On Oct. 29, the Kansas City Royals lost the deciding game of the World Series to the San Francisco Giants by only one run. While Royals’ fans were deeply disappointed at the final score, the mere fact that the team was there at all is noteworthy, since they hadn’t been to the World Series — or even the postseason — since 1985.
Toby Cook, the Royals’ vice president of community affairs and publicity, sees not only these and other baseball positives, but also the many faith-related ones that surround the team. The 47-year-old father of five has been a Royals’ fan since the age of 8, and he believes his longtime association with the team was brought about by God not only for baseball and career purposes, but in order that he would enter the Catholic Church.
Cook spoke of baseball and his faith journey with Register correspondent Trent Beattie as the Royals prepared for their opening game of spring training against the Texas Rangers on March 4.
The Royals came as close as possible to winning the 2014 World Series without actually doing it. What are your thoughts on that?
In the seventh and deciding game of the series, we were down by one run, with two outs, in the bottom of the ninth inning. We thought a miracle (so to speak) was about to happen, when a slightly misplaced ball hit by Alex Gordon made it all the way to the outfield wall. He tripled but was not waved home by our third-base coach.
A lot of fans have asked me if I thought our third-base coach should have gambled and sent Gordon home. I've responded, “Not only ‘No,’ but ‘Absolutely not.’” It would not have been the right move. Had Gordon been thrown out by a mile, which I believe would have been the case, had he been waved in, it would have been the talk all off-season. Instead, almost all of it has been about a magical season.
We had a lot to be proud of in 2014, and pitcher Jeremy Guthrie was adamant at a celebration rally we held the day after our season-ending loss that the players left everything on the field. They did everything in their power to win it all, and they come up 90 feet [the distance between third base and home plate] short. In fact, it was Guthrie who said the players were holding their heads high. That, in turn, helped the fan base do the same.
Truthfully, it took me until about Thanksgiving to accept the World Series loss. It was tough to be that close but come up short. Yet, as time passes, the season will show itself to be more of a success than ever.
What do you expect from the Royals this coming season?
No one really predicts outcomes so much as picking up on trends, and the Royals have been trending toward being a consistent contender for years to come. That's all we're saying to our fans: that the team has an excellent chance to compete again and contend for a postseason berth.
We lost James Shields, Billy Butler and Nori Aoki to free agency. They were replaced by Edinson Volquez, Kendrys Morales and Alex Rios. Our core group of players, the ones who got us to the 2014 postseason, is returning. If they improve as a whole, we have a great chance to have another fun year.
What are your first memories of the Royals?
I grew up with the Royals. I still remember going to my first Royals game when I was 8 years old. It was in May of 1976, and we beat the Oakland Athletics. I was hooked from that point on. I would stand in front of the TV and imitate the batting stances of players like George Brett and Hal McRae. I wanted, like so many boys, to be a pro baseball player.
From 1976 until 1985, we made the playoffs seven times, culminating in our 1985 World Series victory. It was my senior year of high school, and we were sitting atop of the baseball world. Unfortunately, we wouldn’t get back to [the World Series] until last year.
How did you get to work with the Royals?
Even though I had wanted to be a pro baseball player, I didn’t have the necessary skills for that. However, I did have the necessary skills to be a TV news journalist. My mom tells me that she knew, ever since I was 5 years old, that I would be doing something involving public speaking, because I just loved to be in front of people. I’ve always been outgoing, and I was in all the plays and musicals and anything that involved being in front of a crowd.
I studied broadcast journalism at the University of Kansas and at Pittsburg State University (Kan.) and worked as a local TV reporter and then anchor in Kansas, then Virginia and then back in Missouri. When working for WDAF, the local Fox affiliate, in 2005, I was the emcee for a Royals charity event. I met Dan Glass, then president of the Royals (and now part owner), and he said I’d be a great candidate to work in public relations for the team. He had seen me on TV, and, even though the team was posting horrible records around that time, I wouldn’t say negative things about them. I was very kind, so that gave me the status of “friendly.”
I started with the Royals as vice president of community affairs and publicity in August of 2006, which brought me to where I am today, not only from a professional point of view, but a personal one as well, because I think being part of the Royals was what brought me into the Catholic Church.
Is it true that you grew up Lutheran but always had respect for the Catholic Church?
Yes, I grew up as a Missouri Synod Lutheran, and, while for many years I didn’t actually want to become Catholic, I still had a fascination with the Catholic Church. Our Lutheran confirmation training included not only our position on things, but that of the Catholic Church, and then those of various other Protestants. We considered ourselves distinct from Catholics, but also from other Protestants. We were “high church” or original breakaways, rather than “low church” or secondary breakaways. It caught my attention, though, that we defined ourselves in relation and opposition to the Catholic Church, rather than simply on our own. We needed the Catholic Church to be there first in order for us to be who we were.
How did you get to the point of actually becoming Catholic?
Six months after I started with the Royals, [five-time All-Star first baseman] Mike Sweeney invited everyone to a Mass offered by a local bishop at Kauffman Stadium. I went out of respect to the bishop and Mike, and that got me started on the road to Rome. Because there would be more Masses at the stadium, they left a Mass kit in my office, and that kit got me to thinking more about the Catholic Church in the 2007 baseball season, which I call “The Summer of Conversion.” For a while, I wanted to be as Catholic as possible without entering the Church, but over that summer, my attitude slowly gave way to a desire to possess the fullness of truth.
I began listening to Catholic radio and heard several conversion stories on Marcus Grodi’s show, The Journey Home. I then went to the Coming Home Network’s website and accessed a story from a Missouri Synod Lutheran who was also a journalist. This was the first time I read about someone in my denominational and professional shoes converting to the Catholic Church. I couldn’t get the story out of my head for the next two days.
I appreciated what my Lutheran upbringing had taught me, but I was looking for something more. I thought the Lutheran doctrine of Jesus being present “in, with and under” the Eucharistic bread was lacking. It seemed to me that the Catholic doctrine of the bread being transformed completely into Jesus, while still maintaining the appearance of bread, made more sense. So while I struggled with some of the other teachings of the Catholic Church, I had no problem with the Eucharist.
I read one book after another, and upon completing Steve Ray’s impactful Crossing the Tiber at the end of August 2007, I just had to go to Mass in a church. I went to Holy Trinity in Lenexa, Kan., and it was as beautiful as any liturgy I’d ever seen. I then called a priest at Church of the Ascension in Overland Park, Kan., and asked how I could become Catholic. He told me about RCIA [Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults], which I signed up for and attended until the Easter vigil of 2008.
Before I joined RCIA, though, I had asked my wife, Barbara, what she thought of me becoming Catholic. If I had asked a few years before, she probably would have strongly disapproved. However, she knew about many of the Catholic experiences I was having, and she was open to my interest in the Church. In fact, after saying she planned to go to a Q&A session for family members a few weeks into the RCIA calendar, she came with me the second week and joined RCIA herself.
At the Easter vigil of 2008, my wife and I became Catholic, and three of our children received first Communion at a later date. Our youngest was born just weeks before the liturgical celebration and was baptized that night, so he was officially Catholic before anyone else in the family. Now, we’ve grown to five children, and we’re all part of the bigger family of the Catholic Church.
What do you have now that you were missing before your conversion?
As a Lutheran, I had some of the truth, but as a Catholic, I have the fullness of truth. There’s a greater understanding of the liturgy, the sacraments, the sanctity of human life and marriage, the members of the mystical body of Christ and so many other things. There’s a completeness that wasn’t there before, which shouldn’t be surprising, since the Catholic Church was founded directly by Jesus himself.
One example of this is patron saints. We were supposed to choose one in the RCIA process, so I chose St. Francis de Sales, since he is a patron of journalists. I find it comforting to know that a man who lived 500 years ago is somehow related to me, another member of the body of Christ. There’s a continuity and universality in Catholicism that you can’t find anywhere else. I’m not sure if St. Francis cares about baseball games today, but I know that he cares about the salvation of those of us on earth now, so I appreciate his intercession and his writings.
St. Francis was part of what is known as the Counter-Reformation, which was about restoring Christianity back to its founder. While most people would say this process ended in the 1600s, I am of the belief that it continues today through the intercession and writings of people like St. Francis, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Philip Neri, St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. I and the numerous other converts to Catholicism are the continuation of what these holy men and women had begun so many years ago.
I started working with the Royals because of the connection to my childhood and the great people who work here. Now, however, I look back and am convinced that, in God’s providence, I’m here so that I could become Catholic. The Royals organization is the providential road that led me and my family to the royal court of the King of the Universe.
Register correspondent Trent Beattie writes from Seattle.