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#RoyalsOdyssey: Finding fans of ‘America’s team’ on the road to the World Series

Star videographer Monty Davis and reporter Eric Adler got a thumbs up for the Royals from a car on Interstate 70 just past Fort Riley.
Star videographer Monty Davis and reporter Eric Adler got a thumbs up for the Royals from a car on Interstate 70 just past Fort Riley. The Kansas City Star

Think of it as an epic journey, as an odyssey, as a Royals road trip halfway across the country to seek out the devotion that now belongs to the boys from Kansas City.

We in Kansas City have always loved our Royals.

But now, say the sports pundits, so does the rest of the nation.

This scrappy, sliding, bunting, running team — ball players who tip their caps in admiration of one another, slap high-fives like they smack doubles and buy drinks for their beloved fans — has captured the heart of America.

But how much do people really love the Royals? How much do they actually know about our boys in blue?

Such are the questions that prompted The Kansas City Star, on Sunday, to send two of its own — reporter Eric Adler and videographer Monty Davis — on the road, 2,200 miles to San Francisco, in the most conspicuous of Royals cars.

Their Royals flags wave. Their windshield and windows, scripted in white and blue, proclaim: “World Series … K.C. to S.F.,” and “Go Royals!”

They’re decked out in Royals gear with dashing miniature paper Royals players fixed to their dashboard for company.

What kind of Royals devotion will they find on this trip? Plenty is the guess, but who knows?

We’ll find out, talking to folks along the way as we invite you to go on this cross-country journey with us at kansascity.com or on Twitter at #royalsodyssey. Feel free to contact the reporters on Twitter through @eadler or @montydaviskc.

As Ryan Coffelt, the 34-year-old Iraq veteran and mild Royals fan, who rented our guys their car said, he may not always have been the most die-hard Royals backer, but he is now.

“Better get on the ride,” he said of his new-found fandom.

Couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

Hold on. Here we go.

Remembering the ’Rrhoids of ’80

NEAR FORT RILEY, KAN. It’s still dark, black in front of us and a sunrise as red as ink soaking the sky behind us. This car is so conspicuous. Already it’s drawing thumbs up from other drivers. These aren’t polite, stoic, two-fingers-up-from-the-steering-wheel greetings. Drivers pass us, honk, smile big and pump their thumbs in the air.

“How ’bout them Royals? That’s what I’m talking about!” says the toll lady near Topeka.

OK, we’re still close to Kansas City, this is to be expected. But this is Sunday morning and people are really smiling. Then, many miles more, a rest stop just east of Fort Riley. We pull in. Right behind us is Marcia Jacobson and her husband, Dave, both 57 from Leawood. No sleuth reporting needed here. She’s wearing a blue Royals T-shirt under a black cardigan.

Fan? Huge. Dave, too. Before 1985 even and, huh, did I hear what Marcia just said? She’s smirks.

“I actually took care of George Brett in the hospital when he had his hemorrhoid problem” in 1980, she says. That’s because, back then, she was a nurse at St. Luke’s. All her friends know the tale of how all the nurses were flirting with him and hoping for dates. A bunch of those friends, all Kansas Citians and Royals fans, are meeting at a friend’s cabin in the mountains of Colorado.

“You didn’t know you were going to find someone who took care of George Brett, did you?” she says, and laughs and laughs. “What a novelty… It’s my claim to fame.”

Now?

“I love every Royals player right now. I don’t think I could select a favorite.”

Setting sights high in Abilene

ABILENE, Kan. R. J. Harms, 53, big and tall like a silo, strolled across the parking lot of the First Lutheran Christ Church. Before 10 a.m. Sunday, the service was still going on.

He doesn’t know it, but in a few minutes I’ll ask him to talk to our mini Alex Gordon paper cutout. No way he imagined that when he woke up.

“It’s their time,” Harms says of the Royals. As far as he figures, the whole town is rooting for them, the incredible way the way they played in the post-season, how long they’ve waited.

He’s seen the polling maps that show that the Royals are America’s team.

“A real feel-good story the way they’ve done it,” he says.

He chortles when he’s handed the mini Gordon.

“I would like him to hit .500 in the World Series,” he says, still laughing.

Five hundred?! Five hundred?!

Yikes, someone had to speak for Gordon. Five hundred? Yeesh! What about his incredible diving catches and lights-out defense? Five hundred means getting a hit every other time up to bat here, R.J.

“I’m trying the best I can, man, OK?” I say for mini-Gordon.

What am I thinking? These Abilene-ians are a tough brood. President Dwight D. Eisenhower was born here. World Series? The man planned D-Day and won World War II.

“He had a couple of good games and a couple of big hits for us there,” R.J. concedes of Gordon. “He’s also stranded some base runners, so I think he’s had some opportunities… So we don’t have to win at the bottom of the last inning.”

OK, R.J. point taken.

Now give back mini Alex.

Bring ‘em on, whoever they are

LUCAS, Kan. Some 240 miles from Kansas City, 9-year-old Tyler Reed is sitting on a toilet.

OK, not a real toilet. The place is actually an outdoor arts plaza in the artsy, and teeny community of Lucas, Kan., the place known for the eerie “Garden of Eden.” Here, at this building on South Main Street, blocks away from Eden, sits the Grassroots Art Wall of Fame, created in ceramic tiles to purposely depict, yes, a gigantic toilet bowl.

Tyler is sitting on what would be the seat, which one might think is the reason he’s not smiling.

But it’s not. His mom, 36-year-old Natasha Reed of Fort Scott, Kan., and in town for a family reunion, said he’s just not an easy smiler.

But the lad knows his Royals, even as paper dolls, by sight. He watches every game. Quick test. “Who’s this guy?

“Mike Moustakas,” he says quickly and knows he plays third base. “That’s my favorite player.”

He gets them all: Alex Gordon, outfield; Eric Hosmer, though he’s iffy on his position; Lorenzo Cain, outfield; Nori Aoki, outfield, too.

Final easy question: Who are the Royals playing in the World Series?

“I don’t know yet,” Tyler says with uncertainty. “New York or Saint Louis.”

Wow. Take that, Giants. To this 9-year-old fan, the other team doesn’t even matter.

‘I see this series as a metaphor for my soul’

LUCAS, Kan. Artist Peter Max Lawrence, 37, sat with his legs tucked under him on a broad, empty sidewalk in this western Kansas town, much like a cat sunning itself in leisurely satisfaction.

A native of Kansas City, Kan., Lawrence had just within the last three months moved to Lucas to be an artist in residence after living for 15 years in — are there really such things as accidents in the universe? — San Francisco.

“Since I recently just moved back to Kansas,” he said, with nary a smirk, “I see this series as a metaphor for my soul.”

A “battle,” he called it.

Next to him, on a bench above him, sat two other self-described Californians: Artist Rebecca Parks-Ramage, 27, had just come from her home in Berkeley, Calif., a month ago, and Rick Hansen, 64, a wood artist who lived most of his life in California.

“I was at Haight-Ashbury in ’67,” Hansen said. A Lucas resident for 10 years, he still considers himself just a visitor.

Their World Series allegiances:

None for Hansen; he couldn’t care less. But Lawrence and Parks-Ramage insisted Royals, especially Lawrence, who reasoned that he no longer owed the Bay Area anything.

He’d spent half of his adult life in San Francisco, invested his talent, money and soul there. But, in the end, he felt the city betrayed him. He got evicted, he said, as a consequence of skyrocketing rents in a town where Internet wunderkinds and their billion-dollar businesses had driven housing and other expenses beyond reason.

Now he was in Lucas as the artist in residence at Eric Abraham’s Flying Pig Studio & Gallery.

Lawrence stepped inside the studio to stand next to not only Abraham’s quirky and whimsical porcelain pieces, but also next to a vintage radio containing Abraham’s ashes. The artist, in his 70s, died in September.

“Do you want me to get my hat?” Lawrence asked, and trotted upstairs to retrieve it.

Baseball cap: KC, vintage.

‘Baseball the way it used to be’

GOODLAND, Kan. Not much love for the Royals among the Kingdom Hall Jehovah’s Witnesses picnicking after church in this town 20 miles from the Colorado border.

The 40 Hispanic church members are Rockies fans who are giving the Series little thought.

Except, that is, for Sharon Corcoran, 44, who speaks from behind black sunglasses that cover her face like enormous fly eyes.

“I’ve always loved the Royals,” she said.

Corcoran said that even when she was a young girl, at night she would sneak a transistor radio into her room and listen to games under the covers while her mother pretended not to know.

If the country is, indeed, captivated by these young Royals — the majority of whom are neither known as, nor paid like megastars — Corcoran figures one reason is just that. They’re passionate players who, no matter what kind of money they’re making, inspire fans “who miss baseball the way it used to be.”

Deep in the heart of Broncos nation

DENVER Must admit it. Leaving friendly Royals Kansas, rolling into Denver and to a Broncos-crazy sports bar created some tension.

This is Rockies and Broncos territory.

This is where, for decades, Orange-clad fanatics have reveled more than once in watching their Hall of Fame quarterbacks — first John Elway and now Peyton Manning — make Chiefs red the color of shame.

What love, what devotion could there possibly be in this rival town for our boys in blue?

Our ostentatious Royals carriage pulled up, thankfully in the dark, around 9 p.m. to Jackson’s Sports Bar on 20th Street in downtown Denver, less than 100 yards from the brick walls of Coors Field.

We parked and removed the blue Royals flags from our back windows as a precaution. We didn’t want to return and find they had “accidentally” snapped off.

We entered a bar to see at least 100 people dressed in Orange in the throes of Broncos jubilation. Blocks away, at Mile High Stadium, Peyton Manning had already on this night thrown his 509th career touchdown, more than any other quarterback in the history of the NFL. He’d go to 510 while mounting a 42-17 thrashing of the ’49ers from, ha!, San Francisco.

Still, there are those Rockies ...

“The Rockies suck!” declared Kendall Adams, 22, a life-long Denverite. “You know why? The worst owners in the world.”

Yes, in this World Series she’s rooting for the Royals, not because she loves them for any particular reason, but “because San Francisco wins that (expletive) all the time. It’s time for a change.”

At the stool next to hers, Denver natives Clay McAtee, 25, and Jeff Devere, 24 — best friends since grade school — said they hold no animus toward the Giants. Their affection for Missouri, though, runs deep as the waters around the lake house that McAtee family owns in Ozarks.

Get this. For Kari Hagaman, 50, and her sister, Krys Hill, 52, their iron-clad Royals support had nothing to do with baseball at all. It’s because of the Chiefs and Chiefs fans and the fact that every time they have traveled to Arrowhead to see the Broncos and Chiefs battle (and they’ve done it five times), the Chiefs fans have always been fun and kind and gracious to them.

“They treat us well,” Hagaman said.

In fact, it was hard to find anyone in this bar who wasn’t going to cheer for the Royals, including Rockies fan Danny Kissner, 52.

“I hope you guys win. I really do,” he said.

Why?

“I’m rooting for KC because they’re so much like the Rockies of 2007,” he said. A team with moxie, a team that plays with heart and had been bad for so long that no one ever really gave them a chance.

He relates to them so much, in fact, that he’s worried about the five days they had off since winning the American League Championship Series. The Rockies had the same kind of time off and then, after the break, they lost the World Series.

“I’m worried about that layoff,” he said of the Royals. “I hope it won’t hurt him.”

Not a Royals rival found in the place. Everyone nice.

Of course, Colorado is also the state where marijuana is now legal for recreational use, which made us wonder whether other Coloradans are high on the Royals because, maybe they’re high. So we headed to a pot shop.

High on the Royals

IDAHO SPRINGS, Colo. Joanie Reecer knows all about weed — about good marijuana and good salvia. She can explain the virtues of big sellers like “Green Crack” over “Critical Widow” or “Indy Bubblegum.”

And the ebullient 25-year-old manager of Kine Mine, a medical and recreational shop near the old mines in Idaho Springs, also knows about the Royals.

So we asked. Here we are in Colorado, a rival sports state with its own Major League Baseball team. Yet, everyone, everybody, is being so positive and supportive of the Royals.

Might such have something to do with marijuana being legal for recreational use in this state?

Big smile. Yes.

“It plays a huge part,” Reecer said.”Everyone is just happy, loving, caring and there are a lot of transplants now.”

Such as, “My boyfriend is from Kansas,” she said. That’s Kevin Isom, now a stonemason, originally from Lawrence.

So, yes, Reecer is rooting for the Royals, too, even though she is a native Texan, from Lubbock, who played T-ball as a kid on a team called the Giants.

In other words, here, at least, you’d have to be straight not to root for the Royals.

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