Tuesday, October 28, 2014

60 years

There's something symmetrical, I think, about turning 60 earlier this month and then attending the 60th Anniversary celebration for Allen Fieldhouse, which took place in that wonderful old barn last night.  The symmetry exists in how important Allen Fieldhouse is to me--heck, it's even the inspiration for the name of this blog given my perch in section 10 in the Phog.

I feel like I grew up in Allen Fieldhouse.  My parents began taking me to games when I was nine or 10 and from then on in my life, the number of games I missed only numbered in the dozens.  I witnessed, night after night and afternoon after afternoon, great games played by the likes of Wesley, White, Robisch, Stallworth, Valentine, Manning, Vaughn, Pierce, Collison, Simien, Collins and Robinson, and by lesser-known names like Franz, Kivisto, Kellogg, Thompson, Turgeon, Robertson, Morningstar, Reed and Releford.  I saw guys go off on Kansas--guys with names like Peeler and Durant--yet still lose, and I saw coaches stride off of the Allen Fieldhouse floor in a sullen funk, having been beaten yet again by the Jayhawks.

After I left home for school and then professional life, I always knew that I could count on seeing my parents, each game, at Allen Fieldhouse.  My first date with my wife was to a Kansas-Missouri game in that building.  My best friend,  who died way too early in life, and I shared season tickets when doing so meant a significant hit to our respective disposable incomes.  And, both of my children attended their first sporting event in, yep, the Phog.

If a building has a soul, as Jay Bilas contends with Allen Fieldhouse, then my soul and that of this building are inextricably woven.

I realize that I am incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to step into Allen Fieldhouse 500 plus time so that I could sit down on one of those rock-hard benches, get cozy with my neighbor, and look on as Kansas won one of its 713 home court victories in the Phog.

Last night's event was a chance to revel in the magic, relive the great moments, thank four of the five coaches (Dick Harp is deceased) who coached in this building, and pay homage to the greatest home venue in all of college sports.  It's the loudest arena in the land, says ESPN Magazine, and it's the "St. Andrews of college basketball," says Bilas.  Most importantly, it's home--home to so many great memories that I know are shared by all of those who see themselves as part of this wonderful family and heritage.

"Pay Heed" indeed--you truly can go home again.

Monday, October 20, 2014

It's been a long 29 years

It's World Series Eve and everything that could be written about these amazing, logic-defying Kansas City Royals seems to have been written.  Media outlets from the Huffington Post to the Wall Street Journal to Buzzfeed to the New York Times have sung the praises of this team and the town that they are representing.  It's one big, nationwide love affair, outside of the state of California, with the boys in blue and their long-suffering fans who have waited a generation--in some cases, a lifetime--for this moment.

From a local perspective, the eight wins in a row have ignited an outpouring of affection, pride, catharsis, giddy behavior and genuine love for a franchise that had lost this community.  Because, you see, while the eight wins are great and ultimately the reason for the Royals' first appearance in the World Series since 1985, it's the guys who are donning the uniforms and the relationship they've created with Kansas City that is truly special.

This is a franchise, after all, who had little in the way of a public persona in Kansas City.  The owner and his son were vilified for running a "stack 'em high and sell 'em cheap" retail-like operation and the GM was guilty by association.  Where the Chiefs and Sporting KC had cultivated civic and community relationships by engaging with fans and local leaders, the Royals seemed to have a bunker mentality with players who quickly came and went.

All of that has suddenly changed.  Yes, winning does wonders at changing perceptions but let's give this team and its ownership credit--they won with gritty play and with a cast of characters who have not only played hard and smart but have shown their human, personal sides as well.  Newborn babies are part of this storyline as are hot prospects given up for baseball dead; $15,000 bar tabs paid for by Royals players combined with a Korean fan-of-fans; guys sharing their ALCS trophy at an NBA exhibition game--all of this has combined into a story of redemption, community pride, and shoulders held back a bit more straight.

This has been a magical two weeks in Kansas City for a franchise that was down 7-3 in the 8th inning of a lose-and-go-home Wild Card Game against one of the best pitchers in baseball.  And, we all know what happened next.

Continue to ride with us, enjoy the moment, and let's all say "thanks" to a team of good guys who are representing a city with humility, grace, smiles and hard work.  That, I'd say, sounds like a description of the people of this wonderful town.  It's nice that the rest of the world seems to now be noticing.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

It IS a Blue October!

What do you say about these Kansas City Royals that hasn't already been written, told or explained?  That a whole city has stayed up well past its collective bed time on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday of this week?  That two guys that were written off at various times in their young careers have now hit home runs, on consecutive nights in extra innings, that resulted in the winning runs?  That a lost generation of baseball fans has momentarily hit the "pause" button on their love affair with Sporting KC and is actually wearing Royals paraphernalia and talking baseball?  Yes, yes and yes.

I've lived in this city for 35 years and have never experienced this community as united in an "isn't this fun" vibe given the Royals current postseason run.  Sure, the team won the World Series in 1985 and played in the Series in 1980.  Yet, this feels very, very different and I think it's been caused by the 29 years of baseball purgatory for fans in this city.

No one, and I mean no one, saw this coming.  The Royals came up a game short in the AL Central and were thus placed in that most awful of sudden death formats--Major League Baseball's Wild Card game.  We all know what happened with that storybook comeback and finish.  Next, the team won in extra innings in the ALDS not one, but twice, and now has two chances at home to wrap up this series and move on to the ALCS.

Let's not get ahead of ourselves and anoint the Royals a World Series participant just yet.  For now, let's soak up the euphoria, don our blue, and rejoice in the fact that this is now, indeed, a #BlueOctober.  Whodathunkit!?