That last semester of my undergrad the only class that I took that really required any effort was a grad level Early British Literature class. It didn’t exactly sound like my cup of coffee, but I liked the teacher and my friends were taking it- it would be one last hurrah for the 3 of us, except when we were 2. We even resolved that we were going to actually read every book for this class… I may not have made it through the first assigned book, but I really can only read so much of the Mabinogion before I’m falling asleep. (sorry Wayne!). But my friends would get together and study together and laugh together and it made reading Le Morte d’Arthur worth it. Those nights in the last weeks of our senior year are some of my favorite college memories, laughing until we cried with pillow pets and Emily Dickinson references all were set with a backdrop of Royals games playing on tv. We forced the third member of our group into watching those games because that Royals team had talent, we had moxie. I just knew 2012 was really and truly going to be “Our Year”. Man, we were going to be so good.
We weren’t good. We lost every one of our first 10 home games; we had played less than 20 games when we already had a 12 game losing streak. We didn’t even finish at the .500 that I kept telling people all year long we were going to do. But I went home that summer and spent so many wonderful nights at the ballpark. This team was supposed to be great, they were meant for it. While we didn’t get a winning season, we did get an entire stadium chanting “Billy Butler”. We did get the origin story for booing Robinson Cano. Heck, we even got to see Jose Bautista lose in the homerun derby, even if we didn’t fully appreciate it then. I mean honestly, what more can you ask for from that season? It was the first real taste I had ever had of my entire city coming together for our boys in blue. The papers in Kansas City called us a Baseball town that just needed something to get excited about. I believed them. I believed in this team.
Time is funny and it goes by so quickly. I had a lot going on in the summer of 2013. The year was flying away, and by the end of that year I was graduating grad school. I had so much anxiety about the process just in general, but it was compounded by odd situations. I learned a lot about myself that year, both good and bad. Through that whole summer of oddities, the Royals were there for me to hope in. In April we were crushing it. Absolutely crushing it. This year was the “Come to Play” year, and honestly, it felt like we had… Until May. May was rough, things got off track. But baseball is a grind, and 2013 was a winning season- the first winning season that I could remember in a long time. And it was there almost every night to be watched and to be cheered when I needed something to slow all of life down for me for just a few moments. When I needed to forget everything else and just focus on one thing.
I know I’ve written before about what the 2014-2015 run meant to me. I know I don’t have words to really describe what it meant to see this town come together. That much excitement literally made the city hum. 2014 was an incredible thing to be a part of; it was a beautiful thing to experience. It was like magic. I cannot think about it, about game 7, without getting goosebumps. I’ve never felt anything like that before, but I knew we were going to win that game. When Gordo got his hit I was in section 411, jumping up and down and screaming so loudly I’m surprised I ever got my voice back. It was destiny, I could feel it. It was absolutely destiny… except it wasn’t – not yet. After that final out I don’t think I could have moved if you asked me to. But slowly, throughout the stadium, the crowd started to cheer “Let’s Go Royals”. As soon as it started it picked up steam and then like we all collectively decided together what to do, it changed. We clapped in rhythm and steadily cheered “thank you Royals”. It was heart wrenching and cathartic and it makes me cry every time I think about it. We didn’t win, but man they had given us such a ride.
I slowly made my way out of the stadium that night, walking through the parking lot to meet my dad at the Taco Bell across the street. A guys walking to his car kicked an empty beer bottle before loudly cursing at the sky because all he had left now was a reliance on the Chiefs for his happiness (the Chiefs would go on to be 11-5 that season with their own devastatingly heartbreaking loss in the playoffs). I think we all collectively dusted ourselves off after that one. So many articles on if Jirsh should have sent Alex, so many conversations about that final 90 feet that stood between us and the trophy. But in 2015 this team didn’t let anything stand between them and victory. They literally came out of the gate kicking. The 2015 Kansas City Royals had unfinished business to attend to, and they were going to do it whether or not everyone in the league saw them as flukes. They were going to win without PECOTA’s approval, and they were going to win no matter how many balls they got hit with.
I won’t even try to elaborate on that season because I won’t do it justice. It just was. It was like the Royals were the very heart of this city, and these hometown boys were going to do everything in their power to keep that heart alive. That season created so many happy memories for me. I remember the games I listened to on the radio at work, giving up all pretense of working and instead pumping my fist as the ball went off Correa and into center field. Sitting in my cousin’s living room with my niece and nephews and watching the rain fall and worrying about the Cyborg having such a long delay in his pitching. Standing in my parent’s living room literally shaking as Hosmer took home. Waiting in the Zoo parking lot for a bus to take me downtown to try to meet up with my siblings, to see a parade, to listen to Jonny Gomes. Sometimes it still doesn’t feel real. I still feel like a kid sitting at the ballpark waiting for the Limbo in the 7th inning, hoping they will play Minnie the Moocher because I like to sing along. I’m still watching the in-between inning games where they challenge the fans to spell Kila Ka’aihue or Mark Grudzielanek’s name, I’m still anxiously awaiting that 12th hit (regardless of the score) and cheering because dang it- we DO want donuts. I’m still sitting at home crying because my brothers said they were going to use Bob Hamelin’s card as a fire starter.
We didn’t win this season. I really wanted us to. I wanted us to have one more storied season with the boys who grew up with this team and grew up together. I wanted an ending that fit just how incredible this era has been, how much this team has meant to this city. But, I’m pretty sure Posnanski already wrote an article about sports endings never being the fantastic things that you want them to be. But an ending there will be. Next season will be different. I am not prepared to handle it. I know that this is the name of the game, but I don’t want other fan bases to get to enjoy these players that I feel such a kinship with. Moustakas and Hosmer and Esky and Cain are all as much a part of Kansas City as bbq and the power and light district. No matter where they go – even if pinstripes are involved- Kansas City will always feel a sense of ownership over them. We are their family, we are their home. I think they know that as much as I know the first time these future Royals Hall of Famers play in Kauffman while wearing another team’s colors, the place will explode with applause. Because this team taught a city that despite the curse of the shuttlecock, that despite years of awfulness, despite a general disinterest and overall inferiority complex, we could be great again. This team taught a city that we are winners, and that we have something beautiful to offer. So, while the mantis and the sledgeiattos and playing with heart couldn’t fabricate enough magic to add another trophy to our collection, I still get that goosebump feeling I got on an October night in 2014 as I along with 40,535 of my best friends croaked out a thank you to the team that lost and then quietly walked off the field- We may not have won this one, but man, what a ride.