Royals Rebound

August 20th, 2013 at 11:57 am

Today’s Flyover People column as seen in The Emporia Gazette:

ROYALS REBOUND

The Kansas City Royals are having a good season. I don’t watch baseball, but the team has been playing well enough that even I have paid attention.

During the past two decades, I’ve observed a pattern. Each April as a new season begins, I overhear hopeful conversations about the Royals. THIS will be their year, fans say. I wince at these statements because season after season, fans are disappointed when the team comes up short.

I’ve avoided the annual affliction of hope-turned-to-disappointment by just not following along. Besides, baseball is the slowest of sports – it’s as if they get paid by the minute. My sports-watching preferences on TV lean toward KU basketball and pro football, NASCAR now and then, and maybe a bit of golf.

But with Royals fever rising, I watched a game on TV last week. After all, everyone likes a winner. I’m just one of those fair-weather fans.

As I watched the Royals win that evening, I remembered a time when I had been a faithful fan – during my teenage years.

It was my brother who got me hooked on listening. When we were in grade school, Leon and I shared a divided bedroom. Dad had built a wooden partition, splitting the room in half. Each side of the wall had a built-in bed, desk, bookshelves, and a chest of drawers with a mirror. Between the ceiling and the top of the dividing wall was a foot of space through which we could toss objects and insults.

We fought most days, but Leon was a pretty good big brother. He knew a lot and he took the time to explain things when I asked questions. We’d often talk through the wall before we fell asleep.

Leon listened to his five-band radio at night. He’d play music, often KOMA out of Oklahoma City. During baseball season, Leon tuned into the Royals.

When the Royals formed their baseball club in 1969, Leon became a fan. Because I had no choice but to listen to the games on Leon’s radio at night, I became a follower in those early years as well. Games played on the West Coast could last until midnight in Kansas and we fell asleep to the voice of announcer Denny Matthews.

When I was in seventh grade, my dad and I turned a basement room back into a bedroom and I moved downstairs so I could have a whole room to myself. I painted the walls purple and painted a bookcase yellow. To tie the colors together, I made a bright curtain to cover the tiny basement window. I hung a Kansas flag across the open cavity that was my closet.

Now I could have friends visit and could host sleepovers. Most of the time, though, it was just me alone in that basement room. It was quiet down there, so I continued the habit of listening to Royals games.

Without the visual distractions, radio is a more intimate medium than television. And in my small town of Pawnee Rock I often felt isolated, so radio was a powerful connection to the outside world.

In the evenings, I tuned in to the Royals on KVGB out of Great Bend on my pocket-sized transistor radio. The Royals had winning seasons during the ‘70s and it was fun to follow along.

There’s the game of course, and the thrill of one’s team playing well and winning, but actually, what still hangs in my mind after all these years are the names of the players. I just liked the way the names sounded: Freddie Patek, Cookie Rojas, Paul Splittorff, John Mayberry, Lou Piniella, Hal McRae, Amos Otis.

The radio was my companion. The Royals were my team. And when those West Coast games lasted long into the night, I’d put the radio under my pillow and fall asleep to another victory.

Copyright 2013 ~ Cheryl Unruh

columns, history, nostalgia, on the radio, small towns

  1. Carl H.
    August 20th, 2013 at 12:44 | #1

    Those were the days, my friend. Thank you, Mr. Kaufman and a hat tip to all the guys on that wonderful team. I grew up pre-Royals, over in ‘Cardinals Country’ and learned to listen to baseball w/my grandfather. I still prefer to listen on the radio, unless it’s a playoff game or something.

  2. Ed McGrath
    August 20th, 2013 at 15:27 | #2

    Before the Royals there were the Kansas City Athletics. Old Municipal Stadium, 22nd and Brooklyn Ave. The A’s were never very good (at least when they were in Kansas City). Farm club of the New York Yankees, many said. Roger Maris, Bob Cerv, Bill Tuttle, Harry Chiti. The A’s were losers but they were in the Big Leagues. Many nights (and afternoons), in Waverly, I’d listen to Bill Grigsby and Merle Harmon. Those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end.

  3. JoLana Pinon
    August 20th, 2013 at 18:38 | #3

    KOMA was the only station! Love the memories your stories evoke.