Sometimes the anticipation of a wonderful event results in a letdown when it actually happens. Not Wednesday night. My three sons and I experienced a return to Kauffman Stadium that we will always cherish.
As a family experience and a baseball experience, it was worth the dozens of high-fives we exchanged throughout the evening.
I was too busy Thursday and Friday to blog about it before now, but I have to wrap up the story I started last week. As I recounted when the Royals won this year’s American League championship, when I decided to take Mimi to Game Two of the 1985 World Series, I promised our disappointed oldest son, Mike, that I’d take him the next time the Royals were in the World Series.
For seven seasons from 1985 to 1991, I took Mike and his brothers, Joe and Tom, to more than 100 Royals games, usually in pairs but sometimes all four or five of us. Though I regaled them at the ballpark with tales of Yankee glory, they all became loyal fans of the team they were watching. We moved away and over 28 seasons since that championship year, my sons cheered a few winning teams that fell short and way too many losers. But they stayed loyal.
When the Royals made the World Series this year, I knew I had to take not just Mike, but his brothers. Joe and Tom hadn’t gotten in on the 1985 promise because both were too young at the time to know how special the World Series was and to beg to be included. But Royals games became a father-son bonding experience for all of us. We needed this adult bonding experience as a foursome.
So I paid a dear price for four upper deck tickets in Section 409. We chose Game Two for work-schedule reasons, but it seemed fitting since it was Game Two that Mike missed out on in 1985. And after waiting 29 years, Mike wasn’t going to risk that the series would go six or seven games.
Joe (coming from Las Vegas) and Tom (from DC) arrived Tuesday, but couldn’t score tickets to Game One. They watched with other fans in the Power & Light District. That was a tough game for Royals fans, a 7-1 rout that was never close.
Mike (coming from the Twin Cities) and I (from Baton Rouge, La.) arrived at the airport midday Wednesday, a little over an hour apart. He was waiting for me in the rental car. He had told me he had a cap that was a little too big for him. It was too small for me, but it fit in a Lou Piniella kind of way.
My mother lives in an assisted living home in Lee’s Summit. We met Joe and Tom there and visited Mom briefly. Though she’s a lifelong Cubs fan, the Royals became her second baseball love. Alzheimer’s has robbed her of her baseball memories, but she was happy to see family and to wear my cap for a photo with her grandsons in their Royals gear.
Then it was off to our favorite Kansas City barbecue joint, Fiorella’s Jack Stack. (Just like Kauffman was Royals Stadium back in the day, Jack Stack was Fiorella’s Smokestack when we became fans of Kansas City sports and barbecue. I might call them Royals Stadium and the Smokestack more than I call them by their current names, but I’m an aging creature of habit. The boys – and when we’re at the ballpark together, they’re still my boys, even if they’re all in their 30s – don’t correct me.)
First we found our old seats, behind the home dugout, and found a friendly fan who’d take a picture:
Then we connected with my cousin, Doug Worgul, who took another photo.
Next we visited the Royals Hall of Fame, with nice displays honoring this year’s team as well as the Royals of yesteryear and other stars from the Monarchs, A’s and other Kansas City baseball teams. I picked up a Royals World Series t-shirt to pull over the long-sleeved denim shirt I was wearing (but Mike wouldn’t let me pay for it).
Note to the Royals: Bo Jackson needs to be in the Royals Hall of Fame. His career was short and he did get injured playing for the hated Oakland Raiders. But Bo provided some of the best highlights of the years between World Series. Time to give him his due. Other than George Brett, what Royal was as famous as Bo?
Speaking of Brett, they honor him in the hall with a sculpture of 3,154 baseballs, one for each of his hits, arranged in the shape of his uniform number, a huge 5. The bat in the middle of the sculpture isn’t the famous Pine Tar Bat (that’s in that other Hall of Fame in Cooperstown), but the bat he swung for his 3,000th hit (and it has a lot of pine tar).
Brett also has a statue in the outfield plaza area, along with Frank White, eight-time Gold Glove second baseman and a Kansas City native now running for political office, and Dick Howser, manager of that 1985 team.
The statues are behind the fountains that remain a beautiful and distinct feature of one of baseball’s most beautiful ballparks.
Eventually we made our way to Section 409, Row KK. Not the farthest seats in the stadium from the action, but a few rows in front of those seats. We proved what people have always said about that ballpark: There isn’t a bad seat in the house. We missed a couple routine catches in the leftfield corner, but most of the action unfolded right in front of us.
No point in recounting the action in great detail a couple days later. Our hearts sank with Gregor Blanco’s leadoff homer. After the 7-1 Game One drubbing, it was a sobering reminder that this great experience could turn quickly to bonding through shared misery. But Royals designated hitter Billy Butler tied things up with an RBI single in the bottom of the first. The ballpark came alive and was boisterous for the next eight innings.
I always love a close game. But it’s great fun watching a big inning for your team. We got a taste of both: a 2-2 struggle through five innings, then a five-run 6th inning, with Butler delivering the go-ahead single, Salvador Perez doubling home two runs, then Omar Infante driving a two-run homer to the back of the Royals’ bullpen beyond the leftfield fence.
In Mike’s video at the top of this post, you can see the boys and me celebrating the homer. We were so busy high-fiving that we missed the start of the short fuss when Hunter Strickland, the Giants’ gas-can pitcher who gave up the double and the homer, started yelling at Perez.
Even teammates struggled to explain Strickland’s tantrum. This was the fifth homer Strickland has given up this post-season. I enjoy a good baseball fight. It’s always good to see the players jog in from the bullpen ready to join a brawl (as the Royals did, but the fuss was over with no punches thrown by the time they reached the infield). You understand why a batter gets angry when hit by a pitcher. But if you’ve given up a homer — especially if you’ve given up five in one post-season — you need to shut up and ask the umpire for a new ball and hope the manager leaves you in to throw it. Royals fans, including those of us in Section 409, were too busy expressing loud appreciation for Infante to give Strickland the scorn he deserved.
I used to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” with the boys on our way to Royals Stadium, not to mention during the seventh-inning stretch. We didn’t sing on the way to the park this time, but we sang with gusto in the seventh-inning.
The Royals’ amazing bullpen of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland wasn’t really needed with a 7-2 lead. But Herrara came into the tie game in the top of the sixth. And the others needed a little work. So they mowed through the Giants and gave the fans more to cheer.
When Holland retired the final out of a 7-2 win, we soaked it in for a while before heading for the exits. You’re not going to beat the crowd from Section 409.
A win in Game Three in San Francisco returned home-field advantage to the Royals. The series will return to KC for Game Six unless the Royals sweep in San Francisco and return with their second World Series trophy.
We’re all back at our respective homes, high-fiving (and critiquing Ned Yost’s managing moves) by text message. But Wednesday night was the perfect return to Kansas City: quick visits with a couple other family members, healthy helpings of barbecue, plenty of time to wander a favorite place, wonderful father-son-brother time, exciting baseball action, lots of high fives and a Royals victory.
We’ll cherish this night as long as we waited for it.