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Why do we root for sports teams, anyway?

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It's seriously just grown men playing with balls. Why do we care?

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Do you remember Pokemon?

Your age probably determines how you answer that question. If you're a teenager or kid, you either have no idea or you bought a few Pokemon games and enjoyed them. If you're in your 30s, you are probably aware of the franchise as well for similar reasons. If you're in your 40s or 50s, you definitely know about it if you have kids.

However, if you're like like me and you're in your 20s, you are deeply aware of the phenomenon that was Pokemon. For the uninitiated, Pokemon itself turns 20 years old next month. In February 1996, the first Pokemon game was released in Japan for the Nintendo Game Boy. There it cooked for two and a half years, spawning toys, a card game, manga, an anime television series, and generally turning the entire country mad with Pokemon fever. In September 1998, the pot boiled over into North America, where we gobbled up English translations of these media as well as natively English media and memorabilia.

Unlike a lot of the things from the 90s--pogs, purple and teal geometric patterns, Beanie Babies, N*SYNC, Bill Cosby's reputation, Wonder Balls, and Crystal Pepsi--Pokemon has endured the test of time. Sales numbers are staggering; Pokemon has sold over 260 million games worldwide and shows no signs of slowing down.

But nobody outside of current fans will engage in a Pokemon discussion about anything post-2000. The franchise has only gotten better with age, especially the games' transformation from brilliant yet deeply flawed to polished, rewarding experiences. Most people, though, prefer to remember the early, frustrating versions for, to me at least, no apparent reason.

I eventually realized the reason, though: the affinity to Pokemon in its cultural heyday wasn't about Pokemon. It was about connecting with others in a unique, fun, and meaningful way.

You see, Pokemon was a Thing, just like Star Wars has been a Thing and just like the Royals' playoff runs were a Thing in Kansas City. In each case, there was serious interest in the source material; don't get me wrong here. Pokemon doesn't take over America if there wasn't a real excitement in seeing if your booster pack contains a holographic Charizard over ANOTHER FREAKING DIGLETT. WHY, GOD?

But more important than that is the instant connection that you can make through shared knowledge and interest. It didn't really matter who you were or how old you were, but as long as you could discuss if Blastoise or Gyarados was the better water type (answer: Gyarados), if Rey or Finn was the better newcomer (answer: Poe), or how much fun the Royals were these past two years (answer: yes), then your differences just fell away.

It is significantly easier now than it was a few years ago to answer why people root for the Royals. After all, they are the reigning World Series champions, winners of two American League Pennants in a row with the most wins in the American League over the last three years. Before that, the answer to 'why are there Royals fans' was somewhere along the lines of 'what is dark matter' or 'why are men incapable of putting toilet seats down' in the Book of Great Questions.

Either way, answering the question of why we watch sports, and more importantly why we get emotionally involved in specific teams and specific sports, is a difficult question. There are a lot of factors at play, and there's no good reason why, say, patronage of the arts shouldn't be the multi-billion dollar entertainment industry in this country.

But, stripped to its core, sports is about people. It's about connecting to people, whether that is forging new ties with strangers or strengthening bonds between family members and friends. That reason holds true for the Good Royals and the Bad Royals. A lot of people are interested in exciting current events, and to abstain from these events is to miss some key part of culture, to feel left out in the cold. The Good Royals was about the joy of community. Meanwhile, for the few who stuck with the Royals in the Bad days, rooting for them meant being a part of a select few, being part of a community which would support each other. It was in this fire that the soul of Royals Review was forged.

Most teams don't win championships. In a perfectly balanced league with 30 teams, each team would win one championship on average every three decades. Even in an unbalanced league, the most consistently excellent teams don't win all the time. Sports interest can't be all about winning championships, then--how could it? There's got to be something more. A love of the game, perhaps, covers many people.

We, however, are communal creatures. Even the introverts among us crave human interaction sometimes, and, barring that, even introverts yearn to belong. Sports help us do that. Most of my favorite sports memories either involve the thing itself, such as witnessing Zack Greinke's 15-strikeout game, or involve people, like bringing my parents to a playoff game for the first time, or both, such as experiencing the Wild Card game with the crowd.

For the longest time, the Royals were in search of a World Series victory. They're at the peak, and the only thing they can do is stay there as long as they can until somebody else kicks them off. Royals fans are realigning what it means to be a fan.

I have no complete answer for that, but I do have a suggestion. The next time you're at a sports game and something good happens for your team, give a stranger a high five. That unique, instant connection explains so much.