The Greatness of the City of Fountains, Baseball, and a Little Summertime Magic

by Michael R. Strain

I am not only from Kansas City, but am a serious Kansas City enthusiast. For well over a decade now I have irritated and educated the uninitiated with discussions of Kansas City’s fountains (more than Rome?) and boulevards (more miles than Paris?) and the Plaza lights at Christmas and the steakhouses and Kansas City’s status as a founding city of jazz and blues and its proximity to President Truman’s home and General Eisenhower’s — without Kansas City, would we have won the war? — and Kansas City’s Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and Buck O’Neil and, of course, the barbeque. Did you know that Superman spent a considerable part of his life near Kansas City (after he left Krypton), as did Ernest Hemingway and Walt Disney? I astonish my Acela corridor friends with facts: In Kansas City, you can buy a 5,000 square foot mansion for seventeen dollars; you can’t find a thirty minute drive if you try, even in rush hour; the (non-barbeque) restaurants are actually getting better, to the point that sometimes you feel like you could be eating in New York. And, of course, the city is home to Rockhurst High School, the greatest prep school in galactic history. Many of my friends and colleagues have received gifts from me of the greatest barbeque sauces in all the world. All could if they just asked.

I am also a Kansas City Royals fan. This is much, much harder to sustain. It became a little easier when I read this New York Times article:

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — How do I begin this story? How can I convince you that the greatest story for Royals fans in 29 years is unfolding before our eyes, and its protagonist lives a hemisphere away, speaks imperfect (but diligent) English and had never set foot in Kauffman Stadium until last Thursday?

I first became aware of Lee Sung-woo eight or nine years ago. I didn’t know his name; I just knew there was someone with the handle KoreanFan who posted on a site named Royals Corner. He wrote as if English was his second language, and he was eternally optimistic at a time when 70-victory seasons were something the Royals could only aspire to. I thought it was impressive that someone from South Korea followed the Royals, but didn’t think too much more of it.

Years later, KoreanFan joined Twitter as @Koreanfan_KC. And slowly, through osmosis, I picked up his general story: Lee had become a Royals fan in the 1990s after he saw a highlight on satellite television of the former first baseman Jeff King hitting a home run and was impressed by the beauty of Kauffman Stadium. He stuck loyally with the Royals even though he had no connection to the club or the city whatsoever — he had never set foot in America — and even though the team had just one winning season in his first 17 years as a fan.

Mr. Sung-woo finally came to Kansas City this summer, and the city showed its true and deep greatness.

To their credit, the Royals themselves then quickly got involved. The team contacted Lee directly and invited him to throw out a first pitch at a game. Coming from an organization that has made missteps with the way it communicates with its fan base at times, this was a classy move.

The news media, the fans, the entire city took the hook. By the time Lee landed in Kansas City a week ago Tuesday afternoon, there were four local television crews waiting at the gate for his arrival. The city has laid out the red carpet for him ever since, and the story just continues to grow.

Deadspin and The Kansas City Star wrote about him. He was interviewed on a local sports radio station and on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” and got a shout-out from Duffy in a pregame interview.

As the week progressed, the team gave him a personal tour of Kauffman Stadium and presented him with a Royals jersey bearing his name and No. 23. Not to be outdone, the Chiefs also gave him a personalized jersey and tickets to a preseason game.

Mr. Sung-woo received a call from Missouri’s secretary of state. He was featured on ESPN’s “SportsCenter.” “The Jackson County Commission gave him a commendation, presented by the Royals Hall of Famer Frank White. That night, he received an ovation before throwing out the first pitch, and another when he pinned the W on the scoreboard after the game.”

And his story — and the article — gets better from there: Since Mr. Sung-woo arrived in Kansas City, the Royals “can’t stop winning.”

You can read the entire article here.

— Michael R. Strain is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. You can write to him on Twitter at twitter.com/MichaelRStrain.