KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Nine months old, and you reached for a beer. Your dad smiled at that. He couldn’t stop.
You probably won’t remember this night, Ryan. Not a soul, not a word, not a moment. But you were there, little guy. Your papa, Matt, held you in his arms, bouncing proudly as he walked along the new outfield concourse at Kauffman Stadium. The New Greatest Thing In His Life meeting The Old Greatest Thing. He was home.
“It’s pretty awesome to be able to have that connection,” Matt Krengel said, clutching you tight as the curtain fell on the 2012 MLB All-Star Game, an 8-0 National League rout. “It’s always been a father-son game.”
Your father was a Royals fan, Ryan. A Royals fan raised by a Giants fan, who was raised by a Yankees fan. Baseball’s circle of life takes funny turns sometimes.
Grandpa brought your dad here, dozens of times, back before the concourse went all the way around, back when it was called Royals Stadium, back when there were only fountains. Fountains and dreams.
When Matt was 6, they attended the 1980 World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies. The Royals were the pride of the American League then, when the Bretts and the Wilsons and the Whites were the center of the baseball universe, not lying among the periphery. Dad’s team lost the series in six games.
Dad’s team lost Tuesday, too.
“It’s kind of a curse, to some extent,” Matt guffawed.
Your father brought you guys in all the way from San Diego. A little further down the first-base line, Joe Ritzel had brought his son, Alec, and nephew Ryan all the way from Marlton, N.J., dressed head-to-toe in Phillies red.
“It’s fabulous,” Ritzel, a Phils season-ticket holder since 1988, said of his maiden voyage to The K, part of a cross-country tour of every big-league ballpark. “Everybody is so friendly. I wouldn’t advise coming into our area in Kansas City Royals gear.”
He was kidding. We think.
“No, everybody’s been great,” offered Ritzel, who scored tickets near the American League dugout, a few rows behind Royals icon George Brett, one of your dad’s heroes. “This (event) will help. This will remind everybody what a great venue this is.”
Your dad never forgot it. Not ever. Even after he got into USC, moved west, and eventually started a family there. You never forget your first love, your first car, your first baseball team.
But, in the two decades he was away, much of the sporting world did sort of forget about Kansas City as a baseball town, did sort of forget about the Royals. They hadn’t made the playoffs since 1985, the year they won the World Series. They’d posted one winning record over the past 17 campaigns.
The 2012 All-Star game had been billed as the most meaningful game at this ballpark since the final out of the 1985 Fall Classic. In the meantime, a generation of fans had sort of withered away on the vine.
“I just like that people get to see that Kansas City isn’t just some (expletive) cow town,” James Robertson, a 28-year-old who grew up in nearby Liberty, Mo., chuckled as he tailgated in Kauffman Stadium’s spacious Lot B. “I’ve been to other places, and I think Kansas City is beautiful.”
And it was. The fountains shot streams of baby blue. The Plaza was draped in red carpet, like a Hollywood premiere. A town renowned for its steak rolled out block after block of sizzle.
“A lot of guys will tell you,” gushed Oakland manager Bob Melvin, who’d caught for the Royals back in 1992, “(that) this is one of their favorite venues to come to.”
Kansas City has always been more of a Mary Ann than a Ginger, a natural, understated beauty, too modest to flaunt what she’s got. On this stage, though, she was a jewel. It had been 39 years since the last All-Star nod here. It might be 39 more until the next one. She wanted to make this one count.
“It’s kind of got that small-town feel to it,” Cleveland pitcher Chris Perez had allowed earlier in the week. “Like the College World Series, kind of. But bigger.”
Much bigger. Frank Ellis, the chairman of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, told Forbes magazine that the Midsummer Classic was expected to pump more than $60 million into the local economy.
“I mean, the city deserved it,” said Billy Butler, the Royals’ lone All-Star representative. “They put in their time. They did ($250 million worth of) renovations to the stadium. Everything’s great. The stadium’s unbelievable. And the fans are unbelievable. Everybody around here has deserved it.”
It wasn’t perfect, Ryan. Events this big rarely are. Two men were detained by police during the first inning of Tuesday’s contest for allegedly selling fake tickets. The Home Run Derby on Monday got to be a bit of a circus — some fans were reportedly seen brawling in the stands, while others took decades worth of pent-up frustration out on the Yankees’ Robinson Cano, booing him lustily at every turn. Cano, captain of the American League’s Home Run Derby squad, had reneged on his promise to put an All-Star Royal — Butler, in this case — on the team.
“We’ve got good fans,” Robertson said. “We might be fair-weather. We might boo. But we show up.”
Kansas City took it personally. Kansas City does that, sometimes. It’s why Dad calls it home. It’s why he always will.