KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Only two years removed from a decade in which Kansas City had one of the worst teams in baseball, Royals fans got a crash course last year in how it feels to have a team not only playing in the postseason, but advancing to within two runs of winning the World Series.
As victories have mounted, interest in the Royals has expanded from the core die-hards to a whole new generation of fans who weren't around in the late 1970s and early '80s when Kansas City was a perennial contender.
Along the way several iconic characters emerged at Kauffman Stadium, their celebrity status driven partly by social media and partly by their consistent presence in front of a fan base that eagerly embraces their antics.
Dave Webster had a hunch before the 2014 season that the Kansas City Royals might have a special year, so he came up with the idea of posting a large "W'' in left field after each home win.
The Royals' historian — who dresses in old-fashioned uniforms, goes by the name KayCee and shares tidbits of the city's baseball past with fans filing into the team's Hall of Fame at Kauffman Stadium — hasn't missed a home game since.
"The timing couldn't have been better," said Webster, now widely known as the "W'' guy. "If I started that 'W' on one of those years that we lost 100 games, I would have been laughed off the roof."
Instead, the Royals won 89 games last year, pulled out a classic Wild Card win against Oakland and went on to push San Francisco to Game 7 of the World Series before falling two runs short of a championship.
"By 'special year' I thought we've got a chance to get into the playoffs," he said. "I never dreamed we'd make it to the Series."
Neither did most long-suffering Royals fans, he said. But this season is different.
"Last year we kind of came in through the back door of the playoffs," Webster said. "We snuck in, looked around and wondered if maybe we weren't supposed to be there. This year we came right in the front door.
"It wasn't a fluke. The fans know that now."
A year ago a suburban Kansas City businessman thought it would be a hoot to bring a huge set of plastic moose antlers to Game 1 of the World Series as a tribute to the Royals' gritty third baseman Mike Moustakas.
Craig Rookstool, who runs an aviation company in Lee's Summit, said he didn't know what to expect when he tried to bring the antlers into Kauffman Stadium that first time.
"I walked into the right field gate, put it under my arm like I was carrying books and walked in. As I approached the gate, everyone started screaming "Moose." All of a sudden the security guys were screaming "Moose" and gave me a thumbs up. They waved the wand and I walked in."
A few minutes later, the head of security came to his seat and said Major League Baseball was not a big fan of the antlers.
Rookstool offered to take them back to his vehicle before the two came up with a compromise in which he would hold the antlers up if Moustakas was up or made a good play.
"The first time Moose got up and I did my thing and went back to my seat. By the second or third inning, on Instagram or Facebook, there were 50,000-something likes on MLB's page. At that point I don't think they were going to tell me to leave because it was a smashing success."
Today, Rookstool is a partial-season ticket holder who became involved with Royals charities after gaining fame as the Moose Man. At a Kauffman Stadium pep rally before the start of the playoffs earlier this month, children stood in a line — much like they would to see Santa at Christmas — to get their picture taken with the antlers.
He eventually plans to auction them off — unless Moustakas decides he wants them, of course.
John Stoner discovered a wrestling singlet online that had a huge cat's face painted on it and could not resist buying one for himself and his childhood friend, Paul Long. Then he got that friend to wear the outfit to Derek Jeter's final series in Kansas City in June 2014 and hold up a sign with him saying "Derek Jeter-One Classy Cat."
Stoner, a microbiology consultant for a Kansas City medical software company, said the two were instant hits — to the extent that it opened the door for him to become involved with the community through charity work such as Habitat for Humanity and fashion shows in which he's been asked to wear the unitard.
"Everybody loved it," he said. "The ladies loved it, kids loved it, some of the older men gave us some sideways glances. But most everyone loved it."
While his kitty attire remains the same this year as he and Long prowl around the outer edges of Kauffman during Kansas City's postseason run, Stoner believes local fan angst will be much more intense if the Royals fall short of winning a championship.
"Everything last year was gravy," he said. "Every round they went to we thought, 'this is amazing. We're on top of the world.'
"This year we expected to win."