I’ll be honest, when the pandemic shut things down in March, I wasn’t sure if there was going to be a baseball season.
At the time, especially during April and May, there seemed to be so much uncertainty about the game, not to mention life in general. There were talks about MLB adopting an Arizona/Florida bubble plan, fans in the stands seemed like a pipe dream, owner and player negotiations in terms of returning to play stalled for weeks, and in a time where people were experiencing personal and economic loss, it just seemed like professional baseball would be a casualty, especially after the NCAA Tournament and Spring college sports were lost. (And it kind of was, as the Minor League season was indeed cancelled.)
However, baseball was able to pull out a 60-game regular season, and the playoffs are still a go, which seemed hard to believe a couple of months ago before the season started (and especially after outbreaks to the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals). That being said, the Royals were not just able to play 60 games, but they were also able to show signs of hope for 2021 and beyond.
And honestly, I am thankful for this Royals team of 2020, and not just because they showed that they are a franchise on the way up. I am mostly grateful because the Royals helped me appreciate and understand the game again in a way that I would have never expected back when Spring Training was stopped in March.
I began the Royals Reporter last May as a way to better express my Royals and baseball fandom. However, due to the rigors of grad school last July, the blog pretty much stopped as soon as it got started, as I failed to post at all in July, and only got about 1 or 2 posts in during the month of August. After writing about 12 posts each month during September and October, I was only able to post about 4 in November and then pretty much stopped, derailed by a few personal things that took a toll on my ability to sit down, concentrate, and write a post.
However, in December on Christmas Break, I sat down and wrote a post again, this time on Maikel Franco, and my interest in Royals fandom continued again. I went to FanFest for the first time in my nearly eight years of living here in Kansas City, and I became hooked on the Royals. I bought a season ticket package for the first time in my life, and was ready to fully divest myself into every and anything Royal in 2020.
And then the pandemic happened. And the baseball season was delayed.
And yet…I kept writing.
As many of you know, I am a high school teacher, and during the pandemic, school shut down and I had to teach from home. It was not an easy process, and the anxiety of COVID and isolation it produced only made things worse personally. That being said, I just kept writing on the Royals. I wrote about Royals history; I wrote about Royals fandom; I became a member of SABR, the Negro League Museum, and the IBWAA. During a time where fears were running high and life was at a standstill, especially sports, I just kept writing on the Royals. And thankfully, the Royals got me through it all, in a weird, unintentional way.
I never really invested in a Royals team like this one in 2020 (even the 2014 and 2015 runs didn’t compare; though 2013 was close because it was my first year in Kansas City). Maybe it was the circumstances they were facing with the pandemic. Maybe it was all the new changes, with a new owner and a new manager at the helm in Kansas City. Maybe it was the hope and promise they seemed to exude in the off-season, even though they were coming off back-to-back 100-loss campaigns.
Whatever the reason, this Royals team meant something more to me than Royals teams of the past, and I was lucky enough to write about them, analyze them, and be a fan of them on a daily basis. My afternoon and evenings from Opening Day until Sunday afternoon revolved around Royals baseball to a point where I’m sure even my girlfriend thought I was insane. But in this rough time where everything has been so polarizing, especially with an election coming up, it was nice to just focus on the game, dive deep, and enjoy the ride, even if certainly was a rollercoaster from late July to late September.
The Royals could have finished with the worst record in the league (it certainly looked like it was headed that way when the Royals began September), and I think I still would have been satisfied with that result, just because we got Royals baseball this year despite the pandemic. However, the 2020 Royals proved to be better than that, much to our surprise and satisfaction.
The Royals finished the year 26-34 and fourth place in the AL Central. Mike Matheny proved a lot of Royals fans wrong (including myself) and became the manager that Royals fans wanted and needed in the post-Ned Yost era. Kyle Zimmer, Josh Staumont, Scott Barlow, and Jesse Hahn showed that they could make the bullpen a legitimate threat again (along with the triumphant resurgences of Greg Holland and Trevor Rosenthal, even though Rosenthal was only in KC for half a season). Franco proved to be a surprising and entertaining pickup at the hot corner, and Edward Olivares and Franchy Cordero have shown flashes that they can perhaps be regular outfielders in 2021 and beyond in the wake of Alex Gordon’s retirement.
Furthermore, Royals fans cannot forget about the starting pitching. Brad Keller once again proved that he can handle being the ace of the Royals rotation even if his metrics may be atypical of an ace. Additionally, in a normal year, Royals fans probably would’ve got lucky to see one of the “four core” pitching prospects make their debut down the stretch in September. Instead, the Royals got a full 60-game slate of Brady Singer and Kris Bubic, and they not only performed admirably, but they also sparked hope that Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar, and even Asa Lacy can come up in the next year or two and have a positive impact on the rotation. Lastly, Adalberto Mondesi, who was a poor man’s Alcides Escobar for most of the season, lit it up in the month of September, and finished the year with a .710 OPS, which hints that a bigger breakout may be on the horizon in 2021.
The Royals season was not perfect by any means. Jorge Soler didn’t dazzle at the plate like as he did in 2019 (mostly due to nagging injuries). Brett Phillips and Jorge Lopez were finally dealt, and it seems like Bubba Starling and Ryan O’Hearn may follow their lead this Winter as well. The Matt Harvey experiment didn’t become Homer Bailey 2.0 as hoped, and the Royals went 1-9 against the White Sox this year, which pretty much killed any hope of sneaking into the postseason.
There were certainly a lot of “what if’s” with this Royals team in 2020. “What if Salvy had stayed healthy all year?” “What if Whit Merrifield didn’t go through that horrendous slump?” “What if the Royals called up Lynch or Kowar instead of Harvey?” “What if the Royals had just gone 5-5 against the White Sox?”
It’s interesting to think about what this Royals team could have done over the course of a 162 game season. Would they have surged and maybe been a .500 or over team, ala 2013? Or would they have faded, much like the past couple of years where they lost 100-plus games?
I imagine that will be one of the great debates among Royals fans when we look back on this season in 5-10 years.
Even though the Royals continued their streak of postseason-less baseball, Royals fans were lucky to have baseball at all in 2020. And not only did the Royals play baseball, but they also were able to put a tough and entertaining team out there every day that certainly was better than the 2018 and 2019 versions. It was not just fun to cover this Royals bunch, but it was also a breath of fresh air, as this blog was a much-needed diversion and passion for me during a difficult and trying time. In 2020 alone, I have written over 300,000 words on the Kansas City Royals on the Royals Reporter. The Royals are my passion above all other things. I don’t play video games; I don’t watch much Netflix (with the exception of Cobra Kai); and I don’t really party all that much (which you can’t really anyways). Yes, 300,000 feels like a lot of words, but I can’t wait to write another 300,000 and beyond on the Royals Reporter soon.
That’s how much this Royals team has rejuvenated me as a writer as well as a baseball fan.
My Royals fandom can feel a little weird at times because I didn’t grow up in the KC metro or with this team like many other Royals fans or KC denizens. I am a transplant from Sacramento who grew up in a San Francisco Giants household. And yet, despite my outsider status, I have grown to embrace this city, and the Royals have helped me in that process. Kansas City is a great place to live, and the Royals are a great team to follow and be a fan of.
So, I want to give my thanks to the Kansas City Royals of 2020. Thank you for a great season. Thank you for providing hope for the future. And thank you for re-igniting my passion for baseball and Kansas City, as I am sure you have for many other Royals fans throughout the Midwest (and even beyond).
And thank you to all who have read and followed this blog, if you got this far reading this post. It’s been a crazy, up an down ride in 2020.
That being said, Spring Training in Surprise in 2021 cannot come soon enough.