By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — On Thursday evening, Aug 6, the Kansas City Royals completed a three-game sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks, then caught a red-eye flight back to K.C., arriving home at 4 a.m. Friday.
That night they dusted off the San Francisco Giants at Kauffman Stadium in the first game of what would be a three-game sweep. They all got home to bed around midnight, but there they were, seven Kansas City Royals, at 10 a.m. Saturday at Archbishop O’Hara High School, signing autographs for the people who joined teammate Billy Butler in his and his wife Katie’s drive to feed the hungry.
Short sleep? Yeah. But for rookie utility infielder Christian Colon, it was an honor that Butler asked him to come, and a cause he couldn’t resist.
“Billy put all this together for a reason,” said Colon. “It’s a great cause and it’s pretty awesome that he’s doing it and that he invited me. I couldn’t say no. It shows you what a great character he has and what a great person he is.
Colon was joined by teammates Danny Duffy, Greg Holland, Eric Hosmer, Jeremy Guthrie, Kelvin Herrera and Aaron Crow to sign autographs for the fans whose families have also joined the Butlers’ “Hit It A Ton” campaign by donating money to buy food for the Bishop Sullivan Center’s food pantry in northeast Kansas City, and for the center’s St. James Place food pantry and community kitchen in Midtown.
The fans, young and old, were delighted — both to meet the players, get their autographs, and contribute to an essential cause of feeding those who would otherwise go hungry.
Joey Presko brought his great-grandparents — Joe Sr. and Kathleen Presko.
Joe Presko Sr., by the way, was known as Little Joe Presko during his playing days as a pitcher that spanned eight seasons in the major leagues with the St. Louis Cardinals and Detroit Tigers.
“I volunteered at the St. James pantry,” the elder Presko said. “I would sack stuff up and help them carry it out. People need to eat, and Billy’s a great guy to do this. “
Kathleen Presko said she knows from experience all about the sleep habits of ball players, especially coming off the road.
“He used to sleep past noon,” she said, pointing to the old pro. “For these guys to come out here this morning to do this, that’s super.”
Joey was anxious to meet his two favorite players — Hosmer and Butler. “Billy hits a lot of home runs, and it’s nice to be generous. Hosmer is really good, and he looks like my mom’s brother.”
The superfans came young that morning.
Six-year-old Kane Cook could rattle off their player’s numbers. It’s in his genes. An uncle is the late Darrell Porter, former catcher for the Royals long before Kane was born.
“Billy hit a home run last night,” Kane announced. “I was at the game.”
Indeed he did. Butler hit a two-run blast in the second inning that put the Royals ahead 2-0. Then in the bottom of the sixth, he drilled an RBI single that broke a 2-2 tie on the way to the Royals’ 4-2 win.
That home run was good for a Butler donation for a ton of pantry food. And each Billy Butler double is worth a half ton of food.
That was the deal that Katie Butler cooked up with Bishop Sullivan Center director Tom Turner and St. James Place director Mike Mathews way back in 2008, Billy’s first full year in the majors, with a brief side trip to AAA affiliate Omaha.
Katie and Billy had just been called up to the majors in 2007 when she looked for a community service opportunity to fulfill a requirement for an online college course. She called Mathews at St. James, and without knowing who she was and without her telling anyone, Mathews welcomed her to the St. James volunteer family.
Then one day, she announced that her husband would be picking her up. Mathews, a season ticket holder, recognized the rookie slugger immediately. And even before they had established themselves in Kansas City, the Butlers set out to make a difference.
In the years since then, they have raised nearly $300,000 — including tens of thousands of dollars from the profits of Zarda Barbecue’s famous Billy Butler’s Hit It A Ton sauce.
The parents and grandparents said the event is also a learning opportunity for their children.
“I think the cause they are raising funds for is terrific,” said Shane Robinson, as his son Cohen posed for a picture with Colon. “And having young boys as Royals fans, it’s an exciting moment.”
Left-handed pitcher Danny Duffy was busy signing autographs with his right hand. No he was not protecting his pitching hand, and no, he is not ambidextrous.
“I’m just goofy that way,” he said.
Duffy said he came not only to support feeding the hungry and his teammate, but also to return the love that Kansas City fans had been showering on the red-hot Royals as they were about to take over first place in the American League Central Division.
“It’s the reason we play the game. For the fans. They come out and showed their support for us, we’ve got to give it back,” he said.