The Kansas City Royals will close the book on an amazing run of sustained success on Sunday. It likely has the team’s fans suffering through mixed feelings. Let’s work through them together.
A few hours after this article is posted, the Kansas City Royals will play the Arizona Diamondbacks on the final day of the regular season. If the Royals are able to cap the year with a win on Sunday, they will finish an even 81-81 for the second straight campaign. That would ensure 2012 remains the most recent losing season.
Prior to the 2013 season, the Kansas City Royals had suffered through nine consecutive losing years—with at least 90 losses in all but one of those campaigns. In fact, the last time the franchise had back-to-back winning seasons—before the recent stretch—was 1993 and the strike-shortened 1994.
Regardless of the outcome, Sunday’s game will likely mark the close of this remarkable run of success. For a while, it’s appeared as though 2017 would be the end of an era. With a handful of key players set to test the free agent waters, fans will likely be reflecting on their favorite memories of the soon-to-be free agents:
- Eric Hosmer will be remembered for his ninth-innings hits in the 2014 Wild Card Game and Game 5 of the 2015 World Series, as well as his dash home in the latter game.
- Mike Moustakas will be remembered for his extra-inning home run in Game 1 of the 2014 ALDS, the 2014 ALCS catch that sent him over the railing and his record-breaking 2017 season.
- Lorenzo Cain will be remembered for more outstanding defensive plays than one could count, his 2014 ALCS MVP honor and his first-to-home sprint in the ALCS the next year.
- Alcides Escobar will be remembered for his interesting time as leadoff man, which included an inside-the-park home run to open the 2015 World Series, incredible shortstop play and the 2015 ALCS MVP award.
- Jason Vargas will be remembered for his tremendous 2017 season, particularly the first half, and his excellent starts in the ALDS and ALCS in 2014.
With those memories fresh in your mind, let’s examine the mixed emotions Kansas City Royals fans will probably be feeling during Sunday’s game.
In a lot of ways, the Kansas City Royals have spoiled their fans with this era of success. For much of the past 30 years, a .500 record would be cause for celebration. Now, it’s seen as a missed opportunity.
Let me be clear, this year and—to a lesser extent—last year were disappointing given the talent on the team. But baseball is a sport where modern dynasties are hard to come by, especially for small-market teams. The Pittsburgh Pirates, for example, started to turn things around at the same time the Kansas City Royals did. They fell off this year, too, and look set for a rebuild.
What do the Pirates have to show for it? Three consecutive playoff appearances—2013-15—and a total of three postseason wins. In 2013, they won the National League Wild Card Game but lost the NLDS to the Cardinals, 3-2. Pittsburgh lost the Wild Card Game each of the next two seasons.
When viewed through that microscope, it’s easy to have gratitude for this Kansas City Royals era and the tangible rewards—two pennants and a world championship—it has reaped.
Sunday’s game will also—no doubt—create a sense of nostalgia. Whether fans attend the game in person, watch on TV or listen on the radio, there will be several mentions of the core players headed for free agency and the impact they had on the organization.
In a way, the entire season has been chock-full of nostalgia. The sense of reflection really kicked up a notch when the Kansas City Royals were officially eliminated from playoff contention earlier this week. It kicked up even more on Saturday—the third anniversary of the 2014 Wild Card Game.
While every fan will have a different overarching emotion on Sunday, nostalgia will be the one forced down their throats. That’s not the worst thing ever.
It’s hard not to be upset about losing several members of the best Kansas City Royals era in three decades. A window is closing, and nobody knows when another will be opened again.
Even the strongest Kansas City Royals fan could be forgiven for shedding a few tears on Sunday afternoon. Just thinking about the players making their final exits—in whatever shape that takes—has allergies kicking up inside several houses.
This group has created many moments of happy tears for Kansas City Royals fans in recent years. In a way, it would be fitting for their final game to be marked by more waterworks.
Even those fans who are certain they won’t be sad on Sunday should probably keep some tissues on hand just in case.
The unknown is a terrifying prospect. It’s one thing when a player retires. Unless they are Brett Favre or Michael Jordan, they are more than likely done forever.
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When George Brett, for instance, walked away, Kansas City Royals fans knew it was coming. That didn’t make it easy to say goodbye, but it’s better than not knowing. But that’s what several fans will be experiencing on Sunday.
For example, when Hosmer leaves the field, fans won’t know when they will see him at Kauffman Stadium again. Will it be on Opening Day when the Kansas City Royals face the White Sox? Will it be when the Yankees or Red Sox visit? Or maybe when some other team makes it to town?
We don’t know, and that has us popping the antacids.
This one might not come on Sunday for most fans but—eventually—it will. Whether it’s forced on them or not, fans will eventually have to accept that the Kansas City Royals—in their current construction—are no more.
Everyone has their own vision of how 2018 will look. But it’s impossible to get a good read on a team with this much up in the air. It’s safe to say, though, if the streak of non-losing seasons doesn’t end on Sunday, it will likely come to an end next year.
There is nothing wrong with going through a rebuild. Although, it hurts knowing the team could have restocked the cupboard in 2017. But at least that allows the season finale to serve as one big celebration of the free agent group.
No matter what emotions you are feeling entering the final game of an incredible era, there is no reason not to celebrate this group’s farewell party. The Kansas City Chiefs aren’t playing until Monday night, so the first day of October is completely set aside for the Kansas City Royals.
Whether you are grateful, nostalgic, sad or anxious—or some other combination of emotions, Sunday’s game is a contest that should not be missed. Or you will experience only one emotion moving forward—regret.