There are times as a sports fan when the World stops and all the emotion you’ve put into your favorite team is justified.
They make the playoffs; win a big game, or the crème de la crème – advance to a championship game. Whether it’s the Super Bowl, NBA Finals, or an NCAA Championship, and let’s be real for a minute, we’re talking football and basketball here, is when all that yelling, screaming, clapping, cursing, laughing, crying and consternation finally pays off.
If they win of course.
I bring this up because last night, my ‘hometown’ baseball team, the Kansas City Royals, played in the World Series for the first time since 1985. Yes, I know, most of you have heard about this by now, 29 years without even a sniff of the playoffs, and suddenly, after a magical eight game ride through the playoffs, Kansas City, which is as sufferable a sports city as Houston, is reveling in the center of the sports universe hosting Game 1 of the World Series.
And then, last night, the Royals, like an addict fresh out of rehab who promises the world and goes to a few meetings before resorting back to his sordid ways – lets you down again.
That’s the reality of the Kansas City Royals. Building you up to let you down, and last night, fairly or unfairly, was as big a let-down as I’ve seen in my 33 years of cheering on teams.
Now, I don’t have a ride-or-die relationship with the Royals like I do with Kansas Basketball/Football and the Chiefs. The Jayhawks 2008 hoops title and Orange Bowl are the two proudest moments of my sports life while I’m still trying to wrap my brain around why Elvis Grbac and not Rich Gannon started in the 1998 Divisional Playoff game for Kansas City.
No, the Royals – and baseball really – soured me on the sport in 1994 like it did so many others, but like most, I went back to baseball, because steroids makes it a lot more fun to watch when dudes built like linebackers are jacking home runs at record pace.
But ultimately the Royals soured me on the Royals, spending no money, crying about being small market year after year when you’ve got an owner in David Glass who had money for days but spent like he had it for seconds.
Then in the last few years with Dayton Moore as General Manager, this KC squad, with its Astro-like collection of young talent thanks to years of futility, finally made something out of nothing and boom, we find ourselves in full-blown Royal hysteria.
But as Grand Puba and Sadat X famously told us years ago, Punks Jump Up to Get Beat Down, and last night, the Giants behind Hunter Pence and Madison Bumgartner beat down Big Lame James Shields and a group of Royals bats that reminded us of 2004, not 2014.
I was afraid this might happen.
Maybe it’s the youth, the inexperience or maybe it’s the Giants are just that damn good and because it’s baseball, we don’t get as excited as we used to about dominant team. There’s really no household star on either team, and with the way the Giants carved up the Royals last night, it was akin to watching a sniper at target practice – cold, calculated and unrelenting.
Or maybe it’s because old habits die hard, and the Royals are still the Royals.
Just like the Clippers, the Bengals, and whoever perennially sucks in hockey, bad teams are bad teams. Sure, the Clippers have had a resurgence, but they still make bonehead plays at inopportune times. Sure the Bengals have made the playoffs in successive years, but they haven’t gotten to that next level and are stumbling again.
And then there are the Royals. We were all reminded last night, all the timely hits and incredible bullpen pitching aside the last few weeks, that the Royals are still the Royals. Their ‘Ace’ can’t get out of the fourth inning and they strand two runners on second and third with NO outs early in the ballgame.
This isn’t just about a bad night; this is about overcoming a stigma.
If any group of guys can overcome the malaise that has become the Royals franchise for the last 29 years, it’s this group. But history – 9/10 teams in the last 10 years to win Game 1 have gone on to win the World Series – isn’t on their side.
I hope the Royals don’t go the way of the 2007 Rockies, playing great baseball for a month before being embarrassed in the World Series in four straight games. It’s been a fun ride up until last night, so the question staring at this team the rest of the way – do they go back to showing the country they’re the new and improved Royals that defies the odds?
Or are they the same punch-line they’ve always that got hot for a minute?
Tonight we’ll see.