I was six the first time I became aware of sports. I mean, I’m sure I knew about sports before that. I was not completely unaware of the world. It’s just that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had a lot more to offer, namely ninja weaponry and a love of pizza, than any sport I had ever seen.
It was a vacation to Kansas City with my family. We came to Kauffman Stadium and watched the Kansas City Royals play. I don’t remember who they played or the outcome of the game. What I remember was the crowd united in a cause, cheering on a team. It was the final season that one of the greatest third basemen of all-time, George Brett, would play. There was so much hope in the air as people watched the team feverishly in a season that would see them again falling short of the playoffs. Eight years before, George Brett had finally gotten the long elusive championship, the baseball holy grail. Since that day, the Royals had never again come close.
I remember sitting in the hotel the next day. I was so taken by the Royals that instead of watching the Cartoon Network, I had chosen to watch another game. The vacation ended and we would find ourselves moving to Kansas City shortly thereafter.
Thus my futile fandom was born.
Being a Kansas City sports fan is hard. There have been only two major sports championships in the city’s history. Yet there I was, every spring convinced that this was, in fact, the year for the Royals. Second grade had me going to school on Halloween as first baseman Wally Joyner in a jersey hand-made by my mother. (I believe any statute of limitations involving copyright infringement has past, so hopefully the lack of approval from Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association will not lead to a weird and awkward lawsuit.) I rooted for Bob “Hammerin’” Hamelin, a player who could hit a ball harder than I could imagine, but also had the ability to strike out just as hard.
I watched as the Royals developed future stars. Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye, Carlos Beltran, Zach Greinke all came through the system, followed by them all leaving town due to a significant lack of money for a team that had not been competitive in years. Yet there I was, still convinced it would someday happen.
As a Royals fan, I grew up, graduated high school, met and married my wife, graduated college, got a job, and moved to Nashville. Meanwhile, the Royals continued the same incredible streak of suckitude. Despite this, I would still tell my wife that it was finally their year. Then she would say, “You always say that and it never is.” Then she would change the subject because there is very little in life my wife would like to talk about less than baseball.
Then, finally I was right. This was the year. After 29 years, the Royals made the playoffs. Suddenly, the crowds that had been absent for years were there. Then the craziest thing started to happen.
They won. They beat the Oakland Athletics in dramatic fashion. They handled the team with best record in baseball easily. They destroyed the Baltimore Orioles. Suddenly, they were in the World Series. They battled the San Francisco Giants. I watched every second, cheering and yelling. My cat spent the better part of the last week scurrying out of the room as quickly as possible. Apparently she does not care for me arguing with the umpires or shouting directions at the players on TV.
Not every story has a happy ending, though. After a tough battle, the Royals lost, unable to score that final run that was needed. The championship drought continues.
I won’t lie. It’s disappointing. The team I root for, the team I have always considered my own, the team that has not had a shot at championship in my entire lifetime, came as close as a team can to winning a championship only to fall short with a runner on third in a one-run ballgame.
I, however, cannot be upset. There is no reason to be sad, upset, depressed, or any other synonym that your thesaurus can dream up. I finally got to see what I had wanted to see for most of my life. I got to see my team win. Sure, they may have lost in the end, but after all of these years, people suddenly felt the same optimism that I have forever. They, again, loved the Royals, championship or not.
Besides, there’s always next year. I have a good feeling about it.