George Brett answers the phone, and the first things you hear are the birds chirping and the wind rustling. So you can figure right away he's out walking London, his 11-year-old sheepadoodle.
"That's the highlight of my day," Brett said, laughing but maybe not joking about his three-mile-or-so daily ritual of some years now. "It's like Yogi (Berra) used to say: 'Deja vu all over again.' "
Amazed at the number of others now outside and walking dogs amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, he intermittently says hello to passersby and urges London to "get out of the flowers" on a Tuesday chilly enough for him to be wearing a "big winter coat" and a Chiefs skip cap.
After all, he's a passionate fan who knows a lot of the Chiefs' brass and has golfed with Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce and considers their victory in Super Bowl LIV "one of the greatest things that I've experienced outside of baseball since I've lived in Kansas City."
"I'd love to wear a Royals one," he said, laughing, "but I think that brings too much attention."
Nevertheless, there's ample reason now for attention on Brett, who will turn 67 Friday.
He's grateful to know he has 15 minutes of the day booked for an interview with the MLB Network -- "I've got that going for me," he said, laughing — about the so-called "Pine Tar Game" and Game 3 of the 1985 American League Championship Series against Toronto.
Also, for the occasion of his birthday, Brett and his wife, Leslie, are considering going to Arizona for a change of scenery ... in masks and gloves on a flight he says the airline told him is only a third full.
Then there's next month: The Baseball Hall of Famer who stands among the select few most prominent and influential forces in Kansas City sports history suddenly will begin his 50th year with the Royals.
Second only to Denny, Stewart
It's a symbiotic relationship that started with the 1971 draft, peaked with a phenomenal career and has endured in the contractual role he called "vice president for life" since his playing days ended that has been honored by multiple ownership groups now.
Strange but true: That makes Brett the third-longest-tenured person in the organization, behind only broadcaster Denny Matthews and super-scout Art Stewart, who've been with the franchise since its inception in 1969.
"One thing I take a lot of pride in is loyalty," Brett said in an interview with The Star last month.
Despite having grown up in California, he added, "I love to tell people I'm from Kansas City. I think I'm still the biggest Kansas City Royals baseball fan in the world."
Conversely, he was instrumental in the world becoming aware of, and even fans of, the Royals. That was in 1985, of course, when he helped lead them to the first World Series triumph in club history.
But first in 1980 and the Summer of George, when he captivated the nation with his spectacular bid to hit .400 -- the first time anyone would've done so since Ted Williams in 1941 -- on the way to the organization's first World Series appearance.
Forty years later, Brett still thinks of what his father, Jack, said when he came home for Thanksgiving that year: Accented with some curse words, he recalled, his father said, "'You mean to tell me you couldn't have gotten five more frickin' hits?'"
Indeed, Brett was 175-for-515 at the plate to finish at .390 ... one 5-for-5 game away from the rarefied plateau.
The way he figures it, he'd done that before and did it again. So maybe he would have done just that if he'd played in the last game of the regular season as he initially had expected to do despite the Royals' runaway clinching of the division.
His pitch to manager Jim Frey and general manager John Schuerholz went something like this: "'Hey, let me play, hit me leadoff, DH me. And as soon as I make an out, get me out of the game.'"
But their response was compelling: What if he got hurt? Was hitting .400 more important than possibly winning the World Series?
So, no go.
"I agreed with their logic, so it was kind of a dual decision," Brett said.
Alternatively, he regrets that he couldn't have perhaps have found about one more hit a month. He remembers things like going 2-for 11-against a bad Seattle team (59-103) in September. In that three-game set, he hit the ball hard multiple times only to be robbed over and over by shortstop Mario Mendoza up the middle and an outfielder making diving catches.
Despite the Mariners' brutal season, he recalled, laughing, "They're playing like it's the seventh game of the World Series."
The season that led to a World Series title for the Royals started inauspiciously enough for Brett.
When we first spoke with him for this column on April 22, it was 40 years from his low point (after the first few games) of the season. He went hitless in four at-bats against Toronto to drop to .209.
Which brings us back to his birthday.
"Well, I don't know what it was with me, but I was always a pretty slow starter," he said. "I don't know if it was growing up in Southern California and being used to playing in warmer weather."
Between it being what he joked was "12 degrees outside" and fewer people in the stands early here, it wasn't usually until around his birthday on May 15 that he'd get hot.
Once he got fired up, in this case, he barely cooled the rest of the way.
That was true even through the aftermath of a severe injury: Hitting .337 in June, Brett suffered torn ligaments in his right ankle sliding in Cleveland. After being out a month, he came back with ... 21 hits in his next nine games. "I was so locked in that year ... It was like I never missed a game," he said.
And through the weight of a media swarm later in the season, he stayed above .400 for most of the second half of August into early September.
"I found out one thing: It's easier hitting .400 when you're over .400 than it is when you're under," he said.
It weighed on him, though, having to answer the same questions over and over and then being separated from his teammates some to accommodate pre- and post-game news conferences.
At times, he feared he was alienating his teammates, even his brother, Ken.
As he looks back, he supposes maybe the fuss over the chase got him out of focus a bit.
"After talking about it and talking about it for a month, all of a sudden it became very important for me to do it," he said. "And then I went out and did the one thing that I should not have tried to do: ... Go out and try to hit .400.
"Where before I was just trying to put the ball in play and get my hits wherever they came. And if I didn't get a hit, it was no big deal. As long as we won the game."
But with the Royals ahead in the standings by double-digits from July 23 on, it became all the easier to get distracted by his own numbers.
"I think that's what threw me off my game a little bit," he said. "It was the first time in my career that my performance meant more than the outcome of the game. And that's when I started to press a little bit. And as a result, (his average) plummeted down to about .384."
What most players wouldn't do, of course, to plummet to .384 or finish at .390.
Getting to know Sherman, Matheny
At the time, Brett thought he'd have another chance at .400, but his next-highest finish was .335 in 1985.
All part of his entrenchment in Royals history, and enshrinement in baseball history, which is ongoing a half-century later.
Before the pandemic shut everything down, he'd enjoyed spending time with new owner John Sherman and his group. Brett is thrilled they're local. Brett goes to spring training every year and has also has taken to new manager Mike Matheny since he joined the organization a year before taking over.
Of particular note, he said, is Matheny's ability to inspire and galvanize the Royals' younger players as he "made the locker room everybody's locker room."
Now, when he's not walking London or cooking out or golfing or binge-watching shows like "Ozark" and "You're Dead To Me" or courtroom dramas, Brett not only has been watching Royals replays (particularly from 2014 and 2015) but also participating in Zoom video conferences with the organization.
The other day he was the guest speaker for Royals minor-league instructors and what he guessed might have been 80 or so players.
The topic was the mental side of hitting, and Brett spoke about everything from standing off the plate to avoiding the temptation to pull everything. He talked about flipping the switch from dreading facing somebody who had beaten you in the past to saying, "I hope they bring that SOB in to face me."
He told them to "know who you are and know what you do best and just be the best player you can be."
All these years later, that's something few anywhere can say with more authority and authenticity than Brett.