The last time the Royals were champs of their division, the youngest of Steve and Karen Pack’s three sons was an infant.
From his family’s front-row seats at Kauffman Stadium little Ethan grew up watching defeat. He and his brothers — all in their 30s and long gone from the nest — weren’t there Thursday to see their team clinch the American League’s Central Division crown.
But they chimed in with text and phone messages as Dad and Mom cheered the Royals’ 10-4 victory over the Seattle Mariners.
“The World Series last year was great,” said a jubilant Karen Pack. “But in terms of a whole season we really haven’t had one like this in 30 years.”
Winning is so much sweeter, the Packs can attest. But as season-ticket holders through 39 years of marriage, they had bigger reasons to occupy section 123 than watching a team go through highs and lows.
They were there to raise a family.
In 1985, when the Royals’ divisional title led to a World Series triumph, “what it was all about for us was bringing the kids,” said Steve Pack, now 73. “They grew up in this ballpark.”
The boys are grown now and moved away, off to the coasts.
But the oldest, Zack, phoned his father Thursday night minutes before the first pitch. The home crowd was so loud, though, that Dad didn’t hear the ringtone.
Ethan had already texted with urgings that his parents not skip this one.
For Steve Pack, who is president of Allied Materials and Equipment Co. of Kansas City, season tickets to the ball games date to when his father brought him to Municipal Stadium to watch the minor-league Blues. Then the big-league A’s. Then the Royals — and all the while it would be front row behind the visiting team’s on-deck circle.
The tradition continued with the Pack boys, who would study up on visiting players and chat with them through their practice swings. Zachary Pack became buddies with slugger Mark McGwire when he was with the Oakland A’s. Middle son David got to know George Bell of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Back in the 1980s players would hand broken bats to first-row tykes. “We have a basement ringed with cracked bats,” said Steve Pack.
And they’ll always have the memories. Those won’t be over with clinching the division, he said:
“All three of our sons will be here at some point during the postseason. That I promise you.”
Indeed, during games the Prairie Village-based family keeps in touch by using technology that didn’t exist last time the Royals won a division. “It doesn’t matter what part of the world the boys might be,” Mom said. “We share these moments.”
Reached later during the game on his smartphone in New York, Zack Pack said he plans on bringing his own son, 15-month Louis, to his second postseason at the K.
The Packs were far from alone as they got caught up in the victory Thursday night.
As anticipation of the clinch mounted, the stands went delirious when center fielder Lorenzo Cain singled in go-ahead runs in the sixth inning.
From his seat Rick Welsch pumped his fist. Three hours earlier he was at work, directing traffic for the Royals and telling any pedestrian within earshot, “Tonight’s the night and you heard it here first.”
After Cain put his team in the lead, Welsch hollered, “I could just feel it. I told the crew two days ago that Thursday was the night.”
And it was.