I’ve never been within 200 miles of the state of Missouri, but that didn’t stop me from taking an interest in the Kansas City Royals’ playoff hopes throughout the summer. I didn’t exactly jump on the bandwagon, but I followed close behind it. A team poised to end a 29-year playoff drought is bound to catch the fancy of some of Major League Baseball’s more neutral fans. When the AL Wild Card Game pitted the Royals against the A’s, choosing my allegiance was easy. Oakland is often a beneficiary of my small-market sympathies, but the Moneyballers nearly collapsed thanks to some very un-Moneybally moves this season, and would have been bounced from the playoffs by the more deserving Mariners if the season had been, oh, four or five games longer. Before the first pitch at 8:05 local time, I threw on my only royal-blue apparel: a Milwaukee Brewers throwback shirt. Close enough.
On this Tuesday night, there were no other sporting events worth paying attention to, so I channeled all of my rooting energy toward the Royals. The Athletics, a team I had no concrete reasons to dislike, existed in my mind as the Northern California branch of Al Qaeda. My blood simmered as imagined how often Eric Sogard has been late turning in library books, and all the times Jon Lester has done 60 in a 55. The Royals, meanwhile, lived up to their kingly nickname. The only reason they didn’t run away with the AL Central by 20 games, I told myself, was that they spent too much doggone time visiting children’s hospitals.
When Kansas City took a 3-2 lead in the third, I yelled so loudly that the neighbors must have suspected some sort of attack. When they tied the game at 7 in the bottom of the ninth, I convinced myself that no one else in the house could possibly be sleeping at the approach of midnight. When the Royals erased an 8-7 deficit and sealed the 9-8 win with a two-run twelfth, I switched my celebration into silent mode, but made up for it with a series of fist pumps that could only seem appropriate coming from a season-ticket holder.
It was the best baseball game I had ever seen, and maybe the best baseball game ever played.
I know, I know. Anyone who uses the phrase “best [noun] ever” is usually not worth listening to. In my case, this is particularly true. But there were two ties and five lead changes, two of which occurred in do-or-die situations for the Royals. There was a lot of offense, but no pitcher got shelled. Kansas City stole seven bases. It was a winner-take-all affair, and the home team won, in front of a massive crowd of its long-suffering and shockingly loyal fans.
I wanted to share the joy of this game with my family and friends. None of them are Kansas City fans, but even if they just watched the highlights, they would be. I voiced my support for a proposal that would remove World War II from Missouri’s history curriculum, and replace it with a unit on the one-out Eric Hosmer triple that turned into the tying run.
But then I wondered how I would have felt about the game if I had wanted Oakland to win. Would I still have seen it as one for the ages, or just an inexcusable collapse by a seemingly snakebitten team? If I were a tried-and-true Oakland fan, instead of just a temporary blue-wearer, would the game pop up in my nightmares for years to come, with the Kansas City infield chewing on human eyeballs instead of bubble gum?
Maybe my enjoyment of the game was entirely due to a relatively arbitrary choice I had made not too long before it started. But the beauty of sports is that whether I’m a bandwagoner (er… bandwagon-follower) or a true Royal, I can still get caught in the emotions of the game. Sometimes, those are positive emotions that help us forget that our rent is past due, or that we live in a country where ebola is waiting to strike us down.
So thank you, Kansas City fans, for allowing me to share in your positive emotions. I promise not to wear a red shirt during the ALCS, even if that may be my best bet for revisiting last night’s thrill of victory.