The look Brandon Moss gave me was one of total confusion. Squinted eyes, slightly lowered head. I think he thought I was punking him.
It was September 30, 2017, the three year anniversary of The Wild Card Game, one of those games that needs no more elaboration for Kansas City Royals fans. My question for Moss was simple: had his time with the Royals changed his experience of the game? After all, Moss crushed two home runs in the contest, almost singlehandedly bringing down the Second Golden Age Royals before they ever existed. But then the Royals came back from the brink, defeating Moss’ Oakland Athletics.
“No,” immediately laughed Moss as soon as I finished pronouncing the last word of the question. His full response lasted an entire 20 seconds. “Maybe more jealous of it, the way it turned out. It was a very fun game. It was fun to be a part of. It was a really good baseball game. And we lost and they won it.”
After Moss gave me that most perfunctory of answers, Mike Moustakas, free agent-to-be in two days, walked by. He jovially asked Moss what I was inquiring about.
Moss’ tone was unmistakable. “The 2014 WILD Card game.” It was 93% exasperation, 6% passive-aggressiveness, 4% exhaustion, and 2% butterscotch I-don’t-give-a-crap.
Moustakas said to me: “It’s 2017, babe.” I tried to extricate myself from this sticky situation, and reminded Moose that it was the three-year anniversary of that game. Moose didn’t seem to care. “Yeah...well, it’s 2017.”
Moss offered a few more comments after Moose sauntered away. “By now, that game’s the furthest thing from my mind.” And then: “I’m happy to be with this team, I’ve had a really good time with these guys. I wish we would have made the playoffs.”
Maybe if it was a different time or a different place, Moss would have gave a more interesting answer. Or maybe not! If I asked you about one of the most painful experiences of your professional life, would you ever give a good answer? Even if your entire career had been filled with needling questions? Maybe I shouldn’t have asked it in the first place. But it had been three years since the game that changed the Royals forever, the Royals as a hole were in a reflective mood, and Moss was uniquely suited to give an opinion on the thing.
I wandered away, trying to find the door to the lobby in a clubhouse I’d been in all of once before, that one time being earlier in the day. I snaked away and then back again, passing by Moss. The door, in fact, was near his locker.
In the intervening time, Moss had asked one of his teammates about the game, and somebody had indeed told him that, yes, it was the three-year anniversary of the game. Perhaps realizing that my seemingly inane question had some legitimacy, Moss called me back over and apologized for his staccato answer to the question. He did not need to do so, as his curtness needed no validation. It was kind of him to offer an apology.
But the reason why he offered the apology was telling.
He explained that he just wasn’t in the mood to give an answer on such a thing that happened a long time ago. The team expected to make the playoffs, they wanted to make the playoffs, and more importantly they believed they would. Moss said that he was disappointed that they didn’t, and also offered one more thing: he wasn’t in the “head space” to discuss that because of that...and the mood due to the guys who were leaving.
It was a thought echoed by his teammates.
The daily drive to The K has been flooding Moose w/ memories lately. He can't imagine walking into a clubhouse & not seeing Hosmer & Salvy.— Josh Vernier (@JoshVernier610) September 28, 2017
Danny Duffy on playing with Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas: "It’s something that you never would think that it’s gonna come to an end.”— Rustin Dodd (@rustindodd) September 29, 2017
Jason Vargas: "...the ride’s been unbelievable. I’m just looking forward to getting to put the uniform on one more time."— Jeffrey Flanagan (@FlannyMLB) September 27, 2017
It’s easy to think of players as cells on an Excel file or a combination of letters that you type into Fangraphs. Filtered through television, you don’t get a full picture of their humanity. To most, baseball players are people-shaped things in uniforms who make fortunes playing a game whilst spending the winter months sitting at home, playing Call of Duty and sipping on hot cocoa.
Obviously, players are human beings. We just don’t access that part of the equation because it’s uncomfortable. It’s way too easy to fire salvos of wild criticism and unleash a barrage of swears at a player from the comfort of your own home, when you can close your eyes and pretend that the player is just a collection of blue and white pixels.
Moss’ explanation of why his answer was a non-answer was a tiny snippet, sure, but it was a tiny snippet that was an insight into a world that we don’t get to see.
Look, the Royals know that this era is ending. They’ve known all year. Just like you, they can pull out their smartphone and read news, search their name on the internet, and figure out when their contracts are ending.
Maybe that’s a “duh” moment for some, but judging by internet comments from the years, you’d be surprised how many fans can’t comprehend how their favorite players also happen to moonlight as real-life human beings.
That’s important. Because this era of Royals baseball didn’t happen only to fans, but it happened to the players. The ending of the era hurts them as well. And that’s what makes it even more bittersweet.