For the past few weeks I’ve felt like a kid again. The butterflies, the anticipation, the elation and the nostalgia of championship Royals baseball!
Suddenly I’m back in middle school huddled with friends on the playground listening to ballgames on a transistor radio. I feel my heart pounding as I race into my house after school to catch a daytime playoff game. Once again I’m whisked away by the emotion and excitement of hopes and dreams and victory.
That’s what baseball will do to you. And thanks to this unpredictably electric Royals team, I remember how it used to feel.
But this time around it’s even better because I could share the excitement with our girls. We’ve been curled up on the couch watching the games and dancing and slapping high-fives.
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Repeatedly my 7-year-old has asked, “So, Dad, is this what it was like when you were a kid?”
Yes, definitely, yes!
My love affair with baseball and the Royals predates the glory of 1985 and the deflating almost-glory of 1980. It goes back to a time before free agency and strikes and ridiculous salaries and even before Morganna, the Kissing Bandit.
For me it started with my father, who would listen to nearly every game on the radio. He would scribble notes next to the box scores in the morning paper. And he would take my siblings and me to games at Municipal Stadium.
Then one evening in the spring of 1978 my father came home from work with some news that elevated my baseball fever to a new pitch. George Brett was moving into our Brookside neighborhood!
And it turned out my dad had a friend who worked for the Royals and was responsible for finding someone to cut Brett’s lawn. My dad said if I wanted it, the job was mine. No interview. No mowing test. I was in!
When the day came to meet George and talk business, I surveyed his lot and figured it would take less than an hour to cut both the front and back. “Is 20 bucks all right?” I asked, thinking I might be pushing my luck. No problem.
As I finished up that first day, he handed me $40. There must have been some mistake. “$20 for the front and $20 for the back, right?” he said with a wink.
Thus began one of the most memorable years of my life. I not only got to cut and bag grass clippings for an All-Star, I ended up cleaning up after a few of his parties. This was the stuff that made for legendary middle school cafeteria stories.
George paid me well and regularly gave me tickets to games. But when he offered me one of his extra ball gloves — one of the deluxe, major league models — I humbly declined, with my father’s voice in my head reminding me not to take advantage of my situation. I still kick myself for that.
But when he cleaned out his locker at the end of that season, after another heartbreaking playoff loss to the Yankees, George gave me one of his bats. The number 5 was scribbled on the handle, a smudge of pine tar on the grip. He would autograph it for me years later, and I still have it.
Although George moved out of the neighborhood before the following spring, he strengthened my bond with baseball and the Royals.
And now, thanks to a new generation of charismatic and talented ballplayers, I can pass that passion on to my daughters.
Thank you, Royals, for a season my family will never forget!
To reach Jim Cosgrove, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.