KANSAS CITY, Mo. — So the men in perhaps the most famous picture to come out of the 1985 World Series that doesn’t involve Jorge Orta, Todd Worrell, Bret Saberhagen or George Brett are dads in their early 50s. This was them then:
This is them now, texting smack to one another like a couple of frat boys.
"Kind of like we did 29 years ago before the tears started," says Jim Deutschmann, the fella on the left with the Cards hat and the moustache.
"There were still outs to get (in Game 6)," counters Shawn Link, the one on the right in the Royals cap, who grew up near Blue Ridge Cutoff, Mo., a mile or so from the Truman Sports Complex, and used to walk to then-Royals Stadium as a kid. "The game ended because (the Royals) scored the runs, not because we were out of outs. We still had a chance. Not saying anything for sure would have happened had (Orta) been out."
The photo in question appeared in the pages of Sports Illustrated, showcasing the two University of Missouri students sitting in front of their old Pi Kappa Phi house in Columbia, the living embodiment of a state divided nearly 30 Octobers ago. Inside, all through the late summer and early fall that year, the roommates kept a "magic number" board on the door as the Cardinals and Royals inched closer to their respective postseason fates.
"And as soon as we both clinched, we got a piece of white masking tape and split the board and said, ‘That’s it for the well-wishes from me, keep your stuff over there,’" Deutschmann chuckles. "It took about a half-hour of one-upping each other before we were down the hall, out the door. And someone was getting a paint roller and rolling a dividing line down the sidewalk."
Ergo, the picture. Ergo, the legend.
Although in hindsight, Deutschmann admits, he really, really dug Brett, and even made the Royals his American League team of choice during those epic playoff showdowns with the New York Yankees in the late ’70s and 1980.
"Once we played them, it was, ‘Well, that’s it for the Royals,’" he says. "Although I am excited for them now. I mean, they haven’t been here in 29 years. They’re loose. They’re tough. I hope we get to do it again. That would be fun."
And, possibly, a little violent.
"We’re 29 years older," Deutschmann says. Then he laughs. "Neither one moves that quick anymore. I think it’ll be all right."
The rest of Missouri, well, that remains to be seen.
As Wednesday morning hit, the Royals were up 3-0 on the Baltimore Orioles in the American League Championship Series, a win away from The Big One; their rivals to the east trailed the San Francisco Giants in the National League Championship Series, 2-1. As bonkers as the I-70 Series (as it became known) was then, given social networking and the 24-hour news cycle, it would probably border on the surreal now. One highway, two proud cities with two proud fan bases who share a state, an affinity for fine beer and grilled meats, and … not much else. Certainly not each other.
In many ways, Columbia is Ground Zero for Missouri’s Blue/Red divide, but geography is the biggie: Mizzou’s campus rests roughly two hours east of downtown Kansas City and two hours west of downtown St. Louis.
Tigers associate athletic director Chad Moller estimates that the town’s MLB split has looked 75-25 in favor of the Cardinals in recent years; some students say it’s closer to 65-35. Regardless, it’s clear that red is far more prevalent on campus and statewide — understandable, given that in the 29 years since that All-Show-Me series, the Cards have returned to the Fall Classic another five times, four of them in the past decade, while the Royals sort of wandered the baseball wilderness.
"It’s been really fun and rewarding to see all of the Royals gear pop up around town," says Moller, whose baseball loyalties bleed blue. "I never seemed to notice Royals stuff before. And I couldn’t care less if these are brand-new, ‘bandwagon’ fans. We have plenty of room for anyone who wants to come on."
That includes big-time basketball coaches, apparently. Kansas State coach Bruce Weber says "I’m a Royals fan right now," but admits close ties to the Cardinals from his tenures at Illinois and Southern Illinois. Familial ties, too: His son-in-law worked for the Redbirds, and the veteran hoops coach remembers fondly attending Game 7 of the 2011 World Series at Busch Stadium, a 6-2, championship-clinching victory over Texas.
"But it’s been a fun time for Royals fans right now," the Wildcat coach says. "It’s amazing what they’ve done and it’s very, very exciting to watch, (with) the Wild Card Game, the extra inning (wins), the big hits. Sometimes it’s just (that) you’re a team of destiny. Right now, they sure look like one."
Destiny has brought Deutschmann and Link together again — not that they’ve ever been far apart, the miles notwithstanding. The former sponsored the latter when he entered the Catholic Church; the latter served as a groomsman at the former’s wedding.
As Jim’s Cards and Shawn’s Royals keep marching up the postseason ladder, round by round, they’ve talked about getting tickets, about picking up the party where their 20s — and Don Denkinger — left off.
"We have to right a wrong," says Deutschmann, now a nurse at Siteman Cancer Center in St. Louis. "That’s why we have to do it again."
"Oh, yeah," says Link, who works as a client services specialist at American Century Investments and still calls Independence, Mo., home. "I’ve been cheering for the Cardinals to get it done, too."
They’ve got it all worked out, logistically: Games 1 and 2 in Kansas City Oct. 21 and 22. Games 3, 4 and 5 in St. Louis Oct. 24-26, and then back west, if necessary. Bonus: The Chiefs host the Rams at Arrowhead Stadium on Oct. 26. Double bonus: Mizzou hosts Vanderbilt for Homecoming the day before.
That’s a lot for one highway to handle, kids.
"That’d be great," says Oklahoma basketball coach Lon Kruger, a K-State alum who grew up in Silver Lake, Kan., about an hour-and-a-half west of Kauffman Stadium. "The Cardinals need to get something going to make it happen, it seems like — but they can. They can.
"It’d be great for the area, you know, and I love what (the Royals) are doing for the city and the people here. And it’s fantastic."
Hell, it’s even got a little deja vu. At Pi Kappa Phi, the fraternity has moved — in fact, it’s been completely rechartered —- since Deutschmann and Link posed on that painted front step. But the old divisions, red vs. blue, Redbirds vs. Royals, still run deep. At least, according to senior Grant Trower, a finance major from the St. Louis suburb of Ballwin, Mo., who lives with two Kansas City fans.
"We’re cheering for each other right now, just so we can get to an I-70 Series," Trower says.
"It would be crazy. The town would burn down. This place would be a madhouse."
Which is a whole other picture. A whole new legend.
"Friends," Trower says quietly, "will become enemies."
Lines will be drawn. Again. And you know what? We wouldn’t have it any other way.