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I had no choice but to grow up as a Royals fan. My parents were each already Royals fans before they met each other in the 1970s. Before I was born, they had three sons, each with one of three matching Royals jackets that got passed down from the oldest to the next, and the next.
Our home was an eight-hour drive from Kauffman Stadium, so we did not go to many games growing up. (Dragging that many kids to a local ballgame is enough of an undertaking. Add in 16 hours of driving around it? No way. Not fun.) But the Royals were an inextricable part of almost every summer day. We had radios all over the house, and a few that went outdoors, to listen to the crackling AM broadcasts every night.
The front yard of our home was our own little baseball field, though it was criss-crossed by sidewalks. There was a bush where first base would be, a big tree at second, and an even bigger three for third. We had a home plate to lay down under the branches of a crab-apple tree, and did our best to not foul anything off toward the house. Whenever we played, half our players were ghost baserunners, but I still ran through a play-by-play in my head as if Denny Matthews and Fred White were on hand to call our every move.
When my youth baseball league started using MLB team names and logos, my dad must have pulled some strings so my team was the Royals several years in a row. I wore those t-shirts as often as the laundry cycle allowed for many years.
I think we went to a couple games in the 1990s, but the first game I fully remember was from July of 2001 against the Mariners. That was Ichiro Suzuki's rookie year with Seattle. He went 0-for-5 that night, and somehow caused manager Tony Muser to be ejected. That Royals lineup featured Jermaine Dye, Carlos Beltran, Mike Sweeney, and Raul Ibanez. Kansas City lost 97 games that year, but I was now old enough to follow along and deepen my fandom. So I did.
Fast forward to the spring of 2007. A friend sent me a newspaper clipping for a job fair with the Omaha Royals. I had remained a Royals fan all along, despite knowing few others outside my own household. As I finished up my freshman year of college in Lincoln, the plan was to return home to small-town McCook and go back to my job at the radio station. Instead, I headed to Omaha for this job fair on a whim, and was hired to help with on-field promotions.
That job was a blast. The Omaha teams of that era were mostly devoid of big-time prospects, but it was still a thrill to work alongside players that at any time could be called up to the Majors. Billy Butler came through Omaha, and I got to see his attempts at outfield defense. (Spoiler: It did not go well.) I really thought Shane Costa was going to be great in Kansas City, if only he would get regular playing time. Former Rookie of the Year Angel Berroa was a master of pranks, but went about every day with such joy and energy that it was hard to be mad about falling victim to them.
Silly things happened too, like hearing the worst pickup lines of all time from a certain former player. A pro tip for single people out there: asking someone if they are good at packing suitcases is NOT a successful way to get that person to come to your hotel room.
I kept that on-field promotions job every summer through 2011. This time period covered the end of baseball at Rosenblatt Stadium, the renaming of the team from Royals to Storm Chasers, and the opening of a new ballpark. All the while, it remained amazing that my job was to be an enthusiastic baseball fan. The struggles at the Major League level drove me all the more into keeping tabs on the kids in the minors, hoping that I could see a better future for Kansas City before it got there.
All of that led perfectly into switching from working for the Omaha team to photographing it every day. And that led into being invited to write for Royals Review, a site I had loved through many dark, angry seasons while the Royals were terrible but we all stuck around anyway. That very September, staying loyal to an awful team finally paid off. After watching the Wild Card victory with my family, the first thing I wanted to do was come here and soak in the moment with this community. A lot of us have never met in person, but after all the questionable contracts, turds in the lineups, firings of random hitting coaches, and 100-loss seasons, you all are my people. And you are among the only things that made it possible to stand by the Royals.
When the idea of writing about our fandom first came up, I objected. Big whoop, I was born into Royals fandom like every other kid my age. Boooring. Upon further reflection, sticking with a crappy team taught me a lot, and kept many branches of my family closer together than we would have been otherwise. Being a Royals fan is one of the biggest parts of who I am as a person, and is one of the first things strangers learn about me. If I had childhood to do over, the Royals would still be the biggest part.
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