My love affair with baseball has lasted more than 55 years. I was the kid who hid the transistor radio under his pillow so he could listen to West Coast Kansas City A's games featuring my first batch of heroes like Rocky Colavito, Jim Gentile, Dick Green and Mike Hershberger. Then, a new crop of promising rookies arrived in Kansas City – players like future Hall of Famers Reggie Jackson and Catfish Hunter. They were joined by the likes of Sal Bando and Joe Rudi, Rollie Fingers and Holtzman and they put together a string of World Series championships that would have thrilled me to death. It's just that they all took place in Oakland after team owner Charlie Finley moved my beloved A's the West Coast in 1968. My parents bought me a crazy big transistor radio that I know received signals from Mars and beyond, and I actually was able to listen to Hunter's perfect game gem against the Minnesota Twins while I wondered if we would ever have baseball in my hometown again. Thanks to Sen. Stuart Symington and a pharmacy magnate with a love of community named Ewing Kauffman, the Kansas City Royals were introduced to the American League in 1969. I attended the first game on crutches, the result of a spiral fracture of my right leg in a freakish high school wrestling accident. As I hobbled about the stadium, a player in left field called out, “Hey kid, what happened to your leg?” It was Lou Piniella, who would go on to win the American League Rookie of the Year Award and become my new favorite player. He tossed me a baseball – and yes, I still have it – and my love affair grew stronger. It didn't take the Royals long to become a real contender in the American League and the year I graduated from college and started my job as a weekend sports anchor at KQTV-Channel 2 in St. Joseph. I was covering a major league team and feeling like I was the king of the world (with apologies to James Cameron and Leonardo DiCaprio). I followed the Royals from 1976 to 1985 on a daily basis. I went to spring training, I went to the playoffs, the World Series – I was living a dream. Then, it all came tumbling down. Free agency hit Major League Baseball and a once proud franchise like the Royals became a punchline for late night comics. But now, I think the Royals are once again a team to be reckoned with. They will never have another George Brett or Frank White, or a daily lineup that includes the likes of Hal McRae, Willie Wilson, Dennis Leonard, Paul Splittorff, Dan Quisenberry or two-time Cy Young Award winner Bret Saberhagen. But I enjoy watching this year's team. If he can avoid injuries, Salvador Perez might be a future Hall of Famer. Alex Gordon has become the player we dreamed about when he came out of the University of Nebraska, and the team has a defense that rivals the best teams of the Royals’ glory years. General manager Dayton Moore has taken a beating in the media and on talk radio but he has stood his ground and given us a team we can cheer for – and feel good about it. This team will not appear in the playoffs this year, but they might next year. Will they ever challenge for a World Series berth? That kid who listened to the games on a radio in his bed late at night can only hope and dream about that scenario. But at least we have some hope. And for a franchise that was hopeless for nearly three decades, that's something we can hold onto and cherish like a favorite baseball card of ticket stub from Game 7 of the 1985 Word Series.
Bill Althaus is a sports writer and columnist for The Examiner. Reach him at 350-6333 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @AlthausEJC