June 26, 2014. That day is one of a handful that stand out when I think about the Kansas City Royals of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar.
Two days earlier, I watched from the press box as the Royals struggled, as everybody does, against Clayton Kershaw. I was there to interview Davey Lopes, the first-base coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers and a Washburn University alumnus, for The Ichabod magazine.
Though my interview was done an hour before the game began, I stayed for the experience and as a reminder of how fortunate I was to cover sports at newspapers for more than a decade. I remember being impressed that nearly 30,000 people attended a game at Kauffman Stadium in late June.
A couple of days later, I went straight from work to Dick’s Sporting Goods in Leawood to buy a basketball for my daughter, who mentioned earlier in the week that she wanted to learn how to play basketball.
Rushing to the checkout line, I did a double-take as a looked to my right. Is that? Wait … Dayton Moore? What in the world is he doing at a Dick’s Sporting Goods?
After hesitating, I approached Moore as he neared the checkout line. “Excuse me, are you Dayton Moore?” Obviously, I knew the answer. He hesitated, almost as if he was afraid to be approached by somebody during a recent Royals slump. “Yes, yes I am.”
Those of you who follow me on Twitter will be surprised by what I said next. “I just wanted to tell you thanks for bringing winning baseball back to Kansas City. I know you’re a busy man, so I’m going to get out of your way.”
Moore reached out his hand to shake mine, looked me directly in the eyes, and said, “Thank you. I really appreciate that.” It was as if he needed to hear it.
After interviewing a number of athletes, coaches and sports executives during my career in newspapers, I knew the vast majority of them typically don’t want to hang around and chat. But as I started to walk away, Moore held firm his handshake and asked me what my name was.
We spoke for about five minutes. He stopped short of apologizing for the recent slump, though I could tell it bothered him. I wondered how many times in the past several years he had a conversation with fans that was far less complimentary.
The other thing I remember about that conversation is that after learning I was there to buy a basketball for my daughter, he brought his son over and introduced him. Same firm handshake and steady eye contact.
Since that point, I’ve been a huge Dayton Moore fan.
END OF THE DROUGHT
Three months later, as I walked the sideline at a high school football game in northeast Kansas, I tried to check the score of the Royals-White Sox game on my phone. The reception in Waverly wasn’t cooperating, but the public address announcer provided updates throughout the evening.
With each update, in the midst of a competitive game between two good teams, the crowd erupted. The loudest applause came at 9:51 p.m.: “Final score: Royals 3, White Sox 1.” For the first time in 29 years, Kansas City was in the playoffs.
The following Monday, I spent an hour at work trying to get into the portal for playoff tickets. When I finally did, I had two choices: Purchase tickets for the Wild-Card game or Game 3 of the American League Division Series.
Knowing my work schedule was hectic that week, I opted for the ALDS, even though there was no guarantee the Royals would be there. Three years later, I still kick myself for not picking the Wild-Card game.
As my wife and I settled in at home on Sept. 30 for the Wild-Card game against Oakland, I was as nervous as I’ve been in years. Nerves became anger when manager Ned Yost replaced James Shields with Yordano Ventura in the sixth inning of a game the Royals led 3-2.
By the end of the inning, my blood pressure was through the roof and face bright red as I screamed at the TV that Yost had to be fired as soon as the game ended.
My wife opted for bed not long after that, kissing my forehead and whispering, “I’m sorry, honey” in the seventh inning. I decided to stay up, though I changed the channel and followed the rest of the game on Twitter.
What unfolded in the eighth, ninth and 12th innings also rank among my favorite memories of The Core. I’ll never forget hitting the refresh button to see fellow Royals fans post updates full of exclamation points as Billy Butler ripped a single into right field to cut the lead to two and Hosmer scored on a wild pitch.
I didn’t see Jarrod Dyson’s stolen base in the ninth inning, not live anyway. I switched it back to that channel after reading what happened on Twitter. I didn’t see Hosmer’s triple live. I did catch Christian Colon’s single and stolen base, but missed Salvador Perez’s game-winner. What I did see was the entire dugout pouring on the field in a sea of blue when I switched channels for the 100th time that night.
In the meantime, I woke up my wife twice, first when Nori Aoki tied the game, and again on Salvy’s hit.
A couple of days later, I woke her up again with a loud scream on Hosmer’s blast in the 11th inning of Game 2 of the ALDS. I had a 5K the next morning, got about three hours of sleep and ran my personal best, partly because the adrenaline from the previous night served as fuel.
FROM OUT OF NOWHERE IN 2014
The rest of that postseason is a blur. My wife and I attended Game 3 of the ALDS. I’m always going to remember jumping for joy on Alex Gordon’s two-out, three-run double in the first inning. “I’ve never seen you like this!” she said. “You’re just like a kid again!”
This team often made me feel like a kid again, when I’d hit rocks in the driveway, complete with personal play-by-play of walk-off homers in the World Series.
Other memories of the 2014 postseason:
- Calling Gordon’s go-ahead home run in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on Twitter (1 out of 100 ain’t bad).
- Cain’s circus catches in the ALDS and ALCS.
- Moose’s homers and incredible catch in ALCS Game 3, which I attended thanks to a friend.
- Escobar’s double in the ninth inning of ALCS Game 2.
- Following ALCS Game 4 on my phone during a grad school class and tearing up when the Royals won.
- Ventura carving up the Giants in Game 1 and Game 6 of the World Series.
Above all, I’m going to remember the enormous pride I felt in this team, even as they lost Game 7 to the San Francisco Giants.
FINALLY, THE TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN
The Royals were so good during the regular season in 2015 that I don’t count any regular season games among favorite memories, though Johnny Cueto’s first start at the K, a shutout, was electric.
The lasting memory of the ALDS against Houston will always be the eighth inning of Game 4. I’d just returned to my desk from a workout during lunch with the Royals trailing 6-2. As had become superstition, I wasn’t watching or listening to the game. I resorted to refreshing mlb.com and Twitter for updates.
I didn’t get too excited until Hosmer’s single made it 6-4 and had to contain myself when I saw the 6-6 on mlb.com after refreshing the page. Two days later, the iconic moment was Kendrys Morales’ three-run blast in the eighth to put the Astros away.
My wife and I went to Game 1 of the ALCS, a night we’ll remember because of Edinson Volquez’s gutty performance. The next day, I spent most of my afternoon yelling at the TV as the Royals rallied for five runs in the seventh inning.
Game 6 on Oct. 23 brought a range of emotions, from being absolutely furious at Yost for allowing Ryan Madson to pitch to Jose Bautista to pure joy on Cain’s mad dash from first to home on Hosmer’s clutch single and Wade Davis’s ice-cold comeback from second and third and nobody out in the ninth.
Four days later, I woke my wife up again when Gordon homered off Jeurys Familia in the ninth inning to tie the game, and once again when Hosmer won it with a sacrifice fly in the 14th.
What I’m always going to remember about this team is the way they ALWAYS came back. In Game 4, they jumped all over Daniel Murphy’s error, scored three runs and took a 3-1 lead in the series.
The next night, after being dominated by Matt Harvey, they did what they do, obliterating another deficit with enviable resolve and Hosmer’s brazen sprint home. Three innings later, Colon, who barely played, broke New York’s heart with the go-ahead single. Escobar and Cain put the Mets away with a run-scoring double and three-run double.
And, of course, perhaps the best memory: Davis striking out Wilmer Flores to win it all as my wife and I hugged and celebrated. I’m always going to remember my dad calling me after every out in the bottom of the 12th inning. We shared the World Series when I was 9 in 1985 and again when I was 39 in 2015.
A BASEBALL TOWN AGAIN
Perhaps the most telling moment with this group didn’t involve The Core. I’m never going to forget waking up on a cold January morning, grabbing my phone and seeing that Ventura died in a car accident.
As I gathered my thoughts and tried to make sense of it, I tried to keep it together. I walked down the stairs to tell my wife, and as I started to speak, began to sob. I cried for hours that day, as if I’d lost a member of the family.
And that’s what I’m going to remember most about these guys. They’re family. They grew up with us. They’ve had some lows. But, my goodness, have they had some highs.
There will be never be another team like this. They Royals will win another World Series in my lifetime, maybe several, but none will be as special as the one in 2015. This group made Kansas City a baseball town again. Forever Royal. Thank you, fellas.