CHICAGO (AP) — A day after the celebration, Hall of Famer George Brett was a little worn out but no less ecstatic.
The Kansas City Royals clinched a playoff spot for the first time in 29 years, and their greatest player sees no reason why they can’t make a long postseason run.
The longtime team executive also had a few words for any doubters.
“Who are the Kansas City Royals? Who are they?” Brett said. “Well, they’re finding out.”
The franchise is back in the playoffs for the first time since Brett led the Royals to a World Series championship in 1985.
Kansas City ended the longest playoff drought among the major North American sports leagues with a 3-1 victory over the Chicago White Sox on Friday.
Now, the Royals are looking for bigger things.
They remained a game behind Detroit in the AL Central with one to play and one ahead of Oakland in the wild-card standings after Saturday’s 5-4 loss to the Chicago White Sox. Still, they know their season won’t be ending this weekend.
It’s a huge step for a small-market franchise that was just about buried for two decades.
The Royals endured 17 losing seasons in 18 years before winning 86 games in 2013 and contending into September. They’re taking it a step farther this year, kicking down the playoff door after banging on it a year ago.
Still, they could not help but let it all out.
“Last night was awesome,” third baseman Mike Moustakas said. “We’ve got to enjoy that a little bit, but it’s back to business.”
Josh Willingham said he had so many messages after the game, some from people he had not heard from in a while, that he just couldn’t check them all.
“I think that’s something that everybody should experience once,” said Willingham, acquired by the Royals late in the season.
All those years of losing for the Royals gave way to celebration as soon as catcher Salvador Perez squeezed Michael Taylor’s foul popup for the final out in Friday night’s 3-1 victory that ignited a celebration near the plate.
Players tossed black-and-white playoff caps to a large contingent of fans crowded near the visitors’ dugout before taking the party to the clubhouse.
They went back onto the field, back into the clubhouse again, a burden lifted off the franchise and a long-suffering fan base.
“Any time you’re a fan of a team, when something like this happens that hadn’t happened for a long time, I think it’s special,” Willingham said.
“Being a fan of other sports, when my team does good and it hasn’t done good for a while, I kind of understand how they feel. I think that’s important for those fans. They’ve been behind this team for a lot of years and supported this team,” he said. “To be able to be a small factor in bringing a playoff berth and hopefully more to the city of Kansas City and the fans, is (great).”
Asked if he got to bed at a decent hour, Willingham smiled and said, “Maybe.”
Brett made it clear it was a late night for him. Asked how he felt when he woke up Saturday morning, he said, “I woke up this afternoon. Yeah, (the party) was all right.”
As good as it is to be back in the playoffs — finally — the Royals are aiming higher. They want this run to last.
“We know we still got a job to do,” Moustakas said. “We know we’re still not done.”
And Brett sees no reason why the Royals can’t achieve bigger things.
“They played good enough to win, yeah,” he said. “It’s not like they’re saying, `Oh my God, I can’t believe we made the playoffs!’ We thought last year we had a chance to make the playoffs. No, it’s not fluky.”