Kansas City Royals star George Brett came up for his first at-bat in the World Series last weekend and the decibel level of the crowd doubled. People in K.C. hats yelled encouragement and assured each other, "This is it."
But the site was not Royals Stadium in Kansas City. It was Kansas City transplanted to Hermosa Beach, where a partisan crowd was rooting for Brett in his own restaurant, C.J. Brett's.
Aided by nine televisions--two wide-screen--two bars and waitresses in Royal blue, the Kansas City faithful (and a few St. Louis resistance fighters) gathered to cheer for the Royals and Brett in the very shadow of his famous "pine tar" bat and numerous baseball awards mounted in a trophy case.
The restaurant's main sports room, known as "the bleachers," was packed with knowledgeable baseball fans and a high percentage of non-regular customers who wanted to root for their hero in a place bearing his name.
"We're getting lots of calls from people originally from Missouri, specifically because it's George's place," said John Altamura, the restaurant's operating partner (and the "J" in C.J. Brett's; the "C" is Charles Lehman, another partner).
Brett grew up in nearby El Segundo, but now lives in Kansas City. His brother Bobby lives in Hermosa Beach, where George and Ken, the first brother to reach the majors, are regular visitors.
George Brett struck out in his first at-bat. The crowd let out a collective "ooh" on his first swing-and-miss but did not react strongly when he made the out. There was a long game yet to play.
In one corner of the bleachers sat Greg Wayne and family, who had driven in from Calabasas. Wayne, wife Jeannie and young sons Chris, Tim and Sam were all dressed in Royals jerseys. "I'm from Kansas City," Wayne explained. A group of women sat in another corner. They had come in from Orange County "to root for George."
The crowd erupted loudly when the Royals took a 1-0 lead in the second inning. They whistled and applauded when Brett beat out a hit in his second at-bat. By the third inning every Royal hit and good defensive play was drawing cheers. The crowd seemed to bask in the surety of a Royals' victory.
In the fourth inning a close play at the plate that went the Royals' way drew the first real show of emotion, and when Brett made a difficult fielding play in the fifth even the TV replay drew a loud, appreciative response. When Brett came up for his third at-bat in the sixth inning the crowd began to chant "George, George, George," and clap rhythmically. Ominously, he popped out.
In the seventh inning the Royals got a leadoff triple and the women from Orange County began to discuss strategy. "This is it," announced a curly haired woman, who appeared to be the ringleader. "How many outs?"
The Cardinals brought in a relief pitcher. "He looks like Todd Christensen," said a red-haired woman, referring to the Raiders' tight end. The count went to 3-2. "Gotta be the fastball," someone opined, and the inning ended without the Royals scoring. The crowd moaned.
Brett came up for his fourth at-bat and hit a long fly that appeared to have home run potential. The Cardinal outfielder made a leaping catch at the wall and the crowd exploded in shock. The curly haired woman threw her napkin at the television.
Jack Clark, the Cardinal hitter who knocked the Dodgers out of the playoffs, came up to bat against Dan Quisenberry, who has a quirky pitching delivery. "I can't watch Quisenberry. He makes me nervous," the redhead said. Clark knocked in a run. The curly haired woman pulled a World Series ticket for Dodger Stadium out of her purse. "Because of that man I can't use this ticket," she said accusingly.
The Royals could not muster another rally and lost, 3-1. "Oh well, you've got to give credit where credit's due," said the redhead. The curly haired woman demurred. "No, not in the World Series," she replied.
The management quickly switched the televisions to a cable network showing the Lakers. Sports fans are nothing if not resilient.