I don’t remember my first Royals game, I’m sure my dad dressed me in some ridiculous baby onesie and held me up in the air when the Royals scored. I know he probably hollered at Danny Tartabull and probably covered my ears because he can really yell.
The first Royals game I remember was in 1993. Mike MacFarlane was catching, Wally Joyner at 1st, Jose Lind at 2nd, George Brett was on that team. Gary Gaetti at 3rd. Gaetti looked like a large rat but hit a lot of home runs.
I remember these players because I fell for baseball that day. Months and years later, I still pored over the program from that game. In a sick twist of fate probably orchestrated by my father, the Royals gave out white plastic Royals baseball card cases with 5 or so Royals baseball cards inside.
I was hooked.
|Scott at 8 (and Tigger.)|
My dad fed this passion, watered it and tended it like a careful gardener because after all the passion was his first. He would buy two packs of baseball cards for me every weekend. I opened those packs hoping for Juan Gonzalez and usually getting David Howard but I loved them all anyway. I memorized those cards.
I watched as George Brett retired and Bob Hamelin and Carlos Beltran won Rookie of the Year. I watched as Jose Rosado blew out his shoulder and Johnny Damon moved on. I waited patiently through Bob Boone, Tony Muser, Tony Pena, Trey Hillman.
I watched as Mike Sweeney tried to play through a bad back. I watched and waited when new management would promise a return to a history that I knew about from Baseball Reference and the Baseball Almanac and countless trips through the Royals Hall of Fame. I waited.
Every spring my dad and I would play around with the idea of flying to Arizona to catch some rays and watch the hopefuls move through drills and afternoon doubleheaders. We’d talk about the rotation and who looked good and what we needed to field a contender. I listened to Denny on the radio, and watched Paul Splitorff on TV, and read Joe Posnanski and hope sprung eternal until it didn’t.
I think at some point in the last ten years I surpassed my dad in terms of cynicism. There was something revelatory in rooting for a team that was so bad. So there I was, a Royals fan who didn’t believe, a Royals fan who knew that a team without home runs and walks, a team that was married so deeply to old-school bullpen usage had no hope against the smarter, richer teams and that I was destined to continue to root for the team with its head in the sand.
My dad would talk about hope and I’d scoff pointing to fWAR and our Pythagorean win expectancy, he nodded knowing that I just hadn’t seen it happen yet.
In August, Alex Gordon started hitting home runs to win games. Yordano Ventura was throwing harder than anyone else. Wade Davis struck everyone out. No one could hit a ball that would land in our outfield and I started to believe that there was something different.
As a young sabermetrics follower I had turned baseball into a series of probabilities and formulas to help understand what was happening and to predict outcomes, but somewhere along the way I forgot that it was the magic that made me love the game. It was the improbabilities.
Then it happened.
Josh Willingham dunked a ball into no-man’s land. I yelled. I screamed for Jarrod Dyson to come in and he popped out of the dugout looking so confident. I pleaded for him to steal and then he flew into third and he was safe. When he scored and the game was tied I had seen a team do the impossible. Win. They won. They came back and showed me that 'wins probability' is a thing but the magic of this game is when hearts decide to win and young men put everything they have into it and something mystical that excites so many and unites us as fans.
I love baseball, and I love the Kansas City Royals. Magic happens and grown men cry and there is joy that tingles throughout your entire body. The Kansas City Royals are in the World Series.
Thank you, Dad.