This isn’t about me, not really anyway.
But there’s a story here and it involves me, the Kansas City Royals, the Oakland Athletics and the Ogden Raptors.
Some of you may have heard it before, which is quite understandable considering I’ve been working here nearly a quarter of a century and, let’s face it, I enjoy telling stories.
Before we go any farther, let’s clarify why I’m telling this one again, here and now.
See, the Royals are in the American League Championship Series for the first time in 29 years. Their resurgence this season has clearly captured the nation’s interest.
This year marks the end of a painful 28-year drought, which makes K.C. a great story, the kind of story that seems to transcend the game itself. Suddenly, people who wouldn’t necessarily identify themselves as baseball fans have taken an interest in the ALCS because it features the Royals and the Baltimore Orioles, two teams who haven’t exactly been postseason regulars of late.
Because they’re not named the New York Yankees or the Boston Red Sox, they Royals and Orioles have drawn the interest of fringe fans. TV execs may have winced at not having one of those major-market mainstays in the ALCS again this year, but the numbers indicate viewership is up, a clear indication everybody likes to root for a good story.
The Royals, who’ve lately been referred to as “America’s Team,” won their first six playoff games, many of them in dramatic, extra-inning fashion, which only enhances their likeability factor.
Considering so many sports fans have taken an interest in the boys from K.C., I figure now is the perfect time to tell one of my favorite stories. Settle in folks, it’s a two-parter.
Part One: My family moved from Salt Lake City to the Kansas City area in the early 1970s and it didn’t take long for me, as a little boy, to latch onto the Royals. My dad took me to see my first game in the summer of 1970 and we became regulars. A few years later, when the Royals moved into their beautiful new park (it’s now known as Kauffman Stadium but back in 1973 it was Royals Stadium), we couldn’t wait to see it.
We were there one night when the reigning World Series champion Oakland A’s came for a visit. I loved the Royals dearly back then but as kid I was dying to see the A’s, with their brightly-colored uniforms, famous white cleats and of course all that unruly facial hair.
After the game I convinced my dad to take me to the parking lot near Oakland’s locker room, where I was sure I’d be able to score an autograph from Reggie Jackson, Joe Rudi or Jim “Catfish” Hunter.
As the players began to make their way to the team bus, a crowd gathered. A skinny 9-year-old, I tried my best to get someone’s attention but as the players walked past, I got pushed out of the way. One after another the guys loaded up and as the bus began to roll out, third baseman Sal Bando noticed me standing there, crying, with my little league glove in hand.
Sal leaned out the window and, like a hero, hollered for me to throw him my glove. I did and he quickly signed it and threw it back. Needless to say, that night Mr. Bando became one of my favorite players.
Part Two: Fast forward more than 20 years. I’m here in Utah, working at the Standard-Examiner, covering the Ogden Raptors, minor league affiliates of the Milwaukee Brewers.
I arrived at the ballpark one afternoon and was told the Brewers’ general manager was in town for a few days to observe the franchise’s new minor league club. Raptors’ team president Dave Baggott asked if I wanted an interview.
Guess who Milwaukee’s GM was back then?
That’s right, none other than Sal Bando.
Just so you know, I was a total professional as I chatted with my boyhood hero that night. But finally, when the interview was over and Sal was walking away, I finally blurted out, “Uh, Sal, I’ve got to tell you a story …”
Excitedly, I told him about that night in Kansas City, in the parking lot outside the visitors’ clubhouse. I told him about the crowd and the tears, the players and the team bus rolling away.
I told him about throwing my glove to him and him autographing it and throwing it back.
I can’t say for certain, but I’m not sure he believed me. He may have thought it all just a little too far-fetched.
“I don’t really remember that,” he said.
“That’s OK,” I said, a bit bewildered. “I do.”
Jim Burton is the Standard-Examiner’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 801-625-4265 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @StandardExJimbo