Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The most important game the Royals will ever play

It was 2003.
93 games at number one in the American League Central. The Royals were going places. I’ll never forget that season of believing with Tony Pena at the helm. It felt like a different ball club. We had a stronger presence and many folks were hopping on the, “We Believe” bandwagon. I was loving it.
I grew up around the Royals. Not the Royals’ ball club; Not the business of Royals, but the team. My dad directed more Royals’ baseball games than I can remember. I had the fortunate experience of traveling with him to games both home and across the country. My dad became friends with the players, coaches, and managers. Those friendships allowed me the opportunity to meet a lot of really dynamic people and get to know a really incredible team.
I think I was around 10 years old when I first met Frank White. In the dugout, during batting practice my dad introduced me. “Katie…this is one of the greatest baseball players of all time.” Frank scoffed at that. I had no idea who he was. I sat in the dugout with them as they talked. I didn’t consider myself a baseball fan, but I knew it must be pretty cool to be there.
Then, I met Scott Pose. Scott Pose, people. I was enthralled. He talked to me. I had no idea what he said, but he gave me a baseball. I remember thinking that he was one of the nicest people I had ever met. Scott Pose wasn’t part of the team much longer, but that was only the beginning of my experiences with those players and my love for the Royals.
Over the next few years I met a lot of them. I attended a party with my dad and rubbed shoulders with Royals greats.  I prayed for smiles from Carlos Febles, respected Raul Ibanez, admired Jermaine Dye, and loved Mike Sweeney and Joe Randa. My dad (a stickler for rules), would never ask any of them for autographs for me. So I wrote out a letter to Mike Sweeney, and it wasn’t long before I had a personalized autographed poster of him. My mom laminated it for me and it went on the back of my door.
I didn’t fall in love with baseball. I fell in love with that team and those people. They made me love a losing team. Watching them play felt personal. It was exciting to me, even through the losses.  I always had hope that each year could be better than the last. Before I knew it, baseball, the sport, was important to me.
Then 2003 came. I don’t know that I’ll ever get those images out of my head…Tony Pena shouting, “We believe! We believe!”
Winning just felt incredible. We were a family of Royals fans. My mom and I would cheer them on from home when my dad was traveling. Mom tried to pretend she didn’t care about anything other than who had the best butt on the team, but I’d catch her watching plays intently and lashing out in the excitement of homeruns.
It was 2003 when Mom got sick. She got really sick, really fast and my family spent a month by her bedside in the hospital. Waiting for mom to pass was really difficult. But the Royals joined us through it. They were on in every room in that hallway of the hospital. Maybe it was the comfort of America’s favorite past time, or the hope in the promising season, but either way, that team was important.
You will hear people argue that Major League Baseball (or all professional sports) should not hold a place in our society. I’ve had people tell me that they hate baseball and ask me why I care. The truth is, I don’t know if I would love baseball if I didn’t fall in love with the Royals years ago. But I’ve grown to appreciate what place it has held in my life. It united me with my family. It was something I could talk about with my mom, dad, and grandpa alike. We would celebrate the successes together and shake our heads at the losses (all the freakin losses). Grandpa said it best when he said, “We’ve got an Angel and Jesus on our team and we can’t win a damn game.” We may not have had anything else to talk about, but we could talk about that.
In July, 2003, less than a month after my mom passed, my dad’s company had dugout suite tickets to a Royals game. Mike Sweeney was out with an injury and Joe Randa wasn’t in the lineup but I was still excited to go. In the middle of the game Paul Splitorff told me I needed to go inside the suite for a minute. I walked inside and standing by the doorway was Mike Sweeney and Joe Randa…in the middle of the game. Mike smiled at me sweetly and said, “We know it’s been a hard month for you. We’ve been thinking of you and your family, and hope you had a happy birthday.” He gave me an autographed bat and Joe Randa gave me a Royals hat.  I was floored. I couldn’t believe it.
I’ll never forget their kindness, but this wasn’t something out of character for them. These were the type of people on this team. They were the type of people you wanted to root for, and the sort of weird family that you’d want to be a part of. .  I haven’t met anyone on this current team, but from what I’ve seen and read, the players have continued to value kindness and sharing celebrations with the fans over all else. I hope the organization and business of the Royals follows their lead and makes strides like this team has.
Because here we are in 2014. Game one of the World Series is tomorrow. I myself, cannot afford to go, but I’m looking forward to cheering them on with the rest of the city. For me, it’s the kind of thing I dreamed about happening, but never really thought I’d see. Not in a bad way. To be honest, I’ve always been happy to root for the people on this team. I just never knew the fantasy of them actually getting here could be real. I’m not sure if they knew it was either. This game tomorrow is the most important game they’ve played in what seems like a million years, not for what it means for the Royals ball club, but for what it means for all of us. This team should be proud that they’ve united an entire city. Despite all our differences we are happy to come together to celebrate the absolutely incredible ride this team has taken us on this year. That’s how it should be, and I hope it stays that way. Win or lose, we love this team.  But we believe and they believe. I think the odds are in our favor.