Even as improbable circle-of-life type stuff goes, this particular loop is a curiosity, tethered together by oddly compatible and essential parts.
You might call it the fellowship of the ring:
A dog named Mickey; a grieving woman seeking to fulfill her mother’s dying wish for Christmas; a church reaching out anew to its surrounding community; a pawn shop owner who inexplicably held for three decades a sole piece that could help bring one soul peace.
All revolving around the hub of this, a man who once was lost and now is found.
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And because of all the amazing grace within all this, through his tears former Royals star Willie Mays Aikens got back his 1980 American League championship ring on Christmas Eve 2014.
Incredible, he calls it.
“Because of the way it happened, I believe that it can inspire people with broken relationships that can be restored,” he said. “And it can inspire people if they have lost something and still are looking for something.”
That includes not just merely material objects, of course, but a certain peace of mind.
And reason for hope that even through all the tribulations and labyrinths of life, something gone may be recoverable.
Sometimes through a series of seemingly unrelated circumstances and disconnected forces, like the ones that came together to make Aikens “Safe At Home,” the name of his autobiography written with Gregory Jordan.
At least that was the term Aikens’ friend Kim Accurso used when she convinced him to meet her with other family members on the night before Christmas at Jess & Jim’s Steakhouse. Accurso presented the ring in what she called “a cheap, empty ring box” wrapped in tissue paper inside a Christmas bag she thinks “most likely” featured an angel on it.
“Safe at home, Willie. Keep it on your finger and wear it with pride, because you earned it,” she recalled saying.
“People can take away things that are given to you,” she later added. “But not when they’re earned. They can’t take them away.”
For something to be found, of course, it had to be lost first. And the main thing about that is this:
However the ring vanished, and that’s a murky matter, its disappearance reflected Aikens’ warped bearings then.
By the time he was playing in the 1980 World Series, becoming the first player to hit multiple home runs in more than one Series game, Aikens was becoming more and more dependent on cocaine.
Yet, he said Friday, he didn’t consider himself addicted by then, or by the time he says his ring was stolen in 1981 by someone who broke into his apartment.
Aikens, though, wasn’t certain when he lost track of the ring.
Really, he just knows that it was gone after a time in his life when “so many people were coming in and out of my house, partying.”
He didn’t report the ring stolen after the break-in, he said, because it didn’t mean as much to him then as it should have: The Royals lost the Series to the Phillies and, well, it didn’t even have a diamond in it.
He would come to feel differently about those days and that ring after he trudged into a freefall — and a 20-year-plus prison sentence in 1994 on federal drug and firearms charges.
That story is much more intricate, of course, spanning his own demons, the hazy line between undercover work and entrapment and the racially disproportionate sentencing that led to his release from the Atlanta penitentiary in 2008 after federal drug laws were revamped.
But Aikens, 60, has reconciled all that with the help of religious faith he found in prison and a blunt sense of reality.
“When you decide to get into that activity, a lot of times you don’t have control of the consequences. And that’s what happened to me,” he said. “But there is no resentment or anger towards the system, mainly because the end result that I see from it was it was a blessing in disguise.
“It took me out of a situation where I was using drugs every day and living a destructive life style, and the end is always the same. You either go to jail or you end up dead.
“So I was blessed that I ended up in prison. It saved my life.”
Sometime in the early 1980s, a man walked into American Pawn Shop on North Oak Trafficway. He had Aikens’ ring.
Somehow or another, he presented it as having been acquired either by purchase or trade.
Contrary to what owner Phil Balano calls “the stigma of the pawn shop,” the shop reports daily to the police what comes in, he said, and he doesn’t traffic in stolen goods.
If the ring had been reported stolen, he added, it thus would have been returned to Aikens.
So, yes, there is an apparent contradiction here.
But for mercy and amnesty’s sake all around, let’s assume there’s some gray way that Balano’s and Aikens’ version each is correct.
Especially because all that really matters now isn’t how the ring was displaced from its owner but how it came back to him.
Starting with this:
The ring resonated with Balano unlike about anything else that ever came in.
So much so that he never tried to sell it.
Instead, he said, he kept it in a cabinet at home.
“I’m not a collector of anything,” he said. “I try to sell everything I have — I’m a pawn broker, so I don’t keep anything. It’s probably the only piece I ever kept.
“I don’t know why, but I did.”
Maybe, he added, “I just figured someday he’d probably want it back.”
In 2008, Aikens began his transition back to the world with work repairing manhole covers.
By 2011, to his gratitude, the Royals hired him as a hitting instructor — just two weeks before his wife, Sara, suffered a stroke that paralyzed her right side.
“When you’re mostly a single-parent dad, and you have to help your wife and 4-year-old out, it’s not easy, man,” he said. “But we have to take the good and the bad in this world and adjust our lives to that. And I’ve been able to do that.”
In this case, it helps to take his family from home to spring training in Arizona.
Except, that is, for Mickey, his German shepherd-chow mix.
Mickey spent that first spring in a kennel in a veterinary clinic. When Aikens and Accurso met through the vet, Accurso offered to have Mickey stay at her 75-acre horse farm in Belton.
So she became a friend and dog-sitter, who marveled at how Mickey went wild every time he was reunited with Willie.
“You can feel the love between his dog and him,” she said.
That love speaks to why Aikens showed his appreciation for Accurso’s help by arranging for her to get 2014 World Series tickets at face value.
And that gesture of Aikens’ helps explain why she thought of him when her mother, Beverly Ferguson, was dying from cancer on Dec. 6 and made a last request.
“My only wish is that you do something really good for somebody this Christmas,” Accurso recalled her saying. “So of course I took that very seriously.”
In June, the Rev. Laura Murphy became the pastor at Gashland United Methodist Church — just across the street from Balano’s American Pawn Shop.
Reflecting a certain energy that crackles over the phone, Murphy one day distributed fliers for a Nov. 2 program featuring Aikens.
And why wouldn’t she promote it in the pawn shop across the street?
As she introduced herself and mentioned Aikens, several employees looked at each other in wonder.
One said, “We were just talking about him.”
Even not quite knowing why, Murphy redoubled the invitation.
Days later, shortly before Aikens was to speak, a man from the shop came to the church, handed Murphy a business card and said, “My boss would like Willie to call him. Because we have his World Series ring.”
When Murphy shared the card with Aikens, he stared at her. He was so choked up she put a hand on his shoulder and asked if he was OK.
Aikens went to the shop the next day but came out deflated.
Balano, he recalled, told him he wanted $2,500 for the ring.
After all, that’s what he “had in it” from all those years ago.
“I’m like, ‘Well, I don’t have that kind of money,’” said Aikens, who didn’t even see the ring because it was at Balano’s home.
Though Balano told him he’d hold it until Aikens could raise the money, Aikens seemed defeated when he told Murphy what had happened.
“Willie, the story is not over with this ring,” Murphy told him. “Something is going to happen that you’re going to get that ring.”
Between then and the day Accurso’s mother died, Aikens ran into her and mentioned he learned his ring was at a pawn shop near a church where he’d spoken.
But he was oblivious when Accurso called later in December and casually asked about that church.
And he had no inkling she would go there … find the pawn shop across the street … and negotiate for the ring by appealing to Balano’s sentimental side.
It was fulfilling her mother’s last wish, Balano recalled Friday.
“I took less than I had in it, actually,” he said, adding that all of this was “a good deal.”
None of which would have happened without every indispensable element of the ring of people.
If it all seems quirky and amazing, Accurso also figures ringing in the New Year this way wasn’t so complicated, either.
“It’s just,” she said, “about being nice to each other.”