The Royals head into the final homestand of the 2022 season with a 58-89 record. Somehow, they are not in last place, as the Detroit Tigers have been slightly worse than the lowly Royals, as evidenced by the Tigers’ 55-91 record.
Safe to say, it’s been a rough year in more ways than one for Royals fans, and it will be interesting to see how the final six games at Kauffman Stadium will shake out.
The lackluster record, and being officially eliminated from the postseason this past week is one thing (even though it’s felt like the Royals have been eliminated since the end of May when their record was 16-32). While some Royals fans were overly optimistic in Spring Training, it felt like a long shot that this team would be playoff-bound in 2022.
The reality was this: the Royals probably weren’t going to be much better than the club that went 74-88 in 2021.
That being said, it was expected that the young pitching staff, especially Daniel Lynch, Brady Singer, and Kris Bubic would take strides in 2022. It was expected that the Royals would see the debuts of Bobby Witt, Jr., MJ Melendez, and Nick Pratto, just to name a few, and have them get valuable experience at the MLB level. It was expected that Zack Greinke and Amir Garrett would provide the necessary leadership and veteran production in the rotation and bullpen, respectively, with Salvy and Whit providing the same kind of leadership in the dugout and on the field.
Maybe the Royals wouldn’t do much better than 74 wins in 2022. Maybe the best case scenario was 78 to 81 wins. But Royals fans (including myself) figured this team would at least give this KC community the hope that better days were ahead, even if it didn’t necessarily show in the W-L column in 2022.
Royals fans have seen a lot of debuts from promising young rookie position players (with Vinnie Pasquantino, Michael Massey, Drew Waters, and Nate Eaton being ones who came into Spring Training more “under the radar” in comparison to Witt, Melendez, and Pratto). Singer has made tremendous strides on the bump in 2022, and while Greinke certainly hasn’t been “vintage”, he has been productive when healthy (particularly at the K) and could be worth bringing back in 2023.
Other than that though, there has been much more disappointment in 2022 than surprises. And things only seemed to get worse last week after Alec Lewis, Rustin Dodd, and Andy McCullough, all former Royals beat writers, published an article that popped the hood on a “broken” Royals pitching development system from the Minor to the Major League level.
It wasn’t just Lewis, Dodd, and McCullough’s piece that pierced the heart and hope of Royals fans everywhere. The article simply produced a detailed portrait that many hardcore Royals fans have long suspected for years now, especially under pitching coach Cal Eldred. And honestly, there was some “good” in the piece about the pitching development, as Driveline guru and former Reds pitching coordinator Kyle Boddy pointed out.
Rather, it was the aftermath of The Athletic that was so frustrating and deflating for Royals fans. The main part of that aftermath was a quote from Dayton Moore, who expressed his dissatisfaction with the Athletic article in more ways than one, which 610 Royals Insider Josh Vernier transcribed on Twitter before Sunday’s road finale.
It’s comments and attitudes from the Royals front office like the one above that make one wonder: how much is enough for this incredibly loyal fanbase which has put up with not only so many losing seasons in the Moore era (i.e since 2006) but since Ewing Kauffman’s death in 1993.
I have been a regular ticket holder for a couple of years now and officially became a season ticket member this year (I upgraded to a partial season ticket package and made sure to pre-pay for my parking since there is a discount for STM holders).
If there is one thing one can say about Royals fans, it is this: this fanbase, especially the season ticket holders, loves the Royals, even in the midst of a brutal season like this one.
The section around me is primarily made up of long-time season ticket holders, most of who hold full or half-season packages (evidenced by their names being on the back of their seats, which are only available for half and full-season ticket holders as well as premium sponsors). I have been to 22 games this year, and it’s rare to NOT see the same people in my section.
They are a group of fans who stay through an entire game, whether it’s a 4-3 thriller or an 11-2 blowout. They don’t boo any Royals players, even if they are struggling or not producing at the plate or on the mound. Heck, one woman STM is the biggest Ryan O’Hearn fan in Kansas City. Ryan O’Hearn, people! If that’s not loyalty to a franchise, I do not know what is.
And yet, while Royals fans, especially the STM holders, are loyal to this team, and grateful to those 2014 and 2015 squads that rejuvenated Kansas City’s love for baseball as a community, the rough performances are getting harder to stomach.
The fans at the K are still polite as ever and know it’s better to cheer and support than jeer, which is refreshing for me as a lifelong baseball fan. Growing up in Northern California and going to Giants games at both Candlestick Park and Oracle Park, I have seen firsthand how brutal a fanbase can be toward their own players. I saw them screaming at William Van Landingham in 1996 when he slipped trying to field a sacrifice bunt. I was in the stands in left field when Giants fans chanted that Giants left fielder Fred Lewis was a “bum” because he misplayed a ball off the wall during a meaningless 2019 game against the Pirates.
(I’ve always been a Lewis fan since, even after he was traded to Toronto in 2010.)
I have never seen anything like that at Kauffman Stadium since moving to Kansas City in the summer of 2013. And that’s a testament to this city, and more importantly, this fanbase, which truly supports their team and players.
However, the good vibes aren’t as lively as it once was back in April and May.
Fans are more tuned out now than they were back in the Spring and early Summer months, as the ballpark feels more like a bar or Godfather’s Pizza party room with the game on in the background. Additionally, it’s quite common to hear opposing cheers drown out Royals fans, especially when bigger market clubs come to town (the Red Sox, Yankees, and Dodgers were particularly brutal ones).
Now, the fans, especially the STM holders, who shell out thousands of dollars to support this club every year (and still come back for more), still show up, even if the brutal losses can feel like multiple kicks to the teeth. Even the Royals fans on Twitter, Reddit, and other social media, who can be a more “glass half empty” bunch, still follow and support this team every game, even if they have no reason to do so with Chiefs football season in full swing.
Unfortunately, despite that loyalty, there has been an attitude developing from the Royals front office that if fans don’t “blindly trust” everything, then they are not “real” fans, but”fair weather” ones, as former Royals writer Jeffery Flanagan hinted yesterday on Twitter:
It pains me to call out Flanny like this, as he is a hero to any Royals content creator out there. But Flanny is off here: if you are following and Tweeting about this Royals team, which is 31 games under .500, you’re anything BUT a “fair weather” fan.
Unfortunately, that’s the culture that has developed from this Royals organization lately.
They won a title before and believe they can do it again “their way”. It just takes some time, as it did from 2006 to 2013.
I get that to a point. Baseball doesn’t lend well to “quick turnarounds” unless you have a buttload of money (i.e. the Mets). And yet, the fact of the matter is that this team took a step backward in 2022. They’ve lost one more game than a year ago in 15 fewer games. The pitching, which was supposed to help fuel their rebuild, has absolutely struggled, at the Major and Minor league levels this season, with Asa Lacy and Alec Marsh being disappointing disasters.
It’s totally reasonable for Royals fans to ask questions. It’s totally reasonable for fans to feel frustrated with the Royals’ process since 2018, especially after spending so much time, money, and energy to follow this team through a sixth-straight losing season.
The Royals shouldn’t be “questioning” who is a real fan and who is a “fair weather” fan, just because they aren’t “all-in” on what Moore, Eldred, Mike Matheny, and the Royals organization as a whole have produced on the field after the 2017 season.
Rather, they should be looking to this fanbase to see what they can do to regain that trust…because it really feels lacking as of this moment.
I know this post will sound like a “Royals need to prove something to me to keep my business” kind of post, but it isn’t. I already renewed my “Blue” for next year. What can I say? Maybe I’m a masochist when it comes to sports. After all, my second favorite pro team is the Sacramento Kings and my college alma maters are Gonzaga and Notre Dame.
I am going to continue to go to the ballpark during this final homestand, as I have tickets for three games (Tuesday, Saturday, and Sunday). I also will continue to take a personal day on Opening Day next year and be there hours early ready to tailgate and make all kinds of bold predictions for 2023. And even though my package is only for 21 games, I will probably make sure to buy tickets to many more, thanks to my STM discount (and other deals as well).
Royals fans, fair-weather or not, love this club. They love Kauffman Stadium and the memories associated with the venue, which makes the Downtown Stadium push so polarizing. They love the players, even when they are not at their best on the field. And they always proudly wear royal blue, especially when they are visiting opposing ballparks. I have MLB TV and watch a lot of non-Royals baseball games (even now, I’m watching a meaningless Giants-Rockies game over Monday Night Football). I don’t see a whole lot of Arizona Diamondbacks or Tampa Bay Rays fans at opposing stadiums (but I always spot plenty of Royals hats, shirts, and jerseys).
This fanbase doesn’t deserve to be met with condescension, whether it’s from Moore, Matheny, or former writers who covered the team.
This fanbase is far too loyal and far too knowledgable for that kind of derision. I have learned that firsthand as someone who transitioned from just “liking” the club in my early baseball fan fays to truly “loving” them since moving to KC in 2013 and starting this blog back in 2019. The Royals bloggers and independent content creators may not be as big as the San Francisco Giants one I was a part of back in 2009 to 2011, but it’s a close-knit, uplifting, and overall positive group that always tries to see the “best” with this Royals team, even through lean years.
Which is why Moore’s comments are so disappointing to this fanbase and honestly, Kansas City in general.
It’s shocking that the Royals don’t do a “bloggers” day like the Cardinals do at Busch Stadium. Just a minor move like that would go a long way to build much-needed goodwill, especially at a time like this.
Kansas City is lucky to have the Royals. And the Royals are lucky to have this kind of fanbase.
But yesterday was a brutal day for the Royals. It truly was a black eye for the organization and fans alike, more akin to the ugliness one would see in Yankees, Red Sox, or Mets circles.
The Royals need to change, and they need to make the right changes that will get this team back on the winning track. Ultimately, that is up to owner John Sherman in terms of how it will be done (and who it will be done with).
I just wonder how many fans will be patient enough to see Sherman’s vision through…
As Red from the “Shawshank Redemption” once said:
“Every man has his breaking point.”
Photo Credit: Kevin O’Brien