Less than a four-hour drive to Kauffman Stadium, the Double-A affiliate was logistically a great fit for the KC Royals, but the partnership only lasted 13 seasons.
With Omaha being 181 miles away, adding the AA franchise 197 miles from Kansas City was a smart move. The Wichita Wranglers became a member of the KC Royals farm system starting in 1995.
Not only was it exciting for fans in Wichita to watch players come up through the minors and potentially see them on their local major league team in the future, but it also made it easy to move players in a matter of a few hours. Many major leaguers did rehab starts in the Air Capital before being added back to the Royals’ main roster.
The Wranglers made the playoffs in nine of the 13 seasons under the Kansas City banner. They won the Texas League title in 1999 and lost in the finals four other times.
Wichita was even able to see Royals’ Hall of Famer Frank White manage the club from 2004-2006. The team produced a winning record in two of those years and finished runner-up in his last season.
In their inaugural season as a Kansas City affiliate in 1995, fans were treated to a young Johnny Damon who slashed .343/.434/.534 while stealing 26 bases. Sal Fasano put in a fine season himself smacking 20 home runs with an OPS of .925.
The next year saw Mike Sweeney play his home games at historic Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, where in just 66 games he smacked 14 bombs and batted .319. In 1996, Jeremy Giambi spent part of his summer in Wichita and posted a very high .422 OBP in 74 games.
A great year to be a baseball fan of the Wranglers which saw many future Royals adorn the roster was 1998. Carlos Febles, Mark Quinn, and Carlos Beltran all participated with the AA team. The OPS of these three players was an amazing .971, 1.004, and 1.114.
Fast forward to 2001 and we finally were able to witness a pitcher who would spend many years on major league rosters. Jeremy Affeldt started 25 games and went 10-6 with a 3.90 ERA. Joining him on the team were Ken Harvey and Angel Berroa.
The year 2003 was good for Wichita as they were able to watch Zack Greinke in nine starts where he recorded a 4-3 record with a 3.23 ERA. Pitching even a bit better was Jimmy Gobble, who struck out 100 batters while posting a 12-8 record with a 3.19 ERA.
In White’s second year managing, Mike Aviles and Billy Butler both played for the Wranglers. Aviles was there all year and he hit 14 home runs and stole 11 bases. Butler only appeared in 29 games but did produce an .880 OPS during that time.
Greinke made a return in 2006, starting 17 games while going 8-3. Mitch Maier and Alex Gordon joined Sweeney for a full year and all three were dangerous hitters. Butler hit .331 with 96 RBI’s and Maier cranked 14 bombs, 35 doubles, and seven triples. Gordon walked away with Minor League Player of the Year honors with a .325/.427/.588 slash, 29 homers, 101 RBI’s, 111 runs and stole 22 bases.
End of the KC Royals’ relationship with Wichita
The final year was bittersweet and only 1,829 average fans attended games. The main future KC Royals player who participated on the team was Luke Hochevar, who was still a starter at the time. He went 3-6 and struck out 94 batters in 94 innings.
The lure of a new stadium and perhaps David Glass’ connections to Walmart moved the team to Arkansas in 2008. Lawrence-Dumont was a great park with a lot of history as it was built in 1934. It lacked many amenities for teams, fans, and vendors though, leaving little hope of another minor league team taking residence in it.
The stadium was torn down in 2018 and a new beautiful park was constructed that was set to host Triple-A baseball as an affiliate of the Miami Marlins. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic killed the chance to break in the stadium in 2020 but it should be a jewel for the city when it opens.
It was a wonderful 13-year relationship and furthered cemented the connection between Kansas’ largest city and the major league club just a short road trip away.