When we last saw the Kansas City Royals, they were dancing in a happy mob near the mound at Citi Field in New York. It was just after midnight on Nov. 2, and Wade Davis had frozen Wilmer Flores with a 95-mph fastball for the final out of 2015. The Royals won their first World Series in 30 years and tied a major-league record with their eighth come-from-behind victory of the postseason — a fitting tribute to the resiliency of a close-knit team that …
What happened to that ball?
"I still have it," Drew Butera, the man who squeezed the final strike, told FOX Sports on Wednesday morning. "It’s in a safe in my house. My plan is to donate it to the Royals. They have a Hall of Fame in left-center field (at Kauffman Stadium).
"As much as I would like to keep the ball and have the last out of the World Series, it’s so much bigger than me. It wasn’t just me winning the World Series. The ball belongs to the team, and I want to give it to them."
When we think of the Royals, we imagine Salvador Perez crouching behind home plate. Minutes after Butera hugged Davis in midair, Perez was named World Series Most Valuable Player. Perez has won three consecutive Gold Gloves. He’s been selected to three straight All-Star teams. In 2014, he set a major-league record for games caught in a single season. In many ways, Perez is the Royals’ heart and soul.
Yet, given the Royals’ unified ethos, there was something perfect about Butera capturing the final out.
Butera’s career batting average is below .200, but he’s been adored and valued by managers and teammates throughout his career. Dependable behind the plate and gracious around the clubhouse, Butera made the roster for every postseason round because Royals manager Ned Yost trusted him to play superb defense and put forth a professional at-bat under pressure. Butera did both last October, drawing a pivotal walk in the most crucial half-inning of the Royals’ championship journey – the five-run rally to avoid elimination in Game 4 of the American League Division Series against Houston.
Butera, 32, appeared in one game during the American League Championship Series, as Sal Butera — Drew’s father and a Toronto Blue Jays coach — looked on from the opposing dugout.
But in a World Series that would last 53 innings, Butera was an observer for the first 52. That changed after Perez started the 12th inning of Game 5 with a single, and Jarrod Dyson replaced him as a pinch runner. Five runs later, Butera emerged from the Kansas City dugout, not thinking about the prospect that history would come to rest in his glove.
"It didn’t even cross my mind," he recalled Wednesday. "When I was going into the game, I was just thinking, ‘Let’s get three outs and win the World Series.’ It didn’t matter if I caught the last out. Whoever got the last out, we were going to be able to call ourselves world champions. I didn’t even realize that I had the ball until somebody from Major League Baseball grabbed me to authenticate it."
That conversation — amid the celebratory bedlam — was brief.
"As soon as we started jumping around, they came straight to me and said, ‘We need that ball,’" Butera remembered. "I said, ‘I don’t know if I want to give it to you.’ But they said, ‘No, no, we just want to authenticate it.’ So they put the sticker on it, gave it back to me, and I went right back into the pile.
"You can see that in a lot of the pictures. I have my hand up, and it’s still in my glove."
Once the celebration moved to the clubhouse, Butera tucked the ball in his baseball bag, away from the champagne splashes. When teammates inquired about the ball’s whereabouts on the flight home, Butera pulled it from his bag and passed it around the plane. He stashed it in a secure place within his Kansas City apartment until after the Royals’ championship parade and has stored it in the safe at his Florida home ever since. (He did confirm that, yes, it has made occasional appearances at football-watching parties with family and friends.)
One sports memorabilia company contacted Butera and offered $25,000 for the ball. He turned it down. By the time the Royals called a couple weeks after the World Series to discuss his plans for the ball, he had made up his mind.
"It took me a little bit of time to decide because it would have been something cool to keep for years down the road," Butera said. "I could’ve shown my grandkids or kids and told them, ‘This is the ball from when grandpa or dad won the World Series.’ But that wouldn’t have been right.
"The ball belongs to the group of guys who won it together, so it’s better that the Royals have it. They can display it for the fans. The guys will be able to come back and see it. This is bigger than me. It belongs to Kansas City."