Opening Day, 2007. Bases loaded. Two out. 1-0 Boston. Alex Gordon stepped to the plate. It was his first major league game, preceded by a meteoric rise through the minors. He was the local boy, and in many respects the hope of a beleaguered franchise. Following three straight seasons of 100 losses, the fans and the organization were looking for anything. A spark. A flame. A fire.
He strikes out.
May 1st, 2010. Gordon went 6-for-31 to start the season, following a late start caused by an injury. He enters the game as a pinch runner for Billy Butler. The score is tied 2-2 in the top of the 9th. To this point, the third baseman hasn't been what everyone expected, hitting .250/.331/.415 through his first three seasons. There's still hope in his arrival.
It won't be here yet, though. He's the first half of a double play that ends the inning and sends the game to extras.
He takes over at first base, the first time he has played there since 2007. In the eleventh inning, he draws a walk off of Lance Cormier. He later comes around to score on an Alberto Callaspo double. Joakim Soria closes out the game in the bottom of the frame, sealing the 4-2 win.
Later that night, Gordon gets demoted to Omaha. He needs a new position. A new start. There's more to him than what he's shown, we'll just have to keep hanging on.
July 23rd, 2010. Gordon returns to the majors to replace the injured David DeJesus. He's a left fielder now.The defensive struggles at third have gotten to him, so the story goes. Left field represents new possibilities.
But nothing new comes at the plate. Gordon hits .218/.311/.360 to finish out the year. The term "bust" is tossed around, spoken by fans and radio hosts. Discussions start on what people think they might be able to get for him in a trade.
The outlook isn't good outside of Kauffman, but inside the stadium, inside the clubhouse, inside Gordon's head, there isn't a doubt. There's less than a doubt. There's an unbridled confidence, an assured bravado that you don't see from guys who have been demoted, who have changed positions, and who have hit .244/.328/.405 over their first four professional seasons.
Alex Gordon doesn't think he'll improve. He doesn't think he'll make adjustments, shorten up his stride, keep his hands in, get better. He says he's going to dominate. In September of 2010, in the worst stretch of his career, Gordon says that in 2011, he will dominate.
March 31st, 2011. Gordon opens the season with an 0-for-5. He strikes out three times. The ridicule is cacophonous. He opens the season on a 2-for-13. Same old Gordon.
April 3rd, 2011. A 4-for-6 day lifts Gordon out of the cellar. He scores four runs. It's just one game. The next day, the White Sox jump out to a four-run lead in the first inning off of Luke Hochevar. In the bottom of the inning, Melky Cabrera singles. Alex Gordon steps to the plate:
Gordon finished the day 3-for-5 with two doubles and a home run. Kansas City wins 7-6. It's never been the same since.
For four years, we waited on Gordon. Hoped on Gordon. Because he was more than just a prospect, or a local kid. He was the symbol of better things, of hope deferred. His success was the Royals success, and his failures were the team's failures.
For four more years, we waited on the team. As Gordon continued pushing out some of the best seasons that Kansas City had seen in thirty years, the team continued spinning its wheels. Greinke: traded. Hosmer and Moustakas: struggled. Butler: declined. Cain: injured.
But there was always Gordon. The Nebraska kid who grew up a Royals fan, the Minor League Player of the Year, the failed prospect, the phoenix. The story of Kansas City baseball and Alex Gordon could not have been more intertwined, more intrinsic to one another. Years of struggle, disappointment, hopelessness, and all the while a sense that things could be great again. It wasn't a miracle, or luck, or karma. It was perseverance, a willingness to stand eyes forward against the bitter cold of another lost season, peering through windswept eyes for the lighthouse on distant shores.
October 27th, 2015. Bottom of the ninth. 4-3 Mets. World's Series, Game 1. One out. Alex Gordon steps to the plate. Despite the score, the air is electric. Forty thousand people wait. Each pitch is a gasp for air. The suspense is suffocating. Anxiety and anticipation, the hallmarks of Gordon's career, the history of three decades, hang in the wind.
It is the moment we had all been waiting for. The moment we always wanted, ever since that crisp April afternoon eight years ago. It finally happened. With one swing, we witnessed the rarest of all things: the instant a man became a monument.