Tuesday, September 30, 2014

I thought it would be colder

I guess I thought it would be colder.

As a Royals fan all these years, I sometimes thought about a playoff game at Kauffman Stadium. But it wasn't a frequent daydream, and it was one that I would fairly quickly abandon because it was so far-fetched, like "How would I decorate the Oval Office if I were President" or "How would my life be different if I were married to Anna Kendrick?"

But when I did think about such a mythical game, it was chilly and fans were bundled up, like the playoff games I saw on TV. Since I was a kid, I have loved playoff baseball. Loved, mind you, not liked. The playoffs are the inescapable sense of baseball's history, but with the game's casual pace ramped up to every-pitch-matters weight. And it was all over network TV. My family just had antenna TV, in hindsight probably a good thing, but October meant good sports programming every night. I remember the moments, the drama, the evenings with Joe Buck and Tim McCarver.

The Royals, of course, were never a part of this annual autumnal drama. The Royals played in the summer; the playoffs were in the fall. They were in theory part of the same thing, the baseball season, but in practice and my mind they were two separate interests.

But today, in a development I'm still trying to process, the Royals are playing in a Major League Baseball playoff game. Many fine Royals stories have been written ticking off the list of very specific and unusual ways the Royals have failed for decades now, but there's no need for them in this piece. Today is a day for wide-eyed wonder.

It has been 10,564 days since the last playoff game at Kauffman Stadium, Game 7 of the 1985 World Series. Denny Matthews, broadcaster for the Royals since they became a team in 1969, counted down the outs, punctuating the final flyout with the locally-famous "No outs to go!" Part of me wants Denny, after the first A's out today, to casually drop a "323 outs to go…"

So even if today is a day for wonder, I have to acknowledge it has been a while. Longer than I have been alive, and my life is the longest thing I can remember. But like other Royals fans I soldiered on, rolling with the good-natured insults when I wore a Royals hat on the MU campus in Columbia, working through the same banter about the Royals' losing with waitresses and with coworkers and with fellow float-trippers on rivers.

But through it all we Royals fans had beautiful Kauffman Stadium and the delightfully funny Denny and so many great writers. The playoffs were impossible, so the game of baseball was its own reward for us. We shared Royals baseball with family and friends. I remember my mom patiently sitting through an interminable 14-inning Royals-Yankees game with my siblings and me. I remember listening to games on summer nights year after year in the house where I grew up, listening to games in tractors while working in the field, and going to games with my family and friends.

And now, we have this bonus from a team that seemed buried by the end of July, a team that has no power and no real offensive stars but runs hard and plays good defense and pitches like crazy.

Today I did not go to work in the Oval Office and I'm not waiting for Miss Kendrick at the end of an aisle. But today I'm going to Kauffman Stadium with my family to watch the Royals play in a playoff game. It's supposed to be 79 at first pitch.