*While this is typically a photography blog, I needed an outlet to share some thoughts on the 2014 Royals. It also should be noted that I am not a writer, just a fan.
I just got back from the airport. I was dropping off a friend who flew in on less than a week’s notice to watch a baseball game. In Kansas City. In October. That’s the kind of week it has been.
But it has taken a long time to get here. I was born in June of 1988, nearly three years after the Royals last won the World Series and last made the playoffs. I’m now 26 years old and for as long as I can remember have called the Royals my favorite team. It hasn’t been easy.
There were 100-loss seasons (four out of five between 2002-2006). Superstars were traded away for no-name prospects. Buddy Bell managed 436 games and posted a .399 winning percentage. And all the while the hallowed numbers of White, Howser and Brett hung in left field as a reminder to all of us born post-1985 that this isn’t how it’s always been.
Despite the under-achieving and sometimes embarrassing product on the field, I returned to Kauffman Stadium each April full of hope. Hope that General Manager Dayton Moore’s “process” would pay-off. Hope that maybe some year the Royals would stay relevant at least until Chiefs training camp started. And maybe in the way back of my brain, a glimmer of hope that one day, glory, in the form of a playoff game would return to the stadium and team I loved.
That glimmer of hope started to feel a little more real on May 6, 2011. On that day at Kauffman Stadium, 21-year-old Eric Hosmer made his major league debut. The city was abuzz. It was a Friday, and the organization’s top prospect had just been called up to the bigs. A huge walk-up crowd showed up to The K that night to see him play, because to many fans Hosmer embodied what could be the start of something special. The start of a turn-around that was decades over-due.
But a season and a half after Hosmer’s call-up, things were not going as planned. The Royals finished the 2012 season at 72-90 and in 3rd place in the A.L. Central. So in December of 2012, Dayton Moore decided it was time to go all-in. He mortgaged the future, trading top prospects Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi for Wade Davis and James Shields. Shields was under contract for just two more seasons, which meant the pressure was on to make the trade worth what Moore had given up. And the only thing that would satisfy was a postseason birth.
In 2013, another October went by without the Royals playing baseball, and suddenly 2014 became the most anticipated Royals season of my life. The season was a roller coaster ride from start to finish. Kansas City spent a good portion of August and September in first place in the division. And on Friday, September 26 at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, what seemed impossible for the majority of my life happened: the Royals clinched a playoff spot. I stood in my living room and drank champagne.
Some said the trade was validated just by making the postseason. Others were pessimistic and said that the wildcard didn’t really count as the playoffs anyway.
Either way, there was no reason to believe this team would make any noise in the postseason. No reason to believe they could get past the Oakland A’s and Jon Lester, who has historically owned the Royals when he pitches. No reason to believe that superstars-in-waiting Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas would translate otherwise disappointing seasons in to postseason heroics. There was no reason to believe in this team.
Until the Royals gave us every reason to believe.
Until, when down 7-3 with six outs left in their season, this team decided they weren’t done playing baseball yet.
Until they went on the road to play the team with the best record in the American League and, behind the bats of those aforementioned superstars-in-waiting, stole two games in extra innings to kick off the ALDS.
And not until last night, when I witnessed first-hand Billy Butler steal second base en-route to an 8-3 series clinching victory, did I truly feel that a team that has let me down my entire life could, for once, give me a damn good reason to believe.
Preliminary scan | Hutton Farms, 2014
Preliminary scan | West Lawrence, 2013