I wanted the Royals to lose.
Not because we’d get a higher draft pick. Not because it would spell the end for whatever incompetent boobs were managing the team at any given time. Not even because I hate happiness.
No, I—or at least some part of me, every year—wanted the Royals to lose because they were mine, and I wanted to keep them that way.
As a kid, the only other Royals fan I knew in the flesh was my dad. He at least had an excuse—he was a kid in middle school in Kansas City when the expansion team started getting good. I, on the other hand, was born in 1985 in Albuquerque. Besides the Triple-A Dukes, there was nothing worth rooting for within an eight-hour drive. So, like all kinds of kids with nothing better to do, I got hooked on the bad stuff.
But all that badness gave me room to dream. Baseball was my life, and the Royals my fantasy.
Judging by the quality of my fandom, I was a hipster by the age of ten. No one could accuse me of being a bandwagon fan or giving in to popular influence. I didn’t need winning to be a fan. I took great pride in liking a team other kids had barely heard of.
And I dug it. I wasn’t going to win any coolness points through pogs or saggy pants. I didn’t need them. Standing tall with my un-cool team lent me a sense of panache, even if no one else noticed it.
Like an imaginary pal, the Royals belonged to me in a way no other sports team could belong to any one person. I mourned every losing season and winced over every lopsided blockbuster trade. No one respected my team; yet, these injustices all guaranteed that the Royals and my fantasies would remain mine and mine alone for another year.
I knew my role as sole proprietor of this fantasy would end as soon as the Royals started winning. What was mine would become public, divvied among countless stakeholders. Grimy hands would smudge the sheen of triumph. Besides, could actual winning ever live up to five, ten, fifteen, twenty, almost thirty years of thirsty, itchy hope?
So, in small subversive ways, I rooted for the Royals to lose. Even this year at the trade deadline, I argued with my dad that the team should trade James Shields. Not in an imagine-the-prospects-we-might-get kind of way. Not in a this-season-is-a-lost-cause kind of way, even though, at 48-50, it was. I wanted to throw in the towel because dreaming of a powerhouse Royals team was way more fun than scratching at respectability.
America knows by now what happened next. Devil magic. SungWoo Lee. Alex Gordon for MVP and everyone, even Billy Butler, stealing all the bases.
My life has entered Upside-Down Land. Now I’m on the phone with my dad every night, debating the merits of bullpen management and gawking over the latest feats of Nori Aoki, whom we endearingly call “Spaz.” My fiancée Jenny has turned her hawk’s eye for tennis onto baseball, morphing into a huge Royals fan—she curses at umpires and begs Salvy to improve his plate discipline and swears Omar Infante is a mole for the Tigers. Complete strangers are stopping me on the street to talk outfield defense. And… somehow… all this attention doesn’t feel grimy at all.
In fact, the rush of enthusiasm has knocked down my sand bags. I am not alone—and I don’t want to be. I follow other Royals fans and bloggers who aren’t distant sportswriters with secretaries filtering their correspondence, but gals and guys whom I would freely hug after an infield single and then go buy ice cream with. Most of them live in or near Kansas City; some, like me, are lone torches burning Royal blue.
I dreaded the bandwagon, but if Jenny is any indication, these Royals aren’t some mere pied piper. Billy and Gordon and LoLo and Hosmer and even Moose inspire the same enthusiasm, the same connectedness, that they display after every stellar play. When we cheer for Kansas City, we sense that it is more than a city in two states. It’s all of us who love baseball because baseball is full of powerful stories in which all bad things come to an end, eventually.
We are in this together. The 40,000 of you lighting up Kauffman Stadium for every playoff game are the surrogates for the hundreds of thousands of us blue-burning flames who can’t make it but are still there. So no more “no one else” and no more “mine and only mine.” No more living in 1985 and dreaming for
1995 2012 2018.
It’s 2014, and the Kansas City Royals are up two games to nothing on the Baltimore Orioles in the American League Championship Series, and I’ve waited my entire life to say words like those.
We are here. Right now. Let’s party.
(Featured image of team celebration copyright popofatticus; image of pogs copyright Lauren Friedman; image “colored flames” copyright Tomi Knuutila; all on Flickr via Creative Commons Attribution Licenses.)