The Hunt for Blue October: Royals give fans something to cheer about after 29-year slump

Cassie Nichols, Staff Writer

Oct. 26, 1985.

The sky is lit by floodlights illuminating what was then known as Royals Stadium.

The smell of fresh popcorn fills the crisp fall air. It’s the bottom of the ninth inning, and the St. Louis Cardinals are up 1-0.

Utility player Jorge Orta sends a grounder to Cardinal first baseman Jack Clark, who flips the ball to Cardinal pitcher Todd Worrell, covering first.

Instant replay shows that Worrell beat Orta to the base, but the first base umpire calls Orta safe.

First baseman Steve Balboni takes advantage of the call with a single to left field on the very next pitch. Orta moves to second base after a dropped ball between Clark and 1982 World Series MVP catcher Darrell Porter.

Catcher Jim Sundberg attempts a bunt but fails, resulting in Orta getting thrown out at third. Outfielder Hal McRae is next to bat, and Porter, who had played four seasons with the Royals, allows a passed ball, letting both Kansas City runners to move up a base.

Fear is growing in the heart of Cardinals fans around the country as they anxiously await for the result of the play.

McRae walks, loading the bases. Outfielder Dane Iorg pinch hits for pitcher Dan Quisenberry, and his single to right field drives in two runs, giving Kansas City a 2-1 win.

This sent the team to game seven the next night, which they won 11-0.

The Royals win the 1985 World Series.

If you ask any Kansas City Royals fan over the age of 35, he or she can probably recite most of this final sequence of events as if it recently happened.

The images have been ingrained in their memories for decades.

Of course, the ‘85 Series ranks as one of the most important stories in Royals history.

Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much success after that autumn evening. Twenty-nine long, hard years have passed. Since then, there have been terrible trades, numerous managers, 100-plus loss seasons and blooper highlight reels on ESPN.

But fast-forward to the summer of 2014, and this Royals squad is writing their own chapter after a long MLB post-season drought and a generation of agony for the Kansas City faithful.

New legends such as first baseman Billy Butler, pitcher Greg Holland, catcher Salvador Perez and outfielder Alex Gordon are capturing the hearts of Kansas Citians in record numbers.

They seem to be playing for more than just being another footnote of a decent Royals team that came close, but in the end, did little to make their mark.

With this new optimism, fans are banking on these young men.

Three members were named to the 2014 All-Star game, the pitching staff is considered by sports experts to be among the best in baseball, and the team reached a mark of 14 games over .500 on Sept. 21.

They spent the last weeks of August in first place in the American League Central Division ahead of the preseason favorite, the Detroit Tigers.

After a mid-season slump that left fans ready to start following the Chiefs Training Camp, the Royals turned it around, posting the best August record in the majors.

All of a sudden, they became relevant, and the city had a team to cheer for heading into October for the first time since 2003. That year, injuries took their toll, and they stumbled to a third place finish in the AL Central Division.

But, there is something different about this season.

We don’t know how this baseball season will end.

Will the team remain strong and win the division?

Can the Royals hold on for a wild card spot?

Or, true to form, will the boys in blue fade down the stretch?

The older sports fans around us seem to be trained to expect failure and heartbreak.

On the radio, people talk as if they are waiting for the usual outcome.

Whatever track the team takes, they have played well and have given their fan-base hope for a playoff appearance.

It’s an exciting time to be a Royals fan.

After a 29-year wait, at least there is hope.