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.