Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Royals Rock On!

Baseball fans stream into Kauffman Stadum for World Series Game #2
The Royals Rock On!
memoir
by Greg Larson

           The Kansas City Royals baseball fans have endured a twenty-nine year drought of mediocre baseball. With the team’s postseason winning streak of eight games, and the World Series underway, the drought has officially ended. The Royals fans now wear their blue gear with pride.

          For years, if anyone ventured out to a Royals game it was usually to go on a family outing or field trip with the office gang, just to be sociable. Kauffman Stadium, the “K,” was upgraded in 2009 to lure more people into the park. Yes, the restrooms and shops are bigger, the food venues serve gourmet items along with wine, beer and cocktails, and the park has more flash and dazzle with multiple electronic screens and billboards (they even have mini-golf, a carousel and a ball diamond in a children’s park beyond the outfield). But until recently, the improvements to the park didn’t include the quality of Royal’s baseball. “There’s a ballgame on the field!” someone would say. Imagine that! What a novel idea. “Ah, let’s go hang out on the concourse and eat some chili-cheese nachos with jalapenos.”

          Sporadically, the team improved, especially in the last year. They began to play something that resembled baseball – and they started winning.

          This last August I bought some tickets on Royals.com, and my brother, Dan, and I ventured out to the “K.” It was like the old days at the ballpark, watching players who were good at their sport, and full of energy. The experience stirred memories and emotions I’d had from the ’70s and ’80s. Although the Royals lost to the Twins in ten innings on that night in August, it was good to see real baseball, complete with offense and defense.

          Fast forward to the wildcard game with Oakland – the game with multiple personalities, both literally and figuratively. The Royals came back from a 7-3 deficit in the eighth inning to win in the twelfth inning with a score of 8-9. The Royal’s players showed spunk and moxie. My fan juices began to flow again. I had worn my old 1985 World Series t-shirt to watch the game on TV. That was the good luck charm.

          After that game, I received an email from Royals.com to sign up for a lottery that would give a selected few the chance to buy two tickets to a World Series game at the “K,” if the Royals made it that far in the post-season. I’m not one to gamble or buy lottery tickets, but I signed up online for a chance to go to the World Series, and then I forgot about it.

          On October 13th, I received an email titled WORLD SERIES TICKET OPPORTUNITY. Sounded like a scam to me, but then I realized it was sent by Royals.com. “Congratulations! You have been selected for the opportunity to purchase two tickets . . .” Holy Moly! This was the real deal. On October 14th, I was sent a password and a link to a website that put me in a virtual waiting room with all the other lottery winners attempting to purchase tickets. After twenty-five minutes of waiting, I was linked to the ticket-purchase website. Instructions said the tickets had to be purchased in five minutes or I would lose the opportunity.

          The ticket prices were sanctioned by Major League Baseball. I remember the prices varying from approximately $100 for standing-room-only to over $800 for the best seats possible. Then a rash of horror struck me. The ticket selection was color-coded, and I’m color-blind! The clock was ticking. I tried to stay calm. One category was listed as “Hy-Vee box seats,” for $245.00 per ticket. I knew the Hy-Vee grocery stores sponsored the upper-deck, and from past experience, I knew the upper-deck box seats were close to the railing above the infield and along the first and third base lines. Bingo . . . I clicked for the purchase of two tickets to Game #2 and a parking pass. I received a confirmation number for seats in the upper-deck section 413, near home plate. WOO-HOO! (After I bought the tickets to Game #2, I noticed on the internet that tickets in section 413 were selling for $1000 to $1200 apiece).

          It seemed bizarre. I printed the tickets in the privacy of my own home, and kept rubbing my fingers over them. Every so often I would pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. I offered the second ticket to my brother, Dan, who is much more knowledgeable about baseball than me.

          The thought of going to the game with Dan brought back memories of my dad taking the two of us to Lawrence Stadium in Wichita, Kansas, in the 1950s to watch the Wichita Braves, Milwaukee’s farm team. I remember smelling the cigar smoke from the crowds, and looking at the stadium lights shining on big players who ran the chalk lines or chased the ball on the neatly trimmed grass. For me, it was the big leagues.

          Another early childhood memory was our tabletop baseball game, a pinball machine. We’d pull back the plunger and watch the ball arch and drop to the pockets for base hits, home runs, or strikeouts. Our teams were selected from Dan’s baseball cards, and we moved the players around the glass top as we scored or made hits. That was the beginning of our interest in baseball, and now we were going to witness, in person, a live World Series game.
Dan and Greg at Game #2 at the "K"
           On October 22, 2014, Dan and I left in the afternoon for the “K.”  We packed the car trunk with tailgate items including food and beverages, and I put the World Series tickets in a big envelope and locked it in the glove box. The 1985 World Series hats I’d pulled from a keepsake box added a nice touch to our blue jeans and Royals sweatshirts.

          The baseball gods delivered perfect weather, with a cool breeze and warm sunshine washing over us in the parking lot. We sipped our beers and kept saying, “It doesn’t get any better than this!”
Pre-game view from our World Series seats
          The party atmosphere pervaded the sports complex from the parking lot to the stadium. Since the Royals lost the first game of the World Series (7-1) on the previous night, the fans were hungry for a win. It was a raucous crowd. The chanting was loud and constant, much like a football game. The crowd screamed on every pitch to the first batter for the San Francisco Giants. The count went full at 3-2, and on the next pitch, he hit a home run. You might have thought the crowd enthusiasm would deflate, but it didn’t. We just kept on screaming as if to will the Royals a win.
Royals fans scream for a San Francisco Giant to strike out
          The Royals scratched out a run in the bottom of the first inning, and we knew it would be a dog fight the rest of the night. With the score tied 2-2 in the bottom of the sixth inning, the Royals put two men on base with a hit and a walk. The crowd was restless and the noise level continued to rise as the designated hitter, Billy Butler, came to the plate. On the third pitch, Billy hit the ball to left field and the crowd exploded as the leading run scored. The Royals kept up the scoring, with the piece de resistance being a two-run homer by Royal’s Omar Infante. By then, the San Francisco pitching had come unglued, the score was 7-2 in favor of the Royals, and the fans were ready to party the night away. Our arms were tired from twirling the souvenir towels we’d been given at the gate, but I didn’t care. This was the big leagues, and our Royals had whumped the San Francisco Giants! Royals manager, Ned Yost, relied on the trademark succession of relief pitchers (Herrara, Davis, and Holland) to wrap up the win.
The Royals team celebrates their win in Game #2
          Game #2 is now etched in my baseball memory. Who knows how long the Royals run will last? Whether or not we win the World Series, I’ll always remember the 2014 Royals, with a roster full of unsung heroes who stepped up to the plate to make a key hit, or an impossible catch . . . a team who played their hearts out for the love of the game.

1 comment:

  1. Baseball has always been one of the sports most dedicated to tradition and resistant to change.

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