My wife and I flew from Dallas, Texas to Kansas City, Missouri with a newborn baby for a job interview. I was finishing up my Master’s degree and looking for a place where we could spend the rest of our lives. A young church in Lee’s Summit flew us in for final interviews and offered me a job. I thought the church was an answer to prayer. For the first time in twenty years, the possibility of going to a Royals game at the drop of a hat would be a reality. An important part of the interview process was to spend a significant amount of time with church members. So, on Saturday night, my wife and I joined the church at a Royals game. (The baby stayed at the hotel with grandma.)
It was the start of interleague play and the Royals were hosting the Cardinals. As soon as we arrived at the stadium, I ran into an old family friend, Doug. Doug asked me what I knew about this young rookie, Albert Pujols. My eyes glazed over in a blank stare. The entire time my wife and I were inTexas, I was relatively ignorant of the happenings of the baseball world. I did go watch the Royals play the Rangers with some friends on two separate occasions. The Royals won both games.
Doug continued, “He’s only a rookie, but I’m telling you, pay attention to him. He’s going to be great.” As if on cue, Pujols singled to centerfield. In his second at-bat, Pujols singled to left and doubled to right a couple innings later. I was immediately impressed.
The game as a whole was a lot of fun. We formed new friendships and had a wonderful time at the stadium on a beautiful spring eve.
At the end of nine innings, the game was tied. For multiple innings, the game continued to plod along, with more and more church members leaving after every completed frame. Finally, in the bottom of the 13th inning, Mike Sweeney hit a massive homerun to left-center, leading the Royals to victory. I took it as a sign of good things to come.
Every year, the church organized a night at the K. Sometimes we’d even go so far as to coordinate a tailgating party as well. I was much more interested in batting practice than tailgating, as usual, and went inside the stadium early with my friend Andy. As we were strolling around watching the pre-game practice, an usher approached us asking if we’d like to win the Seat Upgrade for that night’s game.
“How many seats are available?” we asked. When we discovered that only two people could win, we politely turned down the offer. Baseball was meant to be shared with friends.
There was one year when a horrible miscommunication happened. When ordering our seats for the August game, we requested to be on the third base side so that we would be in the shade upon arrival. Instead, we got seats in the first base side and absolutely roasted for the first four innings of the game. Thankfully, the Royals won that hot and humid game.
Last night, the church wanted to treat me to something special as a “going-away” gift. A large group of people met in the church parking lot and carpooled to the K. We entered into the stadium through Gate C and were escorted to the .390 Bar & Grill. I had never before set foot in the glass-enclosed lounge, decorated with pictures of all the Royal greats, every seat with a fantastic view of the field. The church had arranged for a buffet of bar-be-que and chicken tenders, fries, cheesy corn, and cupcakes. We stuffed ourselves while watching the Orioles take batting practice.
My daughter, who was only months old when we moved from Texas, is now a pre-teen and asked me to take her down to watch Felipe Paulino warm up in the bullpen. She’s learned quickly. While watching Paulino pound fastballs, we visited with my friend who ushers and maintains crowd-control in the left-field seats. He told us the story of the idiot-guy who jumped into the fountains last week, and how they could never find the baseball he retrieved, which was supposed to be reclaimed by the club. After Paulino’s warm-ups, we shouted greetings to the remainder of the boys in the bullpen and joined our friends in our seats for the evening by the left-field fountains.
The game absolutely flew by, until the eighth inning, when Baltimore cut the lead in half. What I really want to be writing right now is how Alex Gordon’s double in the bottom of the eighth was just the run the Royals’ needed to secure a win after Broxton gave up a solo home run to Wilson Betemit in the ninth. What I really want to write is about how Gordo is one of the many faces that are leading the Royals forward into a new era. But, in my opinion, the ump blew the call on the play at the plate and I can’t write those words. The game would go, of course, to extra innings.
We stayed until the 13th inning was completed. At that point, my youngest daughter was exhausted and needed to go home to bed. There were tears in her eyes as she asked, “Why are we leaving? Can’t we stay just a little longer? But the game’s not over.” Her mom and I knew it was time to go. It wasn’t easy leaving the K last night. It wasn’t easy saying good-bye.
In two weeks, we’ll be moving toSpringfield. We have had a terrific decade here at the church and inKansas City. There will be tears when we start heading south and a whole bunch of questions about why we’re moving and maybe we should stay just a little longer and how there’s still some game left to be played. It is so hard to say good-bye to friends who love you like family and who go out of their way to plan an amazing evening just for you. It is so hard to say good-bye as the “what-ifs” bounce around and the “only-ifs” respond. It is so hard to say good-bye knowing the next text message or email might be an extra ticket to today’s game.
When all was said and done, the Royals lost the game at my going-away party, some six innings past the regulation nine, and it left a melancholy-taste deep in my soul. But even if they had won, it wouldn’t make saying good-bye any easier. The good news after last night’s game was not the final score, but the friends who went out of their way to share one more evening at the K with me. So as the #OurTime season continues, maybe SungWoo Lee could teach me and my family a thing or two about being long-distance fans.