Why Royals fans will never spit the hook…

The Kansas City Royals are in the playoff hunt. You heard me right. The Royals. They are one of two teams leading in the AL Wild Card race, the fans are going crazy, and it’s taking me back to a time when things were almost perfect.

The year was 1985, and life in the suburbs of Chicago were good. I’d just received my driver’s license. The Bulls had a young player named Michael Jordan who was ready to launch. My beloved Bears, fueled by supreme talent and incredible coaching, won the Super Bowl. They even made a song about it. My high school baseball team won a State Championship. I was coming into my own in every facet of life. Except for one thing. It should have all been perfect, but there was something missing. On the North side of Chi-town, my favorite team, the Cubs, were coming off of an NL East title in ’84. The Cubs? In the playoffs? Yep. Each day, I’d turn on WGN and watch a rotation with the likes of pitchers like Eckersly, Trout and Sutcliffe, and lights-out closer Lee Smith. I watched an infield that included names like Sandberg, Durham, Cey and Bowa. With reckless abandon, Matthews, Moreland, Lopes and Dernier would smash the ivied brick wall, making incredible catches and throwing out runners. The fans were amazing, and historic Wrigley Field was still the self-proclaimed 8th Wonder of the World. First Baseman Mark Grace would sign in the draft that year. Life should have been perfect, but it wasn’t. They went 77-84 that year, and my hopes of a World Series appearance would yet again be dashed to pieces, along with millions of Cub fans around the globe. Oh, and one more thing. The Cardinals won 101 games in ’85, and the Division, and the Pennant. Never been, never will be a Cardinal fan, even though they seem to always win. When you grow up a Cubs fan, you’re not allowed to root for the Redbirds. It’s almost sacreligious to speak of them unless it’s with a negative connotation. It was far from perfect, to say the least. Yet every year, a new hope sprung forth. At the age of 16, I had no idea how 1985 would shape my future, and now, in 2014 at the age of 45, that year still affects me to this day. What started out as tragic irony has turned into renewed hope.

That year, I became a Royals fan, not because I liked the team, but because they beat the Cardinals. I admired the great players like Brett, White, Saberhagen and more; however, any team that beats the “Deadbirds” are my favorite in the moment. I forgot about the Royals after that series, and went on with my dream of being a professional baseball player, with “delusions” of making millions and being a perennial All-Star. After having success at the High School, College and Olympic levels, the 1991 draft found me clinging to the hopes of realizing that dream. Passion and hard work, alongside a string of amazing coaches throughout the years, paid off when, in June of the year, I received a phone call from an organization that informed me I was selected in the 26th round of the free agent draft. That team? The Kansas City Royals. I was thankful they took the chance on me, so I started my trek to the big leagues. A solid minor league career turned into just 1.5 years of MLB service time with KC, none of which I would change for anything. I met my best friend and bride in KC. I love it here. That brief window of time having a dream fulfilled has allowed me to enjoy my own radio show and TV work as a Royals analyst. Now, 15 years into retirement, I’m still a Cubs fan, but now more than ever, a HUGE Royals fan. And my heart still breaks every year. But I won’t spit the hook, and neither will the diehard fans that are used to disappointment, just the ones in my almost-perfect year.

At the time of this blog posting, the Royals have officially won 12 of 15 games, coming off a sweep of the bottom-feeding Arizona Diamondbacks. They come back home tonight to the difficult task of facing the SF Giants (I’ll be in attendance tonight!), then Oakland A’s, owners of the best record in baseball (KC just won that series 2-1 in Oakland). Best part about all this? KC is offically 1 of 2 teams leading in the Wild Card race. I know, I know. There are still 49 games to play. Skeptics (which sometimes includes myself) will tell you that’s too much time, too many games to screw things up. The bandwagon is full today; overflowing, actually. However you slice it, hope is springing eternal today, and I’m not talking about “wait ’til spring training” type of talk. The Royals are legit, playing GREAT baseball, selfless baseball, the kind that makes you forget about the past, the droughts, the missed draft opportunities that only work with other teams. The skeptics are fewer, life isn’t so bad in the KC sports world, and the people that usually turn their attention to pre-season football are still hanging on to hope. Royals fans (including this one) fully understand that they, yet again, have a huge treble hook in their mouths. But they won’t spit it out. They know heartbreak. They understand what’s at stake, and they are still letting their guard down. Why won’t they spit the hook? Well, let me quote the eloquent, yet eccentric Lloyd Christmas: “So you’re sayin’ there’s a chance…..YEAH!” And there really is. The cylinders are firing, the schedule sets up well, and in the end, there is a REAL chance for October baseball in KC. With that slight window of opportunity, true fans won’t spit the hook. Some may even swallow it. Either way, 29 long years later, the Cubs are still losing, the Cardinals are still winning, and yet…..things are beginning to look perfect again….