Kansas City Jayhawk bleeds Royal blue

Posted on Oct 7, 2014 in Alumni News, News, and Sports

Chelan David and the ball he caught during batting practice

Chelan David, j’94, poses with the ball he caught during batting practice before Game 3 of the ALDS championship. David grew up in Lawrence as a fan of both the Jayhawks and the Royals, and he earned his degree in advertising. He is currently general manager for Univision Communications in Kansas City, where he faithfully roots for the home team. David submitted the following post as a tribute to the Royals’ remarkable postseason run.

I was a product of the 1980s. One year in particular, 1980, defined my childhood. As a third-grader I was attracted to all things cool: Luke Skywalker, Hall & Oates, Pac-Man, the Dallas Cowboys and my beloved Kansas City Royals.

I wasn’t a casual 9-year-old baseball fan. I was a fanatic. There wasn’t a single player on the roster whose number I didn’t have committed to memory. Visits to the grandparents were scheduled on off days. I’d fill out scorecards while listening to Denny Matthews and Fred White on the radio, paying special attention to the leadoff hitter, Willie Wilson. Even now, I can recite from memory his stats in 1980 – 230 hits in 705 at bats with 79 stolen bases and a league-leading 15 three-baggers.

I made my first pilgrimage to Royals Stadium in 1980. It was a memorable experience—early September with George Brett chasing the magical .400 mark. The Astroturf greener than a forest of pines. Water erupting from the fountain like shimmering shots of Kool-Aid. The smell of the ballpark, a delightful mix of downtown beer hall and suburban arboretum.

The Royals would lose that year in the World Series, but it didn’t matter. Everyone knew they would continue winning. And they did. In 1985 the entire city was behind the Royals, willing Don Denkinger to blow the call in Game 6.

Then things changed. We still produced some good players. but they never stuck around. It seemed like ownership didn’t really care if we won. Losing seasons melded together and the fan base dwindled.

When I moved back to Kansas City from Seattle five years ago, the Royals weren’t exactly in vogue. I went to a few games each year and there was a smattering of fans in attendance. No one expected the Royals to win. It was like a half-filled Wrigley with no ivy and not nearly as much fun.

The highlight for me was taking my young daughters to the K, as the stadium was now called, and watching their eyes light up in wonderment—not so much for the on-field play, but the scoreboard, fountains and maddeningly entertaining Hot Dog Derby.

The product improved, however. Following last year’s breakthrough season there was even cautious optimism that the Royals could have back-to-back winning seasons. I took the kids to a game in early May, and the Royals won in front of a crowd of around 20,000. We went to another game in September during the pennant race and there was a crowd of 30,000. The momentum was building. There was a buzz for the last home series against division rival Detroit. But the Men in Blue dropped two out of three games and looked outmatched in the process.

Then the Wild Card thing happened. It was like the sports gods mashed up the ’86 World Series with Doug Flutie’s Hail Mary fling of ‘84. No one comes back from a 7-3 deficit in the 8th inning, especially when the other team’s ace is on the hill and the star reliever is warming up in the pen. And your team is last in the majors in home runs.

You certainly don’t come back from such a deficit by stealing bases. Nor do you spot the opposing team a run in the 12th inning after you’ve made a stirring comeback to even the score in the bottom of the ninth. But the Royals did. And the fans stayed. They stayed in their seats at the K and in front of their televisions at home. Royal Nation believed again.

Chelan David with former Kansas City Royals players Willie Wilson, Frank White and Dennis Leonard

I went to a watch party for Game 1 of the ALDS and got to meet some of my childhood heroes including Willie Wilson, Frank White and Dennis Leonard. We all looked on in amazement as Moose won the game in the 11th with a home run of all things. Bleary-eyed, I tuned in the next night for Game 2 and watched Eric Hosmer go yard to win the game for the Royals in the 11th once again.

A pattern seemed to be emerging. I knew I had to go to Game 3 and witness the magic firsthand. I ordered standing room only tickets.

Best purchase of my life.

When I arrived at the ballpark everything was different from the game I attended just a month earlier. The sky was bluer, the air fresher, my bones younger. During batting practice I rose as high as my legs would take me in the holding pen for standing people and came down with a souvenir ball.

I had no idea a baseball game could be so exhilarating. It was almost like a basketball game at Allen Fieldhouse with beer. Fans on their feet the entire game. A sea of blue. When Billy Butler stole second base in the third inning everyone knew the game was over. The fans, the Royals, the Angels. It was like when an opposing team comes into the Fieldhouse and is exposed to their first furious Jayhawk run. The only thing left in doubt is if the walk-ons will score.

I witnessed the Royals of today channel the ghosts of Royals past. Lorenzo Cain patrolling center field like Willie Wilson and making several spectacular plays. Billy Butler doing his Steve Balboni thing. Moose going deep like another Royal who used to play the hot corner. Greg Holland mowing down batters in the ninth inning like Quiz.

After the final Angel struck out I reveled with the other fans for well over an hour. No one wanted to leave, to lose the moment. As I exited the stadium, a hot dog vendor was tossing free hot dogs to everyone in sight. In the parking lot, it was deemed an offense to walk by a fellow fan without exchanging a high five.

It was October in Kansas City. And it was cool to be a Royals fan again. Just like 1980.

– Chelan David

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