What a difference two years can make.
I was at a Royals/Mariners game on a Wednesday night, two years ago. A year where I was watching a Royals team much different than the team I’m watching this year. A year where Miguel Olivo split time with John Buck calling games for the Royals instead of the M’s, hit 23 homers…and struck out….a lot.
Ken Griffey Jr. was still hacking for Seattle and, though I obviously wanted the Royals to win, I couldn’t help rooting for Ken every time he came to the plate. I had to. I’ve always been a fan of his….always will be. He was the designated hitter and went 1-3 with a double. I unashamedly stood up and cheered when he got his hit.
Anyways, that night there was almost a fight at the ballpark. Maybe you’ll tell me I have an overblown sense of machismo, but I appreciate when teammates back each other up, even to the point of coming to physical blows for the sake of each other. That night the Mariners got a hit and a runner (I can’t remember who….possibly Russel Branyan) headed for home trying to score. Olivo got the throw at the plate and tried to make the tag on the runner sliding past. I can’t remember if the guy was called safe or out, (maybe someone out there does) but Olivo ended up applying the tag to the sliding runner’s face. The player didn’t take to this too kindly and got up in Olivo’s face about it. Both benches started to clear and I stood up excitedly. Never having witnessed a fight, (but having watched countless clips of Nolan Ryan punching Robin Ventura in the face over and over) I couldn’t believe I was going to get to see one in person. Our seats were out in left field and I stood up and shouted for Miguel to take someone down. I figured he’d have a better chance at hitting a Mariner then hitting a pitch and I wanted to see something big happen. Suddenly I looked down and saw the Mariner’s relief corps trotting out of the pen in a straight line towards the diamond. I guess they were supposed to be the cavalry if a fight broke out. Now I know that for the most part, those guys were all probably both taller and heavier than I am. They were probably all capable of beating the tar out of me. But from my assuredly safe vantage point in the left field seats, they looked so pathetically funny all trotting out there like they were going to save the day that I couldn’t help laughing at them…laughing a lot.
The umps broke the fight up before it really got going and the M’s bullpen turned around and headed back to the dugout (disappointedly or breathing a sigh of relief….I’ll never know). As the pitchers headed back to the bullpen, I and the fans around me began heaping verbal abuse upon them (again…from our assuredly safe vantage points).
I don’t tell that story about that game merely for the sake of the fight that almost was, though it was pretty exciting regardless, but for the feelings I had after the game. Feelings that are amusing to me now. After we won 9-1 that day, the Royals record was 17-11. I remember driving home naively thinking, “The boys have finally got things figured out. We’re on our way.” Of course we all know what happened next. They fell apart and went on to a record of 65-97. Mike Jacobs, who had actually looked decent so far that year with a statline of .264/.343/.505 went on to finish the season with a much weaker line of .228/.297/.401. He was kind of the posterboy for the Royals’ fall from grace.
Now, two years later, I’ve returned to Bolivar after attending the Royals/Mariners games on Friday and Saturday with some friends and family. This was my first trip to the K this year and we all know there’s something special about your first game you get to watch at the diamond each season. All I could think of initially was:
Boys, it’s cold….real cold.
Despite the obnoxiously frigid temperature on Friday night and a nervewracking performance from our bullpen, we got the win. I was thankful. Hoche deserved it.
Saturday was slightly warmer, though the O’Sullivan vs. King Felix matchup gave me a chill on the inside that was initially harder to shake. However, O’Sullivan pitched surprisingly well and was backed up with good defense, particularly from Escobar. As stated in yesterday’s recap, Alcides is like a warm security blanket out there at short. The play he made on Ichiro’s shot towards the middle on Saturday was obnoxious. I couldn’t believe he got his glove on the ball, let alone that he was able to make a play on Ichiro who, while a little older than he used to be, is certainly not lead-footed on the basepaths. That play was amazing.
So we went 2-0 while I was at the K and looked pretty decent doing it. It’s (maybe) too early to call me a good luck charm at Kauffman, but we do have a perfect record this year when I’m there…so far. I’m hoping we can keep this winning baseball up whether I’m there or not.
The feeling I have after these two wins over the Mariners as opposed to the feeling I had over the win two years ago seems built on a foundation that has much more solidity. We’re winning games we weren’t supposed to. We’re winning games with guys that weren’t necessarily supposed to be the guys leading us to victory. Most of the guys that are supposed to help us win are still down in the minors getting primed. Whether the Royals continue their winning ways or end up becoming the team that most people thought they’d be this year, we’ve got guys down the pipeline that are going to make us even better in the future. If the best thing that the current squad we’ve got on the field can do is end up making people start caring about the Royals again…then I say that’s still a good thing. With 7 games against division-leading(?) Cleveland, 3 games against Texas, and another 3 games against divison rival Minnesota coming up, the next two weeks should be interesting.
I’ll keep crossing my fingers and hoping that this team keeps the wins a-comin’.