Day 48: May 26, 1991

Davenport (Baseball City,) FL

Park # 51

What I Remember

I remember an act of kindness that, even 30 years later, seems extraordinary. So rather than write a few lines about it here, I am going to insert a draft of an excerpt from Chapter 4 of In League with America. My working title for the chapter is, Hanging in the Balance. With apologies for a longer post than usual…

We were sometimes able to take advantage of a few rare Sunday day games to see a game in both the afternoon and evening. But the most amazing thing on that stretch of “Bill & Sue’s Excellent Adventure” happened on a Sunday afternoon in which we happened to have no other game scheduled, it happened in a town that no longer exists at a stadium with fewer than 100 fans.

The Baseball City Royals were, although I don’t think anyone knew it at the time, just one year away from joining the Bartow Polkers and Key West Sun Caps on a long list of defunct Florida State league franchises. The team played its games at the Boardwalk and Baseball Complex near Davenport where their major league affiliate, the Kansas City Royals, held spring training. Boardwalk and Baseball was conceived as kind of a Disney for baseball fans, built on the site of the old Circus World attraction, off Interstate-4, not far west of the land of the Mouse. But the amusement park, which was part of the theme, was already closed for good by the time Sue and I saw it and the Royals, who drew a total of only 21,000 fans during the entire 1991 season, left after 1992. Home Run Boulevard is still there but today it snakes through an industrial park and comes to an unceremonious and sandy end in a vast empty field. It was in these humble surroundings, however, that something even Mickey might find magical happened.

That Sunday afternoon was the last Sunday before Memorial Day and, as I recall, the last day game the Baseball City Royals had scheduled that year. Predictably, it was oppressively hot, hazy and humid as the St. Lucie Mets and Royals went at it on the field and since there were only about 100 people in attendance, we all had our pick of places to sit in the ballpark which seated 8,000. But almost everyone went for the shade and relative cool of a small section near the rear of the seating bowl where an overhang over the concourse covered four or five rows of seats.

Many of the folks at the game that day were members of the Baseball City Royals Booster Club and they were dressed in bright yellow golf shirts, which designated them as such. The group was made up mostly of local retirees and after the game had gone on for a few innings one gentleman made his way over to us. He said that he and some of the other members had been fans of our MLB Magazine segment and they wondered if we would like to come to a postgame picnic they held for the players a few times a season. We had the night off and a free meal was welcome, especially since it had started to drizzle and they told us the picnic would be held in one of the team’s air conditioned meeting rooms, so we quickly said yes.

All the players we met as that season unfolded were friendly with us. As I look back on it, this doesn’t seem surprising. We were just a bit older than most of them, doing something that they had a unique ability to appreciate and we appeared regularly on ESPN, a channel they all watched religiously when they weren’t playing. But at the time, I think Sue and I still felt a little self-conscious when we interacted with the players off the field. They were young and exceptional athletes, and they were confident in their place at the center of attention; we were a sideshow even if we were a popular one. As such, I recall that we got our lasagna and sodas and found a table by ourselves.

We would be staying in the Tampa area that night and so when we had finished, I am sure we were wondering when it would be appropriate to say our goodbyes and hit the road. Perhaps our new friend from the boosters could sense this because before long he made his way over to our table. “Before you go,” he said, “we’ve got a little surprise for you.”

It turned out that he and some other members of the club had seen an article in the Tampa Tribune the previous week in which the reporter had highlighted our money woes. “After 16,000 miles,”  the scribe had written, “the initial surplus of $4,000 had dwindled to $400.” I am not sure we ever had quite $4,000 and we were certainly below $400 by that Sunday, but that would soon change. The Baseball City Booster Club had decided to donate $200 of the money it collected from dues to our cause in hopes that it would help us continue with the trip. We hastily got our video camera back out of its case and someone shot some footage as two members of the club presented us with the money, in cash. I fumbled over words of thanks and tried to come up with the right thing to say, “this means an unbelievable amount to both Sue and I.”

Poor grammar aside, I don’t think unbelievable is quite what I meant. I could believe it, I just couldn’t describe it. Here are a few adjectives: grateful, relieved, and excited. Yes, yes and yes. But also:  uncomfortable, surprised, flummoxed and, I have to add, a little sheepish and guilty. We weren’t fighting cancer or childhood disease, we were just spending a summer going to baseball parks and here were a group of, almost all retirees I think, taking money out of their own savings to give to us.

Don’t get me wrong, I had always known we would need money in order to be able to do the trip and that money would need to come from strangers. But I had always assumed it would be in the form of sponsorship of some kind, money given for performing a service like wearing a t-shirt or perhaps even endorsing a product, not from the kind of personal, “let me get out my wallet’, kind of giving of which we had just been the benefactor. I was similarly blown away two nights later in Lakeland when the team’s GM took up a collection at the program stand and collected another $91 for our cause. What could we possibly hope to do for these people to justify this money, I wondered at the time? Even now, I have only started to get my head around an answer. We were the purveyors of shares in a dream, as it turns out. Our baseball journey meant something, though probably different things, to a lot more people than we knew, and they had acquired stock in it. The best that we could hope to do for them, and for ourselves, was to try to do what we had set out to do.

The Games

St. Lucie Mets 5 Baseball City Royals 1

The Box: (Click on the arrows to see more images)

The Trip

One thought on “Day 48: May 26, 1991

  1. Pingback: Day 50: May 28, 1991 | In League with America

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