Royals pitchers bond over jersey number

Kansas City Royals pitcher Daniel Lynch IV offered his old jersey No. 52 to new teammate Michael Wacha, who signed with KC in the offseason. The number has helped the teammates forge a new friendship.



March 12, 2024 - 1:09 PM

Kansas City’s Daniel Lynch IV wore No. 52 in his first three seasons with KC, but switched to No. 41 this season to accommodate teammate Michael Wacha, who signed with the Royals in the offseason. Photo by Ed Zurga / Getty Images / TNS

SURPRISE, Ariz. — When Michael Wacha got “the call” in 2013 to make his major-league debut for the St. Louis Cardinals, he was rather randomly assigned jersey No. 52.

At the time, he considered the number more whatever-you-want-to-give-me serviceable than sentimental or essential.

Certainly, it didn’t resonate like the No. 38 he wore at Pleasant Grove High in Texarkana, Texas, and at Texas A&M. And it was a change from the 22 jersey he had been wearing for the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds when the Cardinals — led by manager Mike Matheny, clad in 22 — summoned him to St. Louis that May 2013 night to face the Royals.

Just the same …

“Got up there as number 52, and it just kind of stuck, really,” the first-year Royal said with a smile after a morning workout last week.

And why not?

After all, it wasn’t one of those “super-high” spring training digits.

And it promptly became all the more agreeable when he yielded just two hits and one run in seven innings that night against the Royals — who beat the Cardinals 4-2 in a game that ended at 3:14 a.m. after a rain delay lasting 4 hours, 32 minutes — and went on to a stellar rookie season that included being named MVP of the National League Championship Series.

If you ever played sports, and maybe even if you didn’t, it’s easy enough to understand how a number might become entwined with your identity. Like the way Chiefs cornerback Trent McDuffie last season felt about getting back No. 22 in tribute to his late brother: “I feel like me again,” he told me in August.

That sense is perhaps all the more pervasive in a game often underscored by superstition spoken into existence.

So over the years, Wacha came to consider 52 “something that I rode with, pitched well with and felt comfortable with.”

Call it coincidence, but the only year he wasn’t fortified in No. 52 was as No. 45 with the New York Mets (for whom it was occupied by Yoenis Cespedes) during the pandemic-shortened and injury-hampered 2020 season in which he went 1-4 with a career-worst 6.62 ERA.

Back in No. 52 ever since, the 32-year-old Wacha joins the Royals coming off two of the best seasons of his career with a combined 25-6 record and a cumulative ERA of 3.27 with Boston and San Diego.

But securing the number with what suddenly was his sixth team in six years remained to be seen.

Because No. 52 already was spoken for by Daniel Lynch IV, who had worn it at least as far back as Triple A Omaha on the way to his big-league premiere in 2021.

So not long after he signed in December, Wacha tactfully texted Lynch about how attached Lynch may or may not be to the number.

Kansas City Royals pitcher Michael Wacha (52) throws a bullpen session at the Royals spring training facility in Surprise, Arizona. Photo by Jaylon Thompson/The Kansas City Star/TNS

Wacha “just was super-nice about it,” Lynch said. “Unsurprisingly, knowing him.”

At least knowing him now.

At that point they’d never met, and perhaps this might have been a sensitive or precarious undertaking.