NEW YORK — The feeling is not regret, because who would ever regret a World Series championship? And it is certainly not embarrassment, because the most imperfect moments are often the most authentic, and who would ever worry about something that felt real?
But eight months later, Drew Butera has had time to think about this. He has seen the clip dozens of times, and he can concede this now. Yeah, he says, he and Wade Davis kind of muffed their celebratory embrace after the final out of the 2015 World Series.
“It was probably the most awkward jump of either of our careers,” Butera said this week.
Tonight, the Royals return to Citi Field for a two-game series against the New York Mets. They will reconvene at the site of their greatest achievement. They will relive the final moments of a world championship in New York. There will be nostalgia in the air, of course, but not too much. After completing a 6-1 home stand last week, the Royals (38-31) have won eight of nine and surged back into position to win a second straight American League Central title in 2016. The Royals are firmly focused on this year.
Yet this will be the first trip back to Citi Field since last November, which means Butera will remember his best moment on a baseball field. In the final seconds of the World Series — the Royals leading the New York Mets 7-2 in the 12th inning of Game 5 — Butera crouched behind home plate and caught a 95 mph fastball from Davis. Home-plate umpire Alfonso Marquez called out strike three. The Royals had their first world championship in three decades.
And this, Butera says, is where things went a little haywire. It was the final out of the World Series, but Butera wanted to maintain his tradition of thanking the umpire for his work. So he turned to Marquez and offered a quick word. But he turned around too quickly, running square into New York’s Wilmer Flores, who was walking back across the batter’s box after taking strike three.
Butera was only in the game because the Royals had pinch-run for starter Salvador Perez in the top of the 12th, which could help explain the next part. By the time Butera reached Davis, they had both leapt at the same moment, an awkward embrace that resembled Rocky and Apollo jump-hugging on a beach during a montage in Rocky III.
“If I would have thought about it, none of that stuff would have happened,” Butera said. “What you saw was all just natural reaction.”
Championships are often remembered by the moments just after the title becomes official: Think LeBron James falling to the ground and weeping after winning the NBA championship on Sunday night. Or Yankees fans storming the field after a World Series championship in 1977.
Think George Brett squeezing the life out of Bret Saberhagen in a vice-grips bear hug after the final out of the 1985 World Series.
In that moment, Brett had walked over to Saberhagen with two outs in the ninth inning of Game 7 at then Royals Stadium. The celebration, Brett said, would be part scripted.
“This is going to be my first one,” Brett told Saberhagen. “So let me be the first one on the mound to celebrate.”
The picture of Brett lifting Saberhagen into the air would become an iconic symbol of Kansas City’s first World Series championship. Thirty years later, the immediate aftermath was unplanned, unscripted and a little clumsy. And to those in the scrum, that made it beautiful.
“You really just don’t have any control over your body,” first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “You’re just going crazy and don’t even really think about what you’re doing.”
Nearly eight months later, the Royals return to the scene of the party at Citi Field. Right fielder Paulo Orlando said the moment will be “special.” Shortstop Alcides Escobar said it would be “nice”. Butera smiled at the thought.
“I wouldn’t want to change it,” Butera said. “I’m glad everything happened the way it did.”