Another brutal loss. This one against a last place team with 28,000+ fans attending in very cool weather at Kauffman Stadium. Sadly, this is becoming commonplace.
Why do we still care? Surely you must have encountered it at some point. Why are you a Royals fan, they ask. The Royals, after all, are always awful, aren't they? Many of you have different stories. For me, my story is relatively simple; though I spent my young childhood years in Cleveland, we moved to Kansas City before my roots grew deep, and in the 13 and counting years since I grew to love the team for a myriad of reasons. Zack Greinke's brilliance was one, great times at the ballpark was another, stretching away from the NFL another.
But we all follow a similar thread. We grew to like the Royals because someone introduced them to us, or we have lived in Kansas City our whole life, or circumstances just happened that way. Nobody picks the Royals. How could you?
Though that explanation is simple enough, it doesn't quite get to the bottom of the question. Why do we love the Royals? Why do we want them to win so bad? There are other sports teams that exist, two more professional ones in Kansas City, even. So why the Royals?
It's almost impossible to explain what it's like. Being a fan, that is, of the Kansas City Royals. You just can't do it. Most people root for teams that have experienced success at some point. Not the Royals. You'll find some fans attempt to connect. It's usually cute.
"The Red Sox are horrible this year. I know how you feel."
"The Jaguars are bad all the time. I know how you feel."
"The Pirates went two decades without a winning season. I know how you feel."
"I'm from Cleveland and I like football."
In the same way that fans of good teams like to brag about how much better their team is, fans of bad teams often lament just how awful it is to be a fan of that team in a masochistic show of buffoonery. But still, nobody knows what Royals fans feel. Nobody. The crowning jewel 'boasted' by the Royals is their 29 consecutive seasons of playoffless baseball. No other team in the MLB and no team in the NFL, NBA, or NHL is in the middle of a longer streak. That's 121 professional teams across the United States and Canada that have been to the postseason since 1985 and 1 that has not: the Royals. Furthermore, the Royals have just been plain awful over that time period, too. Since after the 1994 strike, the Royals have only two winning seasons, including four 100-loss seasons for free.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are the closest thing to the Royals; from 1993-2012 they did not have one single winning season. However, from 1995-2012, the Royals had only one winning season with double the 100-loss seasons, and the Pirates reached the NLCS three straight years from 1992-1994, the last one a full 9 years more recent than the Royals' last playoff appearance. Oh, and the Pirates went to the playoff last year.
The Cubs are probably second closest; they haven't won a world series since before airplanes existed. But they have 7 more winning seasons than the Royals since the 1994 strike and have appeared in the playoffs 5 times since 1985.
Joe Posnanski called the Royals the 'hardest team to love,' and I agree with him wholeheartedly. Not only have the Royals been bad, awful, horrible, whatever--they have gotten there by hitting huge bumps along the way. Yuniesky Betancourt. Ryan Freel. Mike Jacobs. Chris Getz. Just the Dayton Moore years have been filled with their fair share of confusion and outrage. So why do we root for them?
We need to turn to an unlikely place in order to find a worthwhile, if unorthodox, parallel.
Dmitri Shostakovich was born in Russia in 1906 and died in the Soviet Union in 1975. For the music world, he is one of the preeminent composers of the 20th century, and his works are performed and celebrated worldwide. His music is fascinating for both its brilliance and its social and geopolitcal context.
See, nationalistic composers are everywhere. Aaron Copland, Jean Sibelius, Franz Liszt--all of them wrote music heavily inspired by their native lands, music that would be deeply associated with them. All of them were conscious about their place and how their music was nationalistic. They wrote in this manner because of different reasons, but they did so freely and because they wanted to.
Shostakovich was not afforded this opportunity. Before he even became a teenager, the Bolshevik Revolution upended Russia in 1917, directly setting the stage for the formation of the Soviet Union in 1922. Vladimir Lenin, political theorist, party leader, and mastermind of the Russian brand of communism, commanded power for two years before his death in 1924. His protege, Joseph Stalin, became the leader of the Soviet Union afterward and used his power and influence to morph it into the fascist state for which it became known. Those who did not agree, or presented a threat, were destroyed.
This meant that Shostakovich, for all his brilliance, was coerced by a corrupt regime to keep in line. Shostakovich is one of the only composers to exhibit a specific kind of nationalism--forced nationalism. The composer fell out of favor with Stalin more than once; in 1936, he was denounced for his opera Lady Macbeth. He returned to favor with his Fifth Symphony the next year, his most famous work. In 1948 he was denounced again, only really returning after Stalin's death in 1955.
Shostakovich did not stop composing. He did not move from the Soviet Union; a composer of his status almost assuredly could have defected to the West. But he did not. Shostakovich continued composing, many of them masterpieces, using his own brilliance to communicate things that he could not dare say. Listen to the finale of the Fifth Symphony or the Seventh Symphony. Both were heralded and marketed as Soviet masterpieces, rallying works of art to give life and inspiration to the Soviet people. But in the bold, beautiful, brash tones you can hear a dissonance, as if the music is not depicting 'proud marching for country' but 'forced marching for country.' It's subtle, but it exists.
Dmitri Shostakovich technically had a choice of what to write about and where to write it. He was thrown into a unique situation without a choice in the matter, a situation that was often horrible, depressing, and under constant pressure. Whether his works are better for it is debatable, but he not only survived in his situation--he thrived in it.
Why did Shostakovich do this? He loved music. He loved the storied history of Russian composers. He wanted to be a part of something bigger than himself. Despite everything, he was loyal to the idea that there was something better there than what he lived.
We don't have to fear for our lives like Shostakovich did, nor do we live in an oppressive society. At the end of the day, baseball is just a game--but music is also just a collection of sounds, isn't it? Anything can be devolved, disassembled to its core parts and laid bare to where it sounds silly.
It's difficult to understand why we're Royals fans. It's even more difficult to attempt to explain it. But I can try. I believe that we can see the beauty in a thing that is so very ugly. That we have passion for the game of baseball, specifically the heritage of Royals baseball that exists. Those of us that write, read, and contribute to discussion try to change something in a small way because we care. Sure, we could do so somewhere else, but it would fundamentally change how we interact with baseball and ourselves.
We are fans of Kansas City baseball because it is a unique experience, one that, regardless of our choices or lack thereof, fits our identity. We continue to be fans because we realize that one day we will experience joy in a way that cannot be felt by anybody else. We love and hate this team, and we will continue to do so.
This team may not reach the playoffs, but it has been a fun ride. It is the only one of its kind.