Friday, November 6, 2015

Treated Like Royal-ty

Unless you have been living under a rock (or running for political office), then you know the Kansas City Royals baseball team brought home the World Series trophy on Sunday. After a week of long nights and extra innings for most of them, they shut down the NY Mets, 4-1. 

And now I have a confession.

We only saw about 30 minutes of the entire World Series...and that was just because the University of Kentucky vs University of Tennessee game had become too painful watch. Baseball is simply not my thing...and really hasn't been since the MLB players' strike in 1994. It was all quite complicated but it essentially boiled down to money (which it almost always does) and I didn't think dollar signs should be strong enough to cancel America's past time. So, yes...for 20 years I've been a bit bitter about baseball.

Also, I'm a die-hard, true blue University of Kentucky basketball fan and that has proven to be quite fulfilling, from a sports standpoint. From the night on March 30, 1998, when I stumbled down to the corner of Euclid and Woodland to join the crowd after another NCAA Championship win...
Yes, I'm in this photo. I found me once...across the street beside the blue awning. 
to the time my cousin called me in Georgia to say, "Oh my goodness, they are going to win this  SEC semi-final game! We HAVE to get tickets to the Finals in Atlanta." And then 20 minutes later, I had 3 tickets to the game (thank you, Stub Hub)...
to the time Nana Anna had pity on me and my fractured radius and sent me to the UK vs Auburn game in her place...
...I bleed blue, through and through. Also, I gave thousands of dollars to that school and about 6 years of my life (to say nothing of the hundreds of dollars in apparel I now own). And the crazy part? I'm not alone. University of Kentucky basketball fans are rowdy, faithful and proud (bordering on arrogant). We drive hundreds of miles for games and fill Rupp Arena to capacity, an intimidating sea of blue for any opponent. Well, maybe it's best explained by this t-shirt I wore to announce Blue's impending arrival on the night UK won its most recent title in 2012:
So,'s like that. And I used to think we were alone in our entirely separate dimension of fanaticism.

However, as it turns out, Royals fans may have us beat.

I didn't hear the fireworks downtown, bursting with the news of a Royals victory. And I forgot to pick up a paper on Monday morning; the full-color, printed details of a long-awaited and hard-fought World Series title. I didn't even own a single thing to wear when, at last minute and after learning that every local school would be closed for the day, we decided to join the confetti parade downtown. At 5:30 on Monday night, I found myself huddled around folding tables strategically placed through Dick's Sporting Goods, rummaging through piles of mixed sizes and 20 different t-shirt designs. I found one that looked like it would fit and featured the distinctive Royals crown with a proclamation of a World Series win splashed across the front. After adding a subtle baseball cap to match, I was on my way. But I was the only person in the store not already wearing some kind of Royals apparel. Sorry...I'm not from 'round here. I own loads of royal blue that represents a "K" team, but wrong blue, wrong K.

At 6:30 Tuesday morning, I completed my bootcamp workout in hopes that my new shirt wouldn't be too snug. At 9:30 that morning, we were barreling south on I-29, riding the Kansas state line and trying to avoid the absolute gridlock that had clenched around the city. As we parked near the Kansas City, Kansas police department and started walking toward the shuttle stop, we were met with agitated Royals fans walking briskly back to their cars.

That is not a good sign.

We went on because maybe they forgot to leave their Zombie Apocalypse Kit in the car. Or they wanted to pee in the privacy of a gas station. Who knows. But rounding the corner of the police department lawn, we saw a crisscross of lines with no visible end. The longer we walked, the more the line seemed to trying to find the end of 13 strands of Christmas lights hastily tossed in a bin the year before. City buses arrived one at a time, slowly filling, slowly departing, slowly arriving for the next load. The three moms with the 7 kids, all under the age of 10, quickly decided the shuttle would get us to Grand Boulevard sometime around 11:30..3 days later. Time for plan B.

My biggest fear, as the only parent of a toddler in a party of 700,000, is getting trampled. I'm not sure why I have this fear. I didn't have it before Blue was born. I attended swarming, chaotic events in stadiums, in fields, in the middle of the street. Not once did my heart race with the idea that this calm but cheerful crowd could turn into a deadly mob within seconds of a threat. Maybe it's 9/11. Maybe it's the Boston Marathon Bombing. Maybe it's becoming a mom. I just hate crowds now and it is physically taxing to be in one with a 3 year old in tow, especially by myself. We headed south anyway.

What happened next is something straight out of The Road. As we exited off of I-29, we noticed cars parked everywhere. People were seemingly just pulling off the interstate and medians, in ditches. One Nissan SUV was almost vertical on an exit ramp embankment.

Well, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

We made a plan to find a patch of grass somewhere between here and there, just wide enough for one mini-van and one SUV. We hopped a drainage ditch, leaving a mud track from squalling tires over the curb of a sidewalk, and found a parking space in a lot that was technically closed. Cars behind us followed and the lot began to fill. They can't tow everybody. At least we didn't abandon it in the emergency lane of I-29. That's something, right?

Snacks? Check.
Water? Check.
Diapers? Check. Wipes? Check.
Jacket? Check.
Cell phones? Check.
Cash? Check.
7 kids? Check.
3 moms? Check.

OK, let's go. We were actually doing this. A collapsible wagon full of toddlers and 4 more double-timing to keep up, we headed to 9th and Oak, the turning point for the parade. 25 minutes to spare. We followed the crowd, thick with families and students and Royals fans, blue from holding their breath for 30 years, to the courthouse. Looking up, we saw people on the roofs, leaning over with sunglasses dangling. I calculated how far a pair of sunglasses would have to fall in order to kill upon impact. We played Spot the Sniper, 3 military moms who were only half-joking. And we let the kids eat lunch in the wagon while the spaces filled in around us and people pressed through, trying to get to the front row 10 minutes before it started. We promised shoulder seats to the smaller kids, but not until the first sign of a parade. I began to regret that 6:30 workout.

The oldest of our 7 began a round of "Let's go, Royals" (clapclap clapclapclap) and the chanting soon spread up the courthouse stairs and into the park beside us. I smiled at the idea of this child leading hundreds of adults in a Royals rallying cry. No one seemed to know that it started with him and if they did, they didn't care. Blue, atop my shoulders at that point for a better look, joined in the chant. Stubby toddler hands were cupped enthusiastically around his mouth, in perfect imitation of this older, wiser boy he has come to adore since becoming neighbors 3 months ago. He couldn't tell you what a Royal was if you drew it, colored it in and tacked it on his bedroom wall, but there he was, cheering them on with admirable energy. My UK Wildcat heart died a little inside because he refuses to recite our rallying cry, which happens every Saturday in the fall and at least twice a week during the winter and spring. (Cheering on UK means learning how to spell CATS, which would also look impressive among my homeschooling peers.)

As a news helicopter circled twice and then came to a hover overhead and the motorcycle police chirped their sirens to clear the path, the first band marched up the hill. I felt the cadence in my feet before I heard the melody of winds and horns. Blue, who was squatted on the pavement, picking up found bits of confetti to toss in the air, clamored back up my shoulders and enjoyed the best view. All around us, adults sacrificed their peek at the parade so that the kids could ride high and take it all in. We held up cell phones and blindly tapped, hoping that something important would pass through the frame. But the best indicator of the parade's progress was the roar of applause from those in front and above. Swells of screaming and clapping, always accompanied by (what we called in college) the "Woo-Hoo Girls". Wooooo-hoooooo!!!!! It sounds ridiculous. It sounds like Parliament on a good day. I wish Americans had a more dignified way to show their approval.

But this is not my team. I could correctly identify one player and that's because his nickname is "Moose" and he rode through the parade in a jeep with giant antlers. Also the crowd moaned "Mooooooooooooose" which, initially, always sounds like booing. When they started this at the Royals vs. Cubs game we attended in September, I thought they were booing the opposing team. Nope, just greeting one of their faves. I guess it's distinctive, even if it sounds overwhelmingly negative to an outsider.

As the last of the most popular players passed by, those near the front began to press their way back out. Much has been said on social media since Tuesday about how gracious and polite Royals fans are. Even at an event with 700,000 people, most squeezed through a crowd saying, "Excuse me, please" and "Thank you". And only a handful of arrests that day. No reports of rioting or looting or burning living room furniture. The Kansas City Star boasted, Royals fans don't burn it down, they shut it down. As someone who has witnessed delirious and drunk fans overturning and torching cars, uprooting and carrying off street signs and smashing storefronts, all in the name of Victory, it's refreshing to not have a repair bill when the hangover wears off.

We, too, decided it was time to head home. Our only objective, to live the hype for a single day and not lose a child in the process, was accomplished. Bucket list item 549: To attend the ticker-tape parade for a World Series Champion Team. Check. But still...these were not my boys in blue. They are certainly loved and respected, both for their successes on the field and the lives they lead off of it. This town loves their team and this team loves them right back. It's hard to not climb on the bandwagon as it rolls by, especially as Royals fans are extending a hand to help you aboard. This is their moment in the spotlight and the more, the merrier. We were joking with one very tall gentleman standing behind us, asking him what he could see since he towered over even the totem toddlers. I asked him who was passing by and he said, "I don't know. I'm not really a Royals fan. I'm from Cincinnati but came to play for Mizzou and I just wanted to see this." I bet he woke up on Wednesday morning feeling just a little more Royal. I certainly did.

The next morning, Blue scrambled down the front steps, Jake the Pirate pajamas askew and carrying a plastic sword from Neal's Halloween props box, to retrieve the paper. As we unfolded it, the front and back page became a panoramic view of Union Station and the World War I Museum, the epicenter of the rally following the parade. A sea of blue with pinpoint heads filled the page. Final attendance estimates topped 800,000. And inside, a few of the stories told about the families who braved the crowds to become part of history. But I like our story the best.

Once upon a time, a boy and his mom went to a parade in the big city. There were a lot of people and his mom looked nervous, but as the boy sat on top of the world and rested his hands in the feathery nest of his mom's hair, everything was perfect. Legs wrapped around neck, hands wrapped around ankles, holding tight to one another. We are a team.

Since my photos of the parade are mostly the backs of heads, I will share with you images captured by local media, as well as my pastor's son who was lucky enough to be in the front row of the parade route. It was a good day to be Royal.

Sluggerrr, the lovable lion (and Blue's most favorite mascot ever...we have to get him to a game where the Wildcat is wearing patch-work overalls. That's pretty lovable...)
 Photo Credit: Julian Peeples

Eric "Hoz" of the favorites.
Ned Yost, the Royals' manager, with the World Series trophy. 
The floating baseball. A highlight for Blue.
Photo Credit: Julian Peeples 
The view of Union Station from the top of the World War I tower observation deck. 
Photo Credit: Julian Peeples 
Salvador "Salvy" Perez...another crowd favorite.
 Photo Credit: Julian Peeples

 The Country Club Plaza Fountain in Kansas City, MO illuminated in blue for the win.
 These kinds of signs are everywhere. 
Union Station lit up in blue and bustling as news crews and event staff prepared for the parade and rally the next day. 
One of the city's most distinctive landmarks: the gigantic shuttlecocks on the lawn of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, glowing blue for one night. 

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is #ForeverRoyal.

Thank you for a great memory, Kansas City Royals!
We now return to our regularly scheduled basketball season. 









That's it, let it all out....