They're in!

Last night it happened.

The Kansas City Royals punched a ticket to their first postseason since 1985.

Congratulations to the Toronto Blue Jays. You now have the longest postseason drought at 21 years, which seems crazy. It doesn’t seem like that long ago that those guys were the toast of baseball.

The excitement and anticipation that built Thursday carried into Friday. I had a busy day that included working with media at a large scale disaster simulation hosted by the university and helping to christen our new cricket pitch on the campus. By 5:30, the girls and I were meeting at home to regroup and head to the high school for the school district’s family funfest – hot dogs and a half-dozen inflatable attractions, followed by the high school football game. We only stayed until the end of the first quarter, but the route was already on. They won 62-28.

As we were getting into our car, Phoebe asked if she could stay up to watch the Royals game, noting it was “a special game.” Kati looked at me with a laugh. I looked back at her and tried to clear myself of any wrongdoing. “Hey, I didn’t say anything!” … Not Friday evening, anyway. I might have said something, however, while I was taking the girls to school Friday morning.

By the time we arrived home, settled in and found the game on the TV, the Royals were leading the White Sox comfortably, 3-0, in the bottom of the third inning.

Behind Jeremy Guthrie, they cruised through the innings and I started counting the remaining outs in the seventh inning. All four of us managed to stay awake for the entire game – which is a feat at our house on Friday nights.

Then Greg Holland came in, as he does so well, to close out the came.

As Salavador Perez eyed a pop fly for the final out, I stood up from my chair, threw my hands in the air like a football referee signaling a touchdown and shouted one word: “Royaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaals!” … The ball landed safely in Salvy’s glove and the celebration was on. Phoebe laid on the couch next to me and we watched every minute – from the hugs on the field, to the champagne spraying in the clubhouse, to the interaction with the remaining Royals fans on the field – with amusement.

My Twitter friends and followees were posting so fast I could barely keep up …

Phoebe is 6 now. I was 6 when the Royals last made the postseason.

Yet, for the record, I have no recollection whatsoever of watching Major League Baseball in 1985, let alone the Kansas City Royals. My first memories of watching baseball extend only as far back as 1988 and falling in love with the Dodgers that fall. I learned everything I know about baseball prior to that time by watching endless highlight shows and documentaries. 

I became a Royals fan in 1991 when my family moved to suburban Kansas City and we began attending games at what was then the turf-surface Royals Stadium almost immediately. As I’ve reminisced before, I took pleasure in watching George Brett’s final years, and there was some glory in 1994 before the franchise began its plummet. I've reminisced about those days a few times here.

For the remainder of the 1990s and early 2000s, we went to Royals games mostly to see their opponents. Frank Thomas’ Chicago White Sox, Ken Griffey Jr.’s Seattle Mariners, Cal Ripken Jr.’s Baltimore Orioles, and the great Cleveland Indian and New York Yankee teams of the late 1990s.

There were blips of greatness. Like when I was lucky enough to attend opening day in 1999 and – even though they lost the game to Pedro Martinez and the Boston Red Sox – was wowed by a lineup that featured Carlos Beltran, Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye and Rey Sanchez. I never thought much of their manager at that time, Tony Muser, but truly thought the Royals were finally on the verge of something special. Then all of those players were given away, of course, during what felt like the Royals’ never-ending rebuilding project.

I moved away from Kansas City in 2001, watched their 2003 fluke from afar, and returned in 2010, having been spoiled by the winning ways of the Milwaukee Brewers and the Chicago Cubs during my tenure away from Kansas City. I was encouraged by the Royals’ hiring of former Brewers manager Ned Yost that spring, and a wild doubleheader that August. Phoebe and I also went out to meet Billy Butler – currently her favorite player – Danny Duffy and Greg Holland on a Saturday afternoon a couple Januaries ago.

It feels to me as though everything changed the night of July 24, 2013. … That was the night the Royals started playing like a contending baseball team, and I’ve been tuned in nearly every night since.

This morning the sun is shining and I woke up knowing the Royals are going to play postseason baseball.

I’m still trying to make sense of it.

Here are just some of the images from last night.

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