Winding road brings fan face to face with past
One mile up and many away from hometown, auction winner meets staple of childhood
DENVER -- The start of baseball season represents new beginnings across the baseball universe, but for Kevin McCullough, this year's brought an intersection with a part of his past.
Thirty years ago, McCullough was a Kansas City kid who could not get enough baseball, reading the paper every day and absorbing the stats and stories from the late games of the night before. At the age of 12 he had his defining baseball memory, watching his Royals win Game 7 of the 1985 World Series at home as fans stormed the field and scooped up the sacred soil from the infield basepaths.
On Friday afternoon McCullough, now living in Colorado, got the "MVP" treatment after he placed the winning bid in a charitable auction hosted by Project Angel Heart, a Colorado-based non-profit that delivers more than half a million meals a year to Coloradans living with life-threatening illnesses. McCullough's package at Coors Field had him and three friends spending the day of a 12-2 Rockies victory over the D-backs reveling in baseball.
Before McCullough took his box seat behind the Rockies' dugout, though, he spent half an hour talking baseball with a Royals beat writer from those 1985 glory days in Kansas City. That beat writer came to Colorado when the Rockies were born in 1993, and in 2005 Tracy Ringolsby was honored for his career by the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
For McCullough, the chance to meet the writer whose words he had pored over as a kid may have been another chapter in his highlight reel, but his time spent talking baseball with a legendary scribe was as natural as any ballpark conversation.
The conversation started with a degree of formality as McCullough queried Ringolsby on the influence of the designated hitter, the origin of terms like "can of corn" and the first look at the Rockies' lineup for the 2014 season. But it evolved into a comfortable chat before the Rockies' first home game of the year as two baseball lifers found common ground and kinship.
"Tell me about the Hall of Fame," McCullough asked. "What was that like?"
As fans streamed into Coors Field, Ringolsby honed in on McCullough and shared one of his own highlights from a career full of accomplishment.
"The players that weekend, they made my wife and I feel like we really belonged," Ringolsby said, adding that Hall of Famer George Brett "was like, 'Well, you do belong.' But no, no, this is for players. But it was neat to get the award as a writer and to be able to be part of the ceremony. It's an unbelievable place.
"When the people who are peers in your business recognize you for something you don't campaign for -- for a guy that was a taxidermist and got into journalism by mistake, it was a great honor."
Ringolsby left Kansas City to cover Colorado in its inaugural season and has been here ever since. He asked McCullough what brought him west to Denver, and there McCullough told the tale of another journey that came full circle.
"I came out here to DU," McCullough said, referencing the University of Denver. "I got a master's in counseling psychology. I'd worked 14 years in high finance and investment management."
McCullough's change in direction had its roots nearly 13 years ago, when he went to New York for a September conference and walked downtown for an appointment on the 89th floor of Tower 2 of the World Trade Center.
"I was about 10 minutes late, and I was walking into the South Tower when the first plane flew into the North Tower," McCullough said. "My brain couldn't process what happened. I didn't go to the tower, but they told everybody in Tower 2 to stay there. The second plane flew into the rooms where everybody I was meeting was. They lost everybody."
The return to graduate school and the pursuit of a degree in psychology was an attempt to finally process his experience in New York and to get a better grasp on what others like him were going through.
"After years of not understanding, I went back to school to learn how that affects people," McCullough said. "I like helping people, but it was more for myself."
Helping people is part of McCullough's DNA. His family runs its own charitable foundation, so chipping in with Project Angel Heart was a natural extension.
"We try to give back to society and those that are in need," McCullough said. "It makes me feel good inside to be able to help support those that are homebound and trying to recover from illnesses."
McCullough credits his training in counseling with his comfort level in talking baseball with a legend he had never met, and he coaxed some gems out of Ringolsby, perhaps finding a scoop or two.
Though Ringolsby was not ready to crown the Rockies with their first division title, he made no bones about predicting as much for the Royals.
"I think Kansas City's a sleeper," Ringolsby said. "I think they'll win their division for sure."
And he revealed the secret for one of his infamous picks, when he chose Atlanta to win the 1991 World Series after six straight seasons finishing no better than second to last in their division. Atlanta made it to the Series, losing in 10 innings in Game 7.
"That's one of the reasons I'm a writer and I don't go to Vegas," Ringolsby said. "The only time I was right was in '91 when I picked Atlanta to win. They'd had a lot of bad years, and everybody asked me how I picked them. I just put them in alphabetical order, so Atlanta was first."
After leaving Ringolsby, McCullough and friends Sam Bergen and Adam Asbury headed to the Blue Moon Brewery -- for a round of Coors -- before settling into their seats behind the Rockies dugout, where Scott McVicker joined them in the second inning for an eventual triumph for the home team.
It was a long way from the Rockpile. A long way from McCullough's childhood days in Kansas City reading Ringolsby's coverage beside the box scores. It was a journey from the chaos of a dizzying day when the world seemed to fall down around him to a new home where baseball offered a charitable bridge to help serve the needs of his community.