116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS – If you didn’t know him, you’d swear Reggie Sanders is still a player, not someone who has been out of the game of baseball for 14 years.
There’s a little bit of gray in his goatee, but that’s the only thing that would tip you off that he’s 53 years old and a grandfather. He’s youthful looking, has a chiseled physique, a powerful handshake.
Sanders is a Special Adviser to Baseball Operations for the Kansas City Royals, the club he ended his 17-year major league playing career with in 2007. He was in Cedar Rapids the past four days to observe the Quad Cities River Bandits, K.C.’s high-Class A affiliate that is playing the Cedar Rapids Kernels.
This was a return a long time in the making for Sanders, who played for the Cedar Rapids Reds in 1990.
“It’s been a while,” Sanders said. “Definitely was a great experience here. It’s always about relationships, as you know, so when I knew I was coming to Cedar Rapids, a lot of those old feelings started to rekindle all over again. When I look through the lens of the players now, and the journey they’re on, I just recall so much of my development and wanting to perform every day and prove myself and continue to elevate to the next level.”
Sanders was selected to the Cedar Rapids Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015 but could not make the trip for the induction ceremony. He toured the Hall of Fame display located in the Veterans Memorial Stadium souvenir shop this week and posed for a photo next to his induction plaque.
“This is a great community,” he said. “People here are very kind and welcoming. When I’ve seen people here at the stadium, they’re like ‘Aw, man, welcome back. It’s great to have you back.’ So this has been special.”
So was Sanders’ playing career. Not only did it include longevity but productivity.
He is one of only eight players in MLB history to reach 300 or more career home runs and 300 or more career stolen bases. The others are Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonds, Willie Mays, Andre Dawson, Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran and Steve Finley.
He played for eight organizations: the Cincinnati Reds, San Diego Padres, Atlanta Braves, Arizona Diamondbacks, San Francisco Giants, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals and the Royals. He worked a bit for Tony LaRussa when he was CEO of the Diamondbacks and landed a more substantial gig with Kansas City because of his long relationship with Royals General Manager Dayton Moore.
Sanders said he was a 16-year-old player in South Carolina when he first met Moore, who was a manager in the same league. A couple of chance encounters after Sanders had retired as a player led to him taking his current position.
“The thing that struck me about Dayton, and the thing that they have from a cultural perspective is that they are mostly concerned about the 90 percent of players that don’t make it than the ones who do,” Sanders said. “There is a system that we put in place to help foster, cultivate and nurture that development as they are on their journey in baseball.
“I took 10 years off to spend time with my four girls and my wife. My girls are doing great, my wife is doing great, so it got to a point where ‘I think I want to get back into the game’ in a little bit of limited capacity.”
Moore impressed everyone in the baseball industry and beyond last summer when he announced the Royals would pay monthly stipends to all minor leaguers and not release any of them despite the 2020 season being canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Understand this: The minor league players, the players you’ll never know about, the players that never get out of Rookie ball or High-A, those players have as much impact on the growth of our game than 10- or 15-year veterans,” Moore said last May. “They have as much opportunity to influence the growth of our game as those individuals who played for a long time because those individuals go back into their communities and teach the game, work in academies, are JUCO coaches, college coaches, scouts, coaches in pro ball. They’re growing the game constantly because they’re so passionate about it. So we felt it was really, really important not to release one minor-league player during this time, a time when we needed to stand behind them.”
Sanders echoed those sentiments, saying it is the Royals’ goal to support all minor leaguers, not just the guys considered prospects. That’s especially important considering recent stories coming out about minor leaguers in some organizations publicly complaining they are living as many as seven or eight to an apartment because of their meager wages and lack of affordable housing.
“We focus more on those four quadrants of wholeness: the mind, the heart, the soul and the health,” Sanders said. “We focus in those areas and make sure that these guys are being well taken care of, that they know how to manage that and they can be a leader in those particular perspectives and carry that out onto the field, and in their communities as well.
“At the end of the day, I think we all have the responsibility to look in the mirror and make sure we are moving the game in a way that is beneficial to all,” Sanders said. “Make sure that as an organization we step up and do the right thing, and hopefully others will come behind us and do the right thing, too. But we look at ourselves in the mirror first. Then whatever comes after that, we make sure we did it correctly.”
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