Since we are now more than a week removed from a World Series Championship, I think it’s time to offer a confession. On a mid-summer day not so long ago, I gave up on the Kansas City Royals.
Fresh off of the 2014 All-Star break, the Royals—a team with promising young talent but nothing to show for it—had dipped below .500 after being swept by the hapless Boston Red Sox. These Red Sox were not the annual juggernaut of the mid-2000s, or the World Series Champs of 2013. Far from it. These Red Sox were a team in flux, sitting nine games below .500, preparing to rebuild en route to their second worst record in fifty years.
The first game of the series against Boston featured a journeyman slugger named Jonny Gomes, who belted a pinch-hit, two-run homer to ensure Boston’s victory. Then, two days later, Boston completed the sweep behind ace Jon Lester, who fired eight scoreless innings while striking out eight Royal hitters.
Whatever momentum the Royals had achieved going into the All-Star break was now dead. By this point, Detroit had all ready started to run away with the Central Division. Royals fans seemed convinced of what would transpire over the next two months. We knew how this movie ended. We had seen it before.
“Here we go again,” I thought. “Another season down the toilet. Our team sucks. It’s hopeless. Season’s over.”
I should clarify. It’s not like I threw away my Royals shirts, or picked a new team to root for. I just lost all hope that our beloved Boys in Blue would ever amount to anything meaningful.
Perhaps I had grown too weary of hearing the front office overpromise and under-deliver. Maybe I had become too jaded waiting on prospects to develop. Or, perhaps the weight of watching a perennial loser for the better part of three decades had finally taken its toll.
When Dayton Moore took over as the Royals’ General Manger in 2006, he told fans to trust the process. He told us that building a winner would take time. Instead of dismissing these clichés, I took him at his word.
Eight years later, we were still waiting. I felt like I had waited long enough.
And so, on July 21st, 2014, I officially quit on the Kansas City Royals.
But then, something remarkable happened. The Royals started winning baseball games. The team went 41-25 the last ten weeks of the season to earn a spot in the Wild Card game and solidify its first postseason appearance in 29 years. All of a sudden, I was back in. All in. I guess fans can be fickle like that.
My dad and I bought tickets to the Wildcard game. We were thrilled to finally experience postseason baseball. There was only one problem. We would be facing that ace Lester, the same dominant lefty who shut us out back on July 20th (albeit now pitching for a new team).
Royals fans all remember how this Wild Card game went. The comeback narrative has been well documented. It was a glorious win, one for the ages.
Down four, the Royals scored three runs in the 8th inning to knock Lester out, and one in the 9th to send it to extras. Then, trailing by one heading into the bottom of the 12th, the Royals scored two runs to advance in walk-off fashion. Truly miraculous.
Those of us who were there can appreciate how energized the crowd was. The stadium was electric. But truthfully, down 7-3, Kauffman Stadium went silent. Most of us were holding our heads down, looking at our phones in between innings, sitting quietly as we awaited our postseason fate.
Anyone who says they thought we would come back and win was lying. That’s not why we all stayed. We stayed because we were stunned, shell shocked, paralyzed by the inevitability of the situation. Besides, the seats were expensive, and we didn’t have anywhere else to go.
The pessimism returned: Season’s over.
And yet, somehow, inexplicably, the season was just getting started. All because this team never quit.
The Royals would go on to win the Wild Card game and sweep their way to the World Series. They were the first team in baseball history to win its first eight consecutive postseason games. But then, the Royals’ incredible run was halted by the San Francisco Giants, which outlasted the Royals in seven games. The tying run, Alex Gordon, was stranded 90 feet from home plate because, unlike in the Wildcard came, Salvador Perez was unable to deliver a clutch hit.
Finally, the season was indeed over. The 2014 Royals had given us a lot to cheer for, but in the end, despite a great effort, it was not quite enough.
Following the 2014 season my wife and I decided to cancel cable in order to save a little money. Actually, she wanted to cancel it the previous summer. But I convinced her that we should hold out until the Royals were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. Three months later, the Royals were playing in the World Series.
So, after last season ended, true to my word, I agreed to cancel.
I justified our decision: How could the Royals be better in 2015 than they were in 2014? Besides, the national pundits had given up on the Royals being able to return to the playoffs, let alone win the World Series. These “experts” had quit on KC before the season had even begun.
Of course, the 2015 Royals went on to win 95 regular season games, earning the top record in the American League. They would advance through the playoffs again, posting one come-from-behind win after another, finally defeating the Mets in five games to win the 2015 World Series.
Despite all its doubters – or perhaps because of them – this team never quit.
Early in the 2015 season, other teams wanted a piece of the Royals. The Royals got involved in April dustups with the White Sox, Angels and A’s. But instead of backing down or getting intimidated, KC went 17-8 in April and 9-4 against those teams during that span.
Eventually, cooler heads would prevail and the dust would settle. But this much was clear: The Royals would not go down without a fight.
Later, on July 8th, All-Star left fielder Alex Gordon suffered a groin injury that would keep him off the field for almost two months. True to form, the Royals didn’t panic. Instead, they posted a 31-17 mark until Gordon returned to action, securing their grip on the AL Central.
The team’s adversity was not limited to on-field troubles, however. Off-field tragedy struck when three parents of Royals players died during the season.
Mike Moustakas lost him mom to her battle with cancer on August 9th. The third baseman’s loss occurred shortly before he earned an appearance in his first All-Star game. Weeks later, Moose set the franchise record for RBIs in a game, knocking in 9.
Six weeks later, cancer would strike again. It took Chris Young’s dad, who passed away on September 26th. Hours after his father’s passing, the 6’10” righty pitched five no-hit innings, leading the Royals to victory. Young finished the season with the lowest ERA on the team among qualified starting pitchers.
But the most impressive narrative of overcoming personal tragedy belonged to another starting pitcher, Edinson Volquez, who lost his dad to heart disease on October 27th, the day of his first World Series start. Volquez pitched well, but didn’t find out about his dad’s passing until the end of the game. Volquez caught the first plane back to the Dominican Republic to grieve the tragic loss. Then in Game 5, on the biggest stage, in the biggest game of his life, a heavy-hearted Volquez returned and pitched an incredibly gutty performance. Steady Eddie gave up just two hits and one earned run in six solid innings of work. The Royals would come back to win 7-2 in extra innings to win the 2015 World Series.
Young and Volquez, in the midst of tragedy, proved to be KC’s most consistent starters in October. These two were not the most talented, or even the most vocal. But they embodied the new Royal Way: embrace the moment, support each other, and fight to overcome adversity. These guys never quit.
After securing the 2015 World Series title, hundreds of thousands of fans went to celebrate the World Champs. We were told to get to the parade early because 500,000 people were expected to show up. Schools were canceled. Businesses closed down. The Liberty Memorial lawn was packed with blue bodies. Rumor has it more than 800,000 came. I have no idea how you could count all of them. All I know is I have never seen so many people in one place at one time.
I drove down to the parade with my wife and two-year-old son. The only other time that the Royals have won the World Series was in 1985. I was two then, the same age as my son.
As we approached downtown, we had to park on a side road and walk for a few miles just to get to the Liberty Memorial. The closer we got, the more surreal it all became. Tens of thousands of people lined the sidewalks, all of us dressed in the same blue clothes, all of us going the same direction, toward a large stone monument.
It all felt a little weird, a little cultish, a little out-of-body. We were sweaty and crowded and sleep deprived and hungry and tired from all the walking. But no one seemed to mind.
Our prayers had been answered, and now we were eager to pay homage.
This was our journey to Royal Mecca. It was the least we could do for a team that never quit.