“Paying attention” to the positives during this tough Royals stretch and season

I was able to attend in person Tuesday’s game against the Tigers at Kauffman Stadium, which was my fifth game in person this year. While the Royals have been in the midst of a massive slide, the atmosphere was still a pretty positive one, despite the previous night’s 10-3 loss to Detroit. There were around 15,000 in attendance, and for the most part, the Kauffman faithful stayed until the very end, even if it was another frustrating game that ultimately ended in a loss.

After all, the sounds and sceneries of Kauffman Stadium can still make Royals fans happy to be at the ballpark, even in the midst of gut-wrenching losing streak:

The Royals went back and forth with the Tigers on Tuesday night, but ultimately fell 4-3, much to the disappointment of the crowd that was there to celebrate “Nurse’s Night” and “T-Shirt Tuesday”.

In today’s afternoon finale, the Royals once again fell to the rival Tigers in a game that went back and forth, but ultimately went to the boys in Detroit. There were some positives on the Royals end, as Adalberto Mondesi made his return to the Royals lineup, and announced his presence with authority in his first at-bat of the game:

Mondesi was not alone, as the ball was flying for the Royals early on in the game, much to the enjoyment of those Royals fans who braved the 90-plus degree heat at Kauffman on Wednesday afternoon. In the bottom of the third, Salvador Perez hit a two-run blast that not only extended the Royals lead, but also helped the leading All Star vote getter for catcher set a new record in the Royals history books:

And even though things looked bleak early on for the Royals pitching staff after Brady Singer left after the third inning (more on that later), Carlos Hernandez, who’s been a bit up and down for the Royals this year, came into the game unexpectedly and absolutely shoved in three innings of work. In three innings, Hernandez struck out four, and allowed only two hits and zero runs, which gave the Royals some much needed relief in the middle innings after Singer’s unexpected exit.

Lastly, in the final inning, despite facing a three-run deficit, the Royals scored two runs, thanks to big hits from Whit Merrifield and Carlos Santana. In fact, the Royals had a chance to tie with Jarrod Dyson pinch running at first, and Salvador Perez at the plate. And yet, Michael Fulmer struck out the Royals’ star catcher for the game’s final out, which not only clinched a 6-5 victory for the Tigers and a series sweep, but the sixth straight loss, and 10th loss in 11 games as well for the Royals.

The Royals are currently 30-37 and 4-11 so far in the month of June through roughly the halfway mark of the month. After going 15-9 in the month of April, the Royals went 11-17 in May and seem destined for another losing month this June, unless they are able to dramatically turn it around. However, with the Red Sox coming to Kansas City over the weekend, and road trips to the Bronx, Arlington (Texas), and Boston looming, the chances of the Royals righting the ship doesn’t look good, especially with Andrew Benintendi on the shelf, and Singer, who has been one of the more dependable starters for the Royals in 2021, perhaps facing an injury list stint as well:

Therefore, Royals fans are at a crossroads right now. The season is turning quickly, and not in the right direction. The Royals have been recently beset by injuries, much like any club this year, and unfortunately, the Royals have not gotten much help from their young talent in recent call ups. Jackson Kowar and Edward Olivares were lighting things up in Omaha, but neither has been able to build on their respective solid Triple-A campaigns in Kansas City (though Olivares certainly hasn’t gotten a lot of chances thus far). Ryan O’Hearn and Ryan McBroom are doing damage at the plate now in Triple-A, as they have been home-run machines for the Storm Chasers. However, neither did much at the Major League level, as they posted 68 and 29 OPS+ marks, respectively, according to Baseball Reference.

Yes, there is still a lot of baseball this season (roughly 95 for the Royals going into tomorrow’s off-day), and baseball is a crazy game where anything can happen. Podcasters Alex Feuz and Jeremy Danner talked about this on their latest episode of the BleavIn Royals Podcast, which dropped today:

That being said, as Royals fans, how should we approach these “dog day” summer months? And, what should Royals fans look forward to in the coming slate of games, even as things in Kansas City look bleaker than ever?

As many of you know, I try to be an optimistic Royals fan. Being a Kansas City Royals fan is different from being a New York Yankees fan, or a Los Angeles Lakers fan, or heck, even a Kansas City Chiefs fan, even though both teams are in the same Metro area and Arrowhead Stadium is literally across the parking lot from Kauffman Stadium. Major League Baseball is structured differently from the NFL, and unfortunately, while the current financial structure helps a small market team like the Chiefs stay competitive in football, it is less forgiving in baseball. It is easy for the “haves” to separate themselves from the “have nots” in baseball, and Royals fans know this all too well. After all, while the Royals achieved amazing success in 2014 and 2015, there was a 29-year gap between playoff appearances (1985 and 2014).

If there are two things Royals fans are accustomed to, it is frustration and disappointment.

And, not surprisingly, it is easy for Royals to feel Deja Vu from those 1986 to 2013 seasons in the midst of these current Royals struggles in May and June.

That frustration is all over Twitter and other social media. Royals fans are sad. Royals fans are frustrated. Royals fans are feeling impatient. Royals fans are demanding change and answers (including myself at times), especially after such a rough stretch of not just this season, but since 2018, when the Royals’ rebuilding “Process 2.0” began. Royals fans do not want to wait another 29 years to be relevant again, and that is clearly voiced from so many Royals fans not just in personal conversations, but across the internet as well:

Honestly, I understand why Royals fans feel this way, and I am not saying or dictating how Royals fans should approach this team. Everybody expresses their Royals fandom in different ways, and that’s what makes being a baseball fan so great. There is a diversity of fans in this game, and every fan brings something different to the table, in both good and bad ways. It makes the game better. It makes the Royals fan experience better, whether it’s through following this team online, at home, at a bar, or at Kauffman Stadium.

After the Royals’ loss last night, as my girlfriend and I tried to drive out of the parking lot, I began to reflect on the future of the Royals. And not the long-term future, per se, but more of the immediate future. How will I embrace this team if they turn it around and get back in the playoff race? How will I embrace this team if they sink further and further into mediocrity? How will my fandom change or stay the same?

Because let’s be honest, after today’s loss, it wouldn’t be surprising if casual Kansas City sports fans started to disengage from the Royals and started to get ready for Chiefs football season.

During these tough stretches as a Royals fan, it is important to pay attention and appreciate the little things. I know that sounds corny and contrived, but in many ways, slowing down, paying attention, and appreciating the things around us is a good mantra for life, as well as Royals baseball.

A friend of mine, Mike Sunderland, who lives in Oakland and has embraced the Athletics as much I have embraced the Royals despite being a transplant, wrote a pretty poignant piece on his blog, “The Dugout“, about the “Art of Paying Attention”, which connects to Zen Buddhist teachings to the game of baseball, through keeping a scorebook.

Here is a quote from his piece that stuck with me:

…Scoring a baseball game requires you to become aware of the changes, both subtle and dramatic, that occur during the baseball game. You notice small things more, like a batter’s ability to rack up 2-strike foul balls and increase the starter’s pitch count, as Matt Olson did in his first inning strikeout against Zack Greinke on Opening Day. We see changes of pitchers, of hit totals, of first-pitch strikes…

Scoring a baseball game enables us to more closely see the chain of events, the domino effect of small events to large that form a baseball game.

“Baseball Scorekeeping and the Art of Paying Attention” by Michael Sunderland; The Dugout

I was able to take score of the Royals game on Tuesday, with my girlfriend cool to just chill out as I wrote down the little details of the contest from our seats in section 405. And in many ways, even though Tuesday’s game ended in rough fashion for Royals fans, I was able to sink in the little things of what makes Royals fandom so great.

It was nice to record Whit Merrifield record two hits and score a run after struggling immensely on the West Coast trip. It was satisfying to write down “6-4-3” in Eric Haase’s square in the first inning, which helped Mike Minor escape a jam in a first inning that could have been worse. And I recall pumping my first in excitement with my pencil in hand after Nicky Lopez drove in a run in the bottom of the seventh with gave the Royals and Kauffman Stadium life:

In fact, the RBI single not only made me appreciate Lopez’s strong performance in Tuesday night’s game, but throughout the year, even though his playing time has been less consistent in comparison to the shortened 2020 campaign. Alex Duvall of Royals Farm Report posted this bit on Twitter this morning, which made me realize how far Nicky has come, even if the numbers aren’t eye-popping:

Again, it’s paying attention to the little things that will help Royals fans get through this season, whether it’s through a one-dollar scorecard or some other kind of method or medium.

I am not sure what the future holds for the Royals in 2021 as of this moment. Right now, it doesn’t look good. When a club loses 10 out of 11 games in the middle of June, the season tends to go south quickly, especially once the injuries start to pile up. It can be easy to just go on Twitter or Facebook or MySpace or whatever Gen Z people use for Social Media these days and just scream frustration and vitriol into the void. For some, that’s cool and cathartic. But for fans like myself, that can get old and become empty after a while. After all, Dayton Moore and Robert Sherman aren’t going to be looking at my Tweet and say “Yeah, you’re right, let’s fire Cal Eldred.”

For the Royals fans who want to find the silver linings and positives during a full season of baseball, which was returned to us after a pandemic shortened it back in 2020, it will require paying attention to those “small things” that happen during the grind of the year, even in the moments where optimism seems non-existent. To connect Royals fandom to the Jane Hirshfield quote my friend Mike used in his article, it will be important over the next 95 games of Royals baseball to embrace the “changes” of this Royals season; recognize the moments when being a Royals fans “connects” us as people; and pay attention to when those things happen and appreciate them in the moment.

Think about the games when they are on the radio and TV (or internet stream for those cord-cutting millennials). Think about the times when you’re at Kauffman Stadium.

And pay attention, and try to find those “small things” that make Royals baseball special. Every positive, no matter how impactful, means something.

Maybe it will not result in the satisfaction that Royals fans felt back in 2014 and 2015 or even this past April.

Maybe the record won’t get better over the next 95 games.

But for those Royals fans, like myself, who want to enjoy the game and not be angry or masochistic about it, this approach will help make this 2021 season something special, regardless of what happens going forward.

My scorebook is going to be an important tool for me as a Royals fan over the coming months.

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