The colors weren’t exactly foreign, but the difference remained distinct. The script on the backdrop and on the hooded sweatshirt certainly had changed. After 14 years in Royal blue, Danny Duffy donned Dodger blue for the first time as a member of the team of his childhood.
Duffy, a left-handed pitcher currently rehabbing a forearm flexor strain, sat in front of a Los Angeles Dodgers backdrop and spoke to reporters on a video conference Sunday for the first time since the Kansas City Royals traded him to the Dodgers on Thursday.
A former third-round draft pick of the Royals in 2007, the first draft fully overseen by general manager Dayton Moore, Duffy had been part of the franchise’s rebuild as well as their awe-inspiring postseason runs to the AL championship in 2014 and the World Series championship in 2015.
In recent years, he’d taken on the role of a veteran presence and light-hearted ambassador in the clubhouse as the Royals went through another rebuild.
“It was tough. I love those guys to death, and I always will. I’ll always be pulling for them,” Duffy said when asked by The Star about leaving the Royals. “We’ll still have the shenanigans in the inbox and text messages and stuff, but just the reality of leaving the guys I grew up with and have watched grow up too — a guy like Nicky (Lopez) and (Tyler) Zuber, (Daniel) Lynch, I could go up and down the board — it was a really tough day.
“But I’m also very excited about what’s to come, and I’m excited about what they have in store for their future too.”
A native of Lompoc, California, Duffy grew up rooting for the Dodgers. He remained an avid Lakers fan throughout his career with the Royals.
Lakers legend and basketball hall of famer Earvin Magic Johnson, a co-owner of the Dodgers, tweeted a welcome to Duffy on Friday night.
Duffy, 32, will be a free agent at the end of this season. With the Royals’ latest rebuilding effort built largely on young pitching prospects, there was no certainty that Duffy would remain with the organization or what sort of role he’d potentially have if he did.
For the Royals, it made sense to get something in exchange for him at the deadline while facing the potential of him walking away after this season.
Moore raised the likelihood of such a scenario with Duffy prior to the MLB All-Star break. Duffy, having earned 10-and-5 rights as a veteran, had the right to veto any trade.
“That guy means a lot to me,” Duffy said of Moore. “I’m thankful for everything that guy has done for me in my life to get me to this point. There were a lot of emotions there.
“You know how I feel about Kansas City. I’ll always love Kansas City. I’ll always pull for them no matter where I’m at, but it was a grown-up conversation. I’m going to miss that guy. The relationship doesn’t stop. He’s family to me. I’m really thankful that we were able to come up with whatever needed to be done and he was willing to put me in this situation if he had to move me.”
The Dodgers, the defending World Series champions, made several trade deadline moves in effort to bolster their roster for the stretch run, including the acquisitions of former Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer and All-Star infielder Trea Turner as well as Duffy.
The Dodgers went into Sunday in second place in the NL West behind the San Francisco Giants.
Duffy could factor into the Dodgers plans as either a reliever or a starting pitcher once he returns from the IL.
“I feel like this last week I’ve turned a corner a little bit physically,” Duffy said. “I’ve been told anywhere from late August to early September depending upon the role, which I’m unaware of so far. I’m just kind of going to do what I’m told to that regard.”
He said that he “really enjoyed” the bullpen and being put in important situations in the stints he had with the Royals, but he’ll do whatever is asked of him with the Dodgers.
Duffy referred to the feeling as “awesome” to be able to pitch for the team he grew up rooting for, and he said it was humbling to know that that organization had confidence in his ability to help in their playoff push.
A mixed bag of emotions
The Royals traded outfielder/designated hitter Jorge Soler to the Atlanta Braves one day after they dealt Duffy to LA.
Royals two-time All-Star infielder/outfielder Whit Merrifield described the conflicting feelings of seeing both players leave the club.
“It’s never easy seeing teammates go, especially teammates the quality of Jorgie and Duff,” Merrifield said. “Those are two of the best. Sad to see them go, excited for them at the same time. Excited for Duff to get back to his hometown and be able to go play for the Dodgers and go make a postseason run.
“Same for Jorgie, to go to Atlanta and play in a little bit more hitter-friendly that I think can really help elevate his game to another level. So excited for those, excited for this new chapter for them, but sad for us because we’re really going to miss them.”
Nicky Lopez, who made his MLB debut in 2019, had never known the Royals without Duffy as part of the club. He explained that Duffy’s presence and influence helped him as he made the jump to the majors and went through his growing pains as he sought to establish himself.
“He was just a delight in the clubhouse, a very fun guy,” Lopez said. “He kept the spirits light, taught me how to treat one another. He was genuine, selfless, and I learned so much from him. He probably has no idea how much I learned from him. I texted him a little bit ago and just kind of reiterated, ‘I wanted to let you know. I wanted the dust to settle, but I just want you to know how much you mean to me and how much you impacted me in my short career already.’”
While Duffy is looking forward to his next challenge with the Dodgers, he said messages like the one from Lopez have meant a great deal to him, especially knowing the “heart” of a teammate like Lopez.
“I’ve had numerous text messages from current players and former players with KC, and that part is real humbling too,” Duffy said. “I built some lifelong friendships over there.”