How do you describe fearlessness? How do you illustrate indomitability? How do you depict resilience? How do you define team spirit? What words portray the crack of the bat, the pop of a 98-mph fastball in a glove, or the thunderous roar of endearing fans? How do you express the absolute exhaustive euphoria I am feeling right now?
With three words: Kansas City Royals.
Since I was a small boy in Blue Springs, Missouri, baseball was everything. When the Kansas City Athletics moved to Oakland after the 1967 season, we were heartbroken and without a baseball team. Thanks to Senator Stuart Symington and Ewing Kauffman, the Kansas City Royals were born through expansion, and baseball was back at Municipal Stadium in time for the 1969 season. In our sandlot games we pretended to be Royals players like Lou Piniella, Amos Otis, Cookie Rojas, Hal McRae, and “Little” Freddie Patek. Playing ball was pure ecstasy.
By 1971, my new team had a winning season. In 1973 they adopted their iconic “powder blue” uniforms and moved to the new Truman Sports Complex, home of Kauffman Stadium (aka Royals Stadium) the most beautiful picturesque major league ballpark in the country. Between 1975 and 1985, we had new heroes like Paul Splittorff, “Big” John Mayberry, Frank White and George Brett.
The Royals flirted with greatness in the 1980 World Series, but lost in six games to the Philadelphia Phillies. Finally, in 1985, led by Brett’s bat and Bret Saberhagen’s pitching, the Royals played the St. Louis Cardinals in the famed I-70 World Series. With St. Louis on Missouri’s eastern border and Kansas City on its west, the entire State of Missouri was ripped in half. Only Interstate 70, which connected these two metropolitan areas, held the state together. The Royals beat the Cardinals 11-0 in game 7 to capture their first World Championship.
Thirty years later, I sat in my family room with Frank White’s former piano teacher (my wife, Kimberly) and my son, Landon, watching the Royals do it again. But this time, the Royals’ “team” concept stands out in stark contrast to every other club in baseball. The Royals’ “team” is different. Every member of their roster is a star. Not a George Brett-type star but a team-type star.
Coach John Wooden said: “The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team.” I have always believed, like Coach Wooden, players who make a team great are always more valuable than great players. Meet the 2015 World Champion Kansas City Royals.
When Royals general manager Dayton Moore started putting this team together, he focused on players that cared more about each other than themselves. It started with team manager Ned Yost and trickled down to every player on the Royals’ roster. Last year, Moore proved to be a genius as the wild-card Royals’ comeback mentality brought them through game after game, making it to the World Series and taking the San Francisco Giants to Game 7, only to leave the tying run 90 feet away at game’s end. The Royals remembered that all year.
Sunday night, Met Matt Harvey’s pitching dominance was surprising as he stifled the Royals’ bats for eight shutout innings. To the crowd’s chants of “We want Harvey,” and against Mets manager Terry Collins’ gut, Harvey returned in the ninth, setting up one last Royals riposte, proving Moore was indeed a mastermind after all. Harvey walked leadoff hitter Lorenzo Cain, who promptly stole second base. Harvey then surrendered a double, ripped by Eric Hosmer to left field, scoring Cain. That was it for Harvey, and the Royals were now licking their chops inside the Mets’ bullpen. Facing Mets closer Jeurys Familia, KC’s Mike Moustakas grounded out to move Hosmer to third. The Royals had the tying run 90 feet away again in the World Series, and Hosmer wasn’t going to let it pass this time. Salvador Perez hit a broken-bat grounder toward third baseman David Wright, who turned to freeze Hosmer at third base. Wright threw to first, but Hosmer broke for the plate anyway in a defiant dash of madness. The move rattled Mets’ first baseman Lucas Duda, whose throw home was wide of Travis d’Arnaud’s outstretched glove. Hosmer slid home safe to tie the game. The improbable had happened again for the Royals as Citi Field sat in stunned silence.
I knew it was just a matter of time. The Royals’ never-say-die attitude is the result of the faith in the team. The team never quits, it just keeps coming at you — swing, hit, run, and keep the line moving. That’s Royals baseball. The Royals exploded for five runs in the 12th inning, with pinch-hitter Christian Colon knocking in the go-ahead run with a sharp single to center field. His last at-bat was Oct. 4, but in Royals fashion his number was called and he kept the line moving. The line included Perez, Jarrod Dyson, Alex Gordon, Colon, Paulo Orlando, Alcides Escobar, Ben Zorbrist, and Cain.
The Royals lineup is deep with contact hitters — it’s Kansas City’s new style of baseball. Leading 7-2 in the bottom of the 12th inning, Wade Davis, arguably the best closer in baseball, shut the Mets down by striking out Wilmer Flores with a 95-mph fastball at around 12:35 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, and the Royals were World Champions.
Kansas City will celebrate today, with a parade down Grand Boulevard just like they did in 1985. There will be a huge victory rally at Union Station, another spot of sacred ground. My little brother and sister will be safe in their homes, their tickets for tonight’s would-be Game 6 now useless. As for me, I’m just grateful for my roots and my hometown. They say you can take the boy out of the country, but you can never take the country out of the boy. It’s a proud day to be from Kansas City. Let’s go, Royals.
I’ll see you from the sideline.