The day after the Royals last won the World Series, “Kansas City turned as blue as the October sky.” That was a line in The Kansas City Star, which went on to report on colorful front yards and streetscapes all over. A hospital in Independence served blue ice cream. And a parade took off at noon down Grand Avenue.
This is where things get a little complicated, and locals will hope that, in the case of a possible parade in the coming days, history does not repeat.
Well, I know a 2014 victory parade is not a done deal, but my mind drifted back recently and I decided it was time to tell this story. It seems fitting, after 29 years, to finally put it down for posterity. Maybe it will gather some meaning that otherwise seemed lost in the mist. After all, who else can say what I’ve got to say? I’m talking about the day I saved Willie Wilson’s life.
Yes, it was an awesome celebration following the Royals’ 1985 World Series romp over St. Louis. I remember driving through Westport after the Game 7 victory on that distant Sunday night. A friend in the passenger seat was heaving out the window.
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But the next day prompted a nearly unprecdented show of civic pride. Thousands of people gathered downtown to cheer on our team’s warriors.
There was confetti. Lots of confetti. But it really wasn’t confetti. It was shredded, tractor-feed computer printouts that apparently came from city offices and banks and other institutions. One friend recalls seeing clods of paper the size of hay bales being tossed out downtown windows.
In my version of the story, all that paper was so much computer-age tumbleweed.
As the Royals players motored down the street in a series of vintage convertibles, that tumbleweed got caught beneath the low-slung vehicles and caught fire. At least three cars had to evacuate, and soon the parade took unplanned detours from Grand to Main, possibly to protect unsuspecting citizens along the route and divert attention from the disaster in the making.
I was standing on the west side of Grand just across from The Star building when smoke began to wisp out from under the car carrying Willie Wilson and his family.
Now I’m not saying I’m anywhere near as fast as the sleek Wilson or his Royals descendents of today, but I responded quickly and with a clear head. First, I helped Wilson’s 5-year-old daughter, Shanice, climb out from the back seat of the car onto the street. Then I made sure Wilson was out of danger before I got down on the ground and began pulling smoldering paper from beneath the vehicle. Others joined in, and, apparently, some people soon arrived with fire extinguishers.
Wilson looked a bit dazed and none too happy as he stood in the street near the smoking car. He was, of course, concerned about his daughter and 2-year-old son, but there was more to his anger, he told me the other day.
“I was going through a divorce,” Wilson said. “So there was a lot of stuff going on.”
Whenever I told this story in private, which was not very often, I usually framed it as an episode of mock heroism. How much more ironic or hyperbolic can you get: I saved Willie Wilson’s life? It was nothing like heroism, of course. Then again, I could have done nothing. I could have stood on the curb on the west side of Grand and watched other people take care of a smoking bit of danger and help Shanice Wilson climb out of a convertible. I could’ve been a bystander.
Willie Wilson today seems as trim as ever. He told great stories the other day during a panel discussion at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Last year Wilson put out a book about leadership, and I think he would agree that life is not about being a bystander.
“A man’s heart is where the game is played,” Wilson told his museum audience.
That works for baseball, of course, but also for life and surely for parades.