Avoiding the final play of the 2014 World Series proved difficult for the past year. I never expected my first time truly watching Pablo Sandoval squeeze the ball in his glove on a foul pop up and falling to his knees to celebrate the San Francisco Giants’ win in Game 7 would come on a five-story movie screen. I can honestly say I wasn’t prepared for the emotion. I hadn’t seen the play from any other vantage point than my spot in the upper deck that October night at Kauffman Stadium.
This was a whole new experience.
I traveled with my wife on Monday night to Union Station in Kansas City, Mo. for the world premier of ESPN’s 30 for 30 series documentary short entitled #BringBackSungWoo. What a chance to relive a really cool Royals story and be a part of a special event.
I left excited about the 22½-minute short film but also with another unshakable feeling: I’m excited about postseason baseball in Kansas City again. Nevermind the Royals recent struggles, plodding to the finish of a spectacular season.
I have no time to worry about if they can recreate the magic of last year’s run and return to the World Series for a second straight season. The pain of viewing last year’s result on a very big screen reminded me that the experience trumps not being there at all.
And boy, did Royals fans go through a long period of not being there or really anywhere in the landscape of Major League Baseball.
That’s what #BringBackSungWoo is about. It tells the story we all witnessed firsthand last year, as unbelievable as it still seems.
Man living in South Korea adopts perennial loser team. Man follows team religiously through viewership, news and social media. Man comes to Kansas City for once-in-a-lifetime experience.
What happens next seems more than a fairy tale.
The Royals went on a long win streak during that week in August, and eventually, they reach the playoffs and win eight straight — the first such postseason run in MLB history — and a filmmaker from Kansas City decides that SungWoo Lee needs to come back for the World Series.
So Josh Swade goes to Korea and manages to bring Sung Woo back with a little help from social media, hence the hashtag title.
SungWoo, a genuinely lovable guy, shared in the emotional turmoil of the World Series with all of us — an experience that seemingly united all of Kansas City and showed off what makes it a great place to live. Using his story to tell the larger story proved to be very effective.
I know I wasn’t alone in that theater in reexperiencing a lot of the emotions from last year. Yeah, I’ll admit that I felt the tears well up a few times.
After so many years of irrelevance, I know I can never forget the summer and fall of 2014.
Maybe I’m getting greedy, but now I want to try it again — even if it ends in more heartbreak. I’ve been asked so many times in recent weeks whether or not the Royals (7-13 in their previous 20 entering Tuesday night but still with the best record in the American League and barrelling toward their first ever American League Central title and first division title in 30 years) can get right and make another run.
Honestly, I don’t know.
The once impenetrable bullpen has sprung a leak or two. The rotation isn’t consistent. Johnny Cueto hasn’t been the ace envisioned since Kansas City traded for him. Alcides Escobar got hurt. Right field is a revolving door of scenarios.
I just don’t know.
But I want to find out, and there’s always hope once you make the playoffs, and the Royals are going to make the playoffs. Last year should have taught us that anything is possible.
#BringBackSungWoo will debut online soon and will be on ESPN at some point during the playoffs. The date hasn’t been set yet.
Kansas City is going to love this documentary. Take time to watch and remind yourself that baseball in Kansas City is fun again — even if it ends in heartbreak.
Ross Martin is publisher of The Citizen. He may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @Citizen_Ross.