Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Little Big League

I’m going to tell you why you’re rooting for the 2014 Kansas City Royals, or why you should be. These Royals are essentially a little league team. No, that’s really not an insult, but instead it’s the greatest compliment I can give. They play like a bunch of 12 year olds. Not just the enthusiasm, which is copious. But they play the way we were all told to play. First and foremost, you hustle. You always hustle. Play defense well. Catch the ball, throw to the cutoff. Don’t try to make the great play, just play smart defense and hustle and the great plays will happen. Learn how to lay down a bunt and learn how to run the bases. Throw strikes, and trust your defense. If they can’t catch up to your fastball, that’s great, but throw strikes.

They do everything your little league coach taught you. And they play like 12 year olds. They love to run, and they love to get dirty. They chomp their gum, wear rally caps and spit seeds. But even the players on the team remind you of kids you played with. Alex Gordon is the great athlete, who does everything like the cool kid in school. He can strike out four times in a single game, but he never looks phased.  Eric Hosmer has the punky haircut and is always pumping up his teammates, and man can he hit. And anytime he gets a hit, the first thing he does is look back to the dugout and pumps everyone up even more.  Mike Moustakas is that super intense kid, the one you want on your side if there’s ever a fight. He’s the strongest kid on the team, and you get the feeling that his parents are probably too hard on him, but he lives and dies with the team. Salvy Perez is the big lug of a catcher, always quick with a joke and a word of encouragement. And he’ll swing at anything and everything. Lorezno Cain is the kid who started later than everyone else, but he’s such a great athlete that he’s already one of the best players on the team. He’s just a freak athlete, but he doesn't even realize it yet.

And everyone really likes each other. The parents sitting in the bleachers can tell, and watch with pride as the dirty up their uniforms. They have an air of confidence, but never seem arrogant. There’s just no quit in any of them. They go up against teams with bigger and stronger kids, whose parents pay for all the best coaching and ridiculously expensive bats and cleats, and they beat ‘em. They appreciate every victory, and never take it for granted.

Maybe it’s the last summer before someone leaves to join a traveling team, or a dad’s  transfer takes someone else away to a far off exotic city, or maybe they’ll stick together all the way through high school.  None of that matters to a 12 year old on the field. That’s the stuff grown-ups worry about; these kids just want to keep playing.  And man, they sure are fun to watch. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Be Royal

I was 12 when we moved to Kansas City from back east. And the truth is, before we moved, the Royals were my second favorite team. I had a 1985 Fleer sticker of Royal Stadium, and thought that it looked like a pretty cool stadium. But more than that, the Royals reminded me of the Mets. My Mets had a young dominant pitcher in Dwight Gooden, and the Royals had Bret Saberhagen. The Mets had centerfielder that could fly with Mookie Wilson and the Royals had a Wilson of their own in WIllie. Both teams had right fielders who could hit the cover off the ball and gritty third basemen.

I hated the idea of leaving my friends and my Mets, but Kansas City didn’t sound like a horrible place. And we were going to live just 30 minutes from the stadium, compared to the nearly two hour trip we had back east. It was 1989 and the Royals had a pretty good team. But then we moved here, and I felt completely lost. I convinced myself that cheering for the Royals meant that I was being disloyal to the Mets. I quickly grew to hate living here, and rooting for a Kansas City team would have required positivity and enthusiasm. Being an angry 12 year old made that impossible. And so I quickly began to despise the Royals and the Chiefs.

As I made friends, even some who were Royal fans, my anti-KC feelings became part of those friendships. It’s great to root with people, but rooting against them is more engaging than being apathetic. So as the 90’s went, and the Royals ran their franchise into the ground, it became great fun to root against them. It helped take the focus off my Mets, who quickly became horrible themselves. 

I kept my anti-KC for years. Years became a decade, and soon a second decade. I made an exception when I attended the University of Kansas, and fell in love with Lawrence and the tradition of Jayhawk basketball. Plus, Lawrence never felt like the rest of the midwest to me. The Royals kept assembling ridiculous rosters and the Chiefs kept disappointing their faithful fans. So that was pretty fantastic. 
Things began to shift when I found someone who wasn't just willing to marry me, but really wanted to. And being a Kansas City native that I loved, I started to warm to the teams of her youth. Aspects of Kansas City that I used to mock, started to become appealing. It’s really affordable, and very family friendly. 

Before I knew it, and without realizing it, I built a life here. Fantastic friends and a great family of my very own. So while other cities are sexier and have more to offer, Kansas City became home. And the Royals, after going through more rebuilding projects than any fan base should ever be asked to endure, started to show some promise. Along with the promise I saw on the field, there was seeing my wife cheer for them. And then it finally happened. I accepted the Royals and Kansas City became home. Not home “until…” but it’s really home. It’ll never be where I’m from, and I’ll always love Long Island and the memories of back east. But it’s where my daughter is forming her childhood memories.

Last night’s 12 inning win brought back memories of seeing the Mets beat the Astros in 16 innings in the 1986 playoffs. And there’s nothing as memorable as a baseball team that won’t quit and finds a way to win. Go Royals. You know, unless they’re playing the Mets.