There’s no sport to me that beats Major League Baseball.
It’s not that I don’t like the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLS, or College Basketball and Football. I have my favorite teams in those respective sports leagues, and I do try to attend games in person, whenever I have the opportunity.
But Major League Baseball hits differently. It’s been that way for me ever since I was a kid.
Now, I think I’m kind of atypical for a Royals fan because I didn’t grow up in this area (or the Midwest in general).
Most Royals fans are natives of Kansas City, growing up either on the Kansas or Missouri side. They love the Royals because they love Kansas City. The Royals are their hometown baseball team. They love the Royals like they love the Chiefs, Sporting KC, KU, K-State, or Mizzou, depending on their household or where they live in the Metro. Cheering for the Royals is not just a “sports” thing, but a civic duty, almost.
And I get that. That’s how most sports fans are. They cheer on teams because the success of the team reflects on the city. A good Chiefs season or Royals season or Sporting season reflects well on the KC community as a whole.
The nation gets to see all that is good about Kansas City when a team is in the spotlight: the sights, the people, and the culture that separate Kansas City from other Midwestern cities like St. Louis, Cincinnati, Detroit, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Chicago, just to name a few.
Sports is not just bragging about a team. It’s a conduit to bragging about one’s city.
Why does Kansas City rule over Detroit? Because Kansas City people can point to the Chiefs winning and the Lions…well…not. (In addition to Kansas City BBQ being better than Detroit Coney Dogs).
On the other end, a losing team can amplify those insecurities one can have about their own city.
And the Royals are bringing out the worst of those feelings in Kansas Citians at this time, especially as they sit 14-26, tied for the worst record in the AL Central, as of Monday.
Royals fans (as well as myself) are frustrated about understandable things this season.
The Royals are relying on “older, unproductive” veterans over younger, but less-proven players. Dayton Moore has been in charge of the front office for 16 years, but only has three winning seasons to show for it. The organization is conservative to make changes and seems to favor overly “Christian” players instead of just “talented” ones. And fans are frustrated by a high price tag for a product on the field that isn’t living up to the hype.
Take away “baseball” from the equation, and I think you could make the same argument that many people have with the culture in this area.
Sports, baseball especially, should be a positive escape, not a negative reflection of a community. Unfortunately, it feels more like the latter at this moment.
This is why I struggle as an outsider who has embraced Kansas City as my home after nearly nine years of living here. I understand and empathize with what Royals fans are feeling right now. I want the Royals to be as successful, if not more so, than that “other team” across the state of Missouri, and I’m frustrated by the lack of moves, especially during this rough stretch of Royals baseball since 2018.
Yet, the Royals have, and always will represent the best of Kansas City to me.
More than Chiefs football. More than Jayhawks basketball. More than Sporting soccer. I would pay 10 bucks to go to a game at Kauffman against the Orioles than go for free for any of those other team events. That’s how much I love baseball and the Royals.
It’s why I bought a ticket package last year for the first time (The short-lived “Keep”) and became a season ticket member this year.
But, like any person now living in Kansas City, it becomes hard to keep the rose-colored glasses on, especially after witnessing what I did in person on Sunday afternoon against the Twins.
I wasn’t planning on going to Sunday’s game initially this year. The game was not part of my season ticket package.
However, the Royals ticket office gifted me and a guest a reserved parking pass and two complimentary tickets for an event in the Blue Moon Tap Room that included free stuff, unlimited food, and a free drink. When my guest and I arrived, we were greeted by a friendly Royals ticket rep, a full food buffet, a stocked bar, and an incredible view of the K.
I have to share pictures, just to give some perspective:
I had saved financially since midway through the 2021 season to become a partial Royals season ticket member and really committed to it after I changed jobs, which allowed me to drop coaching high school baseball. While I loved coaching baseball, I wanted to focus more on writing and Royals baseball (and fantasy baseball) analysis specifically.
Since graduating college, it has been a dream to be a season ticket member for a Major League team.
Being a baseball fan changes when one turns 21 and you’re able to do it on your own. It almost becomes a completely different experience from your younger days when you’re going with your parents (and it’s not ALL tied to just being able to consume alcohol, though that helps).
Don’t get me wrong, going to baseball games with my parents as a kid was awesome (I have some fond memories of defunct ballparks like the Kingdome in Seattle and Candlestick Park in San Francisco). But, being able to go with friends, a significant other, or even by yourself just makes the “ballpark” experience even more special, especially if you like to “score” games (as I do).
I remember when I had just graduated college, a friend and I went to a game at AT&T (now Oracle) Park to watch the Giants play the Pirates on a Tuesday night. We got bleacher seats. We took the BART in from Walnut Creek. We grabbed food and drinks at Pier 39 before walking to the game. Just being surrounded by so many other people, just to watch and enjoy the game, was something else, and something I wanted to do multiple times a year.
So when I moved to Kansas City and got to visit Kauffman Stadium for the first time in 2013, my mind was set: I was going to get season tickets someday. It didn’t matter if they won 100 games or lost 100 games. I wanted to be a “regular” at the K.
And it’s been quite an experience as a season ticket member.
Because honestly, the Royals treat their fans, especially season ticket members, incredibly well.
Yes, the experience at the Blue Moon Taproom was incredible. The free food was nice. The view couldn’t be beaten. The workers had a kind of “chill” that one doesn’t always see in other areas of the ballpark.
But, even beyond that Sunday experience in the taproom, the Kauffman experience is just a little bit different from other ballparks. I notice the banter and demeanor of everyone associated at the K. Whether it’s season ticket representatives, parking attendants, ushers, Hall of Fame curators, team store cashiers, or beer vendors, there’s a special “nice” from the stadium community that makes a Royals game special.
They represent the best of Kansas City. The people who work at the K show that the “Midwest Nice” reputation isn’t just an over-hyped stereotype, but something that is evident in everything, especially at a baseball game in May.
And that’s what fires me up when it comes to covering this team. Because the Royals are not the Chiefs. They’re not the favorites. They’re always the underdogs and the “less-favorite” sports child of Kansas City.
And yet, the Royals organization does everything possible to make every game possible the best experience for every fan in the ballpark. And that’s over 81 games.
Go to a Chiefs game, and it just becomes a drunken battle dome, whether it’s in the parking lot or stands. There’s really not much to see beyond the product on the field. And sorry…I’m not the kind of person who loves football enough to just cheer endlessly in 10-degree weather in January. That fires up some people, not me.
Give me a chill, beautiful, friendly day at the ballpark like Sunday.
It’s why I shell out money for tickets, parking, and merchandise, even though I do get a bit of a discount on it as a season ticket member (which is how I justify it, I guess, much to my girlfriend’s chagrin; though to be fair, she did enjoy the experience despite the loss).
(Notice how I’m struggling to smile after that 7-6 loss.)
And honestly, the Royals do it right, which can’t be said for other clubs.
I have a friend who has a ticket package with the Oakland A’s. He gets nothing. No parking discount. No team store or concession discount. No special STM gift. To the A’s, my friend is just another dude in their decrepit concrete monstrosity.
To the Royals, I am a valued fan, even if I’m not a half or full season ticket member.
I have a feeling, unfortunately, that there are more ballclubs that are closer in style to Oakland than Kansas City.
Thus, I try to keep perspective, even amidst such a tough time for this club competitively. It’s why I don’t constantly harp on Twitter about parking prices and concessions. Oakland fans are paying $30 for parking, and that’s GENERAL parking to boot.
Nonetheless, Sunday’s game, and this season in general, just hasn’t made that perspective easy.
Sunday was the 2022 season in a nutshell.
So much hope in the beginning (the STM event), some early highs (the five-run inning, 6-0 lead), and then an utter and incredible collapse that just takes the wind out of everyone’s sails.
As I did my scorecard, I just struggled as Taylor Clarke, Scott Barlow, and Josh Staumount gave up hit after hit, walk after walk, and run after run.
Even after the first couple of runs, I could sense the tension in the stadium. The Royals fans in attendance knew what happened in Colorado a week earlier, and somehow, myself, and probably most fans in Kauffman, sensed it was going to happen again.
And not only did they blow a lead again, like they did in Colorado, but they lost, in front of the home fans.
It was just a total gut-punch, and that’s putting it cleanly.
Thankfully, I vowed not to drink much on Sunday as I went to the game on Saturday and stayed out probably too late in the process (take that how you will).
In my soberness, I didn’t feel anger, but more frustration and disappointment.
I WANT to believe in this team. All the new season ticket members who enjoyed the event WANT to believe in this team as well.
It’s incredible to be around Royals season ticket holders, as I have learned this year (even in my section). They are a stark contrast to all the fans who hone in on negativity and “yelling into the void” on Twitter. While Royals fans on Twitter are hating on O’Hearn, Royals season ticket members are rooting him on. While Royals fans on Twitter are crying for everyone to lose their jobs after Jhoan Duran closed out the Royals, the older season ticket member next to me looked at me and was like “welp, we’ll get them next time.”
There are a lot of Royals fans that love this team unconditionally, probably because they love their city unconditionally.
A lot of them are older fans, and I think they love the Royals unconditionally because they saw how the Athletics ripped out the hearts of Kansas City baseball fans by not just moving to Oakland but being pretty much a “farm team” for the New York Yankees during the A’s’ existence in Kansas City. That’s why I don’t engage in the “move the team” movement on Twitter. Older fans will tell you that nothing was worse than seeing the A’s move and leave Kansas City in the dust. Furthermore, nothing kills sports in a city faster than a team moving (look at Montreal).
That being said, this club needs to be better.
The real Royal fans (and not just KC sports fans who care about baseball between April and June unless the Royals are good) are some of the most loyal out there. The workers go above and beyond to make Kauffman an incredible experience, for both home and visiting fans. By the Pepsi Porch, about 10 Twins fans came in with brooms. Royals fans and workers just engaged the group of Twins fans in spirited, but polite banter. If this were a Chiefs game, a fight undoubtedly would have ensued before the start of the game.
This club needs to win or at least give some hope that better days are on the horizon. And not just for those fans who are “boycotting” or “not noticing” but those loyal ones that continue to love this club, even if they don’t offer much on the field. Success isn’t going to happen with Carlos Santana in the five to six spot, Cal Eldred still going out for pointless mound visits, or Moore and Matheny offering “well it’s a process” platitudes on 610 AM radio press conferences.
There needs to be something concrete. Something that provides that spark.
After 40 games, the Royals need to make a change. Honestly, I am not sure what it should be. A change in the manager? GM? President?
At this point, I’m open to anything as long as it’s different from what Royals fans have seen through the first 40 games.
Because it will be rough if this club goes another 30 years between playoff appearances…
Granted…the loyal ones will still be there.
I probably will still be a fan with my season ticket package and hopefully, still writing about the Royals, even if they continue to break hearts.
But it’s not fair. It’s not fair to the fans and not fair to the people who make Kauffman and Kansas City a true gem in the heart of the Midwest.
Hopefully, John Sherman sees that…and makes a move soon that is closer in spirit to Ewing Kauffman than David Glass.
5 thoughts on “Why Royals Fandom Is Complicated (And I Learned That at the K on Sunday)”
(I also discuss this in a letter-to-the-editor in The Kansas City Star that was published on Thursday, May 19, 2022.) I’m a retired journalist, born and reared in Kansas City, Mo., who sometimes wrote about baseball for some of the country’s largest papers. As fate would have it, I now live seconds away from the Royals Spring Training facility. I’ve had Royals’ Spring-Training season tickets for many years and have attended numerous Arizona Fall League games for blue-chippers from all 30 teams as well as the Arizona Complex League for rookies from nearly all MLB teams. I’ve attended more Royals practices over the years than I can count. As I note in my letter to The Star, the difference in what the Royals are doing compared to top-tier teams, never mind those who simply win more games than they lose, is palpable and maddeningly frustrating and inexplicable. Poor drafting, inferior coaching, and terrible decisions about who to bring up to the big leagues, and when. It’s all on display. My baseball roots run deep. Because I love the sport, I even once suited up for a piece and attended a read facility run by Freddie Kendall, a former Major League catcher and Jason Kendall’s Dad (Rollie Fingers was also there at the time). I’ve profiled some of the most famous people in the world, from Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant to Ted “Dr. Seuss” Geisel. But because of my love of baseball, my subjects included the likes of Willie Mays. When the San Diego Padres went to the World Series, my profile subjects included former Dodgers mainstay, first baseman Steve Garvey, the touch iconoclastic manager Dick Williams, and malaprop-inclined former Yankee second baseman and broadcaster Jerry Coleman. I was allowed to sit in for secret meetings with GM “Trader Jack” McKeon, a former Royals manager, as they prepared for the Padres’ first World Series. As for me and Kansas City baseball, my mother attended Westport High with Ewing Kauffman. The wife of my best high school buddy was the nurse who tended Kauffman’s off, age-denying wife in her final days. My maternal grandfather played semi-pro baseball in KC, regaling me with stories of the Kansas City Blues (the Yankees’ Triple A farm club, which moved to Denver when the A’s came to town) and the Negro League. I played Little League baseball. My first MLB baseball game, the sixth in KC history, saw the A’s lose to the Chicago White Sox, 29-6, setting all kinds of records, none of them good. In 1958, at the age of 11, I applied for A’s batboy via a contest, and although I didn’t win, won a raft of neat gifts including a signed team photo and tickets to a game — prophetically, an A’s-Yanks game, which featured a lot of A’s like Roger Maris who would end up playing for the Yanks and a lot of Yanks like Hank Bauer who were on the downside of their career and would end up in KC. Arnold Johnson, to put it in perspective, owned Yankee Stadium and was forced to sell when he took over the A’s. But so nefarious was the relationship that it spawned a congressional investigation. When Finley — who tried to move the team from the get-go, with destinations like Louisville — finally got his wish and moved to Oakland, the furious then-U.S. Sen. Stuart Symington of Missouri (the first U.S. Secretary of the Air Force and JFK’s first choice for vice president) threatened to have MLB’s status anti-trust exemption lifted if KC didn’t get another team, and right away. Thus the Royals. My first baseball story ever was published in July 1966 in The Kansas City Star. As a young reporter (19), I was dispatched to one of Finley’s “promotion nights” at the old Municipal Stadium. I combed the picnic area behind right field, interviewing fans, and wrote a color piece about that. I was also ordered to supply a listing in agate type about the winners of all the prizes, who won, and what. When I called Finley’s PR man, he said he didn’t have the names and told me to make them up. The managing editor hit the ceiling, and we got the correct information (and yes, we verified it). I’ve had a lot of wonderful things happen while attending the Royals Spring Training games here in Arizona, including becoming acquainted with Willie Wilson, who was the star of my son’s first game back in 1979. I arranged a meeting between him and my son just before the pandemic was announced — on March 1, 2022. (My son would go on to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy, fly in the Iraq War as a Navy pilot, get two Master’s degrees from Stanford, and now is a top executive in Northern California with a family of his own). To your point, Your column is incredibly perceptive. The Royals fans I meet are a different kind of baseball enthusiast. They’re friendly and forgiving. They care about the team and the players, and want them to succeed. They know their backstories, about their families and who they are as people. They don’t hurl verbal insults or get nasty if the team loses if they feel an honest effort has been made.(An example was when I complimented Ned Yost, and a very dignified lady in her 50s visiting from KC, noted, “Yes, but I wish he treated the press better”). I have no doubt whatsoever that many, many fans have grown up with the knowledge of what KC went through generations ago, hearing stories from their parents and grandparents, deep in their heart of hearts are terrified by the prospect of having their team move. We happen to sit behind the Royals dugout in Spring Training among some Royals executives and the families of coaches and players. We’ve overheard conversations, some we weren’t intended to. John Sherman almost spilled beer down my neck. I should add that I had season tickets to the very first season of The Kansas City Chiefs, and I agree with everything you say; I also wrote about pro football occasionally when I was working in San Diego, profiling players and coaches, and especially getting to know some during an NFL strike; my best friend at the paper where I worked was part of the Chargers’ broadcasting team, was a leading draft expert for our paper and The Sporting News — Mel Kiper before Mel Kiper — and wrote a number of books, including a biography of Don Coryell. So I know. To conclude, I think John Sherman is a businessman first (not surprisingly, the darling of the Chamber of Commerce), and the honeymoon will be over with fans sooner than later. The Harry S Truman Sports Complex was built with strong fan support because the bond issue came right after the Chiefs’ victory in the Super Bowl; this downtrodden sports town was suddenly a winner, and many mistakenly thought the Chiefs were a dynasty (Sports Illustrated ran a huge piece with colorful diagrams indicating how Hank Dtram had revolutionized the game). I might also note that downtown stadiums are not fan-friendly; attending games in a dense urban setting is expensive and stressful. And, apparently it’s am myth that such stadiums generate that much new money for a city. If Kansas Citians reject Sherman’s apparent determination to build a stadium downtown, I fear the next sound you hear will be threats to move the team, either to Kansas — or well beyond. He has made it known he won’t pursue big-ticket free agents except to fill holes in a pennant run. I have seen many Bobby Witt Jr.’s in my time who join losing franchises to know that starting a career on a losing team can wear down a great talent, and sometime keep it from blossoming altogether; the pressure is enormous. Sherman’s promotion of Dayton Moore, leaving him over the man who supposedly replaces him, is a violation of Corporate Logic 101 — the same person will be making the ultimate decisions, and consciously or not, will be reluctant to allow moves that will make him look bad. As has been written, Moore is a prime example of the Peter Principle. And to muddy the waters, he factors in his religious beliefs, wears it on his sleeve, in a town in the heart of the Bible Belt; if you’re against Dayton Moroe, the thought seems to be, or he would like it to be, by God, you’re against God Himself. Then along comes another true believer in Mike Matheny — a match made in Heaven (no pun intended). With the Royals, there are no surprises. Players who struggle in Spring Training have inevitably struggled the same way during the regular season. One wonders what Moore could possible be thinking. Presenting it any other way to the fans is simply dishonest. He knows. Then plugging in players no one has ever heard of of, through international signings or when they’re released by other teams, is really an indictment of the minor league system he himself has put together. And how would you like to be a young player, working your heart out in the minors, watching others get the chance you (rightly) believe you deserve. At any rate, great, perceptive (and brave) piece of writing here. I’ve had some terrific baseball-related experiences, like sitting next to Casey Stengel watching Hank Aaron take batting practice at Dodger Stadium, and spending the day with Joe Garagiola, the baseball player (and lifetime Yogi Berra pal)-turned-Hall of Fame broadcaster Joe Garagiola. Too many to mention. I love baseball, Kansas City, and the Royals. What is happening is tragic on a human level. And just plain wrong. Thanks again, and cheers! / Greg Joseph
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Thanks for your comment. I agree with you on a lot of points. I think Royals fans are the kind of fans that St. Louis Cardinals fans think they are. Cardinals fans are loyal for sure and nice, but they are not quite the “Midwest Nice” that they portray themselves as. I think the Royals fans are like that, and as you said, they tend to be one of the “nicer” fanbases out there, which unfortunately lets performances like Moore’s go unchecked for years.
I still want to believe in Sherman as an owner. Honestly, Moore is a great advocate for the game, and I can see why Sherman kept him on. The problem is that Moore is not a good front office executive. He is too loyal and honestly, too much of a fanboy to make those tough decisions that is needed to turn a corner. Moore would be a great commissioner, a great college AD, or a great city councilman (better than Frank White probably lol). But, the Royals are obviously stuck, and I hope that Sherman will make the right call. He will need to if he wants to make his downtown stadium a reality. Downtown stadiums thrive with younger fanbases. That being said, younger fanbases like to watch “winning” teams. Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are prime examples of downtown stadiums not doing so hot, because the teams are terrible.
Very accurate summary of Royal season to date! Sherman has downtown ballpark on the brain for money only! It would absolutely ruin the experience for true baseball fans! There are a lot of people who love the K for good reason! Watch what you wish for and honor the game for what it has been and should remain!!!
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Thanks for the comment. Yeah, I’m not totally averse to a downtown stadium, but I really do love the K and would hate for that experience to go away. Either way, it will be tough for Sherman to gain support if the Royals continue to keep playing like this. Thanks for the read and comment.
[…] If there was one thing I learned about this year while being a season ticket holder, it was this: the hardcore Royals fans, especially the older ones, are extremely forgiving of this organization, even if it only enables the club year after […]