I’m enjoying this year’s post-season as much as if the Yankees were playing. The reason: All three of my sons are Kansas City Royals fans, dating to my days at the Kansas City Star and Times, when I would take the boys to ballgames. I tried to turn them into Yankee fans, but utterly failed. They fell hopelessly in love with the team they kept seeing on the field. Well, the past quarter-century-plus has been kinder to Yankee fans than Royal fans, but the boys remained loyal KC fans, even though we all moved away.
So I am celebrating with them as the Royals get their first taste of post-season play since 1985, our first season in Kansas City. The boys and I exchanged multiple messages — text messages, tweets, Facebook messages — through last night’s incredible game.(They’re all grown men now, but still my boys, especially when we’re watching baseball.) Mike was at the game the best he’s ever seen. Tom sent me a guest blog post today. Below is Tom’s explanation of why last night’s game was so special, with minimal editing from me (I even left his excessive use of asterisk footnotes in place). I’ll add a comment or two at the end. But first, here’s Tom Buttry:
I’ve been wondering all day today why something as trivial as one game of baseball can make me so so gleeful for so long. Why I stayed so excited last night that I had a hard time falling asleep, but am still be able to walk around with a grin on my face and a spring in my step all day today. Why I am being so self-indulgent in sharing these thoughts and why I’m willing to rub salt in the very fresh wounds of any A’s fans who might read this. But here goes nothing.
As a kid I’d regularly go to Kansas City Royals games with my dad. Despite his being a Yankees fan*, he loves baseball too much to pass up the opportunity to regularly watch games, and in the days before he could follow the Yankees on the MLB package, he went in with some co-workers on Royals season tickets. From there, my two older brothers, my mom and I took turns going to games with him. In other words, I got to see a lot of Royals games from a very young age.
Sometimes the whole family would go, but most of the games I saw, it was just me and my dad. I know it’s cliche, but it was really a formative bonding experience with him. I’d be excited because I’d get to stay up late, spend time with him, get a cheap plastic mini-baseball helmet full of soft serve and sprinkles and see this team and these players I was absolutely falling in love with on a regular basis. I’m sure my dad was also thrilled to spend time with his kids in a way he could really have fun with, rather than seeing the same cartoon or reading the same book for the 100th time, even if I made him take me on too many runs for snacks or to the bathroom.
It was at these games that dad taught me to groan every time the Royals bunted the ball** and shout “HE STRUCK HIM OUT!” when the Royals got a big K***. He also snagged a foul ball for me after the guy behind us dropped his cup of beer trying to get it, and would tell me all about the great players I was seeing.
One game I distinctly remember happened April 7, 1989**** against the Boston Red Sox. An exciting, fireballing rookie named Tom “Flash” Gordon blew a lead for the Royals, and in the bottom of the ninth we were down three with Lee Smith coming in to close the game. My dad explained to me that Smith was one of the best closers in the game and it would be tough for the Royals to come back from such a big margin against him. A few minutes later, the Royals loaded the bases and George Brett rocketed a line drive that cleared the bases, tying the game and forever cementing his status as my favorite Royal. A few batters later we scored the final run,***** and I celebrated with my Dad, letting him know that I knew they were going to win. That season the Royals won 92 games, but before the Wild Card existed, a loaded Oakland A’s team kept them out of the playoffs.
On July 6, 1991, my heart got broken in a game against the Oakland A’s when Danny Tartabull hit three home runs, but the Royals still had somehow fallen behind before the ninth inning and had the heart of their lineup coming up against Dennis Eckersley. I reminded dad about the Lee Smith game, and perhaps hoping I was a good luck charm, he seemed slightly more optimistic about my predictions of an upcoming Royals comeback, even though we were up against an even better closer. Down two, with one runner aboard and two outs, Brett stood at the plate as the tying run with Tartabull in the on deck circle as the winning run. With a thunderous crack, Brett lined another rocket into the outfield, but this time right at the center fielder, ending the game without giving Tartabull the chance to make baseball history and win the game.
From the time I remember living in Kansas City, the Royals were always good, but never good enough to make the playoffs.****** We had legends like George Brett, superstars like Bo Jackson, and were truly relevant. The two games I just described represent particularly noteworthy episodes from a huge series of childhood memories that I will always cherish.# The only thing I really missed as a kid was the chance to see the Royals in the playoffs.
In the intervening years my family moved away from Kansas City, the Royals have stunk and have been next to impossible to see on television, which further complicated following them over the course of 162 games a year. While I never gave up on the Royals and put up with a lot of trash talk for continuing to support such a lousy team when it would have been so easy to bolt for better teams at nearly any point, it is safe to say that the Royals had slipped behind my favorite football and basketball teams in terms of my attention.
Then came last night.
Seeing the excitement and energy at Kauffman Stadium brought back powerful memories. Crunching peanut shells under my feet (something I still do almost every time I go to a ballpark). The helmet bowls of soft serve. Kauffman’s gorgeous fountains. The giant Midwestern insects buzzing around the light towers. The smell of cheap beer. And something new: the roar of a crowd that has finally seen their support of this team validated.
I’ve always been an intense sports fan, but watching the game last night was something different. Instead of the caveman-like bellowing I do for a Kansas City Chiefs game, or alternating fast rhythm and cavalcade of timeouts of a Marquette basketball game, I was standing on my feet nervously shuffling back and forth, turning my cap inside out for good luck, pouting on the couch when things were bad, jumping, yelping and laughing with joy every time the Royals did something good. I never even thought to grab a beer until my fiancée asked me if I wanted one. In short, for one night, I was a kid again. For 29 years I had been waiting for this very moment, and I managed to turn back time to enjoy it. And oh my goodness, what a game to turn back time for.*******
I don’t know if the Royals have a magical run in them. For one night, Eric Hosmer did a passable George Brett impersonation. However, the incompetence of Ned Yost will probably catch up to us at some point.******** But this one game created that childhood memory that I had always been missing. And that is why I am still so deliriously happy.
Let’s go Royals!
* While under almost all circumstances being the progeny of a Yankees fan should be a great source of shame for the entire family, it is semi-mitigated by the fact that my dad was an Air Force brat and the Yankees were the only team he could follow no matter where in the world he was living. He also taught my brothers and me the #1 lesson of being a real sports fan: that you always stick with your team no matter what (no amount of cajoling from his three sons ever got him to nudge the Royals past the Yankees).
** Something that happened a lot last night.
*** Also something that happened a lot last night.
**** The dates and a few specific facts come from Baseball-Reference.com, but the bulk of the next two paragraphs are my actual recollections. In fact, I was really shocked by how accurate my memories were the first time I dug around on Baseball-Reference trying to find particular Royals games I went to, with these two being the standouts.
***** Baseball-Reference says it was Bob Boone who drove in the winning run. Somehow he doesn’t stick out as much as George Brett.
****** My family moved to Kansas City in time for their World Series run in the fall of 85, but I was barely three years old and don’t remember a thing of the Royals from back then.
******* Oh, and getting back at the A’s for keeping what had previously been the best Royals team I can remember out of the playoffs and ruining Danny Tartabull’s big game also felt pretty good.
******** Seriously, Ned? A double steal with Billy “The Slowest Man in Professional Sports” Butler and Hosmer? Four sacrifice bunts? Bringing a rookie starter on one day’s rest out of the bullpen with two on and nobody out?
# Since this is an extra self-indulgent aside, I’ll put it at the very bottom. I also really enjoyed singing along to Cab Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher” which the Royals would regularly play between innings when I was a kid and dancing to Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration” when the Royals would win.
- Tom loved “Minnie the Moocher,” running around our family room chanting “Hodie, Hodie.”
- How is Lee Smith not in the Hall of Fame? He was a Yankee only eight games, but might deserve a post here someday.
- I missed a Steve Balboni grand-slam homerun once while in the restroom with Tom.
- Watching George Brett play for parts of seven seasons was an absolute treat.
- I ranted quite a bit myself last night in our living room and on Twitter about Yost wasting outs on bunts, prompting someone to tweet me a link to this tweet:
— Alex Lantz (@AlexLantz) October 1, 2014
- At the time, it seemed like a lot of money we spent on tickets, parking, and all those peanuts and helmet sundaes. But the experiences I gave my sons were priceless.