Justin Ricklefs tried moving away from Kansas City twice, but something kept drawing him back. Last night the Royals made that reason clear for him and all of Missouri.
29 years. In baseball, that’s an eternity. It had been that long since the Kansas City Royals had played in a postseason game. The longest postseason void in North American sports.
That streak ended on Tuesday night as the Royals beat the A’s 9-8 in 12 innings. If you’re not from Kansas City, it’s tough to put into words the meaning of this win.
I was four years old when the Royals beat the Cardinals in the 1985 World Series. They called it the “I-70 Series”. During my childhood, KC was a baseball town. George Brett, Willie Wilson, and Frank White. Pine tar and powder blue uniforms.
My parents nicknamed my left-handed, #5 wearing, softball playing sister, George, a nickname that some still call her. 29 years later she has four kids of her own.
My older brother would help me stay up late to listen to the last couple innings of the scratchy radio broadcast, promising he’d take the blame if we got in trouble. I’m pretty certain my parents loved that we listened. 29 years later he has three kids of his own.
Summers in Kansas City are hot, but back then I’d gladly sit in the baking sun for three hours to watch my Royals play, and hope I’d get a foul ball.
I watched Bo Jackson break a bat over his knee.
I was there when George Brett took his final lap around Kauffman Stadium and kissed home plate.
KC was a baseball town.
But as the calendar kept getting farther away from 1985, the love affair turned to frustration, and anger, and at times, apathy.
The Royals were over .500 only nine times since 1985, and only two seasons out of the last eleven.
But no matter the previous season, each spring hope sprung. Through it all, Royals fans clung tight and believed that good times was around the corner.
It’s that belief that actually defines a great deal about this city we call home. Grit, determination, hard work, perseverance all describes KC.
Not flashy but consistent. Not sexy but reliable. Not trendy but timeless.
This year’s Royals gave us many of these same traits.
They also gave us many of the same frustrating moments as in prior years. Long losing streaks, and head-scratching decisions, but they bounced back each time they were down.
Tuesday’s game was the perfect example. Down 2-0 in the first, fight back to take a 3-2 lead. Give up four crushing runs to fall behind 7-3 to a dominant pitcher. Scrape and claw to get to 7-6 in the eighth.
Tie the game in the bottom of the ninth. Give up a run in the top of the 12th, and then score two runs in the bottom of the 12th off a chopper to third, and an off-balance single that just squeaked through.
7 stolen bases, a bunch of bunts, and a small ball.
Much like this small town.
My wife and our five kids left Missouri for Tennessee in 2006. We came home in 2008, and then we left for Florida in 2013. We came home again in 2014, this time for good.
There’s something about this place that you can’t escape.
Time will tell, but my guess is our four daughters and our son will move away for college, a job, or maybe even just to escape home. Maybe for a baseball season or two, maybe for much longer, time will tell.
Regardless of where they live, this baseball town will continue to draw families and friends together. At the game, or through texts, in the backyard, or on the phone, we’re drawn together.
Who knows what the ALDS will bring when they play the Angels on Thursday night. But for the first time in 29 years, our Royals are in the conversation. They have a playoff win under their belt.
And it means the world to this town.
Photo: Matthew Severns