THE PUBLICIST: When it comes to Major League publicity, the Royals are kings

By the time "pitchers and catchers report," Major League Baseball clubs' PR teams have already sprung into action. Eager to feel some grass beneath my feet and see some hardball publicity, I visited the Kansas City Royals spring-training camp in Surprise, AZ. Prior to a game with the Chicago Cubs, I chatted with David Witty, the club's media relations director.

By the time "pitchers and catchers report," Major League Baseball clubs' PR teams have already sprung into action. Eager to feel some grass beneath my feet and see some hardball publicity, I visited the Kansas City Royals spring-training camp in Surprise, AZ. Prior to a game with the Chicago Cubs, I chatted with David Witty, the club's media relations director.

"There is a great deal of preparation required before the regular season," said Witty, whose office overlooks the gorgeous new Surprise Stadium field. "Along with completing the written materials - such as the media guide, game programs, and yearbook - we have 71 players to keep track of at the start of camp, and a hectic press schedule during pre-season workouts." Witty and his staff organized a media week for Kansas City-area outlets at the end of February, followed by a full plate of national press, including USA Today, ESPN, and others. Group and individual player photos were taken on February 27. Then came the special events, autograph sessions, player interviews, and press conferences - all before the first pitch was thrown. Once spring games begin, the Royals' PR staff prepares daily game notes, issues media credentials, keeps "score" (a detailed account of each play) in the press box, and coordinates post-game interviews. Though considered a small-market team, the Royals have the league's third largest radio network (90 stations) and operate their own in-house TV network. Witty, who's been with the club for 19 years, is experimenting with a new computerized Palm Pilot scoring program this year. He was still ironing out the kinks during the game. Speaking of kinks, the Royals this spring held their first "baseball fantasy camp," where adult males try to recapture lost youth by chasing fly balls and pulling hamstrings. The camp provided a fantasy of yet another sort for a group of mentally challenged fans visiting from New York, who got to meet with Royals' star outfielder Mike Sweeney. Sweeney is acknowledged as one of the league's true good guys, and I was touched by the genuine warmth he displayed with the group. But perhaps the best-known humanitarian in camp is a stocky outfielder named Garth Brooks. Brooks is practicing with the team to bring attention to his international charity organization, supported by 360 players. Tell you about my chat with Garth, and his savvy PR acumen, in next week's column. Lawrence Mitchell Garrison is an LA-based freelance publicist and writer

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