The Kansas City Royals are going to the World Series.
The last time the Kansas City Royals were in the World Series (or, mind you, the playoffs) was in 1985. They won, beating the St. Louis Cardinals, who are now facing a 3-1 deficit in the National League Championship Series to try to get to this World Series for a rematch. The ’85 Series, by all accounts, was a thriller, pitting two Missouri teams against each other for seven games, with a stunning Game 7 blowout for the Royals who had been down 3-1 in the series after the first four games. They were down 1-0 in the bottom of the 9th in Game 6 and came back to win 2-1 in a walk-off, though I don’t think anyone used that term in those days.
I wasn’t a baseball fan in 1985. I lived in Visalia, California, and wouldn’t discover baseball for three more years, unless you count being vaguely enthralled by pickup softball games I would see in the parks of Washington, DC in the fall of 1987 and the spring of ’88. But my future friend, Kevin House, who lived in Wichita, Kansas at the time, was a baseball fan. We wouldn’t meet until third grade in Gearhart, Oregon, a new and foreign land for both of us. But at the time he got to be in Kansas when the City who shared that state’s name and was at least partially within the state, just a couple hours away, won it all. He was a huge fan of George Brett, hero of the Royals, who hit .370 in that series and went on to lead subsequent Royals teams, though not to the same dizzying heights as in 1985.
My recollection is that Kevin and I didn’t take an immediate liking to each other. I remember fast becoming friends with people like Tony Cox, Cisco Treharne, and John Grotz (now Hill) who rode the bus to the same general neighborhood as I did, where I was the first to get picked up in the morning and the last to get dropped off. And then I met Bowen Turetzky, when we were both getting tested for the gifted program if memory serves, and we shared some nerdy interests. Kevin rode the bus too, but was closer to school, always boarded smelling like my grandparents’ house (i.e. smoke), wearing his signature jean jacket and a slightly disgruntled look. He was a little more ornery and standoffish than the people who’d become my friends and I don’t remember exactly what broke the ice between us.
But over time, and not much at that, he proved to be like so many people who initially seem difficult or defensive – a true and loyal friend. We discovered a mutual love of baseball and video games and baseball cards and playing baseball and, well, there was a lot of baseball. He came over often and I would trade him Royals cards for A’s cards (I was admittedly an A’s fan for a few years before the constant listening to Mariners games on the radio all season wore me down and changed my heart – I had decided a team to root for during the 1988 World Series when I saw green uniforms and an elephant on the TV at a point at which I only knew of two teams in the world). We would play 1-on-1 baseball in the front yard or play on my text-based baseball computer game or talk about baseball or listen to baseball or watch baseball. We talked about other things, too, like life and hopes and dreams and all that. But mostly it came down to baseball.
At some point in our Little League careers, we had the enormous good fortune of being on the same team together, a total happenstance as our coaches selected teams in a secret closed-door draft meeting at the outset of each season. Kevin was a second baseman, mostly, but really wanted to be a third baseman like George Brett. His arm wasn’t the best, though. I had been converted to a catcher a year before by my mentor Jim Paino, who dug me out of the right field gravel and taught me how to encourage pitchers, frame a pitch, take care of a catcher’s glove, and throw off my helmet at the first sign of trouble. We never won that many games – I was perennially chosen by losing teams – but there was one doubleheader we played in Cannon Beach against the best team in the league and managed to eke out the second game in the league’s biggest upset all year. I remember Zac Gonzales pitched most, if not all, of the game, and I hadn’t yelled so loudly or exhortedly in my whole life and probably wouldn’t again till a debate tournament years later. And when we got the final out, we celebrated on Cannon Beach’s field like the ’85 Royals. Once the fervor had died down, Kevin promptly asked his mom if he could stay over at my house and we spent the night recounting the play-by-play of our dramatic win.
I only stayed over at – or even went – to Kevin’s house once. His grandparents, the smokers, were quite strict and didn’t really support the notion of sleepovers or even people playing in the house. I think they may have been on a trip when I actually came over. It was late in my time in Oregon, late in the time of our close friendship, and I remember the night vividly. We watched TV and played paper football and I finally saw every one of his George Brett cards, since many of the nicest ones never left his room and I couldn’t get to sleep for the endless ticking of a grandfather clock in the living room that my tired mind simply refused to adapt to. I recall being so surprised that such a small simple noise could wreak such havoc, but I was all too aware when it passed 2, 3, 4 in the morning and it may have been the latest I’d ever stayed up till that point.
Kevin was of course over at the house a few months later when I had my magical snowy birthday in February 1993, a few months before my family moved to Albuquerque and closed that crazy coastal chapter of our Clatsop County lives. Kevin stayed behind, went to Seaside High, graduated, and found his way back to Kansas. Where, in 2000, at twenty years old, he was killed in a car accident.
He was living in Independence, Kansas, somewhere southeast of Wichita and southwest of Kansas City, but he was rushed to the hospital in Wichita and died just four and a half miles from the house in which he’d been born.
He and his girlfriend had visited my parents earlier that year on a roadtrip across the country, I think in part to see his sister Bev, who was living in Tucson. But I hadn’t seen him since we were both 13, though we’d talked a few times and exchanged a little correspondence. A few days after the accident, his mother called the house in tears to give me the news. I debated for a week about going up for a memorial being held in Seaside, ended up not going, and have regretted my absence frequently since. You can read some of my immediate reactions in the very early months of Introspection here.
His full name, as you can see in his obituary, was Kevin Christopher House. He sometimes went by KC.
I haven’t had any friends die of ebola, or terrorism. But I have had a good friend die in that most common of fatalities among the young, the motor vehicle accident. I had always been so upset about his grandparents smoking around him constantly. I remember a medical visit after which he related to me that he had the lungs of a twenty-year smoker when he hadn’t even been alive that long. I was always so sure that this second-hand nicotine was going to contribute to an untimely death.
I think about Kevin often, as I think about many of my old friends, though I am Facebook friends with most of them. None of them are particularly close right now, but we keep in touch, comment on each other’s lives, bicker (just the other day) about the role of the military and the nature of war. I have gotten to see how they’ve grown up, all the children they’ve had, the men they’ve become.
But Kevin will forever be a young man, childless and free, so much of his life seeming to be ahead of him.
The Royals are back in the World Series, Kevin. They haven’t lost a game all playoffs. Twenty-nine years since the last time, fourteen since you left the planet. They’re going to play for the title on a cool October night under the western Missouri skies. And I’ll be watching. And wishing you were here.