Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Kansas City Royals

Unmentionably incredible things are happening in a particular amateur school sport; the Boston area is still buzzing about Bill Belichick's now-infamous call; the Bruins are literally driving me insane, and I've got surprise Celtics tickets for tomorrow night's game.

There's no better time, then, to talk a Yes, it's about my fifth-favorite sport (if that), and it's well out of season now. But I'm going to talk about it, anyway. Actually, this post is somewhat timely. Zack Greinke won the AL Cy Young Award today, capping a marvelous season for him and another dismal season for his team, the Kansas City Royals. So, I'm using the news of Greinke's well-deserved award to officially come out: I am a Kansas City Royals fan.

Why? I have no idea. Maybe it's because the Red Sox, having already grabbed their holy grail in 2004 and then again in 2007, aren't much fun to cheer for anymore--they're just a big, rich club now with a fairly obnoxious fan base. (Sorry, Boston fans--but you long-timers know it's true.)

Where's the fun in cheering for a team like that? Where's the challenge? I found myself not even caring that the New York Yankees returned to the top of the baseball mountain this season. Who cares about the Yankees? Who cares about a rivalry between two big, rich teams with massive payrolls and loud-mouth, bandwagon fan bases? (Again, sorry, Boston fans--but you know what I mean.) It's like choosing sides in Microsoft vs. Google or Goldman Sachs vs....well, some other big, nasty Wall Street firm, if there are any others left.

Both choices (in all of those categories) are particularly unpalatable right now for lots of reasons, and they're not exactly headed in the direction of being charming again. So, I'm going to go with the fallen empire in Middle America, a club that, one would hope, can go nowhere but up...or at least can't sink much further down.

There are certain sports loyalties I will never relinquish. I'll always be a Dallas Cowboys fan by birth and by blood, no matter how much I detest Jerry Jones (and I really, really don't like him). I also cheer for the Patriots because they're local and because I like football and they're on TV every weekend. Actually, I became a Pats fan in 1993--check their record back then.

After wandering a bit, I've settled firmly on being a supporter of the English football side West Ham United, a glorious failure of a club whose fans' commitment to style and passion over results strongly appeals to me--and whose theme song, "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles," seems to serve as a kind of succinct soundtrack for my life. (Just check the chorus in the link; the verses are immaterial.)

Then, there are the Boston Bruins, my local sports passion and perhaps the worst-run, most frustrating, most aggravating, most crazy-making and most utterly lovable sports team anywhere outside of East London. I've been a Bruins fan for going on two totally pointless, fruitless decades now, and I'll continue to be one because...well, I'm still talking with my therapist about why.

Of course, my ultimate sports loyalty is to my alma mater's college football team, which I can't mention for entirely legitimate reasons of superstition. But trust me--this is a torrid love affair that began 25 years ago, waned a bit, came back about 20 years ago and has never abated since. I'm honesty surprised that I haven't been institutionalized over this team. The thing about the Bruins and a therapist was a joke--but if I told you that I'd talked to a counselor (or two, or three) about my college football addiction...well, I'd be telling you the truth. I'm working on it.

I suppose I like the Celtics well enough; they are, after all, the only basketball team of any kind I actually watch. And I'll keep checking in on the results of Stade Francais, the pro rugby club in Paris that I grew to love when I lived there. So, I have loyalties. And I'm not a fair-weather fan. In fact, I'm the opposite--I tend to lose interest in sports teams when they win too much. I can identify with the losers, or at least with the strugglers.

Besides, baseball has always been a bit of a wild card for me. Never having had much interest in the second-fiddle (to the Cowboys, and third when the Mavericks started play) Texas Rangers, I adopted the New York Mets as my favorite baseball team in the early '80s. (Again, check the record.) I'll still be a Mets fan. That's the nice thing about baseball--it's totally legitimate to have a favorite team in each league. But I've never had a rock-hard baseball loyalty like the one I have for the Bruins or West Ham or especially that amateur football team I'm not mentioning.

When my wife and I decided to attend her family reunion this past summer and I realized that our trip would take us through Kansas City, I decided that I had to see the Royals. Oh, sure, the Cardinals are more successful and have a higher profile, and their new stadium is OK, I guess...sort of. I dutifully went to see the Cardinals play and had a nice evening with family.

But the feeling I had for the Royals was different. I had to see them. I was drawn to them. Maybe it was nostalgic memories of the great George Brett, one of my all-time favorite athletes. Maybe it was the crippling love of the hopeless underdog that I've clung to for much of my life, except where the Cowboys were concerned. (And, even with them, I watched every game of the 1-15 1989 season. I'm not sure I've caught a full Cowboys season since.)

Maybe it was a desire to bond with my father-in-law, a KC-area native and all-around good guy. Maybe it had something to do with the weird attraction I seem to have to Kansas City as a place. (I've been reading the KC Star online pretty much every day since our trip there.) Maybe it was the fountains in the outfield, the crown-shaped scoreboard, the "KC" logo, the color of the uniforms or the allure of supporting a once-great franchise that had fallen and couldn't (can't) seem to get up.

Whatever, I went to KC, waited through a rain-out one night, went back the next night, saw the Royals play and became a fan. There was just a charm to the place and the people there that attracted me. For the rest of a near-100-loss season, I tracked every game the Royals played, read articles and blogs in the Star and watched KC on TV when I had a chance. I know--it's crazy. But, like REO Speedwagon, I just couldn't fight this feeling anymore.

So, there you go. I've used a lot of words to tell you that I'm officially a fan of a lousy baseball team that happens to have a great pitcher. (Congrats, Zack.) As for the Red Sox--well, I'll still cheer for them if I go to Fenway (and they're not playing the Royals), but I've really lost my passion for them. They're boring these days, win or lose, and I find baseball boring enough as it is. So, I'm taking up a new challenge. Or, at least, I will be in the spring. Go Royals!

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