Fans part of Royals' long-awaited celebration
CHICAGO -- A chicken farm, a liberated jersey and a bad-turned-good luck birthday were among the many treasured stories rooted in the sea of blue plastered across U.S. Cellular Field on Friday night.
Almost all -- somehow, someway -- had a tie to the World Series title from 29 years ago, the last time the Royals punched their way to the playoffs.
Kansas City native Sam Vargas that night was hoisting a trophy of his own, as his sixth-grade football team had just won the city's Pop Warner championship. Vargas and his teammates huddled around a scratchy radio to hear Jack Buck and Sparky Anderson call the culminating Game 7 win over the Cardinals.
"We had to play our game first. We were focused on winning, but we really wanted to finish so we could get back to hear the Royals," Vargas said. "We found out [they] won on the ride home. It was incredible."
Chad Cook, Mizzou Tiger turned Chicagoan, was born on Oct. 21, 1980 -- the night the Royals lost a clinching World Series Game 6 to the Phillies.
Yet Cook was bred in blue. His parents raised him to be Royals faithful, but not quite enough to let him tag along to Game 7 in '85, to which they ventured and still brag about to those who will lend an ear.
Cook woke up the next morning with a bat brought from the stadium that night, a tangible monument to prove that a birthday doesn't necessarily correspond to a jinx.
"That's my best memory of the Royals -- until tonight," Cook said, "This is the best Royals moment I've had in my entire life. I'm 33. It's fantastic."
Austin Simms, 18, was a far cry from a thought when the Royals were last in the playoffs. So he takes the glimpses of greatness in no moderation.
Simms ventured via train from Kansas City to Chicago to ensure he had a front-row seat for what he said was "witnessing history," while sporting a blue mohawk.
The genesis of Simms' fabled trip was manifested over a timely family tradition -- coinciding "chicken watching" with the Royals on the radio.
Roughly eight weeks ago as the Royals inched their way up the American League standings, Simms' family one afternoon -- amid a cackle of clucks -- agreed to make a trip to Chicago.
"If it was going to happen, we knew it was going to be that last weekend," Simms said of the Royals' chances of clinching.
Same for Vargas, who has been absent only 15 home games this year. Vargas knew there was a potential party brewing in Chicago. He wouldn't, couldn't miss out.
Vargas donned a most decorated jersey, so drenched in autographs the gray garments barely seeped through.
"I stopped wearing this in 1999," he said of the still-pristine keepsake, etched with signatures of Royals greats Carlos Beltran, Jermaine Dye and Johnny Damon, among others. "I just didn't think it was worth it."
But when the team made an upward turn toward the end of 2013, vindication overcame Vargas. He put it back on, he said, "because it felt right."
Cook, Simms and Vargas each drew different paths to U.S. Cellular Field on Friday, yet their direction will converge again Tuesday at the earliest, 510 miles southeast at Kauffman Stadium.
The Royals are one win away from clinching home-field advantage in the American League Wild Card game, and own the tiebreaker with Oakland. They aren't a far cry from the division title either, trailing the Tigers by just one game with two to play.
"It's a good problem to have," Cook said.
"Home-field advantage, I love our chances," Vargas said. "I don't think anything can stop this young team, they're excited man. This town is excited. The momentum [from tonight] is going to carry over."