Royal dreams come true

For almost three decades, the gold crown above the scoreboard at Kauffman Stadium had mocked the home team. The Kansas City Royals had not been kings of anything since 1985, when they won their only championship. They would never be royal.

All of that has changed. Across eight mystical games, a famine has given way a bountiful harvest. The Royals — yes, the Royals — have advanced to the World Series, finishing a four-game sweep of the American League Championship Series with a 2-1 victory over the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday. ~ Tyler Kepner, The New York Times

More than 24 hours have passed and I’m still in awe.

I was at Kauffman Stadium yesterday to watch the Royals play in a postseason game. The American League Championship Series. Which they won. And now they’re going to play in the World Series.

The common catchphrase all of us seem to be repeating these days: Is this real life?

At this moment I’m watching Game 4 of the National League Championship Series with the Giants and Cardinals, and Michael Morse just crushed a solo home run for the Giants to tie the game at 3-3 in the eighth inning. Amid all of the Royals excitement, I’ve haven’t found much room to care about this series. Whatever. … Actually I do care. I really don’t want to see the Cardinals in the World Series.

The Royals are in the World Series, though. And that’s amazing.

We were wrapping up dinner Sunday night and I began checking the latest ticket prices on StubHub, as I had been doing all weekend. I wanted so badly to go to a game, but my hopes were fading. As I continued scrolling over the options, I found an appealing seat in the upper deck on the right field side. I reported the cost to Kates, and she said the magic words: “Go for it.”

I won’t say how much I paid for the ticket. But it’s down as an early Christmas present to me. And it was worth every dollar.

I awoke with the girls yesterday morning and took Faye to daycare as usual. On my way home I made a pit stop at Wal-mart, and there – front and center inside the entrance – was a rack of Royals gear. Of course. Because for the first time in decades Royals gear is in demand.

Instead of heading to my office, I had put in for a vacation day from work, so I could enjoy my morning at home and not have to deal with the regular distractions – although I spent the morning working on some important projects anyway. I hit the road at 11 a.m. and was pulling into the parking lot of the sport complex around 12:45.

It was a picture perfect day.

Already, the lots – which opened at 10 – were packed. Vehicles were parked on the grass. Royal blue-clad fans were tailgating. And, oh, the smells coming from those grills were good. Clearly, a lot of fans had come just to park, tailgate and enjoy the atmosphere, even if they didn’t have tickets to be inside the stadium. I had never seen so many happy people tailgating in all my years of going to baseball games at Kauffman Stadium.

Not to mention the sight of the tress surrounding the stadium sporting autumn shades of gold, brown and orange. We’re used to the summer greens surrounding Kauffman Stadium, but, yes, this was October baseball at Kauffman Stadium. Amazing.

And the music. The music blaring throughout the day from my iPhone, in my car, from the parking lot and inside the stadium was at times totally fitting for the setting and at times totally making me nostalgic for all the afternoons and evenings I spent sitting in Kauffman’s left field cheap seats with my buddies. …

The first song to play on my iPhone as I started driving toward Kansas City was “Feel This Moment.” As I walked through the parking lot, I caught, of course, Pharell Williams’ “Happy” and Lorde’s “Royals.” Inside the stadium, the batting practice music was chock-full of ’90s rock – including Third Eye Blind’s “Semi-Charmed Life” and Len’s “Steal My Sunshine,” to name a couple. The stadium played “Don’t Stop Believin’” during the sixth inning break. And the first song to come on my iPhone as I left the stadium was “Pinch Me.”

Once I was through the stadium gates, with my coveted Royals rally towel in hand, I began taking in everything I could. I made my way down an aisle on the third base side while a pair of ushers were wiping the seats clean. The Royals were taking batting practice while the Orioles warmed up on the left field grass. The red, white and blue bunting adorned the railings. Postseason banners and signs graced all corners of the stadium and the dugout roofs. The stadium’s iconic scoreboard flashed “Welcome to the ALCS.”

Media swarmed the grass behind the batting cage from dugout to dugout. And fans in Royal blue T-shirts, jackets, sweatshirts and jerseys crowded the areas from dugout to dugout on the other side of the railing. I watched Joe Torre interact with a group of important-looking men. I watched George Brett command the area behind the batting cage with his presence and his classic smile before stepping into an interview with a few reporters. I watched a Royals PR executive lead rookie pitcher Brandon Finnegan off the field to a camera and lights set up at the backstop wall. I watched Jarrod Dyson come off the field and toss a ball up to some cheering fans before disappearing into the dugout. I watched Ned Yost, with Dale Sveum trailing behind him, head for the dugout and wave his hands at fans as they applauded him warmly.

After a while, the Orioles took to the batting cages and I decided to explore the rest of the stadium. I soon found the TBS stage set up on the left field concourse. Casey Stern, Gary Sheffield and – my favoritePedro Martinez were on the set and appeared to be recording some commentary. After enjoying a ballpark cheeseburger, the TBS crew was taking a break and I noticed Pedro appeared to be signing some autographs for fans. I didn’t have anything on me that I wanted him to sign, but I took advantage of an opportunity to be near his greatness anyway. I stood within a few feet of Pedro and snapped some pictures, taking in another aspect of the whole atmosphere and watching him sign everything from tickets to baseballs to hats to game programs to a tennis shoe that some kid took from his foot right then and there. 

Pedro was patient and gracious, signing autographs and conversing with fans for what must have been a solid 15 to 20 minutes. I always enjoyed watching him as a player, I’ve enjoyed his commentary on TBS, and witnessing his personality and interactions up close only made me admire and respect him more.

At one point a Royals fan asked him, “What do you think, Pedro? Are our boys going to do it today?” In his Pedro way, he answered, “You know, I think they will. Looking at everything, I think they’ll win.” … That was good enough for me.

Around 2:15, some fan entertainment activities were beginning on the field and I decided to head for my seat. Section 438, located on right field corner of the upper deck. When I got there, I was pleasantly surprised with how great the view was, and the sentiment remained throughout the afternoon. In the meantime, the fan activities continued on the field for prize packages; there were some trivia games and a boy who was tasked with kicking a soccer ball into a series of four nets at varied distances – he made two goals and just missed the other two. Several quips also were made by the stadium emcee girl about all of us skipping work.

Then, the emcee girl signaled the national telecast was about to begin, encouraged the crowd to get excited and counted down … 5… 4 … 3 … 2 … 1. And we were cleared for takeoff.

The crowd erupted in boisterous cheering and a sea of blue and white rally towels. … A few minutes later, American Idol winner and Kansas City native David Cook sang the national anthem. And there was a flyover.

Game time.

With a blue-hued throng of 40,468 fans roaring on a sunny, 65-degree afternoon, the Royals struck for two runs in the first inning with an infield single, a hit by pitch, a sacrifice bunt and a fielder's choice, capped by Alcides Escobar kicking the ball out of the catcher's glove on a play at the plate, clearing the way for a second run to score. It was all they would need

That first inning was terrifically exciting inning. Then things went quiet. … And the Orioles got one on the board with Ryan Flaherty’s no-doubt-home-run in the third inning.

As the game progressed, I kept good conversation with a guy sitting to my left who was about my age and attending the game with his wife. This guy had with him a little stuffed Eric Hosmer doll that he pulled out every time Hosmer stepped to the plate and insisted that all of the people around him rub the doll for good luck. As luck had it, Hosmer was productive in the first three of his four at-bats yesterday. He got on with a fielder’s choice in the first, a single in the third and an intentional walk in the fifth, before striking out in the seventh.

If only Salvador Perez had the same success. His at-bats have been tough to watch and out of form this postseason. ... But, let's not forget he got us here.

The longer the Royals clinged to that one-run lead, the more tense the crowd seemed to be and I got anxious. I kept wanting SOMEBODY to do SOMETHING for the Royals’ offense. No matter how good the Royals bullpen has been, I’m not taking any lead for granted. How long could this magic possibly last!?

Then there was that Alex Gordon catch. I’m not sure anyone in the stadium thought he was going to get to that ball. I still don’t know how he got to that ball. If that wasn’t Royals magic …

As I mentioned above, here's that “Don’t Stop Believin’” scene during the sixth inning ...

Still, once Kelvin Herrera was through the seventh inning the mood in the seats seemed to lighten. Once Wade Davis was in for the eighth inning we began counting outs.

In the bottom of the eighth, the Royals had as good as any chance to score an insurance run. Billy Butler led off with a line drive double to left field, and Terrence Gore replaced him as a pinch runner. Gore eventually got to third base and the Orioles gave Omar Infante an intentional walk to put runners on the corners with two outs. But Mike Moustakas popped up to second base for the third out. Grr. 

Then Greg Holland came in for the ninth inning, and we held our breaths.

Every other person pulled out their phones for an attempt to capture the final out of the game. …

J.J. Hardy hit a sharp grounder down the third base line. Mike Moustakas gloved it – he’s had some trouble throwing across the diamond to first base at time – and we collectively held our breaths, but his throw was on the mark. Eric Hosmer caught it at first base.

Around 6:05 p.m. last night, the Royals were American League Champions. The Royals are heading to World Series after sweeping the Orioles.

Here’s how it looked from my vantage point, and watch how quickly the grounds crew is wheeling out the set for the postgame celebration …

Here’s a neat video of how it looked and sounded from the parking lot

Random people hugged each other and slapped high fives. Some people wiped tears from their eyes. … As I wondered about what the moment might be like beforehand, I wasn’t sure how I might react. For me, it turned out to be utter awe and jubilation at witnessing such a moment. After so many years of going to games at Kauffman Stadium and watching so many bad teams. I noticed my eyes a little watery, too.

Hardly anyone left as the postgame celebration continued to play out and the trophy presentation got underway on the stage set up in the center of the ball field. I stayed through all of it, bursting with pride for Ned Yost as he took the stage and joked that he and Dayton Moore had been planning this point for five years. And for Lorenzo Cain, smiling wildly with him as he accepted the ALCS MVP trophy

I couldn’t be happier for Lorenzo, Alcides Escobar, Nori Oki, and – especially – Ned Yost and Dale Sveum, the former Brewers and Cubs managers who came so close and had been so far in recent years before it all clicked this season. Heck, this has been a long time coming for the entire enormously skilled Royals coaching staff. Ned Yost has earned this moment
When the postgame party ended – the broadcast portion, at least – I decided to head for the parking lot. After all, it had been a long day and I was ready to get home to my girls. I headed for the ramp and started down it with the crowd – although I veered back toward the stadium at the 300 level and caught one more glimpse of the party on the field, which now involved the players taking a lap around the field with the American League Championship trophy.

In the parking lot, it was controlled pandemonium. Fans hooped and hollered on their way to their cars, while the cars heading out of the lot were blasting their horns. There were so many police cars manning the intersections and adding security around the stadium that I cruised to the interstate on-ramp. … I learned later last night that a chant of "Let's go Royals" erupted in the performing arts center on campus while students waited for a comedy show.

I arrived home around 8 and basked in the emotional high of my day, reviewing the recaps, social media posts and images. My voice was hoarse and my ears were ringing from the crowd noise – that’s normal for my concert nights but a definite first after a ballgame. It was worth every dollar.

It took 29 years, but the Royals are ready to bring a World Series win back to Kansas City.

Enjoy this

And this. This really made me well up

Here's another ...

10:35 p.m. We have a Wild Card World Series! Thank you, San Francisco Giants
The Giant put two runners on in the bottom of the ninth and then Travis Ishikawa got a hold of one and dropped it in the right field stands to end the National League Championship Series. I hopped off the couch, landed in front of the TV and pumped my fists almost as hard as I’ve pumped them for the Royals’ wins.

In the top of the ninth, Brandon Crawford also made an ridiculously beautiful, game-saving play … 

Good reads and stuff …

Buster Olney's podcast today is worth a listen. He's brings in The Kansas City Star's Sam Mellinger around the 15-minute mark and his insight, including his thoughts on Ned Yost, are excellent. And totally on par with my thoughts.

Hey, Paul Rudd was at Game 4, too!

27 Reasons The Kansas City Royals Are Becoming America's New Favorite Team

Royals making the extraordinary routine, riding improbable playoff run 

From wild cards to World Series, Giants, Royals endured 

Constructing a World Series team: Royals Royals Envisioned Success, and Then Saw It Through  

The World Series-bound Royals have transformed KC’s sports identity
Part of that is the movie-script way this season has played out. They were bad enough in May that they fired the hitting coach. Demoted their third baseman. Got swept by the Houston Astros, which some inside the organization still mark as the season’s low point. Look at them now: Salvador Perez leading his friends and teammates in a victory lap around the stadium, in front of the seats in the outfield that didn’t even exist when the team started building toward this moment.

But so much of the joy is that they’ve done this here, in Kansas City, where this is appreciated and celebrated in a way that perhaps no other place in baseball could. Celebrations run hotter and harder when fueled by a generation of pain.

Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/sports/spt-columns-blogs/sam-mellinger/article2849191.html#storylink=cpy

The Kansas City Royals' Huge Appeal 
The Royals are also a great story because they play an unusual, exciting, nostalgia-tinged brand of baseball. With the fewest home runs of any team in the majors, they are the epitome of “small ball,” winning with speed, pitching, timely hitting, and ridiculously good defense. Manufacturing runs from what feels like thin air, their style hearkens to a better kind of baseball, before steroids warped the game, erasing so much of its subtlety.
This team. ... A Joe Posnanski story to which all Kansas Citians my age and older can relate.
Then, about the time Margo turned 16, the Royals just stopped. They didn’t just stop winning. They stopped being. The team of Brett and Leonard and Sabes and Quiz … well … what? Who could even say? One year they were a team of washed-up veterans. The next they were a team of overmatched kids. Then they were washed-up veterans again.  The Royals never had any money, so the best players would dig holes in the walls behind posters to escape. They were never any good, so the only time SportsCenter or anyone else paid attention was when they went on 19-game losing streaks or when their first-base coach was attacked by a lunatic father-and-son fan duo in Chicago.
More KC fountains turning blue for Royals

Unlikeliest World Series Winners … Good stuff.

Meanwhile in Chicago, the famed bleachers are being ripped out of Wrigley Field as its rehab continues. I know there will be improvements, and it’s not like the ballpark is being torn down, but this saddens me. I liked it the way it was.

No comments: