There is a ‘z’ or an ‘x’ (depending on your publication) next to Kansas City in the standings today: the Royals are in the playoffs. Forget for a moment the debate over whether a wild card one and done game is the real playoffs and just enjoy the fact that your Kansas City Royals are going to be playing baseball when the majority of the teams will be headed home for the winter. Not sure if you noticed, but it has been a while since that has happened.
When I was seven years old, my dad bought me a three pack of 1971 Topps baseball cards. I’m not sure what the deal was, but they came in a plastic package where you could see the top card of each stack: Joe Keough of the Royals was on top of one of the stacks. My dad was a farmer, a nose to the grindstone dawn until dusk worker. Sure, he was a sports fan, but had no interest or knowledge of how baseball cards were distributed. He thought with a Royal on top, that meant the whole stack would be Royals.
“There’s a new team in Kansas City now,” he said. “That would be a good one for you to follow.”
With that, I was a Royals’ fan.
Now, I’m an old guy (even older than Craig!) and being a Royals’ fan back then meant listening to Denny on 980 AM out of Shenandoah, Iowa (we were on a farm east of Lincoln, Nebraska, so the reception was, shall we say, ‘cracklily’ at best), checking the box scores in the paper and occasionally seeing the Royals on Monday Night Baseball (remember that, fellas?) or on the Saturday afternoon national game. Every game televised? Hah! Internet? Not even close. Sports radio? None. And yeah, I actually did walk uphill to school in snowstorms…
While it was hard to follow the Royals from 200 miles away, it was easy to be a fan of them.
They won 88 games in 1973 and 91 more in 1975 and then went to the playoffs seven of the next ten years. Even after the 1985 World Series, the team still was more of a winner than loser. Amos Otis and Cookie Rojas gave way to Willie Wilson and Frank White. Dennis Leonard and Paul Splittorff gave way to Bret Saberhagen and Mark Gubicza. And a guy named George Brett was pretty good, too.
Then came the strike of 1994 and it suddenly became hard to be a Royals’ fan. They didn’t win 80 games for eight seasons before managing 83 in 2003 and then Kansas City went nine more seasons before posting another winning record. The Royals were cheap…and stupid. Scott Elarton made an Opening Day start, Mark Redman was an All-Star and Ken Harvey/Calvin Pickering/Justin Huber were going to lead us to the promised land.
Blogging became a thing. Craig and I, neither of whom actually lived in our mothers’ basement, started our own blogs, but merged not long after. We searched for hope in the depths of Mark Teahen’s advanced stats. We debated Kila Ka’aihue versus Mike Jacobs versus an old Jose Guillen. We watched Trey Hillman destroy Gil Meche (I still wear my powder blue Meche jersey by the way – and yes, internet cool kids, it is okay to a) wear a jersey and b) wear one of a player not on the team). We listened to Dayton Moore talk down to us and Ned Yost be grumpy.
There were debates over whether David DeJesus smiled too much and Billy Butler didn’t smile enough. Alex Gordon wouldn’t adapt and listen to coaching. Ryan Shealy and Luke Hochevar listened too much. We were told that Tony Pena Jr. would someday hit and we had to watch Emil Brown run the bases. Zack Greinke burst on the scene, quit, went to the bullpen, won a Cy Young and then went all jerkstore on us. Hey, we all endured a lot: even you young whippersnappers.
We can debate the playoff roster Sunday night and maybe, just maybe, argue over whether James Shields should be brought back on short rest for a one game playoff with Detroit to decide the Central Champion on Monday. There will be much to debate, discuss and agonize over very soon.
For now, though, the Kansas City Royals are going to play in the post-season no matter what happens today and tomorrow. Enjoy the weekend, folks, we have all earned it.
And yes, I still have that Joe Keough baseball card.