Tom Buttry: Rooting for the Kansas City Royals in New York

7 11 2015
Citi Field last week from Tom's seat in New York

Citi Field last week from Tom’s seat in New York

We’re not done with posts about the Kansas City Royals. I have a few more posts coming myself, but I’ve been too busy to finish them. I asked my sons if they wanted to weigh in. Oldest son Mike will have a post coming tomorrow. Today’s guest post is from youngest son Tom (with editing, links and some visuals added by Dad): 

Tom Buttry

Tom Buttry

As Mike Moustakas drove in the game-winning run in the eighth inning of Game Four, I stood the upper deck of the left field corner in my Moustakas jersey at Citi Field, profoundly happy, but limiting my visible celebration to a brief fist pump and giving a fellow Royals fan two seats over a bit of dap. I had endured trash talk, getting roundly booed when I walked down through the stands to go the restroom, and had someone shout at me “Moustakas, make me a gyro!” But with the Wade Davis Experience looming for the Mets, I felt pretty good that I was bringing home a winner. And I wasn’t about to antagonize these folks into moving beyond their vocal, but good-natured ribbing.

Perhaps, I should take a step back, though. Since 2005, when my family moved away from the Midwest, the vast majority of the games I’ve caught of the Kansas City Royals and Chiefs have been when we’re the visitors. While I had been to opposing gyms as a high school sports fan, the close proximity of the schools and the large visiting student section always gave me strength in numbers. Being a fan of a Kansas City sports team on the East Coast can be a lonely experience.

The first time I truly went into opponent territory was on December 17, 2005, when my Dad and I went to the old Meadowlands to watch our Chiefs take on the New York Giants. It was a big game between two teams with strong playoff aspirations. I was feeling confident, though, because no one in our family had ever seen the Chiefs lose in person before.

As Dad and I walked into the upper reaches of Giants Stadium (we were in the second-to-last row by one of the end zones, but that may just be my memory exaggerating it), there was some trash talk, but nothing too bad. In the second quarter when the Giants took the lead on a long Tiki Barber touchdown run, there was some ribbing from the folks next to us, but nothing too bad. Then, early in the third quarter, Chiefs running back Larry Johnson broke off a long touchdown run of his own to tie the score, prompting my dad and me to give each other a high five.

At that point, the only guy behind us in the stadium gave us a true New York welcome with a loud thickly New York-accented, “Sit down, ya assholes!”

While the message was intended for Dad and me, it appeared to be the Chiefs who took it to heart, as they allowed Barber to amass 249 total yards and two touchdowns in a 27-17 Giants win (the Chiefs would eventually end the season 10-6, but miss the playoffs).

It was an inauspicious beginning to following my favorite teams on the East Coast. Since then, I’ve caught the Royals and Chiefs playing regular and preseason games at Nationals Park, Camden Yards, FedEx Field, M&T Bank Stadium and Heinz Field. I never got anything besides some friendly trash talk from anyone at those parks.

I did witness some deplorable behavior from Washington fans toward a family of Cowboys fans at FedEx Field, including someone regularly cursing throughout the game at this group that included two small children. That experience made it extra sweet when I got to see a mostly empty stadium sit in silence when Washington got dismantled by the Chiefs a few years later.

Our end zone seats at Fedex Field gave us great views as the Chiefs scored. Again and again.

Our end zone seats at Fedex Field gave us great views as the Chiefs scored. Again and again.

Generally speaking, though, the stakes were pretty low and no one ever seemed too bothered by an opposing fan in their midst. However, last fall I got my first opportunity to see one of my favorite teams play in the postseason, as the Royals were visiting Baltimore for the first two games of the ALCS.

Before Game One, I saw a small group of Kansas City fans gathered at the strip of bars across the street from Camden Yards. The chance to see the Royals in the postseason had brought people from all over to watch the game. I met a few more fans from Washington, DC, some folks from Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and even California. But perhaps the most impressive were the handful of folks who had flown from Missouri or Kansas and were determined to follow the Royals wherever they went during the postseason.

I then went into Camden Yards to hang out with one of my friends who was an Orioles fan, celebrating the fact that she got to see her team play in the postseason for the first time since the 1990’s. (I still have to remember that after this weekend, I’m no longer allowed to mock fans of other teams for their comparatively short runs of futility, but at the time my unspoken thoughts were along the lines of “poor you!”)

Eventually I took my seat high in the upper deck of the left field corner and started watching the game. The Royals roared out to a quick 4-0 lead in the third inning, highlighted by a conventional home run by light-hitting shortstop Alcides Escobar. The play surprised me so much, I had to drop my courteous opposing fan façade, and I stood up and screamed “ESKY!” I sheepishly sat back down as several Orioles fans shot me dirty looks. But unlike the Meadowlands, one of the O’s fans in front of me actually respected my display of emotion in enemy territory and bought me a beer (Natty Bo, of course).

While the O’s fought back and tied the game, Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis gave the Royals four shutout innings, allowing the Royals to bust it open in the 10th on home runs from Alex Gordon and Moustakas. I had finally caught a postseason game, I had a good time, and the Orioles fans were actually a lot of fun. I caught the game the next day, and watched the Royals break a late tie again as Escobar roped an opposite field double off of Orioles closer Zach Britton in the ninth inning.

While I definitely had a lot of fun, you could see the life getting sucked out of the Orioles’ fans. These two games were the ones that prompted an online rant from Oriole fans who described the Royals bullpen as containing “cyborg after cyborg.” I’d have felt bad, but I was too busy celebrating as a team I had always loved, but almost never got to see win, cruised into the World Series. (There I saw what is still the greatest sporting event I’ve seen in person at Kauffman Stadium, but I think that one has already been well covered here).

This season I kept religiously following the Royals. I got the MLB.tv package that allowed me to watch an unhealthy amount of games, though I missed their September trip to Baltimore due to being deep in the throes of wedding planning. The week of my wedding also marked the beginning of the ALDS against Houston, which prompted me to meet a bunch of friends with Game One on in the background, and had me and my brothers staring at our phones throughout my rehearsal dinner. Things had wrapped up and life was getting back to normal just in time for me to catch their remarkable Game Four comeback, and while I was sorely tempted to figure out a way to go to Toronto for the ALCS, I was holding out for a return to the World Series.

world series ticketsDespite booking a cancellable hotel room next to Kauffman Stadium for Game Two, I did the math on a trip to New York and found out it would be cheaper to take a bus and stay with friends than it would be to fly to Kansas City. I got tickets to Game Four (right), hoping for a sweep for the Royals, but also fearing getting swept by the Mets. I would also be in opposing territory again, and people started getting concerned for my well-being.

I went up to New York on Thursday, Oct. 29, just after the Royals had taken a 2-0 lead on the Mets. I was walking around New York in my Royals cap, but didn’t actually hear that much trash talk (someone assured me it was because we were up, and if the Mets were doing well, I’d be hearing a lot more).

For Game Three, I wanted to find a good place to watch the game with other Royals fans. After doing some digging online, I found the John Brown Smokehouse in Queens, a BBQ place which was owned by a native of Kansas City, and which had some kind of relationship with former Chiefs and Jets Pro Bowl running back Tony Richardson. I made my way into Queens on the seven train, and the moment I walked in I knew I had found my people. The inside was a sea of blue, the burnt ends were delicious (best I’ve had outside of KC), and there was plenty of Boulevard beer on tap. I even met Richardson, and got to explain that I saw him run for 140 yards against the Denver Broncos in 2000. He corrected me and said 156.

Game Three itself did not go so well. The Mets decided and their fans were not as demoralized as the Orioles were a year before. I also got words of warning from the locals about wearing my Moustakas jersey to the game the next day: After Met pitcher Noah Syndergaard opened the game by pitching Escobar high and tight, Moustakas jawed at him from the dugout. Met fans were not going to take kindly to someone defending his teammate like that.

I was undeterred, however, and boarded the seven train back to Queens the next afternoon, ready to see my Royals take control of the series. I left early to watch batting practice and explore Citi Field, so the train wasn’t too packed and I didn’t have to deal with many people talking trash. In fact, over dinner I shared a table in the outfield concourse with a father and his two sons, and we bonded over the fact that my Dad had taken me and my brothers to so many games, culminating in the World Series last year. We had a good meal and even the trash talk was very friendly, until I got up to leave and the father saw the back of my jersey and said, “Moustakas!?! Come on, man!”

MooseAs things got closer to game time, more and more people started taking offense to my Moustakas jersey. While I never felt threatened, it was starting to get tiresome (except for the gyro comment, that was really funny). I did get a chance to cheer Moose loudly, though. Whenever he came up to bat, the Mets fans would boo loudly, giving me a chance to shout “MOOOOOOOOOOSE!” unnoticed by most of the Mets fans (the guy behind me figured out what I was doing, but thought it was funny). Unfortunately, after Moose went down in the top of the second, I had to use the restroom, and as I was walking down the aisle, I got what seemed like the entire section of the stadium booing at me as went down the steps (I was kind of wondering if it was loud enough to hear it on TV, but I wasn’t going to stop and text my family to ask).

As the Mets took the lead on a couple of Michael Conforto home runs, I became the least of their concerns. They felt that they were ready to tie the series, but after Mets starter Steven Matz left the game, I was able to feel some anticipation as the game was handed over to the bullpens. Did the Mets fans know as well as I did the ability this Royals team had to come back?

When the top of the eighth started, the Mets’ shaky setup man Tyler Clippard quickly walked two Royals batters. Everyone in the crowd was standing in anticipation as the game was handed over to Mets closer Jeurys Familia to face Eric Hosmer with two on and nobody out. At about the same time, I noticed that Davis was warming up in the bullpen. Royals’ manager Ned Yost was being aggressive and ready to bring in his closer in the eighth if the Royals tied or grabbed the lead.

Back on the field, Hosmer jumped on an early pitch from Familia, but it was an easy grounder to second baseman (and NLCS hero) Daniel Murphy. However, Murphy failed to field the ball and as it dribbled into the outfield Ben Zobrist scored to tie the game. The air went out of Citi Field and I gave a little fist pump and some dap to the other Royals fan nearby.

The next two batters, Moustakas and Salvador Pérez, gave the Royals the lead. At that point, I felt comfortable enough for some limited trash talk myself, when a Mets fan claimed that if we could get to Familia, then they could get to Wade Davis. I politely informed them that they clearly had not been through enough of the Wade Davis Experience. After a 1-2-3 bottom of the eighth and top of the ninth, the Mets did create some last-moment drama by putting up two singles against Davis in the bottom of the ninth with their hot-hitting first baseman Lucas Duda due up. When the Mets fan I had been talking to earlier asked if I was getting nervous, I calmly said, “Wade Davis has this.”

With the help of an unnecessary base-running mistake by Yoenis Cespedes, the Royals promptly got a double play, and I was walking out of Citi Field a winner.

On the way out of the park, I could feel that the gravity of the situation had sunk in for Mets fans. There were a few people who attempted to get chants of “Mets in seven!” going, but most just quietly filed out of the stadium and to their cars or the subway. In the jam of people getting onto the train a few talked to me, clearly dejected. I actually managed to make a few of them feel better by saying, “Hey, the Royals were down 3-1 the year we won it all, so it’s not over yet.”

The day of Game Five was also the first day of a planned trip to Philadelphia for my wife and me. While it would have been awesome to stay in New York, I didn’t have the cash to catch two World Series games. Further, since Ashley let me run off for the first part of the weekend to spend a ton of our money on a baseball game without complaining about it, I figured I should stick to most of our original plan.

The one change I did make was I found a Kansas City bar in Philadelphia called Big Charlie’s Saloon to watch the game at. While I knew it was mainly a Chiefs bar, I figured it had to be the place where local Royals fans were gathering.

So I ventured into South Philly, found a miniature sea of blue hanging out, and got to watch the Royals in yet another city (though this one wasn’t hostile to the Royals). In between innings, I checked out the insane collection of Chiefs memorabilia they had on the walls (any KC sports fan should check this place out if they’re in Philly).

As for the game itself, we got a bit nervous as Matt Harvey did his best Madison Bumgarner impersonation. However, we kept faith that either we’d eventually get to him or get to the Mets’ leaky bullpen. We did both. And we screamed ourselves hoarse at another dramatic comeback victory, safe in the company of fellow KC supporters. I bear-hugged total strangers as we slammed the door on a world championship, and for the first time in my life, I bought an entire bar a round of drinks.

We had just won the world championship. And no matter where I was, I was going to celebrate.

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9 11 2015
Comparing the 1985 and 2015 Kansas City Royals | Hated Yankees

[…] to the Mets in seven games. The Royals won most comparisons to the ’86 Red Sox. Then, after Game Four, I compared this year’s Mets to the 1985 Royals, who fell behind St. Louis 3-1 before roaring […]

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3 04 2016
The Royals’ greatest moments of championship seasons | Hated Yankees

[…] Enjoying Game Two and Game Four in 2015 vicariously through Mike, who went to Kauffman Stadium for one and Tom, who wore his Moustakas jersey in Citi Field for the other. […]

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