Magic happened one recent summer evening.
My wife and I were watching our beloved Kansas City Royals play the Boston Red Sox with two of our sons, a rather common evening occurrence in our home. After their lead disappeared with a one-out, two-run single to centerfield, we decided to turn off the television and call it a night.
It wasn’t that we ceased to believe in our team’s ability to come back. We’ve witnessed it so many times before. But we also had witnessed the power of the Red Sox offense the night before in their 8–3 romping. So we made the decision to spare ourselves from the torture of watching another disappointing game.
As we finished up our bedtime routine, my phone alerted me with an update on the game. Royals’ shortstop Alcides Escobar had driven in a run with an infield single. What the alert failed to mention was that the bases were loaded for this single. As the runners advance to second and third, Escobar completed the full house on first. And the magic of baseball was coming to the plate in the form of rookie second baseman Raul Mondesi.
If I had been watching the game, my hopes would have been severely tempered because of the many at-bats I’ve seen Mondesi take since he was called up to the majors. His batting average was a smelly .180. As the highly touted prospect took his practice swings, I imagine myself looking on expecting him to ground into a double play to end the inning. After all, that’s the quality many of his recent attempts had been.
But not this fair evening in Boston.
The next alert on my phone completely blew me away. Mondesi tripled to centerfield, knocking in all three runners and giving the royals a 6–4 lead. As I shared the good news with my wife, she immediately grabbed the remote and turned the game on in our room. The Royals, our team, proceeded to bat all the way through the line-up and then another half to take a commanding 10–4 lead. The lead would not be overtaken and the game counted toward KC’s win column.
I’m convinced baseball is filled with magic.
It draws me in every time as I watch a man with a ball try to outsmart a man with a bat. When a 5-ounce circular object is hurled at near 100-mph speed, it can have some nasty movement. The batter’s timing must be impeccable and his instincts spot on to make contact with a wooden bat and reverse its trajectory in a split second. I can’t think of another sport which fascinates me more.
As a kid, I watched hours upon hours of baseball.
ESPN and MLB network weren’t around in the 80s and 90s, so my baseball viewing was limited to watching America’s team (the Atlanta Braves) on TBS and the Chicago Cubs on WGN. I consumed every pitch of every inning.
My baseball card collection grew large as I scoured Topps, Upper Deck and Fleer decks for my favorite players. Of course my largest collection of any team was of the Royals, my childhood team from when I lived in Missouri, but I also looked for the heroes of the day, like Mike Schmidt, Tony Gwynn, Dwight Gooden and Ken Griffey Jr.
But I lost my love of the game in the late 90s during a series of player strikes. The perceived greed wore me down as I became more interested in basketball and football. And, in addition to the strikes, my childhood team went on a multi-decade streak of sucking. I called myself a closet Royals fan, hoping the stench of their dreadful play wouldn’t follow me.
As the years went by, I would check in on Kansas City over spring training and the early season months with the hopes that my beloved team would return to its glory days once again. Each time I was disappointed and would view the summer as the longest time of the sports calendar.
But 2014 changed everything.
It started out as previous years…flashes of a winning team that quickly faded. But this particular year was different.
The season’s second half brought win after win for the Royals. I went from checked out fan to mildly interested follower as I checked game scores a few times a week.
The real hook came, though, with the first postseason appearance in 29 years in which the Royals not only clinched a spot in the American League wild card game, but also won it. I couldn’t resist the temptation to tune in the rest of the way.
As the underdogs tore through the postseason, it began to feel like this was the year the curse would finally be broken. The new cast of Royals’ legends could do no wrong, at least from my perspective.
But then came Game 7 of the World Series against San Francisco and their ace pitcher Madison Baumgardner. It was if a superior visitor from another world took the mound that night. And the bid to regain past glory came short. So close, but yet so far.
My fandom heart was broken, but the love of baseball had been resuscitated from the dead. And now, my wife and kids joined the party as we pulled for my childhood team together. I enjoyed every bit of it.
The 2015 season brought a fabled underdog to the forefront again, but this time with a mission to return to October greatness and take home the crown. And that they did. It took 30 years, but the Kansas City Royals became champs once more.
One of my favorite parts of the journey has been watching my family learn to appreciate the magic. It’s fun to pull for the same team as we watch them in victory and defeat. And through it all, I see them enjoy the game of baseball the way I have for so many years.