Royals Caravan stops in Missouri

Cody Thorn

In fewer than 30 days, the Kansas City Royals will take to the fields in Surprise, Ariz., for another year of spring training.

The new-look Royals, off a 69-93 season, had some players visit the area Wednesday as part of the annual Royals Caravan.

Starting catcher John Buck, pitchers Brandon Duckworth and Luke Hochevar and Royals Hall of Famer Frank White were among those in attendance for the meet-and-greet session with the public at Cycle Connection in Joplin, Mo.

The caravan, which also included broadcasters Ryan Lefebvre and Joel Goldberg of Fox Sports Kansas City, arrived late but signed autographs nearly 1 1/2 hours after the scheduled exit time. This same group is traveling to Northwest Arkansas before heading back to Kansas City for the first Royals FanFest on Friday and Saturday in Overland Park, Kan.

“Coming out and doing the caravan gets your blood pumping getting ready for spring training,” said Duckworth, who has pitched as a starter and a reliever for the Royals the last two seasons. “It’s fun to see all the people and the excitement the people and the public have for the team."

Most players signed baseballs, some bats and even some jerseys. Fans had a chance to pick up the 2008 schedule.

The caravan was also a chance for a Neosho family and a Royals pitcher to have a mini reunion.

Hochevar, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 draft out of Tennessee, was able to catch up with Ron and Mary Paden. When he was in high school, Hochevar stayed with the Padens back in 2001 when he was invited to participate in the USA Baseball Tournament of Stars event.

The standout pitcher stayed in contact with his host family over the years, even though he stayed in Neosho for only a few short weeks that summer.

“That was a lot of fun and fun traveling,” said Hochevar, who reached the big leagues last year. “We scoot through here and it always brings back good memories. My host family, Ron and Mary Paden, I still stay in contact with them. They are great people and I enjoy the Joplin area. It brings backs a lot of memories.”

The Padens got autographs from Hochevar and brought him brownies to take on the bus.

“We kept 12 kids and we did it for six years,” said Ron Paden. “Ten of the 12 were pitchers and we have them scattered all over the country.”

Along with Hochevar, the Padens have also kept first-round draft picks in Brett Anderson (Arizona, though recently traded to Oakland for Dan Haren); David Huff (Cleveland), Colton Willems (Washington) and Homer Bailey (Cincinnati).

“With Luke, we fell in love with him right away,” Ron Paden said. “We met his family and we went to his wedding in Paris, Texas. He has great morals and he is very humble even though he has a lot of ability.”

Ron Paden noted that he and his wife have traveled a lot over the years to see Hochevar pitch.

“He has always been a perfect gentlemen … we consider him family,” Ron Paden said.

Neosho Daily News