The pandemic has put sports on hiatus for the last two months, giving us the rare perspective we get once in awhile when real life intrudes into sports, making us realize that winning the game just isn’t that important when life and death is on the line. But almost contrary to that, the pandemic has also sharpened how important sports is to our lives. While it may not seem like it should be important, it is important to us. We love sports because it arouses some of most extreme emotions. The pure joy of victory. And of course, the agony of defeat.
If you were completely alien to the concept of sports, it would seem quite odd that nine men that had no connection to you other than they had the name of the city you live near emblazoned on their chest could bring you to tears. Yet it happens, all the time, in different fanbases, in different countries, all over the world. The Royals have given us thrills, but today, we look back on the times that the Royals made us cry, sometimes out of sadness, but sometimes out of joy.
Hokius: I‘m not sure that the Royals have ever made me cry, but I can think of two times in the same game where they came close but for very different reasons. That game was, as you might expect, the 2014 Wild Card Game. The first time I almost cried because of that game was when Yordano Ventura was called upon in the sixth inning. It was a move I actually supported, at the time, because he seemed like the kind of guy who could have wild success out of the bullpen and then HDH could finish things off with only an inning apiece. But, of course, it blew up in everyone’s faces. I remember Yordano sitting on the bench after he got pulled, nearly in tears, himself.
I didn’t expect the Royals to win the game going into it. This was my first experience of playoff baseball with a team I truly cared about and I’d been a Royals fan for 16 years. I knew in my heart of hearts that they just weren’t ever going to actually be good. All I asked for from the game was that the Royals keep it competitive and play it close. I just didn’t want them to get blown out. But after Ventura came apart, it looked like a sure blowout and I lost all hope. I was as depressed as I can remember being; which is saying something for someone who has been diagnosed with depression. I was despondent and listless and other words for sad and without energy that haven’t even been invented. I turned the game off and went looking for something, anything, to distract me from the misery I felt. But smartphones were a thing by then and I couldn’t help checking in on the score. And after Billy Butler hit the double to bring it within one, I got what I had wanted. A tight game played well by the Royals. So I was able to watch the remainder of the game with my dad.
The next time the game nearly made me cry was, as you might expect, the very end. When the A’s took the lead in the top of the twelfth I wasn’t nearly so upset as before. The Royals had done what I asked to the point that they’d forced extra innings. I remember making jokes that they’d even given us “October Baseball” since the game was played on September 30th and they managed to keep playing past midnight. I couldn’t demand any more of them. But they kept going anyway. From Jarrod Dyson’s death-defying stolen base and dancing antics to Salvador Perez’s reaching swing and the seeing-eye-groundball that resulted.
Like I said, I don’t remember if I cried, but I do remember it was about 2 AM and the raw emotion inside me was so much that I still could not help but scream in pure joy even if it woke up everyone in a 20-mile radius. The adrenaline and emotions were so much that I barely remember anything except that sleep did not come easily. But I definitely would not be surprised to discover that I cried a few tears of joy after that.
Bradford Lee: The Royals moment that made me cry? Well, there’s only been one and that was the end of Game Five of the American league Championship Series in 1976. I had been a fan of the Kansas City Athletics prior and when they left town, I adopted the 1969 Royals as my new team. By 1976, General Manager Cedric Tallis (who should be in the Royals Hall of Fame) had put together a team that was strong enough to finally get past the West division dynasty that was the Oakland A’s – yes, our old team.
In the ALCS, the Royals met another team on the rise, the Yankees. Those Yankees were loaded: Munson, Chambliss, Randolph, Nettles, White, Rivers, Gamble, Piniella, Catfish, Figueroa and Sparky Lyle. Plus, they were managed by the ultimate bad guy manager, Billy Martin. They were an easy team to hate.
The Royals won 90 games that season to squeeze by the A’s. The Yankee’s won 97 games to easily win the East. The teams split the first four games of the series and going into the top of the eighth of Game Five, it looked grim. The Yankees held a 6-3 lead and Ed Figueroa looked to have the game under control. Al Cowens led off the inning with a single, which prompted Martin to bring in lefty Grant Jackson. Jim Wohlford greeted Jackson with a single, bringing up George Brett. Brett had exploded on the scene in 1976, winning the American League batting title. He didn’t disappoint. He smashed a Jackson fastball into the right field bleachers to stun the New York crowd and tie the game at six. It stayed that way until the bottom of the ninth. The Royals had their fireman, Mark “Country” Littell on the mound. Littell was a hard throwing right-hander who’d had an excellent season.
The start of the inning was delayed as Yankee fans had their hooligan moment, throwing toilet paper and other assorted sundries onto the field. It was a cold evening and the delay probably hurt Littell. Chris Chambliss stepped into the box. Chambliss was a good hitter. He had been the Rookie of the Year in 1971. On the first pitch, Littell fired a high fastball and Chambliss was ready for it. Hal McRae went to the wall, but ran out of real estate, as the ball disappeared over the fence, sending the Yankees to the World Series. The shock of the sudden loss was more than my 15-year-old heart could handle. The only other time I cried about a sporting event was when I failed to make state during my senior track season. Sports teaches valuable lessons. You learn to win, and you learn to lose.
A couple of years ago, I met Chambliss and interviewed him. He was a nice person, humble and easy to talk to. He got a good laugh out of my story. One of my worst moments was one of his best. Crazy how that works.
Max Rieper: Game 7 of the World Series is easily the sporting event I would want to have attended the most, but I never really thought I would get the opportunity. Yet in 2014, there I was, sitting in Row ZZ (did you know there even WAS a row ZZ at Kauffman Stadium?) with my buddies Carson, Brennen, and Sweep_the_Leg having taken out a loan against my son’s college savings plan to pay for the ticket (hope you get a scholarship, kid).
Sure, we had Jeremy Guthrie on the mound, but the Royals had been coming up with magic all year and at least Madison Bumgarner was unavailable for this game. So we thought. It was a close game, a few plays early in the game could have gone either way and totally changed the outcome. But I felt we still had a chance. Until he came in, that is.
Bumgarner came in and dominated like few I’ve ever seen. But even in the ninth we had a chance. Alex Gordon got in a good knock and - WHAT???? - it got by Gregor Blanco??? ALL THE WAY TO THE WALL?!?!?!? I kinda stood there in disbelief, unable to process it. Alas, Salvy would pop up to end it, leaving us to forever wonder - what if?
We watched the Giants celebrate on our field, and made our way behind the dugout. After several minutes, Ned Yost emerged to thank us all for sticking around. From what I have heard, the players were too distraught to make it out as well.
One of my favorite moments after that crushing 2014 World Series game 7 loss to the Giants - @Royals Manager Ned Yost thanking a small group of fans never knowing the Royals would return a year later and win it all. @KMBC #ForeverRoyal pic.twitter.com/31wSdU7pJQ— Kris Ketz (@KrisKetzKMBC) September 24, 2019
I didn’t cry at that time, but a few weeks later I was walking my dog, thinking about what had happened. In October, I was just happy for the Royals to be there. But with several weeks to reflect, it dawned on me - WHAT IF THAT’S THE ONLY ROYALS POST-SEASON I’LL EVER SEE AGAIN AND WE JUST LOST IN HEARTBREAKING FASHION????? I’ll admit I got a little choked up there.
Luckily, 2015 happened.
Matthew LaMar: There’s only one answer for me, which was, watching Yordano Ventura’s mom throw out the first pitch after he died. It was a reminder that baseball is just entertainment and that more important things are at stake, yet it highlighted the beauty of the sport and what can happen when we come together. Clearly, Yordano meant a lot to his teammates and family, but the Royals and his teammates meant a lot to him and his family, too.
Lots of emotions course through me during important games, but they’re almost never tears. I’ve been happy, I’ve been sad—and angry, and elated, and stunned. The closest I’ve come to crying during games is when you can see something special happening, whether that’s Salvador Perez creating magic for an entire generation of Royals fans in the Wild Card Game or watching Ned Yost nearly blow it earlier in the same game by using Yordano when he should have just picked Kelvin Herrera in the first place.
Man, Yordano. What a career. I’m glad to have witnessed his fire and rooted for him.
Josh Keiser: I’ve always been a pretty sensitive dude when it comes to crying. I really embraced the “It’s OK for men to cry” mantra early in my days before I was a man. (jury’s still out on that last part) The older I get the more prone to it I become it seems.
When it comes to Royals history, there have been a few moments where it became tough to hold it together. Most of those moments were from pure sadness on countless Opening Days I’ve attended after convincing myself that this would be the year and I wanted to be able to say I saw it kick off, only to be met with a 7 run first inning that led to a 90+ loss season. Come to think of it, I’m not sure I was fighting back tears as much as I was fighting back vomit.
But there was one moment in particular that changed everything; where very real tears flowed because of something the Royals did to me. For most of you, it was November 1, 2015. For me, it was officially November 2. I was laying in an Atlanta hotel bed because I had (hastily) made plans to see family, not thinking about the World Series in the slightest during the planning. Laying in bed, I was reflecting on what it meant to have finally felt the feeling of MY team winning it all after the Royals did just that.
FINALLY, after having seen the lowest of lows and getting within view of the highest of highs as a sports fan, MY team had done it. It’s what fandom is; devoting so much time, effort, emotion, money, etc. it was all actively being repaid by a team that seemed to be sprinkled with fairy dust. They were putting the exclamation point on a magical run and we were all right there, in that locker room, spraying champagne on each other, even if I was in a bed hundreds of miles away from both the team and the fan base.
My wife was asleep next to me while I watched that scene play over and over again on Sportscenter, unable to get enough of it. I laid there with that unquenchable thirst tasting the tears of joy that the 2015 Royals gave me as repayment for my loyalty and I will never forget it.
What about you? What Royals moments made you cry?