For many years now, whenever the east coast teams have come to town, I have diligently and faithfully attended at least one of the games between the Royals and the “Team Who Must Not Be Named.” I have seen the line-ups that money can buy and goaded those who dared to enter the K wearing pinstripes. I have watched the Bronx Bombers live up to their names, inflating ERAs and padding statistics. And every year, I have this feeling that we’re just not as good as “those guys.”
Last year, I took a friend of mine, Kaleb, to the game. Kaleb is a huge fan of Mariano Rivera. At last year’s game, we watched Rivera make short order of the Royals in the ninth inning to secure one more save as he quickly approached Trevor Hoffman’s record. This year, Kaleb wore his “Rivera—42” shirt to the game hoping to inspire similar results.
Brett and I have talked for weeks about taking Kaleb to tonight’s game. Brett, who creates art professionally for Urban Outfitters on the Plaza, conspires with me to create art and writing projects. Some of Brett’s best handiwork (in my opinion) is the cover he did for the Royals’ book I’ve been working on. Kaleb and I met Brett at Chick-fil-A where we quickly ate and carpooled to watch the first game in the series against the beasts from the east. As is our norm, we arrived at the stadium as soon as the doors opened and headed straight for the Pepsi Party Porch in right field. Brett was quickly rewarded with a batting practice home run ball as a cheap souvenir. We called out to Raul Ibanez and welcomed him home. Ibanez acknowledged our greeting with a wave and a smile. And then, appearing out of seemingly thin air, there was Rivera.
A fan of the “Evil Empire” immediately reminded me about River’s pending retirement, and that Rivera had been talking to management about playing at least an inning in the outfield. It seems Rivera not only stays in shape chasing down fly balls in batting practice, but wants the chance to have his own “outfield experience.” So, I was told, Rivera used batting practice as a time to “train” in hopes of getting into a game as a reserve outfielder. We watched Rivera run from foul pole to foul pole, catching flies and throwing them back in to second base. A contagious smile spread across his face.
And then, on a deep drive to left-center, the unimaginable occurred. Rivera gave chase and jumped, landed awkwardly, and immediately fell to the ground. Later reports would confirm what I immediately knew in my heart—torn ACL.
I, too, have experienced the joy and pleasure of tearing an ACL in a “freak” accident years ago and remember the burning pain. With surgery and therapy, it took me a full year to return to “normal.” Given that timeline, I fear that Rivera’s career may have ended on the warning track at the K.
The incident created space for conversation between fans of both teams. It seemed that everyone in the stadium like Rivera, regardless of which team they supported. No one wanted his career to end this way. One man said, “I wanted to see him pitch tonight and watch our boys get a chance to beat the best. I think we could take him this year.”
On this spring evening, change was in the air. The boys of summer looked old compared to the young boys in blue. We tried to calculate the average ages of the starting lineups, and had the Royals younger as a team by some six or seven years. Steve Physioc tweeted, “@Royals 4 starting infielders have 7 years of #MLBexperience. #Yankees have 50. #KC #ourtime will come.” And youth led the way for the Royals.
Danny Duffy, whose age matches his uniform number of 23, struck out six and only allowed two runs in his six innings pitched.
Mike Moustakas, also 23, lead the way with a 420-foot home run to dead center in the bottom of the second inning, and plated two more in the fifth, giving the Royals a 4 – 1 lead at that time.
The young infield that Physioc noted turned an around the horn double play in the top of the fourth and out-hustled their opponents all night. (Alex Rodriguez couldn’t get to a foul pop-up off the bat of Alex Gordon. I bet money Moose would have made that play.)
“Breaks” and “luck” that money has bought for seasons finally fell in favor of the Royals.
The ninth inning serves as the perfect summary to the night.
The Royals were leading by a run and called for Jonathan Broxton to close the game. Jeter, Granderson, and Teixeira were the scheduled hitters for “The Others.” Derek Jeter did his best to spur on his teammates, fouling off three fastballs before getting his fourth hit of the night, a single to right field, boosting his average above the sacred .400 mark. Curtis Granderson followed with a walk as the umpire appeared to temporarily lose track of the strike zone.
This was the point in the game when every Royals fan began to tremble. We could read the signs. We knew that, somehow, “luck” always favored the more expensive team.
With the tying run now on third, Alex Rodriguez stepped up to the plate. The fan in the navy shirt in front of me said, “It’s time to show these Midwest boys how it’s done.” A-Rod fouled off the first pitch. Strike one. Everyone in the stadium was standing, screaming, clapping, and cheering.
The second pitch was a called strike, and A-Rod turned to argue with the ump.
If any Royals player had dared to do what A-Rod did, they would have been ejected immediately. In fact, after each of the next six pitches, A-Rod either glanced or glared at the ump. A-Rod tried to upstage the ump and worked the count full. On the ninth pitch of the at-bat, A-Rod hit a dribbler of a ball toward third base. Mike Moustakas charged hard to barehand the ball and throw on the run, beating A-Rod by half a step at first.
The Royals won.
Kaleb shook his head and smiled, “Deep inside of me, there is a Royals fan that is saying, ‘That was incredible.’”
“In order to be the best, you have to beat the best” the old saying goes. Last night we caught a glimpse that maybe “Our Time” is closer than we think.
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