Loyal to the Royals, Hoping for a Renaissance

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Alex Gordon grew up in Lincoln, Neb., a three-hour drive from the glimmering major league ballpark that sits here off Interstate 70. Twice a summer, his family would visit for a weekend, splitting time between the stadium and an amusement park.

Gordon has three brothers, one named Brett, after the best player in the complicated history of the Kansas City Royals. Gordon liked the Royals, too, but his favorite player, Ken Griffey Jr., did not play for them.

Gordon, 30, has now been a Royal for eight seasons. He has never played elsewhere and does not want to. He once ended a game with a home run, in 2010. It lifted the Royals out of last place for the day, but by the end of that season they were back at the bottom.

Naturally, things felt different last Tuesday, when Gordon came to bat against Glen Perkins, the Minnesota Twins’ All-Star closer, with a man on first and his team down by a run in the bottom of the ninth. The Royals were in first place in the American League Central. Up in the radio booth, a familiar voice told his listeners that the best teams find a way to win games like this.

Of course, Gordon could not have heard that, though the broadcaster, Denny Matthews, did once cover a road game so sparsely attended that the Royals catcher later told him, “Good broadcast today, Denny.” But Gordon knows Matthews the way every Royals fan does, as the soundtrack to the team since its first game in 1969.

Matthews, now 71, skips a few road trips these days. But basically he has seen it all, and if he did not exactly predict what happened next, he gave it the proper context. Almost on cue, Gordon connected for a game-winning home run.

“You want to be the hero that helps the team win,” Gordon said by his locker a few days later. “Running around the bases, you’re almost like, ‘I can’t believe this is happening.’ ” Matthews could. He made his observation and then let the roar of the crowd tell the story across the airwaves. Maybe, after the longest drought without a playoff appearance in the four major North American team sports, these Royals really will see October.

“The way everything had been breaking for the team the last two or three weeks, everything was kind of going their way,” Matthews said. “You think back to all the pennant winners, they won a lot of games in a lot of strange ways, and we’re doing that.

“So, is this your turn? I’m a big believer in, ‘It’s your turn.’ In ’85, I just felt like, this was it, it’s the Royals’ turn to win the World Series. It’s just your turn. The baseball gods have declared it to be so.”

The baseball gods have a month to render their verdict on which teams advance and which teams go home, as the Royals have done every year since winning their only title in that charmed autumn of 1985.

They sputtered at the end of a scintillating August, starving for runs before packed crowds. Still, the Royals, who visit Yankee Stadium this weekend, began September in first place. It was an exhilarating feeling for some Royals people who have felt so much pain and who hope they are seeing a renaissance at last.

The Voice

Sometimes, Denny Matthews wonders what would have happened if he had signed with the San Francisco Giants after his freshman year at Illinois Wesleyan, where he played second base. His double play partner, Doug Rader, played 11 seasons in the majors. His first radio partner, Buddy Blattner, played five.

“Buddy said, ‘O.K., what if you had signed and made it to the big leagues?’ ” Matthews said last Saturday, in a suite near the Royals’ radio booth. ” ‘You’d have been one of 25. Now you’re one of two. It’s a lot harder to get a big-league broadcasting job than it is to get a big-league playing job. And you last longer.”

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