For those of us who hadn’t followed the Royals much the past couple of decades, this season came out of left field in more ways than one.
In late summer, buzz about the Royals started to gain volume on social media, and by September everyone who hadn’t been paying attention was following the team’s progress intently.
As many of us started to wake up out of our long Royals slumber, we discovered we had a team that could possibly make it to the World Series.
Where in the heck did that come from?
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And it was a real pleasure meeting these Royals. Such nice guys. They weren’t showboats, and they seemed to care about each other. As Ellen McDonald, publicist for the Lyric Opera of Kansas City and the Kansas City Ballet, noted on Facebook, you just wanted to bake cookies for all of them.
That’s another thing that made this Royals season special: The Kansas City’s arts community became rabid fans.
Of course, there are many people in Kansas City’s arts scene who are and have always been sports fans, such as Ho Anthony Ahn, cellist for the Kansas City Symphony and hard-core Baltimore Orioles fan. His heart was broken when the Royals swept the Orioles in the playoffs, but in the end even he became a Royals fan.
But there are others, like Frank Byrne, executive director of the Kansas City Symphony, who has attended only two baseball games in his life, but found himself swept up in Royals fever and his orchestra performing at the World Series.
“The fact that we were there at Kauffman Stadium helping to celebrate Kansas City and the Royals, coming out of our home performance venue to the home of the Royals, and doing this at a major sporting event, I think it was a very powerful statement,” he said.
It was the Kansas City Royals that suggested the Kansas City Symphony perform at the World Series.
“When a team is in the postseason, we’ll ask them to submit a list of potential anthem-singers for consideration, and the Kansas City Symphony was on the list,” said Matt Bourne, spokesman for Major League Baseball.
“The Kansas City Symphony was actually scheduled to perform at game five of the American League Championship Series, but that game was never required to take place, so when it came to game six of the World Series, we thought they would be a great choice.”
Byrne thought they made a great choice, too.
“Being a part of the World Series and demonstrating that Kansas City values major league sports and major league performing arts is something that I have insufficient superlatives to describe,” he said.
“I can only say that Kansas City is a very enlightened city. We had the opportunity to show what Kansas City is about, we let people know that while we love barbecue and we love sports, etcetera, that we also love great classical music.”
Michael Stern, music director of the Kansas City Symphony, is another musician who is also baseball fan. He grew up in New York as a fan of the Mets, but now he has different loyalties.
“Go, Royals,” Stern said. “I hadn’t been to a game in a while, and I loved being there for game six. It was a very big moment, being on the world stage before a global audience of sports fans, many of whom would not have expected to see the Symphony standing at home plate.
“It was wonderful to know that we could stand up in that context, with the Royals doing so well and with everyone so pumped, and for us to be able to say, ‘We are also Kansas City proud. Kansas City is about great sports and Kansas City is about great arts.’”
When the Royals entered the playoffs, a petition started to circulate asking that Joyce DiDonato, Prairie Village native and one of the world’s greatest opera stars, perform at the World Series should the Royals become American League champions.
DiDonato, a longtime Royals fan, encouraged the petition effort.
Beth Kakacek Munce, voice teacher at Munce Music Vocal Studio, spearheaded the online campaign with fervor. She advocated Joyce’s cause with a joyful exuberance that set Facebook on fire. But when the list of anthem singers was announced, DiDonato’s name was nowhere to be found.
Trisha Yearwood, a country crooner, was chosen to sing at the opening game of the World Series. Groan. Yet another country singer representing Kansas City? Where was Joyce?
Disappointment and speculation were rife, but there was still hope that perhaps somehow DiDonato would perform at one of the World Series games for which an anthem-singer had not yet been named. Sure enough, several games into the World Series, Munce announced on Facebook that DiDonato would sing at game seven, if there were to be a game seven.
“Her fans put together an impressive social media campaign that certainly caught our attention and made us aware of how big of a fan she was,” Bourne said.
“We look at a variety of things and a connection to the team and the home market is important. She obviously has that in a big way based on how active she’s been in supporting the team. I think Joyce’s situation was very unique in terms of the social media outpouring.”
DiDonato was originally asked to sing at game six accompanied by the Kansas City Symphony, but she had a previously scheduled engagement she refused to cancel: a master class with eighth-grade students at Carnegie Hall.
“I love Joyce dearly, and it would have been fantastic for us to perform together, but it didn’t work out because of scheduling,” Stern said. “She couldn’t do game six and we couldn’t do game seven. She texted me from Carnegie Hall, from an office my father used to use, to tell me about the master class she was giving the next day.
“She’s all about giving back to the next generation and she’s a wonderful teacher, so of course she would not renege on that class. But then she flew to Kansas City to light the house on fire at game seven.”
And thus the world got two nights of Kansas City’s finest classical musicians instead of one.
With all of its cliffhangers and twists and turns, this has been a fated season right out of Greek drama.
But this drama was no tragedy. Even though the Royals lost the World Series, it was an epic triumph not only for our scrappy American League champion Royals, but the Kansas City Symphony, Joyce DiDonato, classical music lovers and Kansas City as a whole.
For Kansas City’s classical community, losing the World Series never tasted so sweet.