Steve Balboni: From KC royalty to SF loyalty
As a mustachioed masher, Steve "Bye Bye" Balboni helped the Royals to their only World Series championship in 1985, slugging 36 homers. It stands as the franchise single-season record.
But when the World Series begins on Tuesday -- with the Royals back in the Fall Classic for the first time since his playing days -- Balboni's heart will remain with San Francisco.
"It's hard, because this is my team," said Balboni, a Giants scout since 2009. "And this is the only team I'm rooting for the whole time. So yeah, it's a little bit different."
Balboni, 57, said he was "so proud and happy" for the Royals, who swept the Orioles and claimed their first pennant since he was the team's starting first baseman 29 years ago. He once lived in Kansas City and still has friends there. But Balboni's allegiance to the Giants runs deep.
In a way, it traces back to his beginnings with the Yankees, the organization that originally drafted and developed him.
"These people that I'm with here, I grew up with some of them, we were with the Yankees together," Balboni said. "I have a lot of close relationships. This is my team right now, but Kansas City has great memories for me."
Hints of pinstripes can be found throughout the Giants organization. Pitching coach Dave Righetti and hitting coach Hensley Meulens trace their playing lineage back to the Yankees. General manager Brian Sabean served in player development and scouting roles with the Yankees from 1986 to 1992.
Shortly after the Giants clinched the National League pennant on Thursday, Sabean acknowledged that part of his career, particularly the time he spent working under George Steinbrenner.
"A lot of the stuff that we do here is modeled after his toughness and his competitiveness," said Sabean, who took over as Giants GM in 1996. "You know we have a lot of Yankee blood that runs deep. Pride's a big part of any profession, especially in sports."
Sabean said he's seen enough of the Royals "to be worried about them." With a blend of blazing speed and game-changing defense, the Royals, in Sabean's words, are "a National League team in the American League . . . a very interesting team."
With the World Series looming, Balboni shied away from offering a prediction. But the former Royals slugger left no ambiguity about which team will have his support.
"I'm rooting for these guys," Balboni said as he stood in the Giants' champagne-soaked club- house. "And I wouldn't want to play against these guys because they're amazing."