COMMERCE — It’s been a fun three-year run for former MLB pitcher Bret Saberhagen.
First, his old team, the Kansas City Royals, ended a 29-year World Series drought in 2015 then finally captured a championship in 2015.
Then his childhood love, the Chicago Cubs, ended their 108-year drought without a Series win in ’16.
“It’s been a lot of fun the last few years, that’s for sure,” said Saberhagen, who grew up outside of the Windy City in Chicago Heights, Illinois
He was the special guest at the 18th annual Mickey Mantle Classic, which wrapped up Saturday.
Saberhagen stopped by the Mantle home as well as the landmark Dairy King in downtown Commerce.
“Being in the hometown where Mickey Mantle grew up is pretty special,” Saberhagen said. “I stopped off and saw some buffalo this morning on a little hike. I saw where the tri-states meet, the monument. I got a lot of sightseeing in today, which is kinda cool.”
Third baseman George Brett, second baseman Frank White and reliever Dan Quisenberry joined Saberhagen as the Royals’ “Franchise Four” in a fan vote in 2015 as part of a Major League Baseball promotion.
Saberhagen was inducted into the Royals’ Hall of Fame in 2005.
He spent his first eight seasons with the Royals (1984-91), then pitched for the Mets (1991-95), Rockies (1995) and Red Sox (1997-99, 2001).
Saberhagen was the MVP of the 1985 World Series, pitching two complete games, including an 11-0 shutout in Game 7 against St. Louis.
“My best playing days were with the Royals, so it’s still kinda home to me,” Saberhagen said. “My three older kids were all born at Saint Luke’s Hospital there. It still is very, very meaningful. I enjoyed all the places I played, but my playing days with Kansas City were special.”
He had a memorable two days in 1985 when his first son, Drew William, was born the same night as the infamous Don Denkinger call that kept the Royals’ hopes alive.
The next night he went the distance in an 11-0 blowout of the Cardinals.
“I will always cherish that,” said Saberhagen, who was happy to see the Royals make back-to-back World Series appearances — something those great Kansas City teams of the 1980s was never able to accomplish.
“That playoff run in 2014 was spectacular, losing Game 7 to Bumgarner (Giants ace Madison Bumgarner), who just had an unbelievable Series, coming out of the pen in Game 7 and shutting them down,” Saberhagen said. “They came close to winning it back-to-back. Their mainstay guys are fun to watch.”
Denkinger, who was the first base umpire in Game 6, ruled Jorge Orta safe on a bang-bang play involving Cardinal reliever Todd Worrell.
“Don helped us out, but they left some outs on that field,” Saberhagen said. “We took advantage of a missed call and they didn’t take advantage of a popup by the dugout that Jack (converted outfielder and first baseman Jack Clark) missed. We got a few hits after that. As a pitcher, you’ve got to bear down and not let things get to you.
“You go on and pick your players up and they didn’t pick up their players.”
The Royals won the game 2-1 then used a six-run fifth to blow things open in Game 7.
Saturday’s Mantle Classic was the first time he’s been to a high school baseball game in a while — especially those with wooden bats.
He had coached high school baseball in California for several years, but gave that up because of the time involved.
“It’s kinda nice to see the guys out there using a wood bat instead of the aluminum bat,” Saberhagen said.
Injuries nagged Saberhagen throughout his 18-year career in the big leagues. He missed two full seasons due to shoulder surgeries.
“If I could have stayed healthy throughout my career, my numbers would have been a lot better,” he said.
He won 167 games — 110 with the Royals — and had a 3.34 earned run average with 1,715 strikeouts.
“But that’s just one of those things where I went through a lot of different injuries, fingers, shoulders, knees,” Saberhagen said. “Looking back, winning a World Series championship is still the prize thing that I accomplished in baseball.”
He said he gets back to Kansas City several times a year, but stays busy making promotional appearances, playing golf and skiing around the world.