Monday afternoon marked my fifth ever Royals home opener. In the past, school, work, or finances got in the way of my attending, but starting in 2009, I’ve been to each opener.
Obviously, then, I’ve witnessed some pretty bad moments. Sidney Ponson starting against the Yankees in 2009. Alex Gordon just missing a game-winner, then striking out against the Angels in 2011. Luke Hochevar‘s implosion last year. And the Royals haven’t won a single one.
The lineups have featured a myriad of players, like Mike Jacobs, Jamey Wright, Willie Bloomquist, Jason Kendall, Rick Ankiel, Kila Ka’aihue and Humberto Quintero. This year, though, featured a group that doesn’t feel like a bunch of replacement players and stopgaps.
After maneuvering through a packed crowd at the gate, I made it to my seat to see a mass of royal and powder blue, a welcome sight. I only saw, to my surprise, a handful of Twins fans. Typically, they’ll travel well and often, I’ll see a fan in Twins garb even when the Royals aren’t even playing Minnesota. Maybe it was because it was a Monday. Maybe it’s dampened expectations of the Twins this year, but there seemed to be significantly fewer Twins fans around. Always a good thing – it’s always frustrating to see your team’s stadium half-filled with your opponent’s fans. Especially for the first game of the year.
I missed the first inning, having headed to the gate late, so I didn’t see the Twins score their lone run of the day, and the majority of the game was a sequence of quick innings and solid pitching. Not bad to watch from a baseball perspective, but when you’re after a win to start the homestand, the Royals piling up zeroes at the plate was discouraging.
But Kevin Correia wasn’t overwhelming them and it felt like there was something still in the tank. Hitters were getting on, hitting the ball hard, but a couple of double plays shut down rallies. The Royals hung out until the eighth. Lorenzo Cain drilled a leadoff double to right center and represented the tying run. Chris Getz bunted him over to bring up the top of the order. With Alex Gordon up, the crowd started to buzz. He singled over a drawn in infield to tie the score and the crowd grew louder.
When Correia started to deliver the first pitch to Alcides Escobar, Alex Gordon took off and the fans started to murmur. When Escobar put the ball down the line, they started to stand. As Alex Gordon rounded second, they yelled, and as Eddie Rodriguez waved him home, they were frenzied just before the gave the Royals the lead with a headfirst slide at home. Everyone celebrated.
I’ve seen a lot of losing baseball as a Royals fan. The closest situation I could compare the moment to was an August 11, 2003 game when the Royals battled back and forth with the Yankees. In front of over 40,000 fans, they traded blows with New York, going down 5-1, then storming back to score four and tie it. Then the Yankees regained the lead. Only the Royals three more in the sixth and, with the crowd worked into a frenzy, scored four in the bottom of the eighth. We jeered Yankees fans in the stands, high-fived the guys across the aisle and the Royals put them away, ending the day still in first place.
Aaron Crow stepped in to close out Monday’s opener and the fans were ready to celebrate. He overpowered Trevor Plouffe for a strikeout and and with two strikes on Chris Parmelee, applause built up, hoping for another strikeout. Even after a walk, the energy didn’t dissipate. When Brian Dozier chopped an 0-2 pitch to Mike Moustakas, the crowd started to rise. As Chris Getz took the throw and started the pivot at second, a the anticipation increased, and when the Royals finished the double play and ended the game, it all barreled over into a standing, yelling celebration. Just watch the highlights and see the team’s reaction to the game-ending play. Listen to the crowd on the Escobar double.
I remarked after the game that things felt different. I’m fully willing to admit I was caught up in the excitement. It was the first home opener where I’d seen a win, and after last year’s mess of a winless opening homestand, it was a sigh of relief, especially after the Royals had blown one lead previously and had done their best to blow another.
As we walked back down the ramp, a group started a “Let’s Go Royals” chant. Soon, most of the rest of the fans filing out were joining in the chant.
It’s been a wild offseason, with lots of moves to build up a rotation that can get the team through the sixth inning most nights. The Royals have traded their top prospect away, crushed the Cactus League, and promptly lost their first two games, inspiring panic among many. And yet, after Monday, they were 4-3 (and 5-3 after Tuesday night’s win).
Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m just the eternal optimist and I’m letting hope get in the way of reason. It’s only eight games in, and anything can happen. As a Royals fan, I’ve bought into the mirage before. There’s always another shoe ready to drop. And still, it feels a little different this time. Wishful thinking? Probably.
But I’m not alone. The Royals are one Kevin Frandsen double away from being in the middle of a six game winning streak. As it is, they’ve won three in a row with a good chance at a fourth. Fox Sports Kansas City put out a press release today noting that the home opener was their highest rated home opener since they’ve broadcast Royals games and their sixth highest rated game ever. Kansas City wants to believe. Who cares if it’s early? Let’s have some fun with it.