It usually comes to light because I meet someone from Missouri, and we get to talking about it, going to the Plaza at Christmas and about barbeque and jazz and the hellish commute from the KC airport to whatever suburb they live in. Occasionally, though, it will come out when we're talking baseball.
I've waxed poetic about the New York Yankees often enough, but that's a different kind of nostalgia and love, wrapped up in memories of my mom. The Kansas City Royals were my first love. You know what they say about first loves.
I was five years old when the Royals last won the World Series. And I remember it, in the fuzzy, warm way you remember those formative happy things in your life. I was obsessed with the game, thanks to guys like George Brett and Bret Saberhagen and Hal McRae and Steve "Bye-Bye" Balboni. I remember the pride that came with that win, and I remember wanting to be a baseball player when I grew up. The Royals were my team for a long, long time.
When I was nine, I got to take a tour of what was then called "Royals Stadium" and I made a huge deal out of finding THE SPOT on the bench where I knew my hero, George Brett, always sat. That summer, my parents took all four of us kids to see the Royals play the Indians - and I remember odd things about that day. I had told my grandmother that I wasn't so sure the Royals were going to win that day (the Indians had been on a streak, I think) and she lectured me about being loyal to one's home team. I remember that Bret Saberhagen pitched that day, and that the Royals did lose - and that the pitcher for Cleveland was Greg Swindell, the Texas Longhorn pitcher (my husband and I tracked this down - Swindell only pitched once in Kansas City, and it was that day). I remember Bo Jackson waving to the crowd, I remember losing my voice cheering for George Brett (because he was RIGHT THERE, at first base), and I remember very clearly the smell of hot dogs and cotton candy and my mom saying repeatedly that we didn't need any of that "spun sugar." I also think that may have been the one day they let us try it, though.
You don't forget your first time.
The Royals aren't the same team they were even in 1989. They've not been much more than a spoiler team, the team you're "supposed to" beat and that might mess up your division lead down the stretch, but they certainly won't be there in October to give you grief. And I moved on to the Rangers and the Yankees, but the Royals have this place in my heart. I remember going to an Oklahoma City 89ers game once, and Steve Balboni was there in the dying days of his career, and our whole family was cheering wildly for him, the way you can and do at a minor league game, and we none of us cared who else was on the field that day. I have a powder blue George Brett jersey t-shirt that doesn't really fit me well, but I wear anyway, and a Kansas City pennant I got at that first game, and a commemorative team poster from the 25th anniversary of that one wonderful World Series victory. Those are my only Royals relics, because somewhere along the way my Bret Saberhagen Starting Line-Up figure got lost or sold and my baseball cards were scattered to the winds.
George Brett was a Kansas City Royal for 21 years, his whole career, and when he's on television like he has been in the last couple days, while Kansas City gets its last hurrah, it's hard not to feel a rush of glee and joy and fierce pride, because those boys were tough and they were good and they were so fun to watch.
While MLB passes through Kansas City this week and baseball fans everywhere are oogling Kauffman Stadium from afar, I'm watching and thinking about all of my family there, and about how baseball and my family are the same thing to me. I'm thinking of Mom and Dad at that first-ever game, and all the games after. Mom's in my head tonight - "Michele, there he is! That's Bye-Bye Balboni! Stand up and cheer!"
A last thought. Last week, on the Fourth of July, my dad's uncle Patty Joe passed away. He'll be buried this week in Kansas City. I miss my Kansas City family, who I never see enough. The last time I was there was also the last time I saw my great-uncle, when Randy and I went with my grandparents to take him to dinner for his birthday. Patty Joe was one of the great characters, and he'll be missed quite a lot.