As a boy growing up in rural Missouri, I spent hundreds of hours hitting rocks from our driveway into an open field across the highway. I must have delivered the game-winning hit thousands of times in Game 7 of the World Series, usually a long home run to right field at Kauffman Stadium.
I thought about that Sunday night when Christian Colon, who spent most of the season in the minor leagues, rifled a single into left field to drive in the winning run for the Royals in Game 5 of this year’s World Series.
I also thought about all of those amazing comebacks throughout the playoffs this year. Down four runs in the eighth inning of Game 4 in the American League Division Series. Trailing 3-0 against David Price in the seventh inning of Game 2 in the American League Championship Series. Rallying from an eighth- or ninth-inning deficit three times in the World Series.
An unbelievable run by a tough, gutsy team few outside of Kansas City believed in was the stuff of dreams. “Is this real?” My wife and I must have asked each other that 10 times as the Royals battered the Mets for five runs in the 12th inning.
Sharing that moment with my wife, a lifelong Royals fan, too, brought back another childhood memory, one I cherish more than any.
As a 9-year-old in 1985, I lived and breathed baseball. I read every box score in the newspaper when I woke up. I played baseball most of the day, then went to Little League practices or games. I fell asleep listening to Denny Matthews and Fred White discuss the intricacies of the 4-6-3 double play.
Throughout 1985, I woke up and asked my dad the same question every morning: “Did the Royals win last night?” I vividly remember crying when he told me they had lost … on the second day of the season. He laughed. “There are 160 games left, son.”
I remember jumping for joy several months later when George Brett, an idol to so many of us, circled the bases for a three-run, inside-the-park home run against the California Angels. The Royals moved into first place that night and won the division a few days later.
I remember being devastated after an extra-inning loss to the Blue Jays in the ALCS, and rejuvenated when Brett willed his team back into the series with a performance for the ages (4-for-4, two homers, game-winning run) in Game 3. Several days later, Kansas City advanced to its second World Series.
Those memories, however, are a distant second to Game 6 of the 1985 World Series. It’s one my dad talks about to this day. The Royals trailed 1-0 in the ninth inning. Dad and I were in Oklahoma on one of his business trips, and I had buried my head under a pillow, tears streaming down my face.
When Jorge Orta reached on a “single,” I lifted the pillow just enough to see the TV. Moments later, I was sitting on the edge of the bed with dad. Bases loaded, one out, Dane Iorg. The chance of a lifetime. One I’d played out so many times in our driveway.
“And there’s a looper into right field! Concepcion scores! Here comes Sundberg! He slides … we go to a seventh!” Both of us were jumping around the hotel room, two kids living out a dream.
The following night, on the way home while driving along I-44, we listened to Denny count down the final outs as the Royals hammered the Cardinals in Game 7, honking the horn while celebrating Kansas City’s first championship.
At age 9, I thought that was just the beginning. The Royals will do this every year. What they did for most of the next 30 years was lose. A lot. No division titles from 1986 to 2014. Twenty-nine years between playoff bids. From innocent boy to jaded, often angry on Twitter, man.
That all went away in one magical night. The Kansas City Royals, those gritty, relentless, confident Kansas City Royals, are world champions again. Don’t be surprised if you see a middle-aged man hitting rocks in his driveway tonight.