I was born on November 12, 1994. Most baseball fans remember 1994 as the year of the strike. Royals fans, however, also remember it as the last good Kansas City baseball team for almost two decades.
The Royals finished the season at 64-51, good for third place in the newly established AL Central. While they sat four games back of the first place Chicago White Sox by the time the work stoppage hit, effectively ending the season, the newly established Wild Card rule gave the Royals hope that summer, as they finished just one game back of that playoff spot.
Unfortunately for young me, I just missed what proved to be the best Royals season until 2014. From 1995-2012, the Royals won more than 77 games just once. I become consciously aware of the Royals around 2000 or 2001, when I was five or six. Despite the on-field horrors that I was born into, I quickly grew to love the Kansas City Royals.
I grew up in Springfield, Missouri and for those of you who don’t know, that is Cardinals country. So while my friends talked about guys like Albert Pujols or Jim Edmonds, my favorite players were Joe Randa, Carlos Beltran and Mike Sweeney. And while I remember crying when Beltran was eventually traded, Sweeney was my guy. He still is, in fact.
My first memory of Kauffman Stadium actually started in a Wal-Mart, where my dad bought me an incredibly cheap Mike Sweeney jersey. I am unashamed to say that the jersey still hangs in my closet. We also bought sunflower seeds and peanuts, which always felt like sneaking candy into a movie.
I remember walking through the gates of Kauffman Stadium for the first time for a game against the Detroit Tigers. While many people are enthralled by the fountains, my attention first went to the scoreboard in center field, with the retired numbers “5”, “10”, and “20” spread across the base. The crown is what got me.
We got there early and went to the third base side. As is always the case, we got in when the opposing team was taking batting practice. My brother and I had our gloves and our ball and we went down to the first row, about half way up the third base line where several Tigers were shagging fly balls.
That was when I saw Dmitri Young. Yes, that guy. I have no idea why I knew who he was, but I knew. That is when some random Tiger knocked a ball down the third base line toward us. As all six or seven-year olds do in that situation, we both began to scream at him for the ball.
To our dismay, Young picked up the ball and cocked his arm to throw it back to the infield. But instead of throwing the ball, he pumped faked and launched it over his right shoulder toward us. The ball sailed over our heads, hit the inside of a seat, and as we turned to find it, immediately bounced off the seat and into my glove. That is all I remember about that game, outside of when Slugger lost his mind and stood on top of the video board.
Even with that being true, I was hooked. I spent my entire childhood trying to get to Kauffman Stadium anytime I could and as early as I could. I watched games started by Sidney Ponson, Odalis Perez and Brett Tomko. I was genuinely excited about Tony Pena Jr. and saw him make one of the most ridiculous plays at shortstop that I had ever seen, along with about maybe 8,000 other people.
And that feeling never went away. There is just something special about being at Kauffman Stadium.
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