Monthly Archives: October 2014

Why I’m Crying: My Lifelong Love Affair With the Kansas City Royals

19374_517642683402_2642330_n I have no idea when I first became a Kansas City Royals fan. I don’t have any pictures from my first game. There are no foul balls or autographs from my childhood. It’s all a little bit blurry to me. But the Royals have always been a part of who I am. They’ve always been the professional sports team for me and for my family. We’ve always been Royals fans.

I was born in Kansas City in September of 1985. That October the Royals won the World Series. The 1985 connection always felt special to me. They were my team. We were linked by that year.

35851_519716407642_6890275_nI grew up in Kansas. I lived in a few small towns before moving to the Kansas City suburbs for high school. Even though I didn’t live in the City before then, we used to always go to at least one game. My Grandmother was one of the people who frequently took me to games.

I remember going to a Royals Cardinals with her and my cousins during the home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. McGwire hit a monster home run that game. It went so far that it hit someone in the butt who was waiting in line at the concessions stand behind the left field seats. The fans were pretty into it. My cousins were excited, but I recall being disappointed. I hated the Cardinals. They were the enemy. My Grandma laughed at me the next day, but you could tell she was little proud, too. I was loyal to my team.

We got souvenirs at those games. I have a Royals mini-bat from those years. They were fun times.

I grew up a being a big Kansas City sports fan. I was born and, mostly, raised there. Chiefs, Royals, and Wizards Sporting. But even though I’ve been a huge sports fan, and I’m now a historian of sports, my journey and experience as a fan isn’t typical. My Dad isn’t really a sports fan. He’s never been that interested in them. He doesn’t follow any teams. He doesn’t have any favorite players. He briefly played football in high school, but quit because he didn’t find it any fun.

Almost all of my sports knowledge and skills has come from my mother. She’s been a bit more rabid of a fan. She taught me throw a football and a baseball. Maybe that’s why I throw like a girl. Maybe that’s why I never grew into my coordination. My Mom ran track in high school and would always show up to my meets yelling obnoxiously loud, though she sprinted and I ran distance.

Despite this sport dynamic, the Royals were still the family team. The Kansas City Royals were a big part of my parents’ early relationship. My parents would tell stories about going to Royals games in the late 1970s. My Mom grew up in Kansas City. She graduated from high school in 1977. My parents were married in 1979. They dated at Royals games. They joked about cheap beer prices, but they also had some really good teams back then.

They moved to Seattle in 1980, but they still backed the Royals. They went to a Mariners game and held up a towel that said: “I love KC” and got on TV. When then Royals went to the 1980 World Series against the Phillies, they watched the games at the bar and high-fived strangers who had joined the KC bandwagon.

By 1985 my parents had 2 kids, and me on the way. I was born that fall. We were a Royals family.

The Royals were Kansas City’s team. We were a baseball town. The Chiefs were pretty mediocre during this period. It was before Arrowhead Stadium erupted in the late 1990s. The Royals players lived in town; you saw them out and about. They were accessible. George Brett is the typical image that comes to mind, but there were others.

My other Grandma tells a story about my Aunt seeing a young Clint Hurdle out somewhere and she being so tickled to death that he gave her a kiss on the cheek. She also tells stories about going to a couple of games a year with my Grandfather. The bank he worked for would give him free seats and they’d sit in a club box and watch the game. It was a normal part of their summers.

As I grew up these stories endeared me to my team. They were a part of our family. They were part of Kansas City and what made the city special. Baseball was the perfect remedy for a warm hot night in Kansas City.

When I finally moved to Kansas City I became even more obsessed with the Royals. Some of it was the proximity and some of it was the TV. I would watch or listen to nearly every game when I was in high school. That was the summer of 2000. The Royals had a pretty decent team. They only won 77 games but they had some future stars. The starting outfield was Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye, and Carlos Beltran. Mike Sweeney was in classic form. Unfortunately they didn’t have any pitching. After that season, I started following their moves on the Internet. I joined message boards and learned our minor league affiliates. I also started attending more games.

Fourth of July was a common game for us to go to as a family. It was a nice way to spend an evening, and then they had an amazing fireworks display. We also went to “Buck Nights” – where you could hot dogs, peanuts, Cokes for a $1 each. My brother and I used to see who could eat more hot dogs. Then we chugged Cokes so we could stay awake on the drive home.

Then came the summer of 2003. The Royals had a .500 record for the first time in a decade. The team came out of nowhere. There weren’t any stars (though Angel Berroa won the AL ROY). It wasn’t expected, but we loved it. That 2003 team is really what pulled me in. It’s when my true obsession began. My brother and I went to 12 games that year — the most I’ve ever been to in one season. We sat in good seats too – usually down the first base line. We were dedicated fans. We didn’t leave early and we sat through rain delays.

34287_10100241735561859_7768940_nOne of my favorite memories from that season was going to a double header — a classic doubleheader, one ticket, two games. It was on June 30, which is usually a very steamy day in KC. There was nothing remarkable about the game. We lost both halves to Cleveland and it rained between the games, but just being there, soaking in the atmosphere, it was the best way to spend a summer. It was classic Royals.

After 2003 I nearly purchased season tickets. I really fell in love with baseball. It was no longer a family thing; it was a summer time obsession. Baseball was my summer distraction. Since then I’ve hung on their every move. I invested myself in learning more about baseball. I became hardcore baseball nerdy. I read about stuff like Sabermetrics, I started following a slew of excellent Royals blogs, and started to learn about and follow our drafts. If I didn’t know something myself, I at least knew someone or somewhere I could go and figure it out. I remember drafting Zach Greinke, Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Luke Hochevar, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Christian Colon, Aaron Crow, etc. I recall being upset about some of the major trades we made – Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltran, Jermaine Dye, and Zach Greinke.

It was hard to be a fan for several of those years. Never ending rebuilding projects are hard to stomach. There were so many what ifs; so many failed prospects. There were times when we’d sit around and think about how and why we were cursed. Did Mr. K sell his soul for 1985? Was it when he died in 1993 and they renamed the stadium? Was it when they removed the turf and put in grass in 1995? Or maybe it was when they moved the fences in to try and score more runs, and then back out to benefit our young pitchers off and on over the next two decades? The real curse, perhaps, was the 1994 strike. Kansas City went from one of the highest spending teams in the early ‘90s to the small market poorhouse.

This, of course, was compounded by the death of Ewing Kauffman in 1993. When Mr. K died, a Board of Trustees ran the team with the stipulation that they could not lose money. It took them 7 years to find a new owner – David Glass, the former CEO of Wal-Mart. He brought his “always low-prices” style of management to the team, cutting their bottom line and refusing to invest. The Royals lost 100 games four times from 2002 to 2006. The only glimmer of hope was that magical, fluky 2003 season.

To his credit, Glass got tired of losing. He hired Dayton Moore in May of 2006 and gave them all the resources he asked for. They added minor league teams, created international academies, and added legions of scouts. Signing bonuses went up. International signings increased. They finally began to rebuild the franchise from a player development model. This was how the original Royals teams were constructed. John Schuerholz, the famous Atlanta GM who oversaw 15 years of AL East dominance, learned his trade in Kansas City. He was the Royals GM from 1981-1990, and before that he was the director of scouting and assistant GM. The Royals were a model organization. In fact, Moore learned much of his “process” from Schuerholz in Atlanta.

After I graduated college I moved away from Kansas. I started my master’s degree in Nevada in the fall of 2009. My love for the Royals stuck. I signed up for Twitter that year and immediately found a community of Royals fans. We live-Tweeted games and talked about the various moves and developments. We became friends. Several of us didn’t live in KC. It was a tie back home for us.

1074116_599035561422_1340170161_oThis Twitter-fandom has sustained me that last 5 years. I’ve sparsely attended Royals game during these years, but when I could, I did. I saw them play the Athletics in Oakland in August of 2010. I saw them in Chicago in July of 2013. It was fun for me to go see them play at away ballparks. I have batting practice balls from both games. They made me feel like a kid again. And I felt like an even bigger fan because I was representing my city even though I was away from home.

The summer of 2013 was our second winning season since 1993. I followed it closely. I was deeply engaged in the Royals Twitter community. I started a Twitter glossary of our nicknames and hashtags. Many of the people I’ve met on there have become friends. It’s both an imagined and a real community. We have our language and customs. We’re connected by our love for our city and our team. Many of the fans have met and become real life friends. They’ve started movements and gained major recognition, including #BooCano at the 2012 All-Star Game and dubbing Billy Butler #CountryBreakfast during a rain delay. Even more amazing was the reception of a Korean fan, Sung Woo Lee. This year they brought him over to attend his first game in Kansas City and gave him the “Royal” treatment. He was local celebrity for a week. The local and national media loved it. The New York Times wrote about him.

Sung Woo and I Tweeted each other many times over the past few years. He’s an incredible inspiration, always positive. He wakes up in the middle of the night to watch the games. Fans like him are who’ve been waiting 29 years for this, fans that run the many, excellent Royals blogs and podcasts such as Kings of Kauffman, Pine Tar Press, Royals Review, etc. They’re the lifeblood of the Royals community.

This past summer I only attended one Royals game. I took my Grandma with me on an unseasonably cool July night. We were in contention, still battling for the division and the wildcard. The next morning she set the sport section of the paper out for me at breakfast – like she’s always done every time I’ve stayed at her house. As we sat there I couldn’t help but think back to those early games of my childhood. We’d cheer for the Royals, often we’d leave an inning early when they were losing and she was getting tired, but I’d always read what happened the next day. But this time I drove, and we stayed until the end. Unlike so many of those games from my childhood, the Royals won. It was a special moment for me, something I’ll always remember.

It’s really hard to fully explain what the Royals mean to me. They’re a symbol of my family, who I am, where I’m from. They’ve been one of my obsessions for the majority of my life. They the sports team that I care about more than any other.

When the Royals made the Wildcard game I was excited. I wanted to buy playoffs gear to remember it. But I was also cautious. I didn’t want to buy gear and then have us flame out after 1 game. My friend told me I should wait and see. When we advanced I thought about it again, but I wasn’t too excited about the design of the divisional series gear. I didn’t buy anything. Now that we’ve won the American League pennant, I’m rethinking my decision. Earlier tonight I stared at the new gear in the online store. As I clicked on the different items emblazoned with “American League Champions” and “World Series 2014” the reality sank in. This is really happening. This is reality. We won. I almost bought some gear tonight, but waiting has paid off. I’ve waited 29 years – my entire life – for this to happen. What’s another couple of weeks? And if we don’t win it all, it’s not like they’ll stop selling the ALCS stuff. They can’t take this away.

tumblr_ndigiuHsYK1qc0ltvo1_500As personal as this has been to me, it’s also been incredible to see the excitement and enthusiasm of the community. Sure, most of this is through online communities and social networks. Royals Twitter has joked about how hard their #RoyalsPlayoffBoner is raging. That it’s been way more than 4 hours. My friends and family from Kansas City, spread out across the country, have jumped on the bandwagon. There’s nothing that makes me smile more than seeing friends who never cared about baseball or sports, people who only went to Royals games for the fireworks, all of a sudden becoming rabid fans. A “lost generation” of fans is rediscovering how fun baseball is. They’re falling in love with their hometown team. After each win you have 40 people commenting and like your posts. My timeline is full of news stories and pictures celebrating the Royals. People are sharing personal stories like mine; they’re soaking up every minute. Kansas City is rediscovering its baseball core, it’s reuniting the family atmosphere, and it’s doing it in dramatic fashion with some of the most likable and exciting players in recent memory. This is what brings tears to my eyes.

I’m also tearing up because of all the emails and text messages I’ve been getting from friends and colleagues. Classmates and professors I’ve worked and studied with – many of whom are not from Kansas City and their only connection to the Royals is knowing me – are calling. They know how much this means to me. They know that Kansas City, that the Royals, and that baseball has been such a huge part of my life, such a huge part of who I am – and they want to be a part of that. They want to celebrate with me. It means me the world to me that they’re thinking of me, that they’re rooting for my team, that they’re enjoying it alongside me.

Sports are beautiful. They help us discover who we are and connect us to our family, our cities, and our friends. And as my favorite team arrives at the pinnacle, these memories and these relationships, they mean the world to me. They make the wait all worth it, because I don’t think it would be this special, this emotional, this big of a deal, if it happened all of the time.