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VonneMarie
04-07-2003, 02:39 AM
Bundled up in a coat and blanket, Brian Foster sat in the lower deck of Kauffman Stadium 30 minutes before a scheduled game between the Royals and Cleveland Indians.

A gusty north wind on Sunday, light rain and wind chills hovering around 30 degrees weren't going to deter Foster or his friend, Tim Brooke, from basking in the success of the Royals.

"I'm ready for it," said Foster, a season-ticket holder. "This whole city is ready for it. Everybody is starting to talk about the Royals."

The friends were among the few hundred fans who came out hoping to watch a young Royals team extend its unprecedented 5-0 start. As it turned out, rain was the only thing to slow the Royals down so far. Sunday's game was postponed.

But the gloomy weather did not seem to dampen spirits. It's been that kind of week in Kansas City sports.

With the Royals undefeated -- joining the San Francisco Giants as baseball's only unbeaten teams -- and the University of Kansas playing for the national collegiate basketball championship tonight, there's a little sunshine peeking over what has been a bleak stretch for Kansas City sports fans. Sure, the Jayhawks went to the Final Four last year, but this area hasn't celebrated a major national championship in 15 years.

"This is all so great for Kansas City. I really feel strongly about sports in Kansas City," said Leawood resident Richard Hellman from New Orleans, where the Jayhawks face Syracuse for the NCAA title. "It's so important. The Royals getting off to a 5-0 start is fantastic, and Roy (Williams) is a national institution."

Brooke, 22, of Blue Springs, and Foster, 21, from Lee's Summit, are fans who cannot remember a season in which people all over Kansas City were talking positively about the Royals.

The young pitchers, a different hitting hero each game and the fundamentally sound way the Royals have played in their first five games have created a buzz.

"It was a great weekend," said Foster, who is also a KU fan. "It's definitely one of the best times to be a sports fan in Kansas City."

Brooke and Foster were toddlers the last time Kansas City saw this kind of excitement in April.

Back in April 1986, the Royals entered the baseball season as the defending World Series champions and KU reached the Final Four.

In 1988, KU beat Oklahoma in the NCAA championship game at Kemper Arena. The Royals were retooling with exciting young players such as third baseman Kevin Seitzer and outfielders Bo Jackson and Danny Tartabull. Future Hall of Famer George Brett was still one of the marquee players in the game.

"I loved watching George Brett and Bo Jackson," said KU player Jeff Graves, taking a break from preparations for the championship game. "I was there the day Bo Jackson climbed the wall. Our Boy Scout troop had tickets. That was a great memory."

During the late '80s and early '90s, Royals fans had plenty of reasons to have hope during the spring for a summer pennant race. But then spring sports hit a snag. The Royals haven't had a winning campaign in nine seasons; and after going to the Final Four in 1991 and '93, Kansas fell short of expectations several times over the next decade.

There have been great individual achievements. Chiefs running back Priest Holmes was the NFL's leading rusher in 2001. Mike Sweeney almost won a batting title last season. But major-league team sports in Kansas City have been suffering for a while.

"Kansas City has been extremely disappointed with the Chiefs and the Royals," said Leawood's Rick Miller, who has a ticket to the Kansas-Syracuse game. "This is a long time coming."

Summed up Joe Morris, another Leawood fan: "Kansas City is hungry."

For fans who are in their early 20s or younger and lifetime residents of Kansas City, they really have no idea what it's like to be in a city in which the hometown baseball team is in a pennant race.

From that standpoint, it's easy to understand why Brooke, after going to church in the morning, headed out to Kauffman Stadium on a miserable day for baseball.

"I never turn down a free ticket," Brooke said.

But there were times late last season when the Royals were coming up with schemes to give away tickets and fans weren't taking them. Who wanted to spend gas money to watch washed-up outfielder Chuck Knoblauch or shortstop Neifi Perez hit another infield pop-up with men in scoring position?

"We are finally seeing the manifestation of their youth movement," Brooke said. "We're not watching old veterans who were already used up by other teams. We are watching good, young kids."

Foster, who came opening day and Friday night when temperatures were in the 30s, said the fans who have showed up to watch the Royals have been loud.

Through five dates, the Royals are averaging 19,081, which is slightly higher than last year, when an average of 18,680 attended the first five games.

It's early, and a lot could change by the time the Royals return home from a nine-game road trip that begins Tuesday in Detroit. But no matter what happens, 22-year-old Jake Nelson said he will remain loyal and come to at least 10 games.

Nelson made the two-hour trip from Emporia, Kan., for Sunday's game. He brought his father, Jesse; sister, Jenika; and girlfriend, Avery Pargnan. It was going to be Pargnan's first Royals game.

Despite the rainout, Nelson had a great weekend. Nelson and his father are big KU basketball fans.

"I think what they (Jayhawks) did Saturday night was big," Nelson said. "I think it is real exciting what the Royals are doing, too."

When was the last time a Royals fan could utter those words?

Even Graves, who has some business to handle himself, is watching his hometown team from New Orleans. Graves went to high school at Lee's Summit and has remained a Royals fan while going to school in Lawrence.

"We're 5-0 now, that's great," Graves said on Sunday. "I hope we can keep it up."

ENDelt260
04-07-2003, 04:29 AM
Author? (just too lazy to look)