A few nights ago, I stopped at my local Publix in Altamonte Springs and saw Luke Boden and Kaylyn Kyle stationed in the store meeting fans. I had no idea they’d be there, but sure enough, two players were there as I popped in with my kid to grab a few essentials for the week.
Being from the rough and tumble sports town of Philadelphia, this was a bit of an oddity to me. Yet here they were, laughing with everyone (customers and store personnel alike), shaking hands, and exchanging stories. Everyone who left Publix that night left happy, I’d assume. I know Jak and I did.
I imagine this was the mission statement when the organization wanted to make Orlando City and the Orlando Pride the talk of the town. By making players, everyone really — no exceptions — available for the fans, the community feels an association to the team.
Remember, this is the same team that took over Orlando when it came to town with the ever popular magnets. The Pride are in on it now and you rarely see a car without one or both magnets on the back.
But it is more than that. Kaká, the face of the franchise, makes himself available for almost every situation, no matter how big or small. How many times in our Lion Links articles are we highlighting the captain meeting with kids in the hospital or talking to groups about his faith?
One moment that sticks out for me was when he, Shaq, and Johnny Damon went to visit the Pulse nightclub victims. A simple gesture like that probably gave those people a sliver of sunshine on a dark, dark day.
For the rest of the players on the club’s three teams, this sets the tone and the example of what is to be done. At the last Orlando City B game, Michael Cox gave his jersey to a young man battling a terrible disease. The two of them even did the pre-game walk together. The teams and the players get it.
Then there is Phil Rawlins — he appears on WJRR every now and again to talk soccer with two DJs, who don’t know much about the sport but really try. I listen to his segment when he is on and he’s one hundred percent invested in keeping soccer relevant to the community. I wonder how many people listen to that station and were persuaded to give Orlando City games a chance because of the passion he shows time and again.
Like I said, I’m from Philly, where we were expected to go to specialty stores to meet players and had to hand over anywhere from $50 to $100 just for a signature — never mind a picture or a high five. So this culture they’ve created is a marvelous thing for the teams and our city.
So, to end this segment, back to my chance encounter with Bodz and Kyle at Publix. Both of them were awesome, especially considering I had a baby who was none too pleased that dad stopped to see some players. They met too many people that evening to probably remember every memory they created, but for me, their few moments to talk and to acknowledge Jak meant the world to this first-time dad.
That, folks, is how an organization and its players take over a city.