Thirty years ago this past August, I moved my family from a small town in Arkansas to a suburb of Kansas City, and two months later the Kansas City Royals won the World Series for the first time. I can still remember listening from our apartment to the car horns and the fireworks that went on for a long time after the final out. And I remember thinking how great it was going to be to relive this experience every four or five years, because now I was lucky enough to live in a city with a Major League baseball team. Such were the naive delusions of a simple country fool.
Last Sunday night, in the minutes just after the Royals won their second World Series, I stood on the sidewalk outside my house, still in the Kansas City suburbs, and listened to so many fireworks explode that the Fourth of July was jealous. The next day, the National Weather Service published a satellite map, one that was similar to their lightning strike graphics, except this one recorded the fireworks bursting over Kansas City just after 11 PM. They were so numerous they covered the entire the town, and on the map they looked like a thunderstorm.
Yesterday a crowd estimated to be around 800,000 people converged on downtown Kansas City for the victory parade and celebration. Three of them misbehaved and were arrested. After that the next most serious issue was illegal parking. All the tow trucks in the lower forty-eight could not have dealt with the parking chaos that 800,000 people can cause. But that was it. There were no fights, no cars were set afire, no trash barrels thrown through store windows, nothing. For a town of two million people, to have almost half of them turn out for a single event and behave as well as they did is quite remarkable. They made all of us proud. Take note, San Francisco. That’s how it’s done.
While I was standing in the night on Sunday listening to the fireworks, I thought about some of the things that had changed in 30 years. My hair, what’s left of it, has turned white, my children have grown up and moved away, my father has died, my wife has retired after a long career. But mainly I thought about how proud I was of my town, thanks to the boys on the baseball team who can’t yet begin to fathom what they have done for all of us who collectively think of ourselves as Kansas City. They have brought home what I consider the ultimate championship in sports, and in the process they have healed the hurt from years of futility that made the team and our town a national joke. As is befitting of champions, their names and their faces and the positions they played will be burned into my memory for the rest of my life.
My brother-in-law believes that things run in thirty-year cycles. Specifically he means things like market economies, fashion, music and so on. He also believes that Masons are privy to certain secrets of the universe that the rest of us are not, but that is another story. Anyway, he’s lost a small fortune over the years applying his thirty-year cycle theory to the stock market. Those setbacks aside, however, I think there may be some merit to his overall concept. For instance, I noticed that Sara Evans was wearing bell-bottom pants when she butchered the National Anthem with her vocal gymnastics before Game Two. And now the Royals, exactly thirty years later, have won their second World Series. I think I am officially converted.
Six weeks ago, my wife Cheryl was one those people who sniff at baseball with noses upturned and pronounce it “boring.” Well, that was then. The Royals exhilarating run through the playoffs and the World Series left her begging for travel days so she could relax for a while and get some sleep. Wine was consumed in such volume that the sales spike was celebrated at Kendall-Jackson headquarters. She complained of frayed nerves and stress headaches, but when I suggested the headaches might have something to do with the wine she shouted at me and said I didn’t know what I was talking about. Personally I’m am glad baseball is so boring, because if the games had been any more exciting I would have needed a home defibrillator.
Watching games with a baseball novice is fraught with challenges, the least of which is remaining polite and composed while being bombarded with stupid questions. Here is a sampling: “Why is the referee always against us?” “Why does our pitcher wear that big gold chain?” “Why is he out? That pitch wasn’t in the strike zone.” No, it wasn’t, but he swung at it anyway and he missed. And kudos for using “strike zone” in a sentence. That’s progress. But when she demanded explanations of the Infield Fly Rule and the Double Switch I had to feign exasperation and go hide in the bathroom, because I had little confidence I understood those two nuances of the game well enough to explain them to her. Baseball can be humbling, even for those who don’t play.
Thirty years ago I bought a Royals ball cap. It’s the only piece of regalia I own for any sports team, even though I am a fan of several. The cap hangs on a peg in my garage, and I wear it sometimes when I go for walks around my neighborhood. Lately I meet a lot of people on my walks wearing Royals hats or Royals shirts, and we nod and smile knowingly at each other as we pass, and sometimes they or I would say something about the latest game, and we would stop for a minute and talk about it. All over the city it seems like we, the people of Kansas City, are more in harmony with each other than usual because of our baseball team. I know it’s silly to think that, because nothing of substance has really changed, but still, it feels that way, and it’s nice for however long it lasts.