Nothing ushers in spring quite like the Royals home opener. And no one is more Royal than George Brett.
I have carried a torch for George since I was 5 years old. Others came and went, but George has been a constant. Not on “the list,” mind you, just a crush. Of epic proportions.
As young girl I watched every game, read every article and even spent one summer sleeping with his picture under my pillow. I cried in 1980 when the Phillies beat the Royals in the World Series, and I cried five years later when the Royals beat the Cardinals in Game Seven to clinch the pennant.
My sister and I drove from KU to K.C. to see his last home game in ’93. And I dragged my toddler and newborn to the parade held in George’s honor when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame six years later.
Over 25 years flew by before I finally met my hero-crush. We were living in Hutchinson, home of Prairie Dunes and the 2002 U.S. Women’s Open. And George Brett, being an avid golfer (suburban legend has it that once while golfing, the group behind him teed off before he had left the fairway; he swung his golf club at the oncoming ball — baseball style — and the ball sailed right back to the intruding foursome), was invited to host a clinic for kids one day that week.
Dressing like a 10-year-old boy and attending the clinic crossed my mind, but I decided instead to volunteer at the Open — on George Brett day, as luck would have it. I brought my camera, just in case I would run into George and he would want to document the occasion.
I took a lunch break that day at the clubhouse. As I walked back out for duty, George walked in, headed right toward me. We made eye contact. Actually, he probably looked in my direction when he heard my jaw hit the floor.
And then he threw his arm around me — without breaking stride — and pulled me back into the clubhouse with him.
I had rehearsed my opening line repeatedly and executed flawlessly:
“I have waited 25 years to take a picture with you!”
I smiled, I was charming, and I was totally unprepared for his response. “Well, what took so long?” he asked with his trademark smile.
Having never envisioned the conversation going that far, I had nothing.
“Uh, (giggle, giggle), um …” I stammered. And then, even worse, I squeaked, “I was only 5.”
And every night, before I fall asleep, I still pray George Brett did not hear me say that.
But even that blundered brush with royalty cannot diminish the thrill of the umpire’s call to “Play ball!” on Opening Day. For year after year, Number Five’s hometown legacy shines as beacon of hope that the Royals might one day return to regal glory and win it all.
— Julie Dunlap can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.