KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City Royals fans, their team, and the city itself are getting a crash course on what playoff baseball is all about.
The wild card game on Tuesday against the Oakland Athletics marks the return of postseason baseball to Kansas City for the first time since 1985, when the Royals won the World Series over the St. Louis Cardinals.
Many young Kansas City residents have no memories of that magical year, or the I-70 series. They rely on YouTube searches or their parents' nostalgic retellings of umpire Don Denkinger's blown call in Game 6 that sent the Royals toward their title.
For a city that typically turns Chiefs' red with the start of the NFL season, football — for now — can wait.
After all, Kansas City baseball fans have waited long enough.
"STARVED FOR A WINNER"
Longtime Royals fans had high hopes this season, after the team finished 2013 with a winning record but again fell short of the playoffs. But with more 100-loss seasons (four) than winning seasons (three) since 1993, fans were bracing themselves for more heartbreak.
Not a talk-show caller named Shannon. The woman had a hard time keeping her excitement in check in June after the Royals moved into the AL Central lead for the first time. The show's hosts were, shall we say, less than comforting.
"She called into the postgame show and was crying," said Danny Parkins, who was co-hosting the 610 Sports show with Josh Vernier. "She said, 'Vern, this means everything to me.' We just couldn't stop laughing about the absurdity of it: a half-game up in June, with all of July, August and September to go. Ninety games left in the season and they had won exactly nothing.
"It spoke to how long this city has been starved for a baseball winner."
A popular theme in pro sports is to "act like you've been there."
But for the Royals front office, it's not that easy when many key staffers were still in grade school the last time the team made the playoffs. After season-ticket holders got first dibs for a home wild-card game and every potential home series after that, tickets went on sale to the rest of the public on Sept. 18.
Only minutes after online sales began, transactions ground to a halt for some who weren't sure if their request had gone through or if they were being billed for something they wouldn't get. The first 10 minutes had overwhelmed the computer system's ability to meet demands, team spokesman Toby Cook said.
Sales started flowing again within a half-hour, but Royals officials spent the weekend reaching out to fans whose ticket problems weren't resolved.
"We're all doing this for the first time with this level of intensity," Cook said.
ANYTHING FOR SALVY'S SIGNATURE:
Half an hour after catcher Salvador Perez sat down for an hour-long autograph session at an Independence, Missouri, sporting apparel store, a line of fans was still wrapped around the store's interior, out the door and down the sidewalk.
Among those waiting for Perez' autograph was Lorrie Arnold, a 52-year-old Oak Grove, Missouri, resident who has been fighting some form of cancer since being diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma at age 22.
Her 77-year-old father brought her more than two hours early to make sure he could take pictures of his daughter with her favorite player.
"This is awesome," Arnold said. "I'm going through chemo right now and it's very hard for me to get to the games."
MOVE OVER, CHIEFS:
On a gorgeous Saturday after the Royals clinched a wild-card spot, blue-clad fans invaded the annual medieval-themed Renaissance Festival in nearby Bonner Springs, Kansas. Chiefs' red was tough to find, even though the football team was on the national stage Monday night against the New England Patriots.
"I say no Red Friday until baseball's over," said Mike Novak, 51, of Blue Springs, Missouri, referring to the area tradition of wearing red on Fridays before Chiefs games. Novak got a large henna tattoo of "Royals" across his forearm. It's supposed to last two weeks, which would see him through the divisional championship series.
"Kansas City needs this," he said.