KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Some of Bill Brown’s players at George Mason heard stories this fall, as the Kansas City Royals stumbled out of the baseball wilderness and morphed into a postseason juggernaut. The men who built the Royals over eight painstaking years, the players heard, had played for Brown back in the early 1990s — “the dark ages,” Brown said — and used their time with the Patriots as a launching pad for lives in baseball.
“Is it true?” they would ask their head coach. Absolutely, Brown would tell them.
“You actually have some credibility with your players,” Brown said, laughing. “There’s a right way and a wrong way. I’ve watched some guys doing it the right way and watched it really pay off.”
It has paid off for Royals General Manager Dayton Moore, George Mason’s second baseman in 1989, and three lieutenants who ended up alongside him after a mix of personal connections and serendipity. Royals assistant GM J.J. Picollo, scouting director Lonnie Goldberg and area scout Ken Munoz all played college baseball at George Mason. As Moore ascended, he brought his trusted friends into the organization he gained control of in 2006.
Moore served as Brown’s first paid assistant from 1990 through 1994. He coached Picollo (the catcher who transferred from North Carolina State after elbow surgery), Munoz (the cut-up shortstop) and Goldberg (the gritty second baseman who egged him on). Brown and Picollo still text weekly. Moore has been back to Mason to talk to sports management students.
“Family is a big part of the success of any organization,” Moore said. “The fact that we understand that and respect that part of it, I think helps you stay strong through some of the difficult challenges.”
The foursome has helped the Royals to their first World Series since 1985 at every level of the organization. They have done it together under Moore, building a bond as they went, in a way they never envisioned.
“I don’t think any of us were thinking, ‘We’re going to work together for a professional team and impact the major league game,’ ” Picollo said. “It’s been nice the way it’s turned out.”
Moore arrived at Mason first, a junior college transfer Brown found playing for the Reston Raiders of the old Clark Griffith collegiate summer league. He became a rock at second base, studying every situation, focusing on every pitch.
“It was even apparent watching him play,” Brown said. “Maybe playing wasn’t going to be his future. He could have been a spectacular pro coach. He had a place in professional baseball.”
Moore joined Brown’s coaching staff after his playing days ended, and he instructed a group of underclassmen that included Munoz and Goldberg. Picollo played with Munoz in an Upstate New York college league. Mason’s catcher was drafted, and Munoz called Picollo and persuaded him to transfer.
As players, they reached a College World Series regional and set out to make it in baseball. Moore had left Mason to join the Atlanta Braves as a scout, and his diligence shot him into the front office. Injuries cut short Picollo’s professional playing aspirations, and he joined Brown’s staff, recruiting the same area Moore scouted.
In the first week of August in 1999, Picollo attended a Braves scout school. He called the wife he had met at George Mason, 81 / 2 months pregnant with their first child, and told her, “This is what I want to do.”
Goldberg played professionally for eight years, moving up rungs in the Rangers’ farm system, playing in Taiwan and finishing his career at Class AAA with the Rockies. He managed a year in independent ball and went to the winter meetings in 2001 looking for a job. Moore, then heading up the Braves’ scouting operation, hired him.
The winter after Moore and Picollo arrived in Kansas City, Munoz got the job as the Royals’ regional scout in the Southwest, and he has held the job since.
The next offseason, scouting director Deric Ladnier left for a job with the Washington Nationals. Moore and Picollo moved to bring Goldberg from Atlanta to the Midwest.
“It’s such a cool thing being able to sit back and watch those guys,” Brown said. “They’re not kids anymore. To be able to watch each of them pursue what they wanted to do and knowing it hasn’t always been easy. To watch them all persevere and come together, it’s just a great thing.”
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