Rock bottom: are we there yet? I think it’s safe to say the die-hard fans are there…judging from the postgame reactions seen on message boards and via Twitter. And if the franchise isn’t there yet, the team’s “ACME” rocket just malfunctioned and they are hurtling at breakneck speed towards the bottom of a cartoon canyon.
You can see it in the player reactions. You can hear it in interviews. It’s not pretty. And really, it’s nothing new or out of the ordinary for the Royals…with one exception – there was some real excitement heading into this season. Sure, there’s always optimism in the spring…even when the fans know, deep down, there’s no hope.
This year, though, was supposed to be different, which is why the play over the last few weeks has been devastating to fans. This was going to be the year they’d avoid long losing streaks and the generally futility that makes them the doormats of the AL Central. This was supposed to be the year Royals fans had something to be proud of; the year the franchise turned a corner and headed back down the road of success that saw seven postseason appearances in a ten year span. Even after that last appearance (the sole World Series win), the Royals remained a respectable club for a while. Really…from 1971 until 1995, this was a team you could be proud of, for the most part. These last 18 years, though…have been one really long plunge toward rock bottom…and impact is imminent.
Game 1 versus the Twins really drove it home. The batters looked lost (as usual), but last night…it seemed so much worse. Maybe because it’s the Twins. Maybe because the Royals were on the way to setting a record for consecutive home losses (they did, by the way…11 and counting). I don’t know what it was. But fans have had enough. And the players…they’re starting to show it, too.
There were three players who jumped out at me Tuesday night as being especially frustrated: Billy Butler, Lorenzo Cain, and Eric Hosmer. Actually, Butler may have less frustration going on and more…I don’t know…sadness? Depression? He looks beat. He doesn’t show the usual signs of frustration, the barking at umps, etc. He just walks back to the dugout with the look of a 12-year old boy who found out his dog just died. Quotes from Billy such as, “You’re mad for a little bit after the game, but then you just realize you can’t do anything to change it,” drive home his frustration even more. And then, of course, there was this:
Where I’m at in my career … I’m saying, ‘Am I ever going to get to the playoffs? Am I ever going to be on a team like that?’
Cain and Hosmer, though, are different stories. They are frustrated in a way that shows they are completely lost. Their confidence is gone and their fire looks to have been extinguished. Sure, they do shake their head and argue, unlike Butler, but they seem to be doing so as more of a show…as more of a way to communicate to fans, teammates, and anyone who is watching “How am I supposed to hit when I’m getting screwed by the umps? Did you see that call?” It’s not working though, it’s a bit transparent, and frankly, it makes them look silly. Maybe I’m being harsh, maybe the culmination of a lot of bad baseball is eating at me…but it was noticeable with these two, and I didn’t like it. You’re big leaguers, get over it. A couple of bad calls have not crippled the offense. The offense has crippled itself.
If all that isn’t bad enough, George Brett even seems like he’s preparing everyone for his eventual failure as a hitting coach. Sure, it’s great to have him involved and nice to see him in the dugout when watching a game (by the way, we get it Hud and Phys…George Brett is back, now shut up), but have you listened to his interviews? Yes, they are filled with the typical Brett competitiveness and he says all the right things. He calls out players and says things like the players need to get rid of the “baby bottles,” that it’s time to grow up and play ball. He talks about how much he struggled as a young player, and how Charlie Lau turned it around for him all those years ago. Brett says, “If I can do it, these guys can do it.” The fans love it and get fired up.
Then Brett turns around and says this may not work. He may not be a good teacher. It might not work, but he’ll try. I get it. You have to keep the excitement and expectations around this scenario in check. The general public sees “Brett hired as hitting coach” and they expect an immediate fix. It could take weeks, or months, or the rest of the year for him to get through to some of these guys. He may not have any effect at all. He’s prepping Kansas City for the worst, but hoping (as we all are) for the best. But still…can we wait a bit on those comments? I mean…you have to respect that Brett says what’s on his mind (rather than the typical front office or managerial comment), but keep us fired up a little bit.
As it stands, Brett has committed to this job only temporarily. He may be gone by the All-Star break. Maybe it all clicks and he sticks around. Who knows? What I do know is this…if something doesn’t change, and fast, the Royals are going to leave a coyote shaped cut-out in the ground, while the rest of the league passes by, as usual.
And with the draft on the horizon, Royals fans are left to sit and wonder when this team will hit on a pick. I mean REALLY hit on a pick. When are we going to have that 20 year old phenom hit the ground running and never look back? Seeing players like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, and especially the recent play of Los Angeles Dodgers rookie Yasiel Puig (just to name a few) makes the lack of player development in Kansas City that much more evident. But…I’m too depressed to get into all that.
On a positive note, I found a replacement for Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places” that seems fitting. Hello darkness my old friend….
Year 18 of rock bottom sure does suck.