Baseball was made for kids, and grown-ups only screw it up. -Bob Lemon
Winning has a way of bringing people together.
During the Royals - A's stupendous wild card game Tuesday night, which Kansas City won 9-8 in twelve innings, former Royals pitcher Brian Bannister tweeted, "Ned Yost 1, Sabermetrics 0." I responded by saying, "There are no dividing lines tonight." Later, he tweeted, "Tonight, the narrative was better than all of the details."
In my opinion, the narrative is always better than the details. But, I'm 48 years old, so I have a different perspective than younger fans do.
I remember the glory years. I remember sneaking away from family gatherings to gather around a transistor radio on my grandparents' front porch with my uncle from Kansas City so we could listen to meaningful Royals games. I remember my single mom finding a way to take my sister and me to Royals Stadium during their heyday. And I remember the framed Sports Illustrated cover from the 1985 World Series that hung on my bedroom wall for many years.
But for those who were born during the 29-year misery gap, or who were simply too young to appreciate the Royals of the late 1970s and early-to-mid ‘80s, losing was the norm. Some chose to follow winning teams. Others embraced the Royals, but as the losing continued, the younger fan base seemed to segment. Some became cynics, others embraced sabermetrics - hoping Moneyball was the answer, and still others were optimistic no matter the circumstances.
Often those fragmented segments have been at odds. Their methodology for how to produce winning baseball, or even how a baseball game should be viewed, often wasn't compatible. But deep down, they all wanted the same thing. They wanted the Royals to win. And they wanted the Royals to be relevant again.
Well, they are winning now, and they are indeed relevant again. Grown men wept after the Royals advanced to the ALDS. Kids are talking about their favorite Royals players again. People took to Twitter to call the Royals a team of destiny. And in the spirit of Sung Woo Lee, the narrative is all that matters.
That doesn't mean the fan base won't challenge Ned Yost's decisions as the ALDS gets underway on Thursday night, but it does mean they have a taste of how winning feels and how it turns otherwise composed adults into little boys and girls again.
That childlike feeling might just be the turning point.
I watched the wild card game in a friend's basement in Omaha. My friend, his wife, their two sons, one of their teenage friends and I gathered around the tube. The kids cheered for the Royals, asking questions, making observations - even making predictions about which Royal would come up with the big walk-off hit. And while they know the franchise has been down for a long time, they haven't had to endure it. Winning could become their normal.
When Salvador Perez drove in the winning run in the bottom of the twelfth inning, my friend's sons erupted. It reminded me of a conversation I had with Royals general manager Dayton Moore four years ago, sitting in the dugout at Rosenblatt Stadium. He was in town to evaluate Alex Gordon, who was trying out leftfield for the first time. And Moore was on the verge of making a big league managerial change, so he had a lot on his mind.
I asked him how he viewed the growing skepticism among the fan base and he gave me an answer I'll never forget.
"I'm very passionate about the Kansas City Royals," Moore said. "They were my boyhood team. I'm very passionate about baseball. I care deeply about the people who work with us. I care deeply about the players who commit to be a part of this organization because it's all about the players at the end of the day.
"I'm concerned about the impression that people have about the Kansas City Royals. I want every young boy and every young girl to grow up loving the Kansas City Royals. There is a generation of people who saw nothing but winning and now there's a generation of people who have seen nothing but losing.
"For the baseball family - or that dad or that grandfather who grew up loving the Royals and seeing them perform in all their glory days to now have a grandchild or a son or a great grandson, in some cases, who have never seen the Royals win and they root for the Phillies and they root for the Red Sox and they root for the Yankees because those are the teams that win, or they root for the Braves because those are the teams that have won, it's got to be in a way - it's probably not heartbreaking - I probably take it a little more serious than it actually is, but there's some disappointment."
Say what you will about Moore's eight-year process and his oftentimes ultra-defensive attitude any time somebody questioned it, but when it comes right down to it, he wants to see every young boy and every young girl in the region grow up loving the Royals. There is a certain naiveté about that desire, and I mean that in the best way possible. I was one of those young boys, many moons ago.