It was a trip down memory lane Sunday evening as Royals players, sports broadcasters and fans came together to relive the team’s seemingly improbable 1985 World Series win.
“Here in the Midwest, it doesn’t matter win, lose or draw — your team is your team,” ESPN’s Jonathan Coachman said of baseball in the Midwest.
The evening was also a tribute to entrepreneur and former Royals owner Ewing M. Kauffman, whom many credited for their careers, their success and the pride of their city.
“He knew everyone’s name, he knew your children’s names, he knew what you did for a living,” said Kauffman’s daughter, Julia Irene Kauffman. “It didn’t matter if you ran Chase Manhattan Bank or if you pumped his gas. He cared about people.”
The Kauffman Performing Arts Center became a baseball stadium of sorts as commentators Fred White and Denny Matthews narrated the Royals’ 1985 trip to fame.
After losing three games of a series against their cross-state rivals, the Cardinals, the Royals became the fifth team ever to come back from a 3-1 deficit. Matthews and White were full of asides and jabs at the Redbirds’ self-confidence that the series was in the bag.
More than 25 years later, Matthews and White still shake their heads when remembering contentious calls and particularly painful performances on the diamond.
Everyone knows how the games turned out; despite that, suspense still hung in the air as clips from the postseason were broadcast onto two large screens. After each play, the cheers of today’s audience amplified the yells of fans sitting in the stands in 1985.
“That was really, really difficult to keep your emotions in check,” Matthews said of covering those games. “We weren’t supposed to win. But it was our turn.”
“This team probably wasn’t our most talented team,” former Royals catcher Jim Sundberg said of the 1985 squad. “But it was the team that played best together. And they had this never-give-up spirit.”
The audience nodded along knowingly as players like pitcher Bret Saberhagen, second baseman Frank White and designated hitter Hal McRae recalled their time with the team.
At least a third of the audience raised their hands when asked if they’d ever been to the old Municipal Stadium.
“Fans love an organization that will do what it needs to do to win,” Sundberg said. “Mr. K did that when he bought this organization, and the Kansas City Royals were born then. The spirit of the Kansas City Royals still lives.”
It certainly must have seemed so to Saberhagen when a boy asked for his autograph at the nearby FanFest.
The boy told Saberhagen that his name was Bret, too — with one “t,” just like Saberhagen spells it. Saberhagen told the boy that he was named after Bret Maverick, the star of a fictional TV Western.
“And his mom goes, ‘Well, he’s named after you,’ ” Saberhagen said.