Perspective, Pride, and Validation

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What follows below was 95% written over the day leading up to game 7. I was so confident the Royals would cruise to a victory that I spent many hours yesterday crafting my cup runneth over with excitement into words. I was already arranging work meetings around the parade on Friday.

All postseason long, I have been privately laughing at the unknowledgeable fair weather fan. The person on the verge of tears because a Royal struck out in the third inning of game 3. The people popping off on Twitter that it was all over after Game 1. Holy reactionism, BatMan! Knee jerk after knee jerk after knee jerk from people paying attention to baseball seriously for the first time that just don’t understand the “it’s a marathon, not a race” nature of the sport.

And those of you that actually know me can vouch that I am about as level-headed and rational as they come, often to a fault. I am rarely anything but a pensive status quo, never far from agreeable in either direction. I bottle anger and hate better than Boulevard bottles beer.

But last night as Bumgarner cemented his place in postseason folklore by mowing down our Royals like kids whose fathers make them play little league, my bottle burst and the long held down, knee jerk reaction fan came screaming out.

I was done. I dropped my tablet and phone to the ground. I didn’t watch any of the post game festivities, choosing rather to mope about my basement and drink heavily and alone into the wee hours of the morning until falling asleep in some random location of my house.

Whatever version of rest I got did not soften my anger one bit. I vowed I was out for a while. I would be back eventually, probably sooner than later, but I had no interest in hearing any second place puppy dog crap. I would not listen to talk radio, get on sports related social media, pick up a newspaper, or have any interaction with the sports world for a long time. This article below was to be immediately deleted upon reaching work. I didn’t turn on the radio during my morning commute.

This was, by far, the most I had been personally affected by sports.

But around 11 AM, I got a simple text from my wonderful fiancé: 610 sports. I stared at it for a few minutes. Was I already going to let myself get back in? Geez Zach, you finally take an actual stand on something (as stupid as that stand may be) and you cave within 5 hours?  And at first I didn’t. For the next 10 minutes or so I went about my business. Then I gave in.

Having been away from the sports world, I had no idea there was a celebration at Kaufmann. I knew this was locker cleaning day for the team, but I figured that it would have a few token interviews and a nice don’t-let-the-door-hit-you-in-the-ass-on-the-way-out.

I was first greeted by the voice of our powerful and gifted civic leader, Mayor Sly James. It was an emotional and fiery batch of words, but I still hadn’t put together that this was an event at Kauffman stadium with 15,000 fans in attendance. But then I heard them cheering. And Ryan Lefebvre. The team came out. Twenty or so defeated men that had their guts ripped out in front of the world only 13 hours before. Yost spoke. Shields referred to the team as “we” in regards to next year. Billy couldn’t make it through the word “organization” without starting to weep. It wasn't a "we didn't win the whole thing, but look how awesome we are anyway!" message. It was simply to say thanks. And I was 100% back in.

See, this is not something that normal organizations do. Our Royals did not win the World Series. They do not get to call themselves “World Series Champions” for the rest of their lives. There will be no iconic call from Denny or Ryan that we hear replayed thousands of times. We all could have crumpled into darkness like I did last night.

But we didn’t. The Royals didn’t. Our city and the people in it are simply amazing. The Royals took the time today to make sure that we know they realize that. This is a special team, a special franchise, a special time. This is the perspective from which we should view what happened.

So, enjoy this very long read. I hope you take the time to read it fully. May it help you relive the best month of sports fandom most of us have ever had and remember the three undeniable things that the 2014 Kansas City Royals gave our damn fine city: perspective, pride, and validation.

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"The toughest part about it is we're primed this year to win. You want to be part of that dog pile in September. The way the team's shaping up, we're going to win. That's not a doubt.”

-Luke Hochevar, March 2014-

I remember admiring, yet ultimately laughing off the optimism of this comment. Hochevar, fresh off the news he would not pitch for the 2014 Royals due to Tommy John surgery, lamented to the press. He had been a part of the worst days in recent memory for the Royals. The tough years. The losses. One could argue he was Dayton’s first reclamation project. Technically drafted under the Moore regime (though it has been widely reported he kept his hands more or less out of that draft class), he had failed as a major league starting pitcher in the worst way. He was on the fast track to becoming an insurance salesman. But like the team around him, he ultimately found an unexplainable way to win, in his case becoming one of the best relief pitchers in the game in 2013. He had long endured the bitter and was ready to revel in the sweet.

Whereas off by a month (even he wasn’t THAT optimistic), those words by our unfortunately mostly forgotten 2013-Wade-Davis-Lite have come true. The Kansas City Royals have won made it to the 2014 World Series.

Repeat. This is not a drill. Our Kansas City Royals Royals have won made it to the 2014 World Series.

You may freak the eff out now.

Kansas City, OUR city deep in the heart of flyover country, is a bursting fusillade of civic pride. People have and will continue to shed tears of joy for the indefinite future. Local businesses will live off this revenue for many moons. Credit card company executives will thoroughly enjoy their Christmas bonuses this year.  Maternity wards will be binkies over blankets with newborns in nine months. I can now truly understand the scene in the bar at the end of Major League where the very stereotypical normal working man embraces the very stereotypical spike-haired punk rocker.

For this particular Royals fan, words have been hard to come by this postseason. 34 years of being a Royals fan (the last 29 especially) have had their effect on me just like most others. Many times I have started an article only to stop myself and say “Not yet. Wait until it’s over. Be the come-down-off-the-ledge voice of reason and perspective people will need.”

There was the indescribable jubilation and sense of validation after the greatest wildcard game in Major League Baseball history. That alone validated everything that #GMDM worked on for almost a decade. There should be no more questioning his ability to rebuild an organization from ruin to reign. Whether acquired by sly trade, shrew free agent signing, amateur draft, or international signing, his players, his handcrafted team, battled through the canyon of filth their manager put them in during that game to win one of the most exhilarating contests in MLB playoff history.

The ALDS Angels series came and went in a blink of an eye. I’m still not sure it actually happened. Facing the team with the best record in all of baseball in 2014, even the most devout fans had to see this as an uphill climb. Sure, it’s the postseason and anything can happen, but it would take a lot of breaks and unexplainable fortune to topple a team that loaded in a best of five.

But in what we have now come to expect as true Royals fashion, the boys in blue confidently took care of business, defying every statistic and pundit telling them they should fail. Trout and Company took 3 neatly packaged hooks to the chin, hitting the mat faster than Glass Joe. All of a sudden, this was becoming real.

Surely, the battle tested AL East division winners Baltimore Orioles would present a bigger challenge in the ALCS. Hell, they’re even built kinda like the Royals. Good starting pitching, very adept defense, a shutdown bullpen. The fundamental difference: speed vs power. The Royals led all of MLB in Stolen Bases, the Orioles tops in Home Runs, while both being last in MLB in the other category. 4 games in the lunchbox known as Camden Yards would favor the power hitting club. Again, the odds were stacked against us.

And again, the team that doesn’t know any better did what they unexplainably keep doing: win baseball games. The contests were all close. But it was the Royals that showed the ability to adapt their style most effectively. They brought the sticks when needed, scoring 14 runs in the two games in Baltimore. Back at Kaufmann, they won the way they had all year with two 2-1 nail biters. The three headed hydra of Herrera-Davis-Holland locked down the last frames of each game, allowing only 2 ER over 14.2 innings pitched with 15 strikeouts. The Orioles looked like a team waiting around for their knight-in-shining-armor big hit that never came. With a third champagne celebration in sixteen days, the Kansas City Royals were headed to the World Series.

We waited as the NLCS finished up. We debated who we’d rather face. Do we have a better shot against the battle tested San Francisco Giants or our old nemesis: the dirty, dirty red birds themselves, the St Louis Cardinals? People both feared and licked their chops at a 1985 World Series rematch. Whereas Cardinals’ fans have had more recent success to help them move on since then, Kansas City still holds on to that memory like a “Hey bro, I had her first” conversation with your high school girlfriend’s husband at your 10 year reunion. I will readily admit that I am 100% biased against and disgusted by most Cardinals fans, so I was pleased when the Giants took care of business in five. Only one long, long, long week of waiting was left to separate us from Kansas City Royals World Series baseball.

Those words alone seemed like enough. Kansas. City. Royals. World. Series. Baseball. But these damn meddling kids were on a historic playoff hot streak. Could this team, this ballyhooed franchise that always seemed to be the butt of every joke in the national media for the past three decades (I’m looking at you, Jimmy Fallon …), really ride it all the way to a championship?

Game one was a slap in the face, a cold shower the morning after St Patrick’s day. Bumgarner was superhuman, Shields had a Phiten necklace made of Kryptonite. Our ace got swapped for the 2 of puppy dog’s feet (or clubs, as you may call them). The Royals got knocked around to the tune of 7-1. The game was out of reach after a 3 run first from the Giants. Overly-Proud-And-Boastful Rob Lowe started popping off on Twitter. San Fran was already starting to plan the parade.

The Royals were supposed to roll over. They were supposed to say “Hey, we didn’t win it all, but that was a hell of a season anyway!” Former Royals cast off Gregor Blanco homered on the first pitch of Game two off everyone’s favorite Ventura (sorry, Jim Carrey and Monopoly. Yordano’s got you beat). But the postseason puppies again refused to go by the script and rose to the challenge of adversity. They scored in the bottom half of the inning and in the second. San Fran tied the game with one in the fourth. It looked like the typical tight pitcher’s duel we have nervously enjoyed most nights this season.

Then, Hunter Strickland happened. The Royals bats finally erupted in the six for five big runs, highlighted by wittle owd Strickland getting his feewings hurt by Salvy’s double and Infante’s no-doubt two run homer. This scrappy bunch of baby faced juveniles were starting to get into the domes of the seasoned Giants. Game two went 7-2 to the Royals.

On to the odd confines of AT&T park in San Francisco for Game 3: Guthrie vs Hudson Round 1. With two wily veterans on the mound, the safe money was on a close game. It was exactly what we got.  The Royals built a three run lead before letting the Giants sneak back in the game with two in the bottom of the bottom of the sixth. Cue the hydra. Four headed as it was this night, Herrera, Finnegan, Davis and Holland “put the hammer down!” (please address all royalty checks to Mitch Holthus) on the Giants offense and the Royals solidly landed a huge jab on the Giants chin with a 3-2 win.

Up 2-1 in the series with the hulking figure of Bumgarner awaiting in game 5, game 4 was incredibly important for the Royals. To take a 3-2 series back to Kaufmann would be ideal, some might argue necessary for them to pull it out. Initially, the Royals intended to do just that. They held a 4-2 lead into the fifth inning. The shadow of the hydra began to stir in the Royals bullpen, all but forcing a now-or-never desperation in the Giants. They responded a resounding “now” with 9 unanswered runs and an 11-4 victory. Things were starting to look somewhat bleak for the boys in blue.

Especially when Game 5 went exactly as to be expected. Shields was much better than his poor showing in Game 1, but Madison Bumgarner is one of the best pitchers in the world right now.  Don’t believe it? Just ask Joe Buck. He did what true aces do and completely shut down the Royals offense, pitching a historic four hit complete game shutout. The series was headed back to Kaufmann stadium. The Royals had absolutely no room for error. It was win or go home for the winter.

Ned Yost has taken his fair share, and often deserved, amount of criticism during his time as a major league manager. Much like his team, at times his in-game management defies logic and spits in the face of statistics and conventional wisdom. However, he has been as consistent as can be with support and positivity towards his players. Leading up to game 6, he all but guaranteed a win from his ball club to the media. Never wavering from this stance, his staunch comments must have hit the ears of the Giants at some point. Would this blackboard material motivate them to end this series in six games?

Ah …. nope. Much as he has faithfully had the back of his players all year, the Royals came together with triumphant support behind their skipper, drubbing the Giants 10-0 in a game in which they knocked Giants starter Jake Peavy out before the end of the second inning. Every starter had at least one hit, with six players having two or more. Yordano Ventura took his final step into stardom with a dazzling and ostentational performance over 7 shutout innings. It was a rout from beginning to end.

There is no better script in professional sports than a World Series game 7. Two teams, having played a combined 410 baseball games over a nine month period meet for one final winner-takes-all showdown. 9 final do-or-die innings to decide who gets to join the elite club of World Series Champions.

Guthrie vs Hudson Round Two. Well, it was for about 45 minutes. The Royals chased Hudson before the end of the 2nd. Things were lining up. We had good swings. JGuts was throwing the ball very well. The hydra was fully rested and hungry.

But on this night, the Giants out Royaled the Royals. 2 of their 3 runs were scored by sac fly, the third on a clutch opposite field dinker. We could not get Sandoval out. We lived the horror that we have inflicted upon teams all season as we watched helplessly as every last dash of hope was crushed by historically great relief pitching. Bumgarner will be respectfully hated in these parts for a long, long time. We will argue for years whether Guthrie should have been pulled before facing Pence a second time and whether Gordon should have been sent. We will remain angry that Aoki batted in the eighth.

We did not win the World Series. But we are validated. We are relevant and, even in defeat, still the darlings of the sports world. It is not a World Series Championship, but is important and worth celebrating. The monkey striking the anvil on top of the piano being played by an obese hippopotamus on top of the ton of bricks is finally off our shoulders. We have long deserved another baseball championship the taste of World Series baseball and we finally got one. We can all jump off that ledge hand in hand into the mighty updraft of victory perspective, pride, and validation.

I’ll say it again. The Kansas City Royals Royals have won made it to the 2014 World Series.

Party on, Kansas City. Party like its 2014.

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Author: Zach Hodson

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