Curt Nelson is the self-proclaimed "king of the geeks." Nelson is the director of the Royals Hall of Fame, and his windowless office, buried under the museum, which is beyond left field, is cluttered with bats, jerseys and other memorabilia.
In 1999, Nelson began working for the Royals' marketing department and started curating the hall in 2007. And it's no wonder that he was selected to curate the team's past. Nelson recites facts, stats, dates and figures about the Royals with a savantlike level of precision. Perhaps the Tulsa native's ability to retain tidbits and factoids is due to the team's existence mirroring his own life, nearly down to the month.
"The Kauffmans were awarded the team on January 11, 1968, and I was born on February 16, 1968," Nelson says. "So the club's only about a month older than me. When the Royals won the World Series in 1985, I was in my senior year of high school, so my entire childhood sort of revolved around these Royals moments."
In his role at the Royals Hall of Fame, Nelson educates baseball fans not only of the team's history but also of Kansas City's broader baseball past.
"Since 1884 until now, there has been only one year in Kansas City where there wasn't at least one — sometimes there were multiple — professional baseball team," he says. "That was 1968, because Charlie Finley moved the A's, and we had to wait one year to get the expansion Royals."
For Nelson, who gets animated and raises his voice as he discusses the game, teaching fans about the city's rich baseball history seems like the reason he gets up in the morning.
"One of the most rewarding and challenging parts of this job is trying to explain to people what a tremendous history of professional baseball there is in Kansas City," he says. "It's a history most people don't know."
Nelson graciously offered The Pitch the use of his steel-trap mind to guide All-Star Game visitors and local fans through Kansas City's All-Star past and some lesser-known pieces of baseball history in the city.
The July 11, 1960, game drew 30,619 fans to the Kansas City Athletics' Municipal Stadium at 22nd Street and Brooklyn Avenue. The game was the first of two played that year (the other was played at Yankee Stadium). The National League shut down the American League 5-3 in the Kansas City game.
"One of the guys that would lead to that victory was Ernie Banks for the Cubs," Nelson says. "He hit a home run in the first inning. And what's interesting about that is that he played for the Kansas City Monarchs."
The 1960 season also marked the beginning of the end for the Athletics' time in Kansas City. A news brief in the July 11, 1960, issue of Sports Illustrated began: "Kansas City may lose its baseball team. The death of Owner Arnold Johnson posed some interesting tax problems for his widow, whose addresses — New York, Palm Beach and Chicago — perhaps indicate the extent of her hometown interest in Kansas City. The best guess is that she will unload the Athletics to the highest cash bidder."
It turned out to be prophetic. In December, Charlie Finley, perhaps the most colorful owner in MLB history, snatched up the club.
After eight years of stunts at Municipal Stadium, including a donkey mascot named Charlie O., a robotic rabbit named Harvey that brought baseballs to umpires, and sheep grazing beyond the outfield fence, Finley moved the team to Oakland, where it became the dynasty Kansas City has never had.