Vahe Gregorian

Vahe Gregorian: Royals reaffirm shooting victims from India are welcome here

The Kansas City Royals honored Alok Madasani (left), a survivor from the shooting at Austins Bar & Grill in Olathe, and the family of victim Srinivas Kuchibhotla before Sunday’s game at Kauffman Stadium.
The Kansas City Royals honored Alok Madasani (left), a survivor from the shooting at Austins Bar & Grill in Olathe, and the family of victim Srinivas Kuchibhotla before Sunday’s game at Kauffman Stadium.

An hour or so before Royals games, the press room in the basement of Kauffman Stadium serves as a virtual green room where performers and honorees gather before moving out to the field.

Here on Sunday was a dose of sheer Americana: a color guard and national anthem singer Willa Walberg and the Chevy Kids about to experience the thrill of taking the field with Royals position players.

Sitting quietly among them was a couple about to see its first baseball game, Balakrishna and Varalakshmi Dumala of India, a land where cricket and field hockey are the sports of choice.

Surely, they would be baffled by the game they were about to see.

“They don’t know anything about it,” their daughter, Sunayana, said with a laugh.

That would matter in no way at all.

They knew the infinitely more important aspect of their presence here months after their son-in-law and Sunayana’s husband, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, was killed in what is being investigated as a hate crime on Feb. 22 at Austins Bar & Grill in Olathe.

“Get out of my country,” alleged shooter Adam Purinton reportedly yelled before opening fire and also wounding Alok Madasani, Kuchibhotla’s dear friend and co-worker at Garmin, and Ian Grillot, a bystander who tried to intervene.

Now here they were convened, members of all three families under the umbrella of baseball — which may or may not still be America’s Game but certainly remains one with which we identify proudly and among our most distinct institutions.

Here the visitors and immigrants from India gathered and were told this in yet another meaningful way:

You are welcome here.

“It helps in passing that message — yes, we are culturally different, but we are all one,” said Dumala, who smiled at the recollection of her husband trying to educate her in the game. “Although this wasn’t something I was hoping for, it really means a lot because it shows the support that people are giving us.

“And in a way it gives us that confidence and courage to move forward.”

In a certain sense, that reassurance began almost instantly with Grillot playing Good Samaritan and thousands reaching out to support them and condemn the crime — statements that say more about our country than the heinous act.

You could see a glimpse of that in the relationships between Madasani and Dumala and Grillot’s father, Jim, among a family contingent standing in for the son who was in California doing a related benefit.

Madasani has come to call Jim Grillot “Dad.”

And as soon as Dumala saw Grillot on Sunday, her arms opened to him.

“We’re trying to be there for each other,” said Jim Grillot, whose son will be recognized later this season in the Buck O’Neil Legacy Seat.

Grillot misted up some as he spoke of it all, including trying to account for the actions that night of his son, a former Marine.

It came from the heart, he said. And, well, he and his wife stressed to all their children the Golden Rule — do unto others as you would have them do unto you — and to help someone whenever you have the chance.

He thought about getting to the hospital that night and seeing Ian covered in blood and being overcome and speechless when the son asked the father, “Did I do it right?”

To Madasani, Grillot’s actions were the most telling — and healing — story of all about the United States.

“That’s what this country stands for: courage, selflessness,” he said. “That’s what Ian showed that day. He set an example.”

As he considered the significance of the Royals’ gesture on Sunday, Madasani said it encapsulated what he’s been feeling ever since.

“This is what this community stands for: togetherness, sharing the love for each other,” he said. “And February 22 got out the best of the people here in the Midwest, especially Kansas City.

“It has always been welcoming, and I’m not just trying to be the bigger guy here: I’m just trying to be very honest about that this is what this community stands for.”

The healing is only beginning, of course, and some moments are better than others for all concerned.

Dumala is forever thankful to Ian Grillot for doing what he could, and she doesn’t have the words to express her gratitude for all that so many have done.

But she also felt the heaviness of why she was here on Sunday and cried during the recognition on the field.

“This is a great deal that’s happening today,” Jim Grillot said, “but the wounds are still open.”

Still, there have been some subtle but profound shifts of perspective because of the outpouring of support.

In a Facebook post six days after her husband died, Dumala wrote “the question that is in every immigrant’s mind, DO WE BELONG HERE?

“Is this the same country we dreamed of and is it still secure to raise our families and children here?”

On Sunday, she seemed to have an answer for that.

“Now, the question is no longer do we belong here,” she said. “The question now is how do we remove that misconception, and how do we make people realize that we are all one, irrespective of color, race and skin?”

Then she went to watch a baseball game that was perhaps tarnished by a 1 hour 50 minute rain delay and ended in an 8-0 loss for the Royals.

But that was entirely beside the point of the most recent reassurance that they are welcome and belong.

“This is something,” Madasani said, “that we’ll never forget.”

Vahe Gregorian: 816-234-4868, @vgregorian