I was 5’4” and 85 pounds my freshman year in high-school. The only evidence of maturity I had was a face full of pimples. One week before high-school started, I was outfitted with braces. I was quite the damn dream-boat. My junior year rolled around, and so did a growth spurt. My braces left, but I can’t say the same for the acne. Still, I was I relieved. I wasn’t one of the coolest kids, not by any stretch, but I finally felt like I had a chance. I felt like a contender.
Our awkward Royals grew the last two years, and last Friday night, they got their braces taken off. Yeah, they still have some zits, but they are freaking contenders. The Royals finished their season in Chicago, and my amazingly cool, patient wife green lighted my attendance for all 4 games. Friday night’s game brought back many old, familiar feelings for some fans, and completely new feelings for other fans. I’ll explain.
There are two types of Royals fans. Under 30 and Over 30. If you are over 30, you have some memories of success and great stories to tell. You have loved and lost. If you are under 30, all you know is losing. You have heard about this exciting thing called play-off baseball, but you are virgin to the experience. Willie Wilson, Willie Aikens and Amos Otis are mythical figures to the “under 30’s”. You could see the two camps differences and similarities last weekend in Chicago.
The gang of 25 year olds sitting in front of me Friday night were awesome. One of the guys had been to 45 games this year. These guys were and are loyal. They smuggled champagne into Cellular Field and cheered aggressively. They had no time, and no reverence for all of the Paul Konerko tributes. They enjoyed the experience stress-free. In a way, I was jealous, because they were much more present than myself.
Generation X fans and older? We were a bit more reflective. We have some context to compare this season to, and many of us were remembering where we were, who we were, and how it felt the last time the Royals were contenders. Yeah, I think us older fans were the insecure fans. At least I was. I was happy and excited, but still asking myself questions. “ Am I doing this right?” “Can they still win the Division?” ” Is this as good as it’s ever going to get as a Royals fan?” “Oh shit, am I about to cry?”. Questions like that.
Luckily, all of that annoying chatter in my head left the second Salvy caught the pop up. All of the Royals fans bum-rushed the show, and celebrated together. We screamed, hugged, cheered, and watched a fire-works display that seemed intended for us. Caboom! “Why White-Sox, you shouldn’t have.” Bang! “ Pale-Hoes, this is too much”. Booom! “ Chicago, this is almost getting embarrassing”.
Then the Royals came back out of the dug-out. Escobar almost broke my hand with a high five. Sal Perez threw champagne on us. Moose sprayed beer on everybody. I felt relief.
One unclouded feeling resonating, reverberating, and still quite present in my mind and body is relief. The Royals are no longer “that team”. “That team” with the longest play-off drought in all of sports. That’s no longer us. That would be the Toronto Blue-Jays.
I had the pleasure of speaking with the Toronto Star’s Brendan Kennedy last week. He wanted to know what it’s been like to watch the Royals find their way this year, and if there were any wise words for Blue Jays fans. I was impressed with his grasp on our situation, and you should read it all here.
I didn’t and don’t have much advice for Blue Jays fans. I just say good luck. I genuinely hope they don’t have as long a run with the loser crown as we did. I don’t think many fan bases would be as intact as ours after such a long run of ineptitude. That makes me kind of proud and kind of humbled.
So with the biggest baseball game of my adult life only a day way, I have a wonderful combination of gratitude, relief and humility. That gratitude, relief, and humility is not just about this play-off appearance. It’s for being a fan of something for so long, and enjoying it with old friends and new. It’s a reminder of why we love sports, and invest in them. It’s a reminder of how we should feel, far more often than we allow ourselves, about our great lives and the people in them. That’s a timeless reminder, win or lose Tuesday night. Royals fans, thanks for the memories, and the reminder.