KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Royals gathered for a team dinner on Sunday night at Rye, a restaurant in a suburb south of the city. As the players walked to a private room in the back, several patrons started to applaud.
Others joined in, and before a few seconds passed, there was a standing ovation.
"That was something new for me," said designated hitter Billy Butler, who has been with the team since 2007. "This is usually the time of the year everybody is interested in the Chiefs."
Forget the NFL, at least for a week or so. The Royals open the World Series on Tuesday night against the San Francisco Giants having not lost a game since Sept. 27. They are the first team in history to win its first eight games of a postseason.
Kauffman Stadium drew 21,463 fans to the second home game of the season April 5. On Monday, standing-room tickets for Game 1 were fetching $600 via online brokers. Good seats? Those were $5,000 and above.
These are different times in Kansas City. Passengers arriving at Kansas City International Airport on Monday were greeted with stacks of blue and white balloons with yellow crowns on top.
Outside of Kauffman Stadium, tents were being put up to handle the demand for World Series-themed T-shirts, hats, and other souvenirs. A shop inside the stadium was selling champagne corks from locker room celebrations earlier this month for $25.
"You see signs everywhere. You get recognized a lot more and people are wearing our hats and shirts. They're loving it and I'm loving it as well," center fielder Lorenzo Cain said. "I went to a Chick-fil-A for lunch the other day and there were a lot of kids in there. I was taking a lot of pictures. It's crazy and it's only going to get more intense."
The Royals are savoring the moment. They finished a sweep of the American League Championship Series against Baltimore last Wednesday and have hugged the city back in the days since.
"A lot of us have been hanging out as teammates and going out. We're spending quality time together and sharing it with the fans," left fielder Alex Gordon said. "It's a lot different than we're used to, but in a great way. Everyone wants to congratulate us."
A fan standing outside of Kauffman Stadium on Monday — "Just say my name is Kevin, I'm skipping work," he said — was futile in a bid to purchase tickets but wanted to enjoy the atmosphere.
"This city, we haven't won too much lately," he said. "Now everywhere you go, everybody is talking about the Royals. They said on television the other day that George Brett is 61. It's been a while since we've had a year like this."
Led by Brett, the Royals were postseason regulars from 1976-85, getting to the World Series twice and winning it in '85. But this season is the first time they've made the playoffs since that championship and only the third time in the last 20 years they had a winning record.
Butler, Gordon, and righthander Luke Hochevar, the three longest-tenured players, posed for a photo together after Kansas City clinched its playoff berth in Chicago during the final series of the regular season.
"It was almost like we wanted proof that we actually did it," Butler said. "Ten years of hard times for us to get to this point, coming through the minors. We went through it together."
The fans booed Kansas City manager Ned Yost during the wild-card game when a pitching change went awry. Now he's one of the most popular figures in the city.
"It's been a wonderful experience," Yost said. "Not only for our players, but this is a fan base that's been longing for this for a long, long time, and you knew that once we got to this point, it would be a very special relationship with our players and our fans."
James Shields, who starts Game 1, has been with the Royals for only two seasons. But he understands the significance of the team's run.
"This city has been waiting for this for a long time, and the fact that we're doing it in the fashion that we are is tremendous," he said.