Saturday, March 29, 2008

A Friend Chimes In...

A few weeks ago, I received an email from a friend I had not heard from in some time, a well-known national sportswriter - many of you would recognize his name, though you might not be aware he's a Royals fan. With his permission, I'd like to share it with you on the eve of Opening Day.

"Rany,

So it's like this...

The night the Royals won the World Series, I was in XXXXX, attending graduate school at XXXXX, and working on a group project with three brilliant, delightful, non-sports-loving women who were utterly ignorant of the epic significance of the moment, and completely indifferent to the fact that I was having my Arsenal-Finally-Wins-the-League-Fever-Pitch redemption moment in utterly alien surroundings. I'm hard pressed to come up with an analog, but the 65-year-old golfer who finally makes a hole-in-one on a day he's playing a round alone might come close.

Anyway, once I got the women out of my apartment, I was able to make numerous calls to my friends back in KC, many of whom were driving through Westport, going batsh*t along with most of the rest of the city. It was good hearing all the honking, but I deeply missed being there.

Long before Bill Simmons ever came up with a five-year rule, I reveled in the Royals championship for a good half-decade. As you well know, they used up all the honeymoon goodwill that they had accrued. I suffered through the summer swoons and the fall fades. And was even on hand when it got truly ugly. I was there on April 14, 1992, when we finally rose up from our 0-7 start (and immediately thereafter, of course, proceeded to go on another nine-game-losing skid), scratching out a 3-1 win over the A's. My buddy Rob and I had come up for the opening series, and had the will to live pretty steadily whipped out of us by that team. I saw a lot of Royals games in the early '90s, and talked a lot of Chiefs football while doing so.

Then came Hal McRae going middle-school on poor John Doolittle (and Alan Eskew taking the collateral damage), and the Royals finally getting it together and going on a run in August of '94 and then... the goddam strike, from which I still haven't fully recovered (and for which I still haven't forgiven baseball). From '95 on, watching the Royals has felt like bringing a knife to a gunfight. Even in 2003, I never believed, and my skepticism was so all-encompassing I couldn't
fully enjoy it. I felt like we were doing it with smoke, mirrors and blind faith. And, of course, I was right. I got tired of trying to root for over-age, underpowered has-been white first basemen who were supposed to make us more competitive. And I got tired of watching as the Royals struggled to decide on the shrewdest way to get rid of their best player on an annual basis.

In short, I went through a long period of disaffection similar to what Bill James suffered, only I didn't have a Red Sox job waiting for me on the other side. After 2005, I said Eff This and quit watching full stop. I didn't merely stop watching the Royals, I stopped watching baseball altogether. Didn't attend a game in '06 or in '07. Didn't watch any baseball on TV. Paid only enough attention to remain competitive in my geek baseball league, and in truth got very little joy out of that.

But, well, you know... what are you going to do? It's a long off-season for football and mock drafts from Mel Kiper only get a soul so far. Watching from a distance, I've seen little glints of things in this baseball team, facets to be heartened by and qualities to like in the team that I had completely forsaken and given up hope on. I find there's still something about seeing that big scoreboard from the highway when I roll into town (not at all diminished by the scoreboard being under construction). And it was nice to see Gil Meche work out, and to find out that Brian Bannister could be at once so young and so crafty, and to see Alex Gordon sort of come around (although the Brett comparisons just make me retch) and Billy Butler seems like he could be fun to watch and on and on.

So much against my better instincts, I have found myself giving a sh*t about my baseball team again. And only a month or so after I decided that it was okay to root for the Royals because I think I actually LIKE the team, and think the new manager has a chance to be good, I got your email announcing your blog. And you are now bookmarked and a daily read. Your optimism is both transparent and infectious (not dissimilar from how I feel about a certain football team), and your posts are both edifying and illuminating. I'm back on board. And should some time in the next 10 or 20 years they play a game that matters in October, I intend to be there."

He was still on the fence, as you can see. But this morning I received this followup note:

"I have two baseball caps. One is a Chiefs cap that's about 10 years old and hopeless frayed. The other is a US Soccer cap, maybe six years old, and in reasonable shape.

On Monday, I'm in Kansas City on business, and if one of those silly Sports Nutz type outfits has something in 7 3/8, I'm going to take the plunge. It's not a Greinke jersey, but at this point, it will have to do."

I don't know what's in the air this spring, but it feels...different this year. Yes, Hope Springs Eternal and every team has a chance on Opening Day and all that. But for the last decade, we all knew that the only time the Royals would have a chance was on Opening Day. This year, for the first spring in a long, long time (if you don't count the Fool's Gold spring of 2004), the Royals have given us genuine reason for optimism. It's an optimism that not only says they might have a chance to make things interesting this year, but an optimism that says that even if they don't make things interesting this year, they're going to be worth watching to see if they can make things interesting next year, or the year after that.

Dayton Moore and friends may not have put together a contender yet. But they've put together a team we can be proud of. They've put together a team that has begun to lure back at least one intelligent hard-core fan who sensibly stopped paying attention to them during their darkest years. For that, I thank them. But we still have miles to go before we sleep.

10 comments:

Steve said...

When reading this, I felt like I was reading my about my own relationship with the Royals. Growing up, I loved them, though I am too young to ever remember them being successful. And like your mysterious writer above, the strike in 1994 just killed it for me. Its only in recent years (namely time spent in college) that has really brought be back into the Royal fold. (And no, that's not just because were a decent team in '03).
Do I think we have a realistic chance to compete for the division and play meaningful games in the fall? No. But for the first time since I can remember, that doesn't diminish my excitement for the upcoming season.
My only fear is that rough start to the season (entirely possible, considering our division and opening schedule) will lead to a backlash among fans. Here's hoping we can all stay focused on the long-term goals, because despite the improvements and and the optimism, this team still has a long road ahead of it.

Anonymous said...

And miles to go before we sleep...

Anonymous said...

"And dear Lord, please let the Royals still be in the race on May 1st."

Isaac said...

Unfortunately, since I'm old enough to have seen all their good years, I was incapable of not rooting for them during the dark years. I've got to watch some baseball and I can't root for a team other than the Royals so I'm stuck. I can say that I'm more excited about the Royals than I have been in a long long time. Maybe since 94 when I had plane tickets in hand to go to KC for my first Royals ballgame in KC and they called the strike. I think it was 3 days before I left.

Come to think of it, I wasn't as excited as I am now about the Royals back at the beginning of 85 because I was used to winning at that point and 84 wins to take a division didn't make us that great. You'd have to go back to the years, when I had to watch little Freddie Patek sit on the bench for what seemed like hours after the game. Being that close and watching Chambliss destroy my 6 year old hopes. And then finally watching us beat the Yankees in 80 only to lose the Wheeze Kids.

Dallas Tucker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dallas Tucker said...

I truly came into Royals fan hood in the late nineties, so all I know is pure baseball sucktitude (2003 was fun for a while). Even the thought of a .500 season excites me greatly. Great blog, Rany.

Anonymous said...

I too felt as though I was reading my own history, although I never left my Royals. I have bled royal blue from birth. From listening to Denny in the car driving home from my grandparents, or stretched on the couch in font of the tube on a Sunday afternoon. I never missed a game. I mowed George Brett and Buddy Blacks lawns, I played with Paul Splittorf's daughter, Dennis Leonard lived up the street and I would loiter in front of his house on my bike, hoping he would see me see him. Freddy Patek lived a few streets over and we would call out, cheering for him, when we would ride by. I was there in '80, when we had our Missouri hearts ripped out, again. I was there at game 6 and 7 in '85 when the universe aligned. I was, and have always been there with them. This blog and others have recently brought tears to my eyes. I need the pain of the last decade and a half to end.

JNS said...

1. Excellent post. Actually, all your posts are excellent, Rany. However, this one tugged at my heart and choked me up. The thought of being relevant again consumes me daily. I live in Philly, if we (and when I say "we" its because I am a part of the Royals, for better or for worse, forever - too many tears have been shed to give up now - my casket will have a Royals emblem on it) make it to the playoffs, I'm flying to KC and attending every game and I'll scream and cheer until my vocal chords will no longer work. I just got goosebumps thinking about it.

2. Rany, please don't tease us - who is the writer??????????? Being a Royals fan should not be a "don't ask/don't tell" position.

3. LET'S GO ROYALS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Clinton said...

your friend is the definition of a "fair weather fan"

Anonymous said...

And that writers name, is Andy Rooney. Look it up.