NEVER GIVE UP HOPE ON OUR TEAM OR OUR TOWN

October 13, 2015

  
When the Houston Astros scored three runs in the seventh inning of yesterday’s game, giving them a four-run cushion over our Kansas City Royals, I truly believed we were done. I was so mad. We’ve been too good to lose this early. It’s not fair to these guys. It’s not fair to KC, I thought. Then the realization hit that the season was about to be over, and my anger was overtaken by complete sadness.

The baseball season is long, maybe too long. A month of preseason, followed by 162 regular season games can be absolutely brutal when the team you love is having a(nother) dismal year. Any fan of the Royals knows this all too well. With each new season comes renewed hope; hope that is typically crushed long before summer officially begins. But that wasn’t the case this year. Our Royals stormed out of the gates winning their first seven games, and they never looked back. We had seven All-Stars (counting Alex Gordon, who was left off the roster due to injury), we easily won our division by 12 games, and ended the season with the American League’s best record and home-field advantage throughout the postseason.

Many media know-it-alls predicted us to be average at best. They said last year was just a case of catching lightning in a bottle, that we shouldn’t have gone as far as we did then, and certainly didn’t have the talent to repeat as American League champs, win the Central Division, or even make the playoffs as a wild card team. We didn’t listen. We never had a doubt. We were so close last year, and we have unfinished business.

I say “we” because I’m talking about all of us. Not just the team, but this town. A relatively small city of passionate, down-to-earth Midwesterners who have spent every night over the past six months huddled around a TV or radio, giving our full attention not just to a team, but to the individual players who have become like family members. It’s not just about a love of baseball, but a love of the people who make up this team we call our own.

The players fit this town. They are no longer crusty, aging veterans looking for a few paychecks before hanging up their cleats. No, this is a bunch of mostly twenty-somethings who have cut their teeth together. They have shared more failures than successes. Yet somehow, against all probability, they have become winners in a town that is not accustomed to winning. It is obvious that these guys truly care about each other and the fans. It’s infectious and undeniable. They wear “Kansas City” on their chests, and carry Kansas City on their backs. Better yet, maybe we are carrying them. 

So when we found ourselves down by four going into the eighth inning yesterday, I admit I was angry. I was appalled by the Astros’ cocky celebrating, knowing of course that they were acting no differently than we did during our playoff run last season. I was mad at the announcers, I was upset with our players for seeming so passive and not being more aggressive. I was really acting quite selfish, but I suppose that’s probably normal for die-hard fans when the team they have invested time, money and sincere love in must finally meet their fate. I’m not used to the end coming sooner than expected.

The end…this is what I actually wanted to avoid. This was the source of my sadness.

In twenty years, I may not remember the plays and games that made this season so special. I doubt I will be able to recall our record, any statistics, or maybe even all of the players on the team. But I will remember the many nights spent simply hanging out with my wife and two children watching the Royals and talking about baseball — and about life. It isn’t easy to find something the entire family genuinely enjoys doing together, but watching our boys in blue has been that something all season long. From the first game, when my then four-year-old daughter sadly asked, “Where is Billy Butler?” to high-fiving, hugging, and hollering with joy yesterday, spending our evenings with the Royals has become the family routine. Losses were like a kick in the gut, while victories left us going to bed fulfilled and happy. We didn’t know what to do during off days or rain-outs. What will we do when it’s finally over? I don’t want it to end. Amazingly, it didn’t end yesterday. Just as in the wild card game last year, an incredible comeback in the eighth inning has given us the opportunity to continue rooting on our team, even if for only one more game. I feel very guilty for doubting such a relentless, tenacious group.

These Royals’ players, starting in the second half of last season, have not only been a source of joy for my family, but have transformed our city into a town that believes not just in our team, but in each other. Baseball — something that seems like it should be so meaningless in the grand scheme of things — has actually helped to inspire and unite us. The Royals have made Kansas City proud. This transcends baseball, and is an example of how beneficial and powerful a game can truly be. I’m not being overly romantic, but am just stating a fact. My wish, and belief, is that this pride will carry on after baseball, regardless of how the season ultimately ends. Until then, like the rest of my fellow Kansas Citians, I will be on the edge of my seat, making sure to enjoy each pitch. And I will never give up hope.

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