The 'secret weapon' fueling the Royals' surge: Espresso machine

On most days at Kauffman Stadium, Peter Moylan leaves his locker in the home clubhouse in the late afternoon and escapes to an adjacent kitchen, where Royals players eat before games.

A 38-year-old right-hander, Moylan spends his nights attacking opposing hitters as a side-arm reliever. In the moments before first pitch, he adopts a different role: Barista.

Using a Brevill Express Espresso Machine, a slick metal contraption he purchased on Amazon for $599, and a bag of Lavazza Super Crema Whole Bean Espresso, Moylan doles out cups of his specialty: "The Sledge-iatto," _ fine, creamy espresso blended with chocolate milk and served on ice.

A native of Australia with an affinity for premium coffee, Moylan ordered the machine back in April. In the weeks after it arrived, as the Royals climbed back into the race in the American League Central, the drink took the clubhouse by storm. On Sunday, the latest step forward came in the form of a 7-3 victory over the Los Angeles Angels here at Angel Stadium. Inside the visitors clubhouse was proof of the obsession: A baseball team was suddenly hooked on espresso.

"It's a little bit of a secret weapon," said Whit Merrifield, the Royals' starting second baseman.

Merrifield had his first cup of Moylan's espresso on May 13, the first day of a 19-game hitting streak. Left fielder Alex Gordon finally gave into Moylan's prodding in early June, sampling his first taste. A few days later, he hit his first home run in a victory over the Astros. Not satisfied by simply having the drink at home games, Gordon went out and bought another espresso machine to take on road trips.

"Gordo looks like he's never had caffeine before," starting pitcher Ian Kennedy said. "He's like: 'We need to buy one for road!"

Gordon, a health nut who obeys a rigid diet, has never been much of a coffee guy, he says. He counts every calorie that enters his body. He studies foods and drinks for their nutritional value. For years, he eschewed sugary sodas for protein shakes. But there was something about the way Moylan crafted his drink, he said, the combination of espresso and chocolate milk. The perfect afternoon pick-me-up.

"I was never really a coffee drinker, ever," Gordon says. "It's kind of an iced coffee espresso and chocolate milk. You'll have to ask Peter. He's the master. He kind of got me hooked on it. So coffee it is."

Inside major-league clubhouses, fresh coffee is hardly a unique item. The season is long and grueling. The road trips weigh on the body and mind. Years after amphetamines were officially banned by Major League Baseball, players still subsist on coffee, Red Bull and other energy drinks. Whatever provides the biggest jolt.

It is not uncommon to see starting pitchers drop by Starbucks on the way to the ballpark or position players sipping on a cup of Joe before batting practice. But for Moylan, an offseason resident of Melbourne, Australia, a port city and one of the coffee capitals of the world, the old coffee in the clubhouse was not up to standard.

"We need to have good coffee here," Moylan said, before later adding: "We don't have instant coffee in Australia."

Back in Melbourne, Moylan says, there exists a "cafe culture." Relationships are built around conversations over coffee. The espresso culture dates back a half-century or so. In May, Moylan and an old friend named Russell Spear opened up a coffee place called the Apollo Cafe in West Melbourne, a neighborhood near his home. Moylan said he had thought about opening a cafe for years.

"There's a culture," Moylan said. "It's insane. You go 200 feet and there's a cafe, a cafe, a cafe. It's all really good coffee."

Business is good so far, and he will return home to check on the progress of the place in the offseason. But for now, as the season rolls on, he's instituting the cafe culture in the Royals' clubhouse. He sought to start with espresso, a drink made with boiling water, pressure and finely ground coffee beans.

"You'll never see this at Starbucks," Moylan said, scrolling through photos of specialty drinks on his phone. "Because they don't do it right. They don't froth the milk properly."

Moments later, Merrifield offered another review: "It's not just the espresso," he said. "It's the special type of concoction."

For now, Moylan has few holdouts inside the clubhouse. Kennedy, a veteran starter, considers himself a coffee connoisseur of sorts, but he prefers Pour Over coffee or French presses. He doesn't do espresso. He's found good coffee beans at The Roasterie in Kansas City, Mo., he says. He'll spend time reading reviews of coffee machines online. He recently became intrigued by The Clover, a relatively new method for making coffee.

"If I find a Starbucks with a Clover machine, I'll walk to it," Kennedy said. "I do like coffee a lot. I don't own a cafe. I haven't gone that far."

Another reluctant espresso drinker is Royals manager Ned Yost, who said he likes to limit his caffeine intake to a few cups of coffee in the morning or a quick run through Starbucks. Yost once famously gave his name as "Frank" at a local Plaza Starbucks to avoid fans during his difficult early years at the helm. Now, he avoids coffee before games for a practical reason.

"I stay away from the coffee," Yost said. "It gets me thrown out of games."

Moylan, though, may have won over another convert in recent days: Center fielder Lorenzo Cain. On most afternoons, Cain limits his pregame routine to water and Red Bull. If he's really dragging, he'll drink a Red Bull and a cup coffee. But not until recently did he try one of Moylan's signature espresso drinks. It was Wednesday morning at AT&T Park in San Francisco. The Royals were in the midst of what would be a six-game winning streak. Cain loathes day games. So Moylan approached with a Sledge-iatto.

"He was like: 'Hey, this espresso has got two hits in it,' " Cain said. "I ended up getting three knocks that day. I went for three for four with a home run. So maybe there's something to it."

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