Lee Green approached home plate. Taking his stance in the batter’s box, he readied for the first pitch of the 1969 American Association season. And with that pitch, the Omaha Royals saw their first action in the history of the team. In 2018, the team celebrates its 50th season as a Triple-A franchise, now known as the Storm Chasers.
Minor League Baseball returned to Omaha following a six-year absence. The Royals finished 85-55, winning the American Association championship in their inaugural season. They would go on to repeat as champions in 1970.
Green drove in two runs with two hits in five at-bats as the Royals defeated Oklahoma City 9-0. Chris Zachary picked up the win, allowing five hits while striking out 11.
Whatever happened to the very first opening day line-up for the Omaha Royals? Most of the players on that initial roster were at the tail-end of careers or never developed into solid Major League Baseball prospects.
Two players, however, did enjoy significant Big League careers following their stints with Omaha. Paul Schaal enjoyed a few seasons as The Kansas City Royals’ first baseman before being replaced by a rookie named George Brett. Fran Healy played catcher for the Royals for a little more than three seasons before finishing his nine-year career with the New York Yankees.
Schaal, who hit fifth the first game, came to the Royals organization from the California Angels in the 1968 expansion draft. He split time between Kansas City Omaha during the 1969 season, before sticking with the Major League club in 1970. Schaal owned first base until early in the 1974 season when Brett, a future Hall of Famer, took over the spot. Schaal spent a few games with Omaha afterward before being traded back to the Angels. The veteran spent 11 years in Major League Baseball, finishing with a .244 batting average while driving in 323 runs with 57 home runs.
Voted as one of the top 100 Royals of all-time in 2009, Schaal lived in the Kansas City until passing away two years ago.
Healy batted seventh against Oklahoma City. He was also named as one of the all-time best Royals, spent a little more than three seasons with Kansas City following a short stint with Omaha. While with the Triple-A Royals, Healy batted .288 with 64 Runs Batted In. Healy may have been best known for catching Steve Busby’s two no-hitters with Kansas City. Healy, who finished his career with the Yankees in 1978, is currently an analyst with the MSG Network in New York.
So, how did the rest of the opening game starting line-up do in pro baseball? Let’s look:
- Green – Played nine years, all in the minors. He was with Omaha for two seasons. His career batting average was .280 with 38 home runs.
- Luis Alcarez – Played 22 years of professional baseball, ranging from the minors to the Mexican leagues. He spent 162 games in the Major Leagues over four years, finishing with a .235 batting average, four home runs and 29 RBI. His minor league career started in McCook, Nebraska. While with Omaha, he hit .244 with 19 home runs and 108 RBI.
- Dennis Paepke – Spent six seasons with Omaha, while playing parts of four seasons with the Kansas City Royals. A .270 hitter with Omaha, Paepke hit 22 home runs while driving in 176 runs.
- Dave Nicholson – Spent seven seasons in MLB before finishing his career with Omaha in 1969.
- Fred Rico – Spent 10 seasons in professional baseball, all but 12 games in the minors. He played parts of two seasons with Omaha. In his full season with Omaha, Rico played in 126 games, hitting 10 home runs with 84 RBI. He enjoyed a .296 batting average in 1969.
- Rich Severson – Spent 1970-71 seasons with Kansas City. He hit .256 in 93 games, driving in 23 runs with one home run. While with Omaha for three seasons, Severson hit four home runs with 116 RBI while batting .266. He passed away in 2016.
- Chris Zachary – Pitched in 108 games over a nine-year Major League career, going 10-29 as a starter in 40 games. Zachary, who passed away in 2003, spent 1969 with Omaha, going 11-6 in 20 games on the mound.
- Bobo Osbourne – Was a pinch hitter in the first game. The 1969 Omaha Royals marked his final season of a 17-year career, including parts of six seasons in the Majors.
World Series-winning manager
Omaha’s field manager went on to win a World Series championship. Jack McKeon, who will visit a Storm Chasers game later this season, came out of retirement to guide the Florida Marlins to the 2003 World Series championship. McKeon managed 15 seasons in Major League Baseball, going 1051-990-1. Prior to managing in the Big Leagues, McKeon guided Omaha to two American Association championships in four seasons. McKeon managed Kansas City for three seasons, beginning in 1973, leading the Royals to two second-place finishes in the American League western division. After being let go by the Royals, McKeon went on to manage with Cincinnati, Oakland, San Diego and Florida.
While the Omaha Royals enjoyed immediate success as a team, it didn’t translate to Major League careers for most of the players. As the Omaha Storm Chasers take the field for their 50th season, they can look back and appreciate the work that first line-up started in building the loyal fan base that supports them every game.
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