressed since 1998, when Dan Hurst, the team's longtime stadium voice who grew up in Honduras, got a lecture after using proper Hispanic pronunciations for announcing players' names. Herk Robinson, the general manager at the time, asked Hurst to "Americanize" the Latino names, even if it meant mispronouncing them.

Lozano says the fact that people are pronouncing the new manager's name correctly means a lot to the Hispanic community. "To hear people say 'Pane-ya' and not 'Penna' is very important to Hispanics," says Lozano. "It gives us a sense of pride and brings our culture out into the open."

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