Twenty-nine years after his youthful indiscretion, Wisconsin banker Jerry Kuehl figured now is the time to return to the Royals the bunting he snatched from the 1985 World Series.
Back then, Kuehl was just a college kid who wanted a big-league souvenir to accent his dorm room. Later, he realized he shouldn’t keep it.
“Its home should be in Kansas City and not Wisconsin,” Kuehl wrote to the Royals last week when, on the day after the team’s Wild Card Game victory, he packed the patriotic banner into a Fed Ex box addressed to Kauffman Stadium. “Furthermore, I would like to make restitution for my crime.”
He enclosed a $250 check for Royals Charities.
Contacted this week at his home, Kuehl, 50, said he decided long ago to one day send back the bunting he pilfered from a railing above the right field line in Game 1 of the 1985 series. But he wanted to redeem himself at the proper time, when Kansas City was aiming for another world championship.
“I thought, surely, the Royals are someday going to make it back to a World Series,” he said in a phone interview. “I know they’re not there yet ... but 29 years is long enough.
“I’m having fun all over again” in returning the keepsake to its rightful owners, he said. “And this time for good reasons, not bad.”
Kuehl was a senior at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire when his roommate scored World Series tickets from an aunt in Overland Park. A Milwaukee Brewers fan, Kuehl was happy to cheer on the home-team Royals in their first matchup with the St. Louis Cardinals, which the Royals lost 3-1.
After the game, the spectators began to disperse. Kuehl was standing near the foul pole where cotton bunting flapped. The 8-foot-long drape bore an eagle beneath the word “Welcome.”
Hand on the rail where plastic hangers secured the bunting, Kuehl couldn’t resist. He discovered the hangers could be removed with the flip of a thumb.
“The worst part of me came out,” he said.
It took about 20 seconds for Kuehl to disconnect the bunting and fold it beneath his jacket.
Soon the stolen souvenir would hang above bunk beds in his dorm. After Kuehl graduated, the bunting spent all but a few days folded on a shelf in his basement.
Guilt eventually set in.
“What do you do with bunting?” he’d ask himself.
Sometimes on the Fourth of July, Kuehl would retrieve the cloth from storage and hang it above the front door of his home in Chippewa Falls, Wis. When friends asked, he’d say he “borrowed” the bunting from the 1985 World Series and intended to return it when the moment felt right.
“I just considered it a novelty item at first,” he told The Star. “Then I realized, I stole this. I never considered myself a person who steals. But it is what it is.”
Royals officials are thrilled that Kuehl came around.
The “borrowed” bunting, if a bit yellowed, matches the banner from the same series displayed at the Royals Hall of Fame. The hall’s director, Curt Nelson, is considering making space for the returned artifact, along with Kuehl’s letter of remorse, should the Royals reach the 2014 World Series.
“It’s a nice little story of redemption,” Nelson said.
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