Omaha’s 50th season of Triple-A baseball in 2018 will pay homage to its past in numerous ways.
The most significant will be the long-awaited return of its parent club for a ballgame.
The Storm Chasers will face Kansas City in an exhibition at Werner Park on March 26 at 6:05 p.m. It will be the first visit to Omaha by the Royals since 2000, when the teams last met at Rosenblatt Stadium.
Chasers owner Gary Green, general manager Martie Cordaro and Kansas City assistant general manager Scott Sharp announced the upcoming event during an on-field press conference at Werner on Thursday.
The trio had attempted to organize an exhibition in recent years, but it never worked out until now.
“Getting these exhibition games, it’s not an easy task,” Sharp said. “There’s a lot of things that have to fall into place to make these things possible, from major-league schedules to a lot of other things.”
The Royals and Chasers will meet before they open their respective regular seasons. In the past, the two teams had played in the spring, but on an off-day after the season had begun. That is no longer allowed.
“They used to do a number of them in between road trips or in between homestands,” Cordaro said. “That cannot happen. Once the major league regular season starts, there are no exhibitions any longer.”
Green made the official announcement of the exhibition, which drew cheers from those in attendance.
“This has been something that has been a top priority for the Royals and Martie and I since I came on board in 2012,” he said. “To get this done, in the pretty limited window that happens between spring training and the regular season, we really want to thank the Royals for making this game happen.”
The Kansas City and Omaha franchises both began playing baseball in 1969, and they’ve always been tied together. Their relationship is the longest between a parent club and an affiliate in Triple-A baseball and the third-longest in the minor leagues, across all levels. It’s been a great marriage through decades.
“We’ve had no other affiliate, and we’re really proud of that,” Sharp said “We’re extremely excited to be able to kick off the 50th celebration of Omaha and the Kansas City Royals with this exhibition game.”
Tickets to the exhibition game will be included with some Omaha season packages. Any remaining tickets for the event will go on sale to the public beginning Sept. 1. A high demand is expected for them.
An exhibition between Omaha and Kansas City at Rosenblatt Stadium in 1997 drew a crowd of 13,778. The last game between the two teams — a scoreless tied in April 2000 — had an attendance of 3,976.
Those exhibitions occurred during down years for the Royals organization. Since 9,023-seat Werner Park opened, the Chasers have won three PCL titles and two Triple-A national championships. And Kansas City built a 2015 World Series champion by developing players in its farm system, including Omaha.
“It’s been fairly well documented that we’ve tried to build from within so a lot of our major-league players have traveled through Omaha,” Sharp said. “It’s difficult to do, but that’s the only way we are able to do it. And we also think that’s the best way to do it.”
Many of Kansas City’s regulars are homegrown players. Two who began this season in Omaha, utility man Whit Merrifield and outfielder Jorge Bonifacio, have become everyday starters for the Royals.
“It’s going to be interesting to see Bonifacio and Merrifield in the visiting clubhouse,” Cordaro said. “I do think it’s going to be special seeing some of those guys comeback.”
Cordaro said Omaha will honor many of its former teams during the 2018 season by wearing uniforms of the past. They’ll salute the first Chasers team in April, the final Royals team from Rosenblatt in May, their Golden Spikes era during June, the 1985 Royals in July and their inaugural 1969 squad in August.
Additionally, Omaha unveiled its 50th anniversary logo on Thursday. The Royals crown hovers above the number five in the 50 while the zero is in the shape of the Chasers O-bolt with a baseball in its center.