When Kansas City Royals outfielder Paulo Orlando replaced Alex Rios as a late-inning defensive change last Tuesday, he made history. Orlando became the first native of Brazil to play in the World Series.
The next challenge is for Orlando, and the sport of baseball, to gain more notoriety in Brazil.
Brazilian Marco Rabello is a Park University alum and a former professional volleyball player. Now as a business co-owner of the Taste of Brazil market in the heart of Kansas City's City Market, the person he is most interested in seeing as a first-time visitor is Kansas City Royals outfielder Paulo Orlando.
“I got a hold of him through social media and I’m hoping to see him really soon,” said Rabello.
Orlando is one of the three Brazilian pillars on the Kansas City sports scene. The other two are Kansas City Chiefs placekicker Cairo Santos and Sporting Kansas City midfielder Paulo Nagamura.
Ideally, Rabello would like to see all three at once at the Taste of Brazil.
“Someone could interview them and say, ‘How are a baseball player, American football player and even a soccer player get here in Kansas City?’” said Rabello. “It is so fortunate to have these three players playing different professional sports in Kansas City.”
Of the three Brazilian pro athletes in Kansas City, the least known in Brazil is Orlando, who turns 30 on Sunday. In his rookie season with the Royals, he became the third Brazilian to play in the majors.
KCUR’s Sylvia Maria Gross, a Brazilian citizen, surveyed Brazil’s interest in Orlando when she traveled there a few weeks ago.
“No one I asked had ever heard of him,” said Gross. “They’re following sports and they’d even heard of Sporting Kansas City. Some of my cousins had Sporting Kansas City shirts and said they played Kansas City sometimes on the FIFA game. But no Paulo Orlando. Nobody had heard of him.”
It’s been a long road for Orlando to finally reach the big leagues. He was originally signed by the Chicago White Sox 10 years ago and traded to the Royals organization in 2008 while playing Class A ball.
When Orlando made the big league roster this year out of spring training, he made an impact on the major league record book out of the gate. Orlando became the first major leaguer in history to hit five triples in his first seven games.
But as the season progressed, Orlando found himself repeatedly traveling I-29 between Kansas City and Omaha, changing uniforms between the Royals and the minor league Omaha Storm Chasers.
“When I came back, I made a dream-come-true again,” said Orlando. "Now the World Series. I can’t explain it. It’s so exciting.”
When the Royals clinched the pennant last week against Toronto, Orlando draped himself with a Brazilian flag.
“I always take my flag, you know what I mean? Last couple years in the minor leagues, I tried to show the world that Brazilians can play baseball, too,” said Orlando. “Now I make history and hopefully a couple more people play baseball here in the United States.”
It would start with more young athletes turning to baseball in a country that’s crazy about soccer and played host last year to the World Cup.
Orlando was introduced to baseball by a family friend with Japanese roots, which is not surprising since his home city of Sao Paulo has a significant Japanese population.
Baseball has barely a pulse in Brazil’s sports consciousness. The Summer Olympics will be held in Rio de Janeiro next year and baseball isn’t even an Olympic sport anymore.
Marco Rabello hopes Paulo Orlando’s play in the World Series can inspire change.
“I wish it could grow a little bit more. There are a lot of different sports now becoming Olympic sports,” said Rabello. “Hopefully, one day baseball is going to be in the Olympics games, too. I wish that the media in Brazil could use Paulo Orlando as an example.”
Kansas City Royals fans are well-aware of the different countries represented in the team’s clubhouse. But maybe a memorable hit by Orlando, like the walk- off grand slam Orlando slugged over the summer, could bring more attention to baseball in his home country.