Baseball is special to me.
My first memories are of Charlie Finley and the old Kansas City Athletics.
They weren’t very good except as a farm team for the New York Yankees, but Charlie Finley was first, last and always a showman and the games were fun—even on the radio, since few games were televised.
Playing outside after dark always included the game on one of those new-fangled transistor radios.
(For those who are young, i.e. under 50, this was before cable was invented.)
Games were even more fun at the stadium. He invented uniforms of Kelly green and gold for the road and wedding gown white for home.
He had Harveythe Rabbit (with a blinking nose, of course) pop up behind home plate at the old Municipal Stadium to deliver a fresh basket of baseballs to the plate umpire.
He had fireworks after the games when that was unheard of.
And he was tops in Faith’s book, because he brought the Beatles toKansas Cityand she won tickets in a radio station contest (long before we knew each other).
But Oakland waved wads of money at him and so the team moved west and became more respectable on the field.
Kansas City, meanwhile, was left high and dry. Then a guy named Ewing Kauffman came along.
He knew pharmaceuticals and made a fortune off a company called Marion Laboratories. Kauffman invested a chunk of his money building a baseball team Kansas Citians could be proud of and, with legendary Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt, persuaded voters to build the Truman Sports Complex.
He was much more sedate than Finley, a shrewd businessman and the most generous of philanthropists, but when he was with his team his big smile said he was still a kid at heart, peering through a knothole or on good days sitting in the bleachers.
Decades later, while other cities bulldoze stadiums just 15 or 20 years old, football’s Arrowhead and baseball’s Kauffman remain jewels of the sports world.
Kauffman did the same thing on the field, and as I grew older the team made Kansas City proud.
The players are legendary. I still have a mug with the names and pictures of key members of one of the best teams in modern baseball history: George Brett, John Mayberry, Amos Otis, Hal McRae, Doug Bird, Paul Splitorf, Dennis Leonard, Frank White, Freddie Patek and John Wathan, just to name a few.
Following the Royals after we came to Oklahoma was easy—they had a TV contract in Tulsa and a huge radio network.
But Mr. K died and those who followed lacked his knack for baseball. The Royals went from World Champions to world class doormats.
The radio network evaporated—in fact, to hear the games you now must rely on KGGF inCoffeyville. No Oklahoma station carries the Royals.
DISH Network does offer the team as an alternative feed of Fox Sports Oklahoma, but it hasn’t had many viewers.
A few diehards kept saying, “Wait ‘til next year,” citing an excellent farm system. But months became years and years stretched to more than a decade.
Somehow, 2013 was as much of a surprise as the Royals’ training camp (in Surprise, Ariz.).
In exhibition ball, the team just kept winning, dropping only a handful of games in the entire campaign.
But true Royals fans have seen that one before. Great exhibition season and then a big, deep swan dive.
This year is different. We’re a full week into the season in second place in the AL Central. The Royals have a 4-3 record and are ½ game out of first.
More important, they take the field with confidence. They’ve started down in almost every game and clawed, fought and hustled their way back.
They play an exciting brand of baseball, and the fans are back. Monday’s first pitch was thrown at 3:05 p.m. with almost 41,000 fans in Kauffman Stadium.
And they were wearing Royal blue, not paper bags.
Baseball is a great game. It is great on the radio while working or driving and even better on TV when the day’s work is done.
But it is best when your team is winning.
Chris has her Cubs, and I wish them well.
Me? I’ll be cheering myself silly for a team that can win. If my voice is fading, you know the Royals are still racking up victories.
Now let’s see, the new World Series stars will be Billy Butler…