John Cunningham, a Kansas City Royals baseball cap atop his head, laughed off suggestions that he raise his arms just one more time in support of his team.
“Maybe it will help them win,” his family urged, leaning over the 88-year-old’s hospital bed.
Cunningham nodded and glanced at the television, thoughtful. Tired after a day of interviews with news media across Kansas after a photo tweet of him cheering from ICU went viral, he was perfectly content with napping.
He’d been in Via Christi Hospital St. Joseph since Saturday, fighting off the effects of congestive heart failure and trying to mend a broken hip.
But the Royals were down in the final game of the World Series.
His team needed another cheer.
“What’s the score?”
“Three to two, Dad,” John’s son, David Cunningham, said. “It’s the fourth inning.”
“Well,” John Cunningham said with a chuckle, lifting his fists and giving them a quick shake, “you got to stick up for your team.”
Cunningham, a lifelong Wichitan, earned some unexpected attention leading up to the final game of the World Series after his 17-year-old grandson, Chris, tweeted a snapshot of him cheering on the Royals from his hospital bed Tuesday evening.
David Cunningham said it had been a quiet evening until the second inning of Game 6, when a hitting streak by the Royals prompted his dad to throw up his arms and cheer.
“He got excited when we were just destroying them on hits,” David Cunningham said.
So he snapped a photograph and sent it to family.
“It was awesome,” Chris said about seeing the photo. “I asked my mom to send it to me.”
Then, at 8:03 p.m., Chris posted it on Twitter, writing: “My 88 year old grandpa still cheering hard for a royals win even in the ICU of the hospital #TakeTheCrown.”
“My Twitter is imploding right now” Chris tweeted 16 minutes later as the retweets started flowing in.
“And I said to Mom: This is going to be big, man,” he said.
Chris laughed as he watched Game 7 with his grandfather Wednesday night. By then, his original post had been favored 1,900 times and retweeted nearly 1,000 times. And the photo, Chris said, had been shared by national news outlets such as ESPN and Fox Sports.
“It only took me 13,000 tweets to become famous,” Chris said.
Likewise, it took his grandfather only 88 years.
By 8:40 p.m. Wednesday, while the Royals were deep into the fourth inning, John Cunningham’s eyes fluttered closed.
He’d spent the day giving interviews to media, even Skyping with news outlets from Kansas City.
But he perked up when asked what he’d do if the Royals lost.
“We have to be confident they are going to win,” he said, looking stunned at the question.
And if they win?
“Celebrate, of course,” he said.