Damon pocketed a $3 million raise by heading west, and that has WHB, the local all-sports radio station, gearing up for a homecoming that will make Damon the target of fans in the cheap seats. "Any guy chasing a dollar is going to get it from us," said Kevin Kietzman, WHB's highly rated afternoon drive-time host, to his audience last month. "We're calling it 'Damon Dollar Night.' We're going to blast Johnny Damon for blasting from Kansas City for the almighty dollar." During an interview, Kietzman informed Royals Manager Tony Muser of the station's plan. The Royals manager chuckled and gave the idea his blessing. WHB has been running Muser's chuckle for weeks to promote the event.
Someone should tell Tequila Tony to be careful what he wishes for. Royals fans have not been a rowdy bunch of cretins, and that may be better news to the helmsman of a losing home team than it is to Kauffman Stadium's visitors. Few fans at The K have behaved anything like the banshees who make Arrowhead Stadium one of the most-feared NFL venues for visiting teams.
The national image of Royals fans clouded somewhat after Kietzman spearheaded the highly publicized "Share the Wealth Walkout" in 1999. Five thousand Royals fans stood in unison and walked out of The K midway through a game against the Yankees to protest the financial inequities between small-market and large-market teams. Al Trautwig, the Yankees' television broadcaster, referred to the fans that night as "beer-drinking yahoos." The moniker was far from deserved, but it stuck.
Three Royals fans have lived up to the nickname this season, jumping from the general admission seats onto the field. Two of the BDYs suffered broken ankles. How smart is it for Kietzman to organize a Damon lynch mob made up of people who think nothing of hurling their bodies off fourteen-foot walls? WHB isn't saying. Kietzman and Chad Boeger, the station's president, refused to return phone calls from the Pitch. It seems they're not quite as talkative off the air as on.
Mike Levy, the Royals' vice president of marketing and communications, was stunned to hear that WHB is organizing a Damon Hater night. "Heckle him? Why would they want to heckle him? We are using Johnny in our advertising for fans to come out and see him during the A's series," says Levy. "We certainly don't endorse something that would be anti-Damon. We wanted to re-sign the guy!"
Chuck Knoblauch, the Yankee left fielder, was pelted with hot dogs, golf balls, water bottles, quarters and anything else rowdy Twins fans could get airborne in the Metrodome earlier this month. Knoblauch's crime? Four years ago he was traded to the Yankees, ending a seven-year career in Minnesota. The Twins' crowd became so abusive that both teams had to be removed from the field, and Tom Kelly, the Twins' manager, had to escort Knoblauch to his position in left field. Kelly stood in the outfield and pleaded with the mob in the bleachers to not interfere with the game. Matt Hoy, the Twins' vice president of operations, was devastated by the fans' behavior. "I've been here sixteen years, through two World Series," Hoy told the Associated Press. "I've never seen behavior like this exhibited before."
WHB's organized piss-and-moan party lacks originality and class. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld notes that the modern sports fan has been reduced to cheering for and rooting against laundry. Players today change teams almost as frequently as they spit. The fan in the stands is left rooting for the jersey and pants that happen to hang on the player-of-the-moment. That can't possibly come as a surprise to Kietzman.
For those of you who will be out there Tuesday night to berate one of the nicest guys to ever wear Royals' blue, take a pad and pencil to jot down your insults. You'll need them again soon when Royals' stars Jermaine Dye and Mike Sweeney show up wearing some other team's laundry.