A Royals fan's conundrum: who am I now?
Down 7-3 in the eighth inning of the American League Wild Card game, it seemed inevitable, even fitting, really. The Kansas City Royals waited 29 years to return to the postseason, only to be swept out in a one-game wild card playoff that has only existed for three years. The loss would have cut deep, like they always have in Kansas City. At least that I can remember.
I was born seven miles from Royals Stadium, and went to my first Kansas City Royals game as a one-month old on the 4th of July in 1985. I slept through the fireworks. Since then, enough time has passed that I’m on my second mortgage and third job, just had my first kid (born on opening day this year), and am considered qualified enough to run a public radio newsroom and teach students at the Missouri School of Journalism.
I got to cheer George Brett in his waning years, came into permanent consciousness just in time to mourn Bo Jackson’s knee, and remember taking a big inflatable hammer to Kauffman during BobHamelin’s rookie year. I remember when the 1994 strike ended the first Royals year in contention I'd witnessed, and one of my strongest childhood memories is that weeknight game where I picked up that Joe Randa foul ball that had rattled between the empty seats behind me. No one else was even running toward it.
I’ve also been part of a tortured Kansas City Chiefs fan base that has seen regular season brilliance over the last three decades, only to have it all fall apart in the playoffs each year. The first football game I ever attended was the Lin Elliot game. Playoff losses have been painful from there as well: teams not getting a first down until the second half, never forcing the other team to punt, or blowing a 28-point third quarter lead.
As you well know by now, the Royals have been downright terrible for most of my life. There were years where I’d be watching the box scores each day in September like many baseball fans. But I just wanted to see if the Royals could get closer to winning 63 games – to avoid another 100 loss season. They couldn’t avoid it many years. There had been two (just barely) winning seasons of baseball in Kansas City in my life as fan: 2003 and 2013. The 2013 season was actually a huge letdown. That was the year that Kansas City had been on a "process" toward for a long time, and it seemed likely that, as always, the opportunity had passed.
The Kansas City Star’s Sam Mellenger describedthe sentiment I’m wrestling with now very well. I, and the thousands like me who were born into these allegiances, don’t know how to deal with what the Kansas City Royals are doing right now. (What do I do with my hands?) Like fans of the Chicago Cubs or Cleveland sports, constant disappointment or downright ineptitude was what I had accepted as my fan experience. So cheering for this buzzsaw that keeps shredding the best teams in baseball is a foreign concept to me. I’ve been waiting for the shoe to drop. But I don’t even know if gravity exists anymore.
I love that the excitement about this team extends beyond Kansas City. But I’ve still seen some sneers here and there about how Royals fans are just packing the stadium now with their hats with tags still on them – where were they when the bandwagon wasn’t rolling?
They were dormant. I’ve long held that Kansas City is a great baseball town, they just haven’t had a chance to show it. There had been glimpses: sellouts when a pitcher is having a Cy Young year, a raucous crowd at a Home Run Derby. Now, fans are shelling out absurd prices for tickets on the secondary market for playoff games. They’re buying season tickets for next year. There’s finally something to show up for. For any of us under 30, we’re still not quite sure what to do when we get there.