(**DISCLAIMER: for the most part, I have just copied and pasted these words from a comment I made on another thread at some point last season. Not because I'm lazy, but because it perfectly illustrates exactly why I became a fan of this team. To try to put it in different words than I had already written seemed redundant.**)
I was a Chicago kid, and like most of the kids I knew, a child who grew up not knowing his father. Circumstances prevented that, but they are irrelevant to this story.
1985 was the summer of my 14th year, and the first I ever spent with my dad . He had just just recently been released from prison and had resettled in Wichita, and I spent that summer with him. That May, as my little brother and I rode with him to begin our summer with him, it not only marked the first time we had ever been away from our mother for more than a single night, but it would literally be the first time either of us had ever left the city limits of Chicago. 13 and 14 years old, and neither of us had ever left our city borders.
The early awkwardness soon faded as we bonded with our dad over his love of the Kansas City Royals. There was no way to tell at the time that that summer would become prologue for a magical October. But I did recognize in the moment that the Royals were now my team, and they always would be. He taught us their history and all about their current players. We listened to Denny and Fred every game night, and to hear our dad (to that point a mythical person to us) have so much passion and knowledge about something he was passing on to us, was incredible to us.
We saw them play at Royals Stadium twice that year, once in July and again in August on our way back home to our mother. It seems hyperbolic when people say a memory from over 3 decades ago seems like yesterday. But entering that stadium for the first time, I can look back and close my eyes and smell that smell and feel that building excitement like it is a brand new memory. And I will never forget when the field came into view. The first player I saw had his back to us and seeing "White" on the back of his jersey had this kid in absolute awe. I had never heard of him until less than two months prior to that moment, but by then he was already my idol. Well, sports idol. My real idols were my mother and now the man who had brought us there.
We were able to get several player autographs on our brand new mitts during our two visits (including Frank, to my pure joy, but not George, to our complete disappointment). But two will always stand out because they didn’t just sign, they completely engaged us in conversation: Darryl Motley and Steve Balboni. Both players made us feel like we were the only people in the stands that day. Both shared personal stories relating to our experiences. They knew our experiences because they asked. During our last trip, both players actually remembered us and I swear to God that Balboni actually remembered our names. I started leaving that part of the story out because nobody ever believes it! But it is true, and a vital part of my recollections from that summer. In time all the autographs faded, but the memories never will. God willing.
Come October, we were settled back in with Mama and life in the only town we had ever known before the summer of ‘85. But we didn’t miss a pitch once the playoffs began. The complete disappointment of being down 3-1 to Toronto (fortuitous that this was the first year that the LCS went to a best of seven format) followed by the elation of the comeback. So being down 3-1 to the Cards wasn’t a death sentence, but even after the "Orta Play" in game six (although I still choose to remember that game as the "Iorg Play"), it almost seemed like it only delayed the inevitable. After all, John Tudor (Mad Bum v.1985) was taking the mound. Surely Sabes would remember he was just a kid on the biggest sports stage and Tudor would crush our dreams of a first title. I remember literally crying to my dad on the phone after game 6. Not out of elation, but out of fear that the dream was going to end right there. Despite his calming pleas for me to just "believe," I couldn’t. It seemed like a week between games 6 and 7, and I never lost that sense of foreboding. But one swing changed it all. In another "seems like yesterday" moment, I will never forget Motley absolutely cranking a 3-2 offering from Tudor for what we all thought was a 2 run homer.
I remember Motley slamming his bat out of frustration and breaking it. He collected his composure and a new bat and hit the very next pitch into the history books. That was the moment I knew we were going to be world champions. My dad called seconds later and this 14 year old kid was crying again. At that moment, I finally believed. Tudor, of course, imploded and Saberhagen, the 21 year old kid from Chicago Heights, put on a clinic on how to maintain composure. There was no way to know then I would someday have 3 children who would someday love this team as much as me. By 2015 (and at that time 19, 16, and 14 years old), they had endured so many of the lost seasons. They had also likely grown weary of my stories from the most magical year of my life before they were born, but if they did, they never told me. But as I watched Bret and Brett embrace at the final out, there was just no way to know that it would be 30 years before that feeling was recaptured.
By the time the Royals finally won another title, much had changed. My father had lost his long time battle with addiction. My little brother, one year to the day younger than me, never reached his 20th birthday, having become just another Chicago statistic. My mother had long since passed. My wife and best friend, the absolute love of my life and the mother of my three children (and a fellow die hard Royals fan) had been abruptly taken from us in a traffic accident. So the landscape of my life looked much different in 2014 and 2015 as the Royals took us all on an unbelievably magical ride. But one thing remained the same: my love for the Kansas City Royals. All three of my kids shared that love, and for them it had been a lifelong love. To share those beautiful memories with them (both the heartbreak of '14 and the electric elation of '15), produced a feeling that can't be put into words. That feeling is why I love sports.
The Kansas City Royals will be a part of me until the day I die. This FanPost (my first) isn't meant to read as tragedy or a plea for sympathy. I've been blessed with three incredible children, each of whom is already making their mark in this world. They share my passion and love for sports in general and the Royals in particular. And I can't wait until this team takes us on the next magical ride (even if I'm in a nursing home and have 10 grandkids by then!) That run will come. We can't wait!