It is easy to be a fan when things are going good. The Kansas City Royals know this firsthand. Prior to the 2013 season The K seemed lucky to draw a handful of fans. By the second half of that season it had all changed.
Most people like to focus on the Kansas City Royals World Series runs in 2014 and 2015. Why not, they were incredible. The truth is though things began to change the second half of 2013.
I was at the last Friday night home game of the season. Ervin Santana was on the bump. The Royals were still mathematically in the playoffs. Kauffman Stadium was rocking like I had never seen it. Amidst all the screaming and ruckus I did my best to soak it all in. At that point my obsession with Kansas City baseball was well grounded.
Over the past four seasons I have struggled with “bandwagon” fans. I had rooted year in and year out for what was some terrible teams. These new fans just rubbed me the wrong way. You know who I am talking about. Brand new clean and crisp t-shirts that scream “This is my team”, but when you ask them who their favorite player of the Allard Baird era was you get a blank stare.
I have come to understand that these fans have a place in every fan base. The young people who have become excited about this franchise are a good thing. Many will support the team into the future and eventually replace my generation. After all witnessing championships is exciting.
The question that my wife tries to understand is how did I end up this way? She knows how rough most years had been (100 losses in a season can be that way) and yet I kept buying merchandise of a team that was often the laughing stock of baseball. The drive behind that is the same reason it is 5 am and I am typing away at a keyboard.
It is a romance with the best game in the world.
When people tell you that it is just a game, especially in the face of tragedy, there is no reason you are required to believe them.
Without going into too much detail, this has been a very difficult week. My brother had extremely unexpected heart surgery. It was sprinkled with complications, but he seems to be on the right side of things. When I first went to the hospital to see him on Monday, before knowing that around 15 hours of surgery would be in the very near future, I sat next to him and we talked baseball.
That is what this game does. It takes away the hardships, if only for a moment. I have been on autopilot most of the week. You know what though? A Royals sweep in Seattle helped to distract from the very serious reality that was going on.
As I was having trouble sleeping I began to think about the question that my wife has asked many times. Why did I become a Kansas City Royals fan?
I believe that when you truly commit yourself to something such as a sports franchise it is often not a conscience choice. It just sort of happens. My parents and some very dear family friends who live in the KC area took my brother and me to games since we were young.
I don’t really remember my first game. I couldn’t tell you who the Royals’ opponent was. What I can remember is that it was a night game. We sat in the upper deck. At the end of the game I did not want to walk down the steps, followed by the corridors, and eventually to wherever our vehicle was parked. So instead I pretended to be asleep. My dad picked me up and carried me the whole way. As we turned to go through the tunnel I can’t tell you want was going on down on the field, but I can remember the lights.
My story is made up of several moments like this. Some may have become a bit exaggerated over the years, but for me it will always be how they happened. Like when it was the top of the ninth and it was clear that the Royals would beat the Chicago White Sox. We walked to the top of the old General Admission section to watch the end of the game. We did so to try and get a head start on the crowd who would soon exit. As we stood there what would happen? Frank Thomas hit a foul ball that, in this version, landed right in the seats we had vacated. I threw my glove down in frustration, life went on.
There was the time that George Brett hit an in the park homerun. Some of the details may not be correct, but I know for a fact we could see him in the dugout, after chugging around the bases, sucking on oxygen.
It was a rainy weeknight with perhaps a few thousand people in attendance as Felix Hernandez took the mound for the Mariners. Somehow yet again by the top of the ninth the Royals seemed sure of victory. With two outs Mike Sweeney stood on deck to pinch hit for Seattle. I hoped with everything in me that whoever it was at the plate would get on base so that I could see one of my favorite all –time players step into the batter’s box another time. As Mike dug in there were several boos that I just couldn’t understand.
Countless memories led me to this point. Watching Jim Abbott warming up in the bullpen; Luke Hochevar striking out 13 Texas Rangers to set a career high; Meeting Brian McRae as a rookie and again long after he retired.
Being able to talk candidly with Zack Grienke during a Royals Caravan stop at a YMCA on a Thursday afternoon where barely anyone showed up. There was the time I asked Billy Butler for a loan at another caravan. This was after he had signed a contract extension and he simply replied “yeah like I haven’t heard that already”. Getting to hear why John Buck changed his number to honor his brother.
True fandom is the random players who endear themselves to you. Thinking Tony Pena Jr. just might be able to be the next Ozzie Smith. Convincing yourself that Mike Wood has the ability to be in the front of a rotation. Ken Harvey was an All Star player! (Even though you knew he was the team’s one required representative.)
Fair weather fans may come and go. That is alright. The diehards should still embrace them. They are part of the journey. They become an important character in the greatest of theater. While it is important to remember that the players are human beings, it is also okay to make them larger than life. When people tell you that it is just a game, especially in the face of tragedy, there is no reason you are required to believe them.
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After all why else would we name fantasy teams after these players, scream that info to Mark Teahen as he stood in right field, and watch him smile and shake his head? Long live the T-bags!