When Peter Malnati was a kid, he loved watching Omar Vizquel, the man they called “Little O,” play for the Cleveland Indians.
“I just thought Omar Vizquel made playing shortstop look so easy,” says Malnati, who was a middle infielder, and sometimes pitched, himself. “... I heard Ozzie Smith was the same way, but I got to watch more of Vizquel play. And so, I always liked the Cleveland Indians because of him.”
When Malnati earned a golf scholarship to the University of Missouri, though, he faced a dilemma. Columbia, Missouri, his home for the next four years, was smack dab in the middle of two storied Major League Baseball teams – 124 miles west of St. Louis and 125 miles east of Kansas City.
Of the two, the Cardinals were definitely the most successful at that time. In fact, while Malnati was in college, St. Louis made the National League playoffs twice and won the World Series in 2006. The Royals, on the other hand, never had a winning record during that stretch.
So, Malnati did what any self-respecting baseball fan would do. He picked the underdog.
“Everyone was a Cardinals fan,” he recalls. “I thought, that's too easy. The Cardinals are good every year. And so maybe my sophomore year, I went to my first Royals game. And even though they were pretty bad they were real fun to watch. I thought it was just great.”
Those $10 tickets didn’t hurt, either. Particularly not on a college student’s budget.
“You ended up sitting down right on the field because the stadium wasn't very crowded,” Malnati says. “So, it all started just almost as I was an antagonist to all the Cardinals fans and they were cheaper tickets. And that grew. By the time I was a senior in college even though the Royals were losing a hundred games a year, I just loved watching him play.
“I thought they played with great energy and they were fun. So, I've been a big Royals fan ever since.”
Interestingly, Malnati, who once had a sponsorship with MLB.com, has never met any of the Kansas City players. He does have what he calls “one degree of separation” from Whit Merrrified, though.
The second baseman, who led the major leagues in at bats, singles, triples and line-drive % in 2019, was 27 when he was called up by Kansas City. Malnati spent two seasons on the Korn Ferry Tour, winning twice, before earning his PGA TOUR card at the age of 28.
“He's a great story,” Malnati says. “He's obviously more of a superstar in baseball than I am at golf, but our stories are kind of similar. Like it took him, I think he was  before he got called up to the big leagues, but he just kept playing and playing. I like the perseverance.”Peter Malnati throws out the first pitch at a Royals game. (Courtesy of Peter Malnati)
Malnati’s favorite Royals player, though, is catcher Salvador Perez, the MVP of the 2015 World Series when Kansas City beat the New York Mets. Perez is a six-time MLB All-Star and has won five Gold Gloves, and Malnati likes the way he plays the game.
“He seems to love baseball the way I love golf, which is just, he plays with exuberance and energy and passion every day,” Malnati says. “He's always smiling, always laughing. And I just think that's really cool because I do, too.
“Obviously when a sport is your profession, you have to take it seriously. But at the end of the day, it's still a game and it's still a sport and it's still supposed to be fun. So, I like to see people who enjoy what they do, and you can tell that Salvador Perez really enjoys playing baseball.”
Malnati, who is playing with Chris Baker this week at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, estimates that from 2012 through the 2018 season he watched at least a little bit of every game the Royals played. But a rambunctious youngster named Hatcher changed the lives of Malnati and his wife Alicia forever.
Malnati, who won the 2016 Sanderson Farms Championship, canceled his MLB subscription after his son was born. But he does admit to occasionally putting the headphones and listening to a Royals game on the radio if he’s cleaning up the kitchen or puttering around the house after Hatcher goes to bed.
“But I don't want to sit in front of the TV and watch a baseball game for two-and-a-half or three hours,” Malnati says. “I just don't have time for that right now in life.”
The Royals of late have been more like the Kansas City teams Malnati used to follow in college. After losing in the 2014 World Series and winning it all the following year, the Royals haven’t had a winning record – and lost more than 100 games each of the last two seasons.
Malnati won’t abandon the team, though. He likes to read about the decisions manager Mike Matheny is making and he’s current on a lot of players in the Kansas City farm system.
“I'm definitely, I'm a fan,” Malnati says with a grin. “I think it's pretty pure. I'm just a fan.”
Hatcher already has his own plastic golf clubs, as well as a customized wedge engraved with his name and height and weight at birth from Titleist, Malnati’s primary equipment sponsor, that he’s been carrying around since he could walk. But what if he ends up wanting to play baseball one day?
“You know, I'd be super happy with whatever he wants to do,” Malnati says. “I think that's the appropriate answer from a parent. I really do look forward to being able to have him come to the golf course with me and play and practice and see if he enjoys golf as much as I do.
“Like I look forward to that, but it'd be super fun to be a baseball dad, too. That'd be so much fun. And my wife was a gymnast in college, and she did gymnastics for her whole life. And so, some of those things that male and female gymnasts can do is just phenomenal.
“I think I'd be scared to death watching him fly through the air like they do, but if he wanted to take after his mom and do gymnastics, that'd be great, too.”
And if the Royals should ever win another World Series?
“I'd cry again,” Malnati says. “It'd be very emotional. I'd be such a happy fan, but just like a good parent would be, I'm proud of them no matter what. I think they do work hard. They play the game the right way. They're so exciting. But if they win the World Series, I'll jump for joy and, and, and shed some tears.”