|My Father and Me at the 1973 All Star Game|
One October morning in 1968, most likely while my full attention was devoted to a bowl of Kellogg’s Sugar Frosted Flakes, my father placed a copy of the Kansas City Star in front of me. He showed me a picture of a man named Roger Nelson, and told me he was the first pick of the Kansas City Royals in something called an expansion draft. I don’t think I understood at the time what an expansion draft was or why it was necessary, but I am relatively sure I thought Roger Nelson wore some really big glasses.
The 1968 Expansion Draft was held so that the four MLB expansion teams for the 1969 season could populate their rosters with current major leaguers not protected on their respective teams. The Kansas City Royals, along with their expansion counterparts the San Diego Padres, Montreal Expos (now Washington Nationals), and Seattle Pilots (now Milwaukee Brewers) chose about 30 players each, Roger Nelson being the number 1 choice of our hometown Royals.
During October, 1968, while the World Series was being contested between the Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals, I was nearing the end of the first baseball season of my life without a local team to root for. The Kansas City A’s had skipped town for Oakland after the 1967 season, and this distressed me probably not as much because it meant no major league baseball for a while, but rather because we could not go to K.C.’s Municipal Stadium to experience things like a petting zoo, a baseball-delivering mechanical rabbit, and a Missouri mule named Charlie O.
But thanks to my father and my older brother, Mike, baseball was kept in front of me during 1968, and by the first pitch of the 1969 season, I was a bona fide fan of the Kansas City Royals. Municipal Stadium slowly was transformed from a place of futility and gimmickry to a place that was about the game of baseball itself.
From 1969 to 1985, slowly but surely, the Kansas City Royals rose from infancy to respectability, then from respectability to excellence, then from excellence to a World Championship. These years were wonderful years to be a baseball fan, especially to be a young baseball fan, in Kansas City. We grew up following George Brett and other Royals around to public appearances, and I spent my summers with my parents and with my brother and with my buddies and eventually with my nephews and other extended family watching and loving the Kansas City Royals.
The memories of these years are too numerous to fully document. I was in the stands when the 1976 batting title was decided between the Royals’ George Brett and Hal McRae and the Minnesota Twins’ Rod Carew and Lyman Bostock—three of the four men within hundredths of percentage points entering the season’s 162nd game. I recall another night when George Brett stole home for a walk-off win. There was game 4 of the 1980 World Series, a game the Royals won 5-3 over the Philadelphia Phillies. As I got out of the car I was in awe of the Goodyear blimp floating above the Truman Sports Complex. And although we lost that Series in six games, we’d be back five years later to claim the Title, and I would be there for games 1,2, and 7.
And on that night, October 27, 1985, it all came to an end. The Royals would exit post season play that night and not return for the next 29 seasons.
On that night in 1985 I was a 24-year-old city planner who had recently completed graduate school. My father was a 67-year-old retired postal worker. My nephew Matt was a ten-year-old and attended the game with us while his younger brothers, Zach and Josh—seven and five, respectively—stayed home with a their grandmother. Who’d have thought at the time that the Kansas City Royals would not make a post season appearance for almost the next thirty years?
Baseball, perhaps more than any other game, is experienced multi-generationally. It is often introduced by fathers to sons—by fathers and sometimes mothers, to daughters. It is experienced by families together as the next generation learns the history and the beauty of the game, as the next generation learns the nuances and "codes" and the differences between a suicide and safety squeeze play.
Tonight, the Kansas City Royals end a 29-year post season drought as they host the American League Wildcard game against the Oakland A’s. How fitting that the game is against the A’s, the team that spurned our city some 47 years ago? How fitting it is that we will once again enjoy this game in a multi-generational context. I’ll be there with my wife (the same young girl that joined me for game 2 of the 1985 Series as my girlfriend) and our children. My oldest daughter (Olivia) is the same age now as I was in 1985. My brother is the same age as our father. Also there will be my brother and two of my nephews (Josh, wish you were here). My oldest nephew will bring his wife and their oldest daughter. All of them will be able now to experience themselves the things I had only told them about and that would never seem to be possible for them personally.
My father undoubtedly no longer remembers that day in 1968, and I'm certain he could no longer place the name "Roger Nelson." He is 96 and has been through a lot, so we'll need to forgive him for that.
A couple of things, though, I know for certain. One is that my father will be wearing his Royals cap in his assisted living room as he watches tonight's game until he's too tired to watch any longer (I predict the 5th inning). The other is that almost all of his lineage will be rooting the Royals on at Kauffman Stadium, following in his footsteps and continuing the tradition he established and fostered, so many years ago.
Perhaps that tradition that will be continued on down my line, well after I've watched my last game.
|My Four Oldest Children (Annika, Where Were You?) before one of their first Royals games some 15 years ago.|