While I could never be mistaken for a sports fan, the Royals’ glorious winning season soothed my soul for reasons far beyond a potent desire to have them beat the formidable San Francisco Giants in the World Series: It meant I got to commune in spirit with my late husband, Richard, for a lovely moment suspended in time.
Richard was a diehard baseball and Royals fan. His childhood heroes were baseball players and, as an adult, he dared to still believe in them. He grew up in Kansas City with his baseball-adoring grandfather, father and sisters and cherished going to the old Municipal Stadium to watch the Kansas City Athletics and the Royals play, through lean and winning seasons.
When I fell in love with Richard in 1991, it was with a guy who adored food, music, art, cats — and baseball.
One of the traditions established during our 18-year marriage was to watch “Field of Dreams” — a movie intertwined with baseball memories of Richard’s grandpa and dad — before opening day at Kauffman Stadium. During the playoffs and World Series, regardless of who was playing, Richard was glued to the television or radio.
I grew to love baseball because it gave Richard permission to travel back to the innocence of childhood, to believe in something special, to unabashedly wear his heart on his sleeve.
Richard squirreled away treasured baseball mementos in a large wooden box. I was vaguely aware of the well-curated collection of memorabilia: ticket stubs; a 1985 World Series program; baseball trading cards from his youth; a couple of game balls that found their way to his seat; miniature wooden baseball bats; and a cracked and weathered glove forever molded to the shape of his teenaged hand.
Rummaging through that box in September, I touched Richard’s prized 1985 World Series tickets and traveled to April 2008, the month he succumbed to a two-year cancer journey.
Richard was way too young — 54 — and bravely defied his terminal diagnosis to the very end, doing things he loved, including cheering on the Royals. He spent most of the last month of his life on St. Luke’s pulmonology floor, in a room overlooking the Country Club Plaza’s Mill Creek Park and the blossoming redbuds, dogwoods and pears.
“Those trees signal baseball season,” Richard mumbled one day, staring out the window.
On Royals’ game night, the channel was tuned to baseball, with Richard watching every move from his hospital bed, hooked up to tubes and beeping machines, shushing nurses who came in to administer pain medicine during a crucial play.
Richard’s beloved Royals won against the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday, April 25, 2008, the last game he watched without having to swim through a morphine-induced cloud to comprehend the action.
Since his death four days later, there have been particularly poignant markers of our years together, certain occasions that conjure up crystal-clear memories.
Baseball opening day, postseason play and the World Series are three times when Richard’s spirit is in full bloom. When the Royals slid into postseason play in September, I swear I could almost feel his breath.
I was at Kauffman Stadium on Sunday, Oct. 6, when the Royals clinched the division to advance to the American League Championship Series. It was crazy town that night in the bleachers — people feverishly chanting “Let’s go, Royals,” high-fiving strangers, snapping selfies post-game in front of the Hall of Fame sign graced with the letter “W” for Win.
Right beside me, during every inning, was Richard. It was like a warm hug, watching a baseball game unfold in its purest form.
At the K for Game 7, I stood stunned with other Royals fans, watching the ecstatic Giants spill onto the field as the fountains turned orange to celebrate the new World Series champs.
Just like that, October’s special magic started to slip away.
In the parking lot, it was eerily quiet as cars made their slow exit. Melancholy crept in as I realized Richard’s palpable October spirit was quieting. Suddenly I recalled a moment from “Field of Dreams” when James Earl Jones whispers to Kevin Costner: “And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces.”
Thanks, Richard, for the magic. There’s always next season.
Kimberly Winter Stern lives in Leawood.