KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Earlier this week, Ben Zobrist got a text from his mom. Attached was a photo of a 30-year-old T-shirt that she’d dug out of storage. Like Moms often are, she was eager to show her son.
The T-shirt commemorated the 1985 Kansas City Royals, which is the last time the club won a World Series and the season in which Zobrist can first recall going to a baseball game.
“One of the first games I remember as a kid was coming to Kauffman Stadium and seeing the green turf,” Zobrist said on the eve of Game 1 of the 2015 World Series. “It was a special time in Royals history. I was here for that and now I’m back again 30 years later.”
He was 4 when he got the shirt and his face lit up when he talked about his mom finding it.
“She might bring it when they come tomorrow,” Zobrist said.
Not many players on either side of this series were alive when their respective teams last won a World Series. The New York Mets’ drought is almost as long as the Royals’. They won in 1986. Both teams are filled with youngsters, many of whom weren’t even conceived when the Mets or Royals were last hoisting a World Series trophy.
That heralded Mets starting rotation? Jacob deGrom was born in 1988, Matt Harvey in 1989 and young flame-thrower Noah Syndergaard was born in 1992. The Royals core? Lorenzo Cain was born in 1986, Mike Moustakas in 1988, Eric Hosmer in 1989 and Salvador Perez in 1990.
Among the Royals’ starting lineup, Zobrist, Kendrys Morales, Alex Rios and Alex Gordon were all alive in 1985, but the memories are few. Gordon, for instance, was a year and a half old. He was learning to walk, not learning to chant, “Let’s go Royals.”
“I wouldn’t say I remember much,” said Rios, who was four.
“Nothing,” said Gordon, when asked if he’d any stories about himself and the 1985 Royals. He’s from Lincoln, Neb., and was raised a Royals fan, but says: “My first memory of games was 7 or 8 years old.”
The Mets have a few starters who were alive during their 1986 World Series run — David Wright, Curtis Granderson, Daniel Murphy were all little kids. Lucas Duda was born seven months before the World Series
“I was 5 years old,” Granderson said. “I hadn’t even started playing organized baseball yet. I think I had a Wiffle ball bat. There are some photos of me somewhere posing with it. I remember I was left-handed and I asked my dad why he let me go left handed. He said, ‘I saw you holding the bat left handed and I just didn’t change you.’ ”
The player who probably knows the most about the ’86 Mets is Michael Cuddyer, who was a 7-year-old that year and lived in Virginia. He’d watch the Norfolk Tides, the Mets’ Triple-A team and every so often got to see the big-league club.
“During that time the Mets would come and play the Tides for an exhibition game during the middle of the season. My dad would always take me to those games. I wouldn’t say I was a Mets fan, but I was very familiar with that team. I remember Game 6, there’s no question about that. To now be on a team that’s going into a World Series and hopefully follow in their footsteps, is pretty cool.”
The best story on either team belongs to Mets pitcher Jonathan Niese, who was born the day New York won Game 7 of the World Series — Oct. 27, 1986. While he doesn’t have any memories of the Mets winning their last title, he’s had a great “Did you know?” fact to share for his entire tenure as a Met.
“It’s kind of cool,” Niese said. “Call it fate. Call it what you want.”
If you’re wondering about the eldest statesman in this World Series. The Mets’ eternal hurler Bartolo Colon, 42 today, was 13 in 1986. But he wasn’t watching the Mets in the postseason. He was working in the Dominican coffee fields with his dad and wouldn’t even start playing baseball for four more years.
Honestly, “what were you doing in 1986?” isn’t necessarily something that baseball players talk about in the clubhouse. They’re often drafted into World Series droughts or signed to end them. They haven’t lived through them. The people who have suffered the most, year after year, are the fans. So Zobrist knows they’ll care more about his 1985 stories than his teammates would.
“More than anything, it makes it fun to share that with the fans. Because fans feel that same tie,” Zobrist says. “A lot of fans remember that and [like] to know that one of the players was here at the same time, cheering the team on. It’s also fun for kids to think about. ‘Maybe 30 years from now I’ll be playing.’ Who knows.”
Who knows indeed. If nothing else, it’s a good reason to buy a T-shirt.
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