Wednesday, June 01, 2011

My Royal Childhood

June 1st Prompt: "Are you a fan of a sports team? When did you become a fan?"

This NaBloPoMo prompt made me laugh out loud. Because I'm not. I never have been. I don't know why exactly. Maybe it was my first memory of organized sports, playing on a soccer team as a seven or eight year old. I remember we lost every single game. As a team we got one goal, maybe two, and I remember standing around a lot wearing smelly shin guards and short shorts. One season and this book worm was done. Or maybe it was attending one too many soccer or baseball or football games for my younger brother, the little jock.

This post was going to be entirely about how I'm not a sports fan, I don't watch, I have a reputation for reading Vanity Fair back issues while everyone else curses at the TV as the Chiefs inevitably choke. But then I realized something.  I have spent most of my life in Kansas City and our town is lucky enough to have both a major league baseball team and an NFL team.  I didn't attend my first Chiefs game until just a couple of years ago, but I pretty much grew up at Royals Stadium. Now Kauffman Stadium.

My grandparents had season tickets to the Royals for a very long time, most of my childhood I think. They had four seats about twenty rows back along the third base line. They brought my brother and me all the time for weekend games. We would spend the night at their house, sometimes the whole weekend, swim in their pool, eat Kraft macaroni and cheese with hot dogs for dinner and our choice of Grapenuts or crullers for breakfast the next day (crullers are basically French toast dipped in cinnamon and sugar instead of butter and syrup, kid heaven.) We'd swim and play card games with my grandmother until we were exhausted, sunburned and pruney fingered. After dinner we'd get in our pajamas, (I was always giddy to borrow one of my grandma's pretty, shiny nightgowns,) and we would end the night by jumping on their king-sized bed which was decked out in the most beautiful patchwork velvet bedspread. We'd climb in bed between them and watch Benny Hill on their tiny TV, we would laugh along with my grandfather though I never understood why the old chubby guy chasing young girls was funny, we would fall asleep and they would gently wake us up and send us off to our own beds. Because we needed a good night's sleep for the best part of the weekend coming up, the Royals game.

My grandparents lived just a few minutes from the stadium and for the longest time I actually thought they owned it. It was right by their house and they were there constantly, they knew everyone and had multiple signed baseballs from the team, an enormous range of Royals clothing and paraphernalia, including my grandmother's light up Royals earrings, oh yes, you read that right. All of these things together, in my seven year old head, meant that they must own the stadium. Seemed logical at the time. Game day we arrived at the stadium, ran ahead of our grandparents straight to our seats, and before sitting and eating our weight in cotton candy and nachos, we would scurry right down to the edge of field and look at all the players warming up. Sometimes we'd get signatures for my brother's baseball or laugh at the antics of the San Diego Chicken. And then it was game time.

I always half paid attention. My grandfather made sure we watched, at least some of the time. He did a thorough and diligent job explaining the rules and detailing the strengths and weaknesses of all the players. This was in the Royals heyday of the 1980's: Dan Quisenberry, Bret Saberhagen, Frank White, George Brett (he was my favorite and we once ran into him at a local restaurant, he was very gracious, I had a bit of a crush on him.) We even got to attend Game 7 of the 1985 World Series. I remember the chaos and glee as the fans rushed the field when we won.

But the games weren't about the actual baseball for me. It was about spending time with my grandparents. It was about hanging out with my little brother and collecting those plastic batting helmet sundae cups for him. It was about running full tilt up the twisty ramp to the upper levels and back down again so fast it made us dizzy. It was about feeling like I had a second home, not just at my grandparent's house but at their stadium. And maybe that's what sports are really about. People feeling a connection to a place, a stadium, a team of athletes with daunting impressive talent, that second home where all of your friends and family are, oh, and the beer. So while I may not be a sports fan, I will always love the Royals and that stadium, no matter what it's called now. To me it will always be Herb and Mary's.


Emily said...

Love it! Sports-mania is really about family least it is for me. My love of baseball is directly tied to watching games with my family and playing wiffleball in the driveway with my dad.

And if there is a sport everyone should get behind, it's baseball. It's one of the things I think warms the world the most! :)

Snowfairy said...

I love this post especially the description of sleep overs with your grandparents, it has such a warm & familiar feeling such a wonderful memory to hold onto