by Todd Habiger
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Archbishop Naumann had been here before.
Atchison. Check. Important sporting event. Check. Mass scheduled right in the middle of everything. Check.
This time, instead of it being the Kansas Jayhawks in the 2008 national championship game, however, it was the Kansas City Royals in Game 5 of the 2015 World Series.
He was pleasantly surprised at the attendance at Mass, considering his competition. But after the liturgy, the archbishop joined students in the dorm lounge and watched as the Royals rallied from two runs down in the ninth inning to tie the game.
“Everybody was very excited,” the archbishop said. “It was looking kind of bleak at that point, but they pulled some more rabbits out of the hat.”
Three innings later, the Royals exploded for five runs in the top of the 12th and were on their way to their second world championship.
“I texted Steve [Minnis, president of Benedictine College] and said, ‘If the Chiefs get in the Super Bowl, am I invited to come up and watch at your house?’”
“It’s interesting that for both of those major sporting events I was in Atchison for the evening,” said the archbishop.
Archbishop Naumann, a lifelong St. Louis Cardinals fan, kept a close eye on both teams this season. The Cardinals had the best record in baseball, but lost to the Chicago Cubs in the first round of the playoffs.
The Royals looked like they might suffer the same fate in the first round as they found themselves down two games to one against the Houston Astros and trailing by four runs late in Game 4. But an eighth inning rally gave the Royals the lead. They went on to win the game — and the series — in five games.
“I think that was the turning point for them in the playoffs,” said Archbishop Naumann. “They were in really serious trouble there. That was a pivotal moment, but that was characteristic of their whole season.”
For Archbishop Naumann, the Royals epitomize the way sports should be.
“Sports — when done right and well — is a good thing for the community and society,” he said. “There are virtues that can be part of sports. Part of this team’s virtues is their perseverance and their ability to come back from adversity. It’s pretty amazing how many runs they’ve scored after the 7th inning in the playoffs.”
Over the years, Archbishop Naumann has seen lots of great baseball teams. His Cardinals’ teams have won World Series and he’s seen great players like Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith and Albert Pujols play.
But this Royals club ranks right up there with some of his all-time great teams.
“It’s very hard to get into the World Series twice, particularly the way baseball is structured now,” said the archbishop. “That puts them up there with great teams just being able to do that.”
But even deeper than that, the archbishop loves the way the Royals play baseball.
“The thing I really liked about the Royals is they were a contact club,” he said. “They weren’t trying to hit the home run. They were trying to get on base and manufacture runs.
“I think that’s how they got to the Mets pitchers. They had good at-bats and made them throw a lot of pitches and eventually wore them down. I think that’s how you beat good pitching.”
In a way, the Royals’ journey this season mirrored Archbishop Naumann’s own unique year. Just as the Royals started their season in April, the archbishop was named as apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
For six months, both had their ups and downs as they dealt with adversity and triumphs. The Royals ended their season as champions on Nov. 1. On Nov. 4, Archbishop Naumann handed the reins of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph over to Bishop James V. Johnston.
“It’s an exciting time for Bishop Johnston to be coming to Kansas City,” said the archbishop.”