ive years ago this week, I had the most amazing, whirlwind experience of my life. For those new to my back story, back in the dark ages of the Royals franchise, I found a pen pal in a gentleman living in South Korea. A Royals “super fan” if you will. Sungwoo Lee would become a very close friend, in large part due to his decision to take a week off work in 2014 and travel to a country he’s never visited to watch a baseball team that he’d only watched on television.
#SungWooToKC trended nationally as he was greeted by throngs of media and well wishers at the airport. He was king for a week. It was a perfect storm of good stories for the news and the city. And the town came together to provide Sungwoo a week and a half of experiences for only the luckiest in Kansas City. We were invited to a Chiefs game, we got a private tour of Kauffman Stadium. We were made welcome at businesses and museums and landmarks all across the area. Strangers gave us not one, not two, but three apple pies on separate occasions.
My experience changed me forever. It showed me how great my city could be and gave me hope for the future. Kansas City welcoming an outsider in a unique and quirky way just seems right for my town.
Five years ago this week, all of this happened. And I can’t help but wonder if we are still that same city. We’re certainly not the same country. The US has become anything but welcoming to outsiders. My sense is that Kansas City, as a whole, is in a bit of a bubble and would still welcome Sungwoo with open arms. But for how long?
The sense of charity and generosity so unique to this part of the country seems to be eroding. The other day, I saw an argument in a parking lot over a parking space where tensions were boiling over. One of the participants was white. The other was not. It’s hard to say whether race had anything to do with the fight over a parking space, but it was certainly noteworthy.
Five years ago this week, the Royals launched into one of the greatest runs in sports history culminating in two American League championships, and a World Series title. Eight-hundred thousand Kansas Citians came out to Union Station to greet our conquering heroes. And even today, I wonder if that would happen again (even when the Chiefs win the Super Bowl which they are obviously going to do.) Not because of the joy we’d feel as a community, but the fear of a mass shooting in such a tight space.
We live in a society now that yells “get off my lawn” and a culture where large crowds cause anxiety even when a motorcycle backfires. We live in a society where you’re either with us or against us, with no middle ground. We live in a society that is, quite simply, unfriendly.
Kansas City has, thankfully, maintained a good deal of distance from the world and national negative spotlight. But so had El Paso and Dayton. Charleston, SC had been a sleepy town until white supremacists marched through their streets.
My experience seeing the best of Kansas City five years ago gives me hope that we will never be one of those cities you see on the news. My experience five years ago changed the way I see this city. But it also seems like a dark cloud is creeping closer to my city. A cloud of anger and divisiveness and fury. I wonder in five more years what my city would say to a super fan tourist and his pen pal buddy, or if the doors will be closed entirely.
(Chris Kamler can be found on Twitter, where he is widely known as @TheFakeNed. You’ll also find on YouTube as the Rambling Moron or on Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook)