Growing up in Kansas City, I spent quite a few summer afternoons at Royals games. My grandparents had season tickets, front row, just next to the home dugout. Amazing seats. It pretty much felt like you were on the field. As much as I love some of my other teams, there’s a certain connection you have with your baseball team. I suspect that is largely due to the fact that they play just about every night, 162 games per season. If you are a fan, you are in it for the long-haul. It takes commitment.
Royals fans are a great bunch. I’ll always view Kansas City as a baseball town, no matter how good the Chiefs are any given season. That’s especially remarkable considering the fact that we’ve only had a single winning season since we won the World Series. FYI, that championship happened 25 years ago, if you didn’t know. Us Royals fans know. It’s always in the back of our minds as we hover around the .500 mark anytime after April. “This is the year, we’re gonna do it!” is what we think. Most fans say that about winning the division. Not us. We just want 82 wins in one year, a winning season. Just once, and then we’ll build from there. Baby steps. Progress.
Over the stretch of a 162 game season, most baseball fans will watch or listen to dozens and dozens of games. There’s a connection you feel with the guys in the booth, a one-way bond that is developed over hundreds of hours of listening to their narrative. I can literally hear the Royals announcers in my head as I write this and make their voices say anything I want. I know them that well. Their catch phrases. Their quirks. Their jokes. I feel like I’ve known them my whole life, yet never met them once. I’m not even sure I’d recognize them if seen in person, but I could recognize their voice from across a crowded room.
Tuesday night, one of our announcers lost a battle with cancer. When the news came out last week that Paul “Splitt” Splitorff was ill, the rumors swirled that he had less than a week to live. It was a shock. We all suspected he wasn’t in great health, but no one thought it was something this bad. Less than a month ago he was calling a game. Two weeks ago he was doing the Royals postgame show. People don’t just… go like that. Do they?
As I watched the Royals vs Baltimore game the day of his passing, the Royals TV broadcast observed an inning of silence for a man who gave 2/3s of his life to the organization. He was one of the first players drafted by the new expansion Royals in 1968, and pitched wearing royal blue all 16 years until his retirement. After his retirement, he began an even longer 24-year career as a broadcaster with the team.
He wasn’t the greatest pitcher the team ever had, but he still holds the record for most won games. He wasn’t the greatest announcer the game has seen, but he was ours. He was mine. He was a constant. Every night you know you can turn on the ball game and listen to the same guys call a game.
Broadcasters are special. So much has changed in your life, but they’re still doing the exact same thing they were decades before. The day you graduated high school, they were calling a Royals game. The day you got married, they were calling a game. The day you had your first child, they called a game. The day your kids graduated high school, those same guys are calling yet another game from the exact same booth for the exact same team.
Inevitably though, change must occur, and the next generation is given their chance. Sad that this time it happened sooner than it should have.
We’ll miss you Splitt.