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29 Years Later, The Royals Make The Playoffs

Greg Echlin

For the first time since winning the 1985 World Series, the Kansas City Royals are in the playoffs.

They will take on the Oakland A’s in a one-game wild card playoff Tuesday at 7:07 p.m. Thus ending the longest active post-season drought of any major sport team in North America.

At mid-season though, it looked like Kansas City’s sorry streak was likely to continue. Chicago is where the Kansas City Royals dipped to their low-point this season. They traveled to Chicago after being swept by Boston right after the All- Star break in July. The losing streak reached four when the team opened with a loss against the White Sox. That put the Royals eight games behind the first-place Detroit Tigers in the American League Central.

It wasn’t what 42-year-old veteran Raul Ibanez remembered from playing against the Royals.

“Talent-wise, it’s one of the best teams in the game and that’s why I feel that the only thing to really justify the talent that’s in here is to get into the post-season,” said Ibanez.

Ibanez, who joined the team in late June, conveyed that message in Chicago during a closed-door meeting. The Royals then reversed themselves by winning the final three games of that series. It started them rolling before it culminated with a post-season berth clinched last Friday. Again in Chicago.

“Obviously, that was a special moment for a lot of us,” said Alex Gordon.

Gordon is the longest-tenured Royal along with Billy Butler, the designated hitter. Gordon said the message by Ibanez got through.

“I think we were kind of in the dumps a little bit as far as confidence-wise,” said Gordon. “Raul kind of lifted us up and said what needed to be said, which was good coming from a guy like him.”

This is only the third winning season for the Royals since the strike-shortened 1994 season. But in the immediate years following the World Series championship in 1985, the Royals were contenders. Little did Royals play-by-play announcer Denny Matthews, who was been with the team since day one in 1969, realize that it would take another 29 years for the Royals to taste post-season play again.

“You wouldn’t have thunk it, would you?” asked Matthews. “There were some good teams the Royals were up against and they just happened to prevail. And there were obviously some pretty down times and discouraging times. The fans got a little tired of hearing, ‘Well, we’re making progress. We’re rebuilding and all those things.”

Chris Othick grew up a Royals fan in Calhoun, Mo., and remains loyal to them. Even if he lives a block away from Wrigley Field, the home of the Chicago Cubs.

“You know it got pretty dark there for awhile. I didn’t seem like there was light at the end of the tunnel and we kept hearing the same thing every year,” said Othick. “I could almost relate to the Cubs fans who were hearing, ‘Wait till next year. Wait till next year.’”

The Cubs haven’t been to the World Series since 1945. So Royals fans at least have a more recent world championship to hang their hat on. But for those who weren’t around in ’85, a 29-year playoff drought was hard to accept. And the end of it is easily celebrated.

The Royals will hold what they’re calling a “Take the Crown” rally for fans at Kauffman Stadium Monday morning at 11:30.

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