A couple years ago I was in Kentucky covering an NAIA football game. The Yankees and the Red Sox were locked up in their first postseason skirmish that would later result in the Red Sox coming back from behind in the series and eventually moving on to win their first World Series since 1918.
During the course of that night one Athletic Director was pretty frustrated. Somehow, he was an avid Yankees fan and was taking every pitch personally that night. At one point I thought I was going to have to drive him home because he was so inconsolable after the loss.
Innocently I asked, “How are you, an AD in Kentucky, a fan of the Yankees?”
His reply, “Because I like winners and the Yankees have always been winners. Who do you like?”
“THE ROYALS?!?” He nearly fell out of his seat either from the astonishment that someone actually followed the Royals or the fact that he was laughing so hard he was doubled over.
I should also add there might have been a little moonshine flowing that night.
“Do you prefer to watch losers? I mean, why wouldn’t you follow a winner?” he quipped.
One side of me wanted to say, “Well I came here and watched you guys get your asses beat, so I guess I do like watching losers.”
Instead I just politely referred to my Midwestern upbringing and being in a milk barn or tractor that usually had the game on. He acknowledged that was an “okay” reason to like them but I should probably find a second team to follow since the Royals weren’t ever going to win a pennant.
I got to thinking about that question again lately, “How the heck did I become a Royals fan?”
It was never a conscious decision; I just always remember being one. I was five when the Royals won the World Series and I vaguely remember my dad talking about it. The only thing I firmly remember from that entire postseason was George Brett hitting a home run against Toronto in the ALCS. Turns out it was game three of the ALCS because I remember watching the end of the game in the Hitch ‘n Post Bar and Grill in Saint Edward, Neb. after going to a HS football game that night. (Don’t worry folks, I verified this on Baseball-Reference.com)
I can’t remember anything else about that postseason as it happened. Give me a break, I was five. But I do remember basically from that moment on I was just a Royals fan. I remember dad telling me they won the series but for all I know that could have been weeks later.
Right around that time is when my Aunt Mary and her friend Ruth started visiting Florida in the spring. Before you newbie Royals fans try to call me and tell me spring training for the Royals is in Arizona, I’ll remind you they used to play Florida in the spring.
One year they came back with photos of the Royals training facility and a Royals pennant for the wall in me and my brother’s room. Not to sound ungrateful but looking back, would it have been so tough for them to get two pennants for us? I forgot to add that these two were the people that would take all the hotel pens and soap and sell them on garage sales later in the year. Surely there was a 2 for 1 deal on banners somewhere, but I digress.
Growing up on a farm you got to spend a lot of time listening to the radio. That’s probably where my seed as a Royals fan probably grew the most. The radio was either on in the milk barn, the tractor or dad’s old black Chevy pickup. And since AM Radio was the only option in two out of three of those sources it was typically the Royals or KFAB.
So we listened and when I wasn’t able to listen in the summertime I was typically getting to the mailbox around 11:15 to get the Omaha World Herald and check the box score. I learned two important lessons from this daily exercise. First, I learned how to read a baseball box score and calculate batting averages before I even understood the type of math I was actually doing. And secondly, other things also came in the mail with the newspaper. Things like the family’s “milk check” which mom and dad would get pretty stressed over when I didn’t separate the letters from the torn apart newspaper on the living room floor. I mean, it was only our livelihood that was getting lost in favor of reading Royals box scores. What was the big deal about that anyway?
Then the day finally came that our parents loaded us into the family truckster and took us on a vacation. The Kansas City Royals were hosting the California Angels and we were taking a vacation to see them and go to Worlds of Fun. You know, the typical Nebraska family summer vacation. My brother and I recently discussed this game and through a little research I pinned down the actual date of the game: August 23rd, 1989.
Tom Gordon started for the Royals and Jim Abbott was the starter for the Angels. Gordon picked up his 16th win of the season that night and Jeff Montgomery got the save. George Brett was 3/5 on the day with a double and a stolen base. I’m still waiting on a “thank you” card from Brett since he did bat .600 in his lifetime with the “Dannelly Family” in attendance. Some of the other greats in that game for the Royals were Willie Wilson, Frank White, Bo Jackson, Kevin Seitzer, Bob Boone and Danny Tartabull (Yes Seinfeld fans, that Danny Tartabull). The Angels had Wally Joyner, Chili Davis and Lance Parrish. The game had no historical significance other than the fact that as a family we were all in for the Royals.
It would be many, many years before we all got back to the games together. It wasn’t until the last couple years that everyone in the family started going to KC for at least one weekend together. It all started with an idea I had a few years back for a Christmas present for my dad. He had all the tools and gadgets that he needed, so what the heck could I get him. So I printed up a certificate on my computer that I would buy him tickets to a Royals game that following summer.
He and I made the trip alone that first year. The next year my brother went and the following year my brother in law was added to the crew. It became “the guys trip” for a couple summers as we went to at least one game and ate a bunch of BBQ. Then it expanded to wives, kids and girlfriends. Now, it’s a full-blown ordeal every summer but two things remain the same; baseball and BBQ.
This summer was definitely the “Summer of the Royals” for our family. I got a dog in May, it’s name. . .KC. We spent a weekend in Kansas City when the Royals hosted the Giants with some members of our family seeing every game in the series. Plus, there were other one off trips by family members to go to game this summer.
The only time we made the trip to KC and didn’t have BBQ was last week when we went to game four of the ALCS. About a month ago I said to dad, “I don’t care how we do it, but we will see the Royals in the postseason.”
We tried for tickets to the Wildcard game but it wouldn’t work in the schedule. When the Royals were down late to the A’s there was a moment where I felt pretty depressed because I thought I had missed our only opportunity to see the Royals in the postseason. Given the previous 29 years things looked pretty bleak.
But somehow they came away with the win. And they continued to win and win and win. When they beat Baltimore in game two of the ALDS, the family group iMessage started dinging.
“Are we going? Who’s going? Game 3 or Game 4?”
It was decided, Game 4. Let’s see them clinch. Section 432, Row F, Seats 6-7-8 for Dad, Justin and I. My sister Jill and her husband Hal were one section over. We had a meager tailgate experience before the game. Then Dad and I took off and got into the game roughly 85 minutes early.
The place was electric and after the Royals went up 2-0 early I think I had a permanent smirk of “Holy crap, they are actually going to do this?” Inning by inning, we got more excited and realized we were about to see history.
After the last out, we yelled and screamed like idiots, we high-fived strangers, we took photos and videos of the whole thing. Then we stood there and watched. We watched 29 years of frustration leave the field. A lifetime of memories following the Royals had all culminated into this moment. We actually saw the Royals win the game that put them back into the World Series. I looked over at dad and I think he expressed what everyone in that stadium was feeling.
“I have no words for this. . .I never thought I’d see this happen, especially in person.”
Things died down and we slowly made our exit from the stadium. On the way out we high-fived more strangers and even yelled hello to Rick Sutcliffe.
“Is that Rick Sutcliffe? HEY RICK SUTCLIFFE”
[Half-hearted wave in our direction]
There was a fleeting moment on the drive home where everyone got on their phone to check out prices for the World Series games. It didn’t take long to realize we had seen our first and last Royals postseason game this year. We paid $225 for our tickets for the ALCS. Those seats were now going for roughly $1000 a piece for the World Series.
A few years ago the Royals offered fans the opportunity to purchase bricks that led into the stadium. They ranged from $150 to a couple thousand dollars. I upped the ante on Christmas that year and got dad a brick. The inscription reads “The Dave Dannelly Family: #1 Royals Fans”.
I’m sure there are many families out there like ours. Just some hard working, blue collar people who like baseball and hit up some ball games in the summer. Based on that description there are a lot of “#1 Royals Fans” across the country that we share that title with.
I remember someone at the time given me crap for spending $150 on a brick in Kansas City that we might see once a year. During the World Series over 40K fans will walk into Kauffman Stadium each night to watch the Royals play. Many of those fans will walk through the entrance on the south side of the stadium where our brick is located. There is no doubt my family will be watching the World Series cheering on the Royals but it will also feel good knowing that for each game played at “the K” that a little piece of the Dannelly Family will be there too.
That $150 brick doesn’t seem like such a bad idea anymore. Regardless of where we all are for the World Series and where we all end out in life, our family will always be in Kansas City at Kauffman Stadium.