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'Epic' Ride for Royals Fans Withers At World Series Open

Kathleen Kunkler

Kansas City welcomed back the World Series Tuesday with a deafening roar after a dream season, only to be disappointed as the San Francisco Giants beat the Royals 7-1.

What had been an electric open quickly fizzled into first-inning fear as the Giants leapt to a 3-0 lead they held onto for the rest of the night. As fans left Kauffman Stadium early, diehards asked them to stay and look at the Big Leagues big picture.

We've been getting big breaks this entire postseason. Not tonight. Just not bouncing our way,” Ryan Maybee wrote on Twitter. “Still, never give up.”

At the onset, Game 1 at Kauffman Stadium was full to bursting with tens of thousands of believers in blue and cardboard crowns, loyal Royalists and those on the expanding bandwagon, all screaming the sing-song cry of “Let’s Go Royals,” with its staccato of five claps.

“This has been an unbelievable ride. It’s been epic,” said Shane Davolt, a 30-year fan from Kansas City. “This is a baseball town. We’ve been starved for so many years and never had a contender. Now it’s our time.”

The city reveled in the magic, letting go after nearly three decades of disses. Fans partied in the K’s parking lot, packed the city’s Power & Light District and wandered through the Westport cafes, all wanting to congregate on a night they hoped would end with a congratulations.

“This is the best version of Kansas City I've ever known,” read a Tweet from Port Fonda, the popular Westport Mexican place. “We are all so lucky to be part of this! Go out and be with your friends!!”

Whether watching the game in bars or on basement big screens, fans rode the wave of newfound national fame and wonder a winning team can bring a town.

“Go ahead, Kansas City, dust your shoulders off,” said Mayor Sly James. “We’ve earned it. We deserve it.”

Politicians (former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, Independent U.S. Senate candidate Greg Orman) and popular actors (Eric Stonestreet, Paul Rudd) got good seats at the K.

Credit John Craig
John Craig of Easton, Md., is a lifelong Royals fan. He flew in to Kansas City on Tuesday, just in time to get a selfie with SungWoo Lee, a Korean superfan who has become the Royals' lucky charm.

But more selfies were sought from SungWoo Lee, the South Korean super fan and Royals good luck charm who arrived just hours before the game. He was met at the airport by dozens of fans, glad the guy who was in town for the last winning home stand with the Giants had returned.

“Last August, Royals swept the Giants under my watch,” he told reporters, “so I believe these Royals can do this again for the World Series.

Credit Suzanne Hogan / KCUR
Joe Zwillenberg, owner of the Westport Flea Market, has been selling burgers and fries at 1985 prices, $2.99, since the beginning of the playoffs.

The Royals’ last – and only – World Series championship was much remembered, with fans sporting 1985 T-shirts and some business owners running specials from back in the day. Joe Zwillenberg, owner of the Westport Flea Market, a burger spot in midtown, has been selling 5 ½-ounce burgers with a side of curly fries for $2.99 since the beginning of the playoffs.

“I just said as long as the Royals are in the playoffs we’ll do this special,” Zwillenberg said.

Business has been very good – four times what he usually has -- but Zwillenberg said he didn’t expect a sweep to keep his special going this long. No matter, Zwillenberg said, it’s keeping people in the bar.

“There are a lot of second- and third-round of beers being bought,” he said. “It’s just a really fun time to be a Kansas Citian.”

And while the Game 1 score was not so fun, Royals fans have another game Wednesday night to anticipate. And as their 1985 Royals star, George Brett, will throw out the first pitch, perhaps there was still hope in Kansas City. Travis Joyal of Kansas City offered up this “consoling fact” on Twitter:

“The '85 Royals lost their first two games at home before coming back to win the #WorldSeries. We will do this. #Believe.”

KCUR's Suzanne Hogan and Lisa Rodriguez contributed to this report.

I’m a veteran investigative reporter who came up through newspapers and moved to public media. I want to give people a better understanding of the criminal justice system by focusing on its deeper issues, like institutional racism, the poverty-to-prison pipeline and police accountability. Today this beat is much different from how reporters worked it in the past. I’m telling stories about people who are building significant civil rights movements and redefining public safety. Email me at lowep@kcur.org.
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