Thirty-eight members of the Kansas City Fire Department strolled onto the field 10 minutes before the Royals and Astros played Game 5 of their American League Division Series on Wednesday at Kauffman Stadium.
Halfway through the procession, which lined up from home plate past the first-base bag, an unprompted cheer started and steadily grew among the sellout crowd, which had settled into its seats well before the opening pitch.
That cheer only grew louder when the families of Larry J. Leggio and John V. Mesh entered the field and huddled around the 2015 ALDS logo painted in the grass.
Leggio and Mesh were killed Monday in the line of duty when a wall collapsed as they battled a three-story blaze in the 2600 block of Independence Avenue.
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There was a respectful and somber quality to the applause, especially compared to the raucous roars that followed as Johnny Cueto worked a perfect first inning.
After a 20-second moment of silence, many of the firefighters saluted during the National Anthem with some staring out at the color guard behind the mound and others looking toward the U.S. flag in right field that flew at half-staff for the second straight day.
This was the city’s salute to the ultimate sacrifice made by Leggio and Mesh. Two other Kansas City firefighters also were injured battling the fire.
“Kansas City, it’s a big city, but it’s a small town,” Royals Hall of Famer and special assistant to baseball operations Mike Sweeney said. “As a player, I always felt connected with the city. Times like this is evidence of that. This city is one big family.
“All cities try to come together in times of crisis. We’ve seen it all over the country, but Kansas City — there’s nothing like Kansas City. That’s what makes Kansas City so special.”
Sweeney, who met the Leggio and Mesh families before the game, said the scene reminded him of the way baseball galvanized New York after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“It’s on a smaller scale, because we lost two heroes,” he said. “But still, we lost two heroes. For this baseball team to wrap its arms around those families the way that we have is special.”
Sweeney hung out in the Crown Club with families and first baseman Eric Hosmer and backup catcher Drew Butera also stopped by to pay his respects.
“To sit and hug and cry with the daughters and the brothers and the wives and mothers of these two Kansas City heroes, it puts life in perspective,” Sweeney said. “To know that the game of baseball and the Kansas City Royals can — they’re never going heal from this, but to help them get through this storm — is humbling.”
Someone pointed out to one of Mesh’s four daughters that she was a big fan when Sweeney played.
“Next thing I know, I’m hugging the four beautiful daughters of one of our heroes,” he said. “To hug his beautiful wife and tell her that she was married to a hero, it’s special.”
Mark Martinez grew up with Leggio and also knew Mesh. He lives in Gladstone now and is a utility for Fox Sports.
Martinez reached out to Kansas City Fire Department Captain Nino Bruno and fireman Frank Pace, two more friends in the department, about getting KCFD shirts for the Fox Sports 1 crew to wear as a show of solidarity.
“They talked to the chief and got it OK’d to give us all the shirts and everything,” Martinez said.
After getting the thumbs up from the network as well, Martinez picked up several shirts and passed them out to cameramen and other crew working the broadcast.
“We’ve been friends since we were kids and I know the Mesh family really well, so it’s just whatever I could do,” Martinez said.
Leggio’s older brother, Joe Mike, thanked Martinez for the gesture before the game.
One planned tribute to the fallen firefighters did not materialize. The Royals were unable to have the team and coaches wear special “KCFD” Royals hats during batting practice.
“We needed a little more time to make it happen,” Royals vice president for community affairs and publicity Toby Cook said. “It wasn’t MLB’s fault. It was a combination of timing and what was involved to get approval. It wasn’t going to happen before batting practice.”
Such tributes have been permitted before, such as with the Yankees after 9/11, but the protocol can be complicated with sponsor agreements and other issues.
Commissioner Rob Manfred allowed the Royals to wear KCFD shirts and hats during Tuesday’s voluntary workout, but the Royals never sought approval for pregame Wednesday because of the truncated timeframe.
“The process for doing it in a game as opposed to during a workout, particularly in a postseason game, would be a little more rigorous and it probably would have been too quick to get done today,” Manfred said.
The Leggio and Mesh families all wore the special KCFD hats, which were designed by Cumpy’s T-Shirt Shop owner Andrew Romano.
Cook said with extra time before a possible AL Championship Series in Kansas City, the Royals might revisit getting permission to wear the hats Friday.
Royals charities also donated the net proceeds of the in-stadium 50/50 raffle with half going to the local firefighters’ union, International Association of Fire Fighters Local 42, and half going to the Surviving Spouse and Family Endowment Fund of the Kansas City Metropolitan Crime Commission.