Sharing a Royals moment far from home
Steamboat Springs — I wanted a “moment” because, for all the great things about sports, the big and the small, the best thing is a moment, that one great day, one incredible game or one unbelievable play, so exciting, so emotionally rewarding that it takes root so deep in a fan’s soul, it’s almost a part of his or her DNA.
My all-time greatest sports moment came at the 2003 Big 12 Championship football game, when Kansas State surprised even me in upsetting Oklahoma 35-7. The moment wasn’t any one touchdown, tackle or interception. It was finding my family in the stands late in the fourth quarter and sharing our utter disbelief and overwhelming jubilation.
I could no more forget that moment than I could forget my own name.
The World Series probably didn’t have that kind of potential for me. The Royals have always been my team, but my attention often drifted in the endless losing summers.
I did regularly attend games when I lived closer but looked forward more to devouring the giant pepper- and onion-laden bratwurst sold at the stadium than seeing the miserable product on the field.
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Winning has a way of changing all that, of course, and for a month now, each of the past two seasons the Royals’ back-to-back World Series postseason runs have captivated me and most of the rest of the people who’ve ever lived in the Kansas City region.
The Royals in the World Series? All it was missing for me was a “moment.”
Several times, I looked longingly back to Kansas City for my moment. I almost chased one last year, contemplating an early morning, $300 Denver flight the day of Game 7 of the 2014 World Series to watch at a downtown bar.
I opted to save the money, to “go next time.”
“Next time” didn’t prove any easier. My younger brother scored tickets to Game 2 of this year’s series last week, but that flight now cost $700, and I was already scheduled to be out of town for a few days, a trip with friends to Austin.
So, that’s how I ended up walking the streets of the Texas city Sunday night, still desperate for my moment.
We’d already tried, heading to a Sixth Street sports bar to split our attention between Game 5 of the World Series and the big Broncos-Packers showdown. We encountered a table of eager Royals fans there, but they soon moved on, across the street, when our bar opted to play audio for football instead baseball.
“Maybe I’ll catch up,” I said, when they asked me to tag along.
Finally, in the eighth inning, with the Royals mired in a 2-0 hole and looking hopeless at the plate, I decided to follow, baseball-neutral Scott Franz in tow.
It took some searching, but we finally found them, six sad fans waiting out the end of a hapless performance by the Boys in Blue.
Maybe in Game 6, right?
They’d coerced the staff into turning every TV in the place on to the World Series and to turn the audio on, but the bar was basically abandoned otherwise, and the staff looked ready to go before we even walked in.
“One quick beer?” I asked Scott, wondering if I’d even have a chance to finish before the game was over.
But this Royals team proved to be something amazing in the late innings, and they did it again Sunday. Three of the team’s four World Series wins and eight of its 11 postseason wins required late-innings heroics. Sunday, a walk, a double and a seemingly suicidal dash to home plate ensured we had time to finish that first beer.
Three more innings of nerve-wracking scoreless baseball ensured we had time for several more.
The staff didn’t warm much.
“So,” an annoyed server asked at one point, “will this ever end? A team needs to win by two points, right?”
We, however, warmed plenty, making fast friends with the fellow KC fans as our Royals labored into the night, then broke through in the 12th inning, blowing the game open with five runs.
When the third strike of the third out of the last inning thudded into the catcher’s glove, we exploded similar to the millions of other Royals fans. Some were in that stadium in New York. Plenty were packed in front of TVs in Kansas City, and many more were spread across the country in small groups of six and eight, cheering, dancing, high-fiving and enjoying that rare prize in sports fandom, that one thing that makes us consider spur-of-the-moment trips, expensive tickets and a late-night round of championship tequila shots in a lonely Texas bar: a “moment” we’ll never forget.
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