The Royals have now spent 365 days (366 actually, it is a leap year!) as World Champions, and their reign could end tonight if the Indians are able to finish off the Cubs to win their first championship in over 60 years. The past year has been amazing for Royals fans. Hundreds of thousands of Royals fans packed the area around Union Station to witness the championship rally punctuated by Jonny Gomes’ epic speech. Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez appeared on “The Tonight Show.” Drew Butera and Jeremy Guthrie made cameos on Jimmy Kimmel.
The Royals welcomed back World Series Game One hero Alex Gordon with a multi-year deal, then added to the roster by signing Ian Kennedy. We got to open the season by raising a championship flag on national television in front of the Mets, with a ring ceremony two days later.
The Royals visited the White House in July to be honored by President Obama. All season, the Royals were referred to as “the defending champions.” Ned Yost managed, and won, the All-Star Game, with his own Eric Hosmer winning MVP. Even in late July, with the team floundering, no one was ready to count them out, especially after they went on another tear in August, threatening to make the playoffs once again.
It has been a remarkable year, a year in which the Royals were respected and honored as the best in baseball. It was a year that, despite the ups and downs of the 2016 season, every day left Royals fans looking like this.
How has the last year of defending a championship been for our staff of Royals fans?
The 2015 World Series victory, the aftermath of the game itself, was anticlimax.
I expected to be emotional. And I was - to a point. But I didn't weep, or scream, or do anything with extraordinary excitement. At first, I thought it might be because of my status as a Royals fan. I'm in my mid-20s, my family a group of Iowans, whose Royals fandom was learned instead of bred. But then I thought back to the Wild Card Game, the greatest sporting event I will ever witness for the rest of my life, and I was over the moon after that one. So it's not that.
Postseasons are made of individual moments, moments that are seared into our memories alongside the people we care about who were there. I was there for the Wild Card game. I remember a stranger bellowing "MOOOOSE" at midnight when he hit the go-ahead home run in a game of the 2014 ALDS. I remember watching MLB Gameday and "working" as the Royals got closer to grabbing the 2014 ALDS. I remember Ryan's call over the radio as Billy Butler stole a base. I remember sitting alone in my new apartment, writing the recap for the last game of the 2014 World Series. I remember "working" from home, my jaw on the floor as the Royals rocketed back against the Houston Astros. And I remember hugging my wife after the final Wade Davis strikeout of the 2015 postseason--the one that sealed the championship.
The World Series victory was a great moment in and of itself, but its main strength is making all the other Royals moments I've experienced sweeter, from all those postseason moments to the terrible ones from the lean years. That is its real magic, that a championship can transform moments as well as be one itself.
On a personal level, it all had a very surreal quality to me. The World Series coincided with my last week of work and then family leave, taking care of our first child. So add the euphoria of the life experience of my team winning it all as an "adult" to the "adult" sleep deprivation and responsibility of being a parent and I'm not sure I can come up with another word beside "surreal".
I like sports a lot more as a positive rather than negative enterprise: I gain much more from seeing my team do well than from a rival losing. Similarly, the shared experience, good or bad, is the main attraction to sports for me. As such, I really regret not being able to be up there for some sort of public party like I experienced on Mass Street in 2008. However, after Game 5, I did call up my "baseball life partner" and my wife and I talked on the phone late into the night. All those years of Neifi, Berroa, TPJ, and Yuni- those don't go away- but the mutual misery makes the common celebration better. I don't think our call was at all unique on that night or similar nights.
On that note, there has actually been a something lost. If you were outside of Kansas City before 2014 and saw someone with a Royals hat, there was about an 80% chance you were instantly kindred spirits (the other 20% were people who liked the logo or hat design). You both knew all about small market economics, trades of stars for soon-to-fail-prospects, a quartet of 100-loss seasons sandwiched around inexplicable 2003, and cheering for Zack Greinke winning the Cy Young because nothing else that season was worth watching. And you both shared it all without having to say a word.
Similarly, there was a certain grudging respect other fans afforded you wearing Royals gear at other parks, as it was clear you had not fallen off the bandwagon. It's really hard to tell Cubs fans, some of whom have waited 4 generations for a World Series win, that they're going to lose something special when they eventually win. But they'll realize it soon enough when they become Red Sox, Part II.
Finally, I feel like I'm a better baseball fan, having experienced the playoffs in a more personal way. I can better understand and watch the playoffs with an eye to what I experienced with a rooting interest rather than just an impartial observer. It's funny, too, as I feel less "pressure" for the Royals to win now. Some people have said baseball is better when the Yankees and Red Sox are good. I feel it's quite the opposite. I really hope that cities like Houston, San Diego, Seattle, etc., can win a title and help revitalize interest in the sport there as well.
Between a then recent move to the West Coast and working a job that didn't allow for me to watch any of the first three games live, the 2015 postseason run never quite felt real. 2014 was palpable, a run for the ages stopped short by a southpaw with a lady's name that ended a stretch of futility that spanned the entirety of my cognitive life. Too young to watch the '85 run by a year or two, I had never seen the Royals play a postseason game, and 2014 put an end to that.
In 2015, they won and won and won some more, but from a certain point relatively early in the season, the prospect of a World Series win was almost expected. Sure, the Jays were a juggernaut, the Astros were loaded, and the Mets had a ridiculous rotation, but barring the epic comeback in Houston, it always just seemed like the Royals were going to win. Each comeback seemed to have been written in stone by the gods. So partially unplugged from the moment and expecting the end result sort of took a bit of the shine of the win off it for me.
Oddly though, it still doesn't quite feel real. Did we collectively dream this up? Could the Royals actually have won the World Series last year? It feels like they did, but it was so inevitable that it challenges my perception of reality, given the preposterousness of the notion in the first place. The incongruity of their win being as inevitable as their competitiveness was previously impossible must have altered space-time or couldn't have happened at all, right?
When the Royals won the World Series, I was sitting in my in-laws' living room with a celebratory Boulevard Wheat ready to be cracked open. I'm not an emotional person, so it was somewhat difficult to muster up the excitement when they won when I'm sitting in a quiet living room (only my wife was with me), especially compared to the celebration of the Wild Card game victory I saw in person with 40,000 friends. I did run around in the streets after they won, but their house is out in the middle of almost nowhere. I might as well have been running in a field, or a forest, or some similar uninhabited environ. I also had tickets to Game 6, however, I was stressed every single game. While I wanted to see the victory in person, I sure as hell didn't want the Royals to give the Mets another chance at winning.
This season brought everything back down to earth. I had confidence in the team, but that confidence was based on the chemistry-fueled run of the past two years. It wasn't really based on confidence in numbers. I'm not exactly disappointed in this season, nor am I surprised. They'll try to re-tool for another run in 2017, but this season was a reminder that this run is coming to an end. I don't know if I'm ready to recede into looking toward the future like the pre-2013 years.
On a crisp October night in eastern Missouri, I laid out a sleeping bag in the bed of my truck as the Royals and Mets prepared to play Game 5 of the 2015 World Series. Throughout the series, I had been on a long-pre-planned Ozark camping/hiking trip with my younger brother, who had flown in from New Jersey to get away from his high-stress job. Though I'm often a bit of a Luddite, without even a cell phone, I was quite grateful on this night for the WiFi provided at the Hawn State Park campground which enabled me to listen to the game through my Kindle.
I lay there, windows cracked to allow cool fall air to flow around me, as owls hooted and fans roared. I was so tired, and so wired, knowing that this could be the end. In a strange way, I almost wanted to Royals to lose, as I was dropping my visitor off at the St. Louis airport the next day and could watch any further games at home, a tantalizing prospect given that I'd missed much of the series so far. I think I did fall asleep at one point, but was wide awake for the end of the game, and for long thereafter.
It was strange not being able to celebrate properly, with no one to share the immediate moment with (empty campground, sleeping non-baseball-fan brother), not even other RR folks as the commenting system doesn't work very well on Kindle and the WiFi wasn't reliable enough for regular commenting. I lay there quietly, mind and body vibrating, feeling so good for all the Royals fans I've gotten to know on RR and in real life, all those whose long-term loyalties and knowledge of and investment in the team dwarf my own sub-decade fandom. Driving into St. Louis the next day, I truly wished I had a Royals flag whipping from my antenna. I remain even happier for others than for myself, and will be forever grateful that I was able to experience the last two years.
I'm probably 'doing it wrong' but I honestly probably wasn't nearly as excited for the World Series victory as everyone else was. To me it was the completely expected climax to a 2015 season that didn't seem like it could end any other way. Don't get me wrong, I was excited, but I'm beginning to think I might be permanently emotionally burned out from my experience during the 2014 Wild Card game.
That game was all I ever dreamed of having in a Royals post-season experience. I could not have been more excited for it, and I was so devastated after the events of the sixth inning that I sadly turned the game off and went to bed. My dad, with whom I watch every game possible, did the same. Fortunately, we were both too hard-core to give up entirely and kept track of that game on our phones.
After the eighth inning, we just couldn't stay away. All I had asked for from the Royals playoff experience was a competitive Wild Card game. Once I had that back, you couldn't have dragged me away. What happened next happened and my dad and I both shouted and screamed for minutes. I'll never forget that moment because my dad is usually a very reserved guy, and he's so pessimistic about sports that even when the Royals tied game 5 of the 2015 series he was sure they'd find a way to lose the whole thing. But he jumped and shouted like a little kid. I know I'm supposed to be talking about the 2015 world series but to me, no matter how many more world series the Royals win, it will always be about that moment right after Donaldson whiffed on his dive that will always define my Royals experience.
It felt a bit subdued to be in my living room with my wife, quietly celebrating the Royals winning it all in New York. I had been at the Wild Card Game in 2014, the greatest sporting event I have ever attended. I was at Game 6 of that year’s World Series against the Giants, when Yordano Ventura was brilliant and the Royals were just one game away from a championship. I was there the next night when they were just 90 feet away from tying it. And I was there the next year when they beat the Astros, and clinched the pennant against the Blue Jays.
But really, it was the quiet, emotional relief of two years of stress alternating between anguish and pure jubilation. And what followed for the next calendar year was complete pride. And not just in the team, but in the city. We came together to show tremendous support for our team, peacefully, and with the civic pride I have always longed for our city to have.
But all year, I have had people congratulate me, as if I had been a castaway in baseball hell for decades, and had just been rescued by Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez, and Alex Gordon to return not just to baseball normalcy, but to baseball greatness. It feels great to be the champs, and I hope it only makes the team and this community hungrier for more excellence.