How the KC Royals changed a young boy’s life in 1976

(Photo by John Williamson/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
(Photo by John Williamson/MLB Photos via Getty Images) /

A night at the ballpark watching the KC Royals is standard fare for a family vacationing in Kansas City. So it wasn’t odd that in early June 1976, a Nebraska family with three boys ages 11, nine and seven planned a trip including stops at Worlds of Fun, the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum, and what was then Royals Stadium for a game between Kansas City and Milwaukee.

The spectacular Royals Stadium features captivated the young visitors.

The game was played June 4. The boys remember being in awe at the giant scoreboard with the crown on top stationed beyond the center field fence as they made their way into the stadium for their first major league game. The graphics looked like something off an old Family Feud answer board, but were state-of-the-art back then. And HUGE!

The family settled into seats on the first base side and watched the scoreboard graphics and the lights and fountains in the water spectacular of the stadium that was only in its fourth season of use.

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An early scoreless pitchers’ duel was broken up in the fourth inning when the Brewers scored first against Kansas City starter Dennis Leonard.

‘JAW-GE’ and ‘BIG MAC ATTACK’ light up the giant Royals Stadium scoreboard.

By this time, it wasn’t just the action on the field capturing the imagination of the first-time game attendees. The youngest laughed when George Brett came to bat and the animated scoreboard lit up with a giant “JAW-GE” as a shark devoured the opposing pitcher. As you may recall, the film Jaws was released the summer before.

Then the action picked up even more. In the bottom of the fourth, John Mayberry and Hal McRae both reached base with nobody out. The scoreboard again lit up, this time with a giant hamburger and “BIG MAC ATTACK” when McRae came to bat, borrowing a popular McDonald’s advertising slogan from the time.

After an out by Al Cowens, catcher Bob Stinson singled to drive in Mayberry and send McRae to third base. After shortstop Freddie Patek made the second out of the inning, second baseman Frank White singled to score McRae and give the Royals a 2-1 lead.

The Brewers came right back in the top of the fifth when future Royal catcher Darrell Porter doubled and scored to tie things at 2-2. Porter and Milwaukee first baseman George Scott later played for the Royals, including a small portion of 1979 when they were teammates in KC.

A fifth-inning home run from Amos Otis gives the lead back to the KC Royals.

Amos Otis led off the bottom of the fifth with a home run off Brewer starter Jim Slaton and the scoreboard exploded with electronic fireworks and the giant letters “A.O.” in celebration.

The Brewers wouldn’t give up, tacking on a run in the seventh off Leonard to tie it again at 3-3. Slaton and Leonard continued putting zeros on the board through the top of the 10th.

After Leonard shut down Milwaukee in the top of the inning, Slaton retired Brett to begin the Royals’ half of the frame before Mayberry reached first. McRae hit next and delivered a “BIG MAC ATTACK” with a double to left that scored Mayberry with the winning run.

The three young boys had an extra inning, walk-off win for their first big league game, not a bad start for the new fans. Both pitchers had gone extra innings for complete games, something unheard of in today’s game populated with specialized relievers for nearly every situation.

On a single June day, three young boys became KC Royals fans forever.

Whether it was the exciting game, the futuristic scoreboard, the fountains, the bright green artificial turf with an infield manicured by George Toma’s grounds crew, or the overall ballpark atmosphere, three new Royals fans were made that day, especially the middle and youngest boys.

For the next three postseasons, the youngest was heartbroken when the Royals lost the American League Championship Series to the hated Yankees. In 1979, when the Royals didn’t win the AL West for the first time since he became a fan, the youngest was ready to jump ship to another team until his brother talked to him about loyalty and urged him to stick with his team. He did. Not only for the World Series run in 1980, the Series win in 1985, but for the future years.

The boys remained fans through the dark years of no playoffs and 100-loss seasons and were rewarded with the 2014 and 2015 World Series teams.

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Nearly 46 years after that first game, as the youngest of those boys I look around my office filled with Royals helmets and jerseys and other memorabilia, and think about how one day of a family vacation connected me with a lifetime of memories and the joy of following this team.