I remember that I had two Hot Wheels that I unimaginatively named “Refrigerator” and “High Chair.” I had a pet cockroach named George (we weren’t dirt poor, but we weren’t exactly the Rockefellers, clearly) who my cousin killed by decapitation. (That bastard is in prison now, though for something far more serious than roachacide.) I remember pilfering crabapples from a neighbor’s tree and my grandfather threatening to “cut a switch” because of the theft. My uncle lived in our basement for a spell, and I thought there was a monster down there, mostly because I never saw him on account of the weird hours he kept.
I remember all of this peculiar, trivial stuff, but I’d be an absolute liar if I told you that I remember the Royals playing in the World Series that autumn. I don’t remember the jubilation, or staying up past my bedtime to sneak a peek at history. I don’t recall how this city must have felt, the aura of excitement that must surely accompany a winner. In short, I was around, but I understood it about as well as a housecat might.
Nor do I really remember 1989, when they went 92-70 but failed to make the playoffs. I was eight that year, and while I had a passive interest, it was mostly in deciding which player was the coolest. (It was Kevin Seitzer, by the way.)
By 1994’s strike shortened season, I was paying more attention. The Royals were back in contention for the first time in a million years. Bob Hamelin was crushing the ball, giving hope to doughy white kids far and wide; David Cone won the Cy Young that year. I amassed a thousand Ken Griffey Jr. and Frank Thomas baseball cards, all with the intention of retiring at 30. I was mad for all things baseball.
And then the strike happened and everything fell apart. They traded Cone back to the Blue Jays in an effort to dump salary. Hamelin turned out to be Just Another Fat Guy before becoming little more than a trivia question and a Hot Snack.
The futility snowballed, becoming an avalanche of embarrassment and heartache. Since ’94, the Royals have posted one winning season—a 2003 fluke that featured Not Ready For Prime Time Players like Brian Anderson, Runelvys Hernandez, Kyle Snyder and Mendy Lopez. (And let us never forget the aged—Rondell White, Curtis Leskanic, Paul Abbott—and the dead: Jose Lima.)
In the years since, there hasn’t been much to get excited about. A masterful 2009 Cy Young win for the incomparable Zack Greinke. A handful of decent seasons from Mike Sweeney. A period flush with Nippon Ham Fighter jokes.
But that’s changing now, right before our very eyes.
As of Wednesday night’s thrilling Red Sox/Rays conclusion, the Kansas City Royals sit TWO GAMES out of the second AL Wild Card Spot.
And although ESPN still gives them only a 15% chance of winning a spot, and although they don’t necessarily control their own destiny (they’ve gotta win, sure, but they need some other teams to get busy losing along the way), goddamn if this isn’t exciting.
It’s the middle of September, and the Royals are STILL IN THE PLAYOFF HUNT. It’s an incredibly foreign feeling, to be scoreboard watching when football is well underway. It’s a curious feeling, like finding a solitary Chili Cheese Frito in your bag of plain; you want to eat it—who DOESN’T like a Chili Cheese Frito?—but at the same time, you don’t necessarily trust it. Single Chili Cheese Fritos don’t magically appear out of nowhere, and the Royals don’t compete in September.
It feels like a setup, maybe.
As Kansas City Royals fans, we’re the dog who’s been kicked one too many times. Are we dumb for believing that when you call us over, we’re not just going to get a loafer to the ribs again? Maybe, but I also like to think that it’s the resiliency of a passionate fan-base.
That said, I’m not going to begin selling off priceless family heirlooms (my dead grandmother’s paintings of owls, circa 1972, anyone?) to buy postseason tickets quite yet. Again, the odds currently sit at 15%. But regardless of pesky things like “statistical probabilities” and “reality,” I’m going to enjoy this moment, however fleeting.
It is the middle of September, and the Royals are in a playoff hunt.
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