As a boy growing up in Kansas during the 80′s, I was treated to a pretty good life. A little quiet maybe, but pretty darn good all the same. I had two loving parents, security, plenty of friends from the neighborhood, Sunday school and the Royals were perennial winners. How was I to know my parents would eventually divorce, all my friends would move away, Sundays were meant for sleeping in and the Royals would swan dive into irrelevance? It was a time of overindulgence and entitlement. Oh the sweet bliss of naivety. Reagan would have been quite proud.
Every year, just in time for my birthday and Summer vacation, my family and I would pile in the station wagon, years later the van and we’d make the 2.5 hour trek eastward to Kansas City for a weekend in the big city and hot Summer days at then Royals Stadium. We were treated to good baseball from the likes of George, Frank, Quiz, Hal, A.O., Leo and Quiz. But my guy was always Willie. I loved that guy. The beard, the switch hitting, the ferocious speed, his helmet flying off while rounding second and stretching it into a triple… it was a beautiful thing.
Some of the names would change. Splittorff, Leonard and Gura would give way to Sabes, Gubicza and Leibrandt. But they continued to win. And in 1985, it all culminated with a World Series win. Admittedly, I didn’t realize the depth of that accomplishment as I was too young to remember how close they had come in the late 70′s and the bitter disappointment that followed at the hands of the Yankees and the Phillies. In the Yankees’ case, that disappointment was seemingly an annual event. I figured that World Series win in ’85 was just the continuation in what would be several more trips to the Fall Classic. Bo, Tartabull, Seitzer and others were all on the horizon, but for whatever reason, the Royals were just never that good ever again. Though the memories are every bit as sweet.
In all honesty, I don’t have any single pivotal moment galvanizing my Royal fandom. It was just the way it was, and I didn’t know any different, nor did I care. The Royals were good, and I was lucky enough to see them often. The experiences were plentiful. From Quiz watering down people in old right field general admission on blistering days with the water hose, Bo Jackson’s first HR(yes, I was there, and I still have the scorecard from the game), George Brett standing on 2nd base with his arms raised as .400 flashed across the old crown scoreboard, to the Famous Chicken, I was treated annually to great baseball and fun at the ballpark. But one day really resonated above all others for me: Camera Day. Oh how I loved Camera Day. It was the chance for us fans to step on that spongey turf and snap some photos of their favorite Royals. And I’ll never forget when my brother, my dad and I got our chance with Dennis Leonard. Leo smiled big through his perfectly coiffed ‘stache, scooped me up like a sack of potatoes with one arm, ONE ARM, while my brother giggled nervously as dad snapped the photo.
Of course there was the time when my brother neglected to give me my ticket stub before getting caught up in the shuffle of all the people on the field. Totally lost and without a clue as to where I was supposed to go, I somehow ended up in Fan Accommodations while my Dad’s name rang out over the public address. Yeah, that wasn’t the Camera Day I like to remember. But I digress…
So why am I still a fan? Why are any of us fans? It’s a good question. Habit? That’s as good a reason as any I suppose. However, I think it’s deeper than that. The Royals are still an escape for me, even as the losses continue to pile up. They remind me of my youth when things were good and would never change. While things have changed, for better or worse in many instances, the overindulgence and entitlement has been replaced with hope. And in the immortal words of Andy Dufresne, “hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things and no good thing ever dies.” That’s good enough for me.