It's quiet now, but a crowd approaches. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE

Get in on the Ground Floor

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This time last year, the Royals were celebrating having every publication from Baseball America to the Mars Daily Red Planet proclaim their farm system the best since the invention of farm systems. Cautious optimism was high, with the understanding that, in a few years, the Royals could be in position to cash in on years of early draft picks and a renewed investment in player development and put an end to a painful two and a half decades of losing and disappointment.

Some in the media have gone so far to suggest that the Royals in 2012 were close enough to be one pitcher and a couple of breaks away from being a true contender. Jeff Passan said that Kansas City was unlikely to contend, but “with a couple of injuries to Detroit” they could sneak into the picture. Joe Sheehan lambasted Royals owner David Glass for not signing a pitcher to put the Royals over the edge and turn the race “into a coin flip.” Steve Berthiaume of ESPN’s Baseball Tonight claimed that the Royals could make that jump by getting Roy Oswalt in a deal. There are people starting to pay attention and starting to buy into the Process.

Of course, that means nothing if the Royals don’t progress in 2012. The starting rotation – you’ve heard the story enough times I won’t repeat it. This team is close, but how close?

With the right breaks, they could be in the mix late in 2012. It could be 2013. Or maybe, after the young team has a couple of seasons together under their belt, 2014 is the year they blow the doors off the hinges and stake their claim.

Whatever the timing is, the feeling is that this team, with a collection of good and potentially great (depending on who you ask) talent, is on the cusp of something special.

There’s an entire generation of Royals fans that know nothing of a successful baseball team in Kansas City, or their only reference is the 2003 club that was more smoke and mirrors than true contenders. I have only parental reminders of seeing parts of the 1985 World Series and the best team I recall following closely was the 1989 club that had the second best record in the league – and happened to share a division with the A’s who had the best. That’s as close to a real winner as I’ve seen. The 1994 team caught fire just in time to run into the strike.

But this team, if they realize their potential, could captivate the area. Last summer, during August and September, when the sweltering midwest heatwave and a close-to-last-place Royals team would usually depress attendance figures, the crowds grew larger at Kauffman Stadium, turning out to see Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez and the rest. In the coming seasons – maybe as soon as this year – they’ll also see Mike Montgomery, Jake Odorizzi and Wil Myers. With what we expect to be more successful teams and increased attendance, the fan base should grow.

The Chiefs have been the big draw in town during the Royals lean years, and they’ve usually been a successful team. Their fans are enthusiastic, they show up, and they aren’t shy about showing their red and yellow colors. It can be the same way with the Royals. It should be the same way with the Royals.

On Sunday’s Royalman Report, Rany Jazyerli discussed his Royals fandom and how his Royals hat is unique when he’s all over the country, because, nationally, nobody admits to being a Royals fan. Why would they? Unless you grew up in the area or somehow found the Royals in some other way, it’s rare to find a Royals fan out there.

“If you build it, they will come” is a phrase that comes to mind. Build a winner and fans will come.

I’m not so naive to think that some of those fans will be jumping on just because the team is now winning and haven’t endured the Terrance Longs, the Nate Fields, the Chip Ambres and Kerry Robinsons of the past. There may be resentment for that bandwagon jumping. I’m torn as how I might react to that. On one hand, it’s more fans, more seats being filled, more revenue and a better standing in the national spotlight. On the other hand, I wouldn’t mind a little recognition for my years of suffering through blown leads, feeble bats, and Tony Pena (father and son). Will there be a split between so-called “real” Royals fans and those just jumping in once the team gets good?

Does it even matter? Should Kansas City (and its fans) be grateful for anyone who decides to follow the team? It’s possible to start following a team merely because they were successful at the time and develop a diehard devotion to them. Do we put a number on converting X number of new fans into diehards before finding the bandwagon effect as acceptable? I’m intrigued by the social dynamics that could come up.

But before Royals fans have to face this issue, the first step has to happen – winning. Maybe the better question, then, is not “how do we handle an increased fanbase?” but “when do we start to see them?”

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Tags: AL Central Baseball David Glass Eric Hosmer Kansas City Royals Kauffman Stadium KC KC Royals Mike Moustakas MLB Royals

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