You may have heard by now that the Kansas City Royals are playing in the World Series. Yes, those Kansas City Royals. Yes, in that World Series.
I went to Royals games regularly when I was growing up, and George Brett was my first hero. Well, at the very least a close second behind Spiderman. And still slightly ahead of Darnell Valentine. In any event, like most boys growing up in the Midwest in the late-’70s, I was a huge baseball fan and collected cards and other memorabilia – in particular I enjoyed getting players’ autographs. One of the things I wanted to do the most was to meet my hero, George Brett (though meeting the actual Spiderman would have been cool, too) and get his autograph. Doing this in the ’70s was a bit more of a challenge.
The only games I went to more frequently than Royals games were KU basketball games (and by more frequently, I mean I went to all of them), and it was relatively common for George Brett to attend. Whenever he did, the PA announcer would eventually introduce him, and – in the pre-jumbo-tron era – the crowd would spend a few seconds looking around the Fieldhouse to pinpoint where he was. Once located, Brett would give a brusque wave accompanied by a tightening of his lips as if to say, “Okay, let’s move this along,” knowing he would now have to move or deal with a rush of fans. To help with the visual, Brett’s face when I met him outside of the All-Star game in Denver is what I just described:
Brett never seemed to have a regular seat – he was constantly in different places whenever he attended a game. Then, one year, he sat two rows in front of me.
My dad pointed him out to me, and I seem to recall being frozen – it was like a unicorn had just materialized in front of me, or something. I don’t really remember where the KU media guide came from, or going up to him during a time out, or if he said anything to me when he signed. To be honest, I don’t even know if I knew that Jamie Quirk was with him. But I did get his (and Quirk’s) autograph:
I remember staring at him a while after getting back to my seat, clutching the media guide, and shortly thereafter the PA announcer “formally” introduced him to the crowd. Since I was sitting behind him I couldn’t see his face, but I’m pretty sure it was the same tight-lipped acknowledgement he typically gave. He half-stood, gave his abrupt, “Heil” wave, then quickly sat back down and laughed with Quirk about something. Probably about how Quirk wasn’t even acknowledged. Right before the next time out, as you could see the swelling of nearby kids waiting for their chance to do what I had just done minutes before, Brett and Quirk slipped away.
Later that year, as Brett batted .390 and won the MVP award, I attended a playoff game against the Yankees, and a World Series game against the Phillies. I still think that watching Jose Cardenal’s strikeout with the bases loaded to end Game 5 is what murdered my sports-innocence and belief that the good guys always won. That’s not how it always happened in the movies, anyway.
A few years later I saw two more World Series losses in Games 1 & 2 in 1985, but the good guys ultimately prevailed. (St. Louis fans, I know, and I don’t care – you can have that World Series win when you tear it from my cold, dead hands…)
As KC gets ready to play in San Francisco later tonight, as I’m decked out in my throwback Royals jersey, they will inevitably show Mr. Royal, George Brett. And one of the first thoughts I’ll think is when I first met him in Allen Fieldhouse…
Rock Chalk and Take the Crown!