Holy shit. The Kansas City Royals have made it to the World Series. Holy shit.
No, really. Holy shit.
This is the collective response of millions – yes, millions – of baseball fans, casual and die-hard alike. Nobody could have predicted this. This is the team that ranked dead last in the league in home runs and walks. This is the team that had almost literally no offense during the month of May. A team that had not reached the postseason for 28 years straight, with only a handful of winning records and no seasons where they threatened to make the postseason. They have become overnight sensations, becoming popular almost because of their extreme unlikeliness to play the role of “postseason contender”. A team that hasn’t truly been relevant on a national stage since Ronald Reagan was President.
Anyone with a pulse can say why they’ve liked watching the Royals succeed this year, why they’ve become so endearing to a nation that likes to tear down its heroes as soon as we’ve built them up, why they’ve turned into the latest edition of quote-America’s-Darlings-end-quote. They’re underdogs; they win in the most wildly entertaining fashion possible; they succeed almost in spite of themselves; they got hot at the right time, like all good fads do.
But who really is falling in love with them?
Not Everybody Loves the Royals
Let’s be clear – there are plenty of haters to be found. There are boroughs in segments of America that hate the adulation being showered upon these speedy, defensive wizards from Kansas City (specifically Oakland, Anaheim, and Baltimore), a hatred born of envy. That could have been us.
Division rivals from Detroit probably hate them as well. That should have been us.
Fans of teams that missed out on the opportunity to become the Royals hate the Royals. Fans of Cleveland, Seattle, and Toronto will not wish any well to the Royals. That might have been us.
New York fans…they hate everybody. They’re out, too. Another year without a ring, and in Derek Jeter’s final year, for God’s sake. They probably loathe the Royals. (I don’t believe Derek Jeter hates anybody. All he ever saw were obstacles to be eliminated on the path to another championship, which he promptly did five times in coolly efficient fashion. He’s the closest thing baseball had to the Terminator. He probably doesn’t hate the Royals. Then again, he’s probably too busy lounging on a beach somewhere to hate anybody. Hard to hate when you’ve ascended to baseball nirvana.)
Boston fans…well, they might see Kansas City as that little kid brother after shaking off their own curse in wildly exciting fashion years ago. Good for you, guys, just don’t let it go to your heads. After all, we’ll be back next year.
Fans of Minnesota and the White Sox probably hate them too, if only out of spite. Damn it, your record was built upon our backs. Were we not terrible, let’s see how well you’d have done!
Tampa Bay gave them their ace, James Shields, and one of their most dominant relievers, Wade Davis. They probably aren’t too thrilled to see them succeeding now.
Everybody Loves the Royals
Who doesn’t want to see the underdogs win? Who doesn’t look at Kansas City, long known as a cheap, backwards organization that perfected miserable mediocrity, and think: gee, that could have been us. Maybe we could do that next year. If everything just falls into place…
Back in 2007, the Colorado Rockies went on a similar run. They went something like 22-1 over the last two weeks of the season and the first two rounds of the playoffs. They won an exciting walk-off Game 163 to make the postseason, much the same as the Royals did. (Game 163 was the Wild Card Game before the Wild Card Game existed. The success of that game, and others of its ilk, probably did more to expand the playoffs than people gave it credit.) They had young players coming into their own, including the fire-baller Ubaldo Jiminez who turned invincible for a month’s span, much the same as Yordano Ventura has for the Royals. They had Matt Holliday, who could very well meet up against this newer version of Rocktober in a few weeks’ time, bringing everything full circle. I remember watching many a game at my friend’s home – he hailed from Denver, and his investment in baseball was not quite as a bandwagon fan…but it wasn’t far from it. Every 7th inning, we would crank up Gogol Bordello’s seminal “Start Wearing Purple” as we celebrated the Rockies’ ascent. The Royals have…well, “Royals”.
Maybe it’s because I live in Chicago, one of the best cities for sports enthusiasts in the country. But everyone here, long since tired of rooting for the bedraggled Cubs year after year, has Kansas City on their lips. “Hey, you watch the Royals game last night?” “Hey, you think they can do it?” “Hey, the Royals are six outs away from the Series, can you fucking believe that shit?” Maybe we see the same thing that all those other teams see – the chance that someday, the Cubs, too, can find the right mix of chemistry, talent, and luck, rising above the world to become the Next Big Thing.
I dunno. Maybe I’m making too much of all of this. Whoever wins the NLCS, I think, is going to beat the Royals. Their momentum will begin to fade tomorrow. They can’t stay this hot. That offense has to come down to earth. They can’t catch every ball hit to them. Their pitching will let them down. They won’t be able to fight back in every blowout. People have been writing the Royals off for years. It’s almost a profession in and of itself. Surely, they can’t do it.
But what if they could?
The allure of baseball – and of all sport – is that question: what if? It’s what we ask every time two teams meet. After all, talent or not, the games are played by humans, and humans are fallible. We’ve seen miracles against all odds before. Hell, the Hollywood sporting movie industry is built upon Davids rising against Goliaths – it’s the narrative we’ve been fed since birth, and one we continually fight for as life drags us down, with all of its little heartbreaks and massive failures. The dark truth is that things don’t always work out. Our heroes let us down. People are fallible beyond measure. Not every break will fall our way. All men must die – valar morghulis, for those who speak nerd. We will never be Royals.
But what if? What if their bullpen holds up for four more games? What if they can catch every bloop hit or arching double? What if their offense can muster enough runs to eke out a 2-1 or 3-2 win? What if, on these cold October nights, magic becomes real for one night? If the Royals can win, what else is possible? Nay, we are but men, but could we be something more?
What if we could be Royals?
For at least a few more days, that distinct possibility is terribly, heart-breakingly real.