Searching For Perspective

Despite taking two of three from the Tigers in Detroit, the Royals return home this week just a single game away from elimination from the second Wild Card.

This merely will make official what we have known for some time. We’ve declared this team out of the race several times on this website. But the math is the math. There will be a finality to the 2016 season that could come as early as Tuesday. (It can’t happen Monday as both the Royals and the Orioles are off for the final time this year. A brief reprieve.)

As the Royals close out their home portion of 2016, there is bound to be some attendance talk that could be framed as another disappointment to the Royals season. From Mellinger:

“Royals season attendance should end up between 2.5 and 2.6 million. That would be both the second highest figure in franchise history, and significantly less than the business side projected. A year ago they drew more than 2.7 million, and that number was generally expected to rise. Some thought the team had a chance at 3 million, with the right breaks.”

Mellinger goes on to note that this will be the fourth time in 20 years a defending World Series champion has seen a decrease in attendance the following year. That, unfortunately, is the talking point. A decrease in attendance.

Let’s pump the brakes for a moment. Yes, attendance is down and yes, the Royals are (still) the defending World Champions. Yet a couple of caveats must be thrown down. First, the Royals went to back to back World Series. Teams – as noted in the stat in the previous paragraph – usually experience a bump in the season following a World Series appearance. The Royals most definitely got that bump in 2015 as they set a franchise attendance record.

Second, there is the fiscal aspect to consider. Postseason baseball isn’t exactly cheap. And while the Royals have left a few dollars on the October table by not playing every game possible at home, there has still been plenty of money thrown around for the privilege of attending a playoff or World Series game. Talk to any Royals fan about the 2016 season and while the first thing they may mention is how disappointing it is there won’t be a postseason run for a third consecutive year, the second thing they will mention is how happy this makes their wallet. Combine that with the ever escalating ticking prices (along with the inane “flex” pricing) and the ability to watch every game on television when explaining the decrease in attendance.

And that 3 million figure some thought was possible? Whoa. Wish I had seen that before the season began, because that’s a mockable number anytime. To accomplish that, the Royals would need to average 37,037 which seems a stretch given the reasoning above along with the fact the capacity of the stadium is listed at 37,903. I know they can jam over 40 thousand at The K with standing room, but that’s never going to be a regular attendance number. If someone was seriously thinking the Royals could draw over 3 million, they were probably the ones buying the 800 thousand at the parade estimates.

In the pre-2014 days, we would write about how a season such as this was nice, but ultimately another disappointment. No playoffs! Declining attendance! However, after back to back American League pennants, one tends to view disappointments through a different perspective.

Sunday added a different type of perspective as many of us awoke to the news of the death of Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez. There’s not much to add in this space, other than this is the type of news that knocks the air out of you for a few moments. How can someone who so heartily embraces life be taken so abruptly? Miami ownership has taken the steps to remove the joy from baseball in South Florida, but Fernandez was one player who, every fifth day, was able to brings some of that back. He meant so much to so many that it seems it can’t be possible he is gone forever.

Fernandez was a Cuban refugee who tried to flee the prison of his island four times before being successful, on one escape attempt he jumped into the water to save his mother who fell overboard. After another, he was thrown in prison. Finally, he made it to America and the Marlins. His story is stirring. It is inspiring. Fernandez, as Dan LeBatard so elegantly wrote, represented freedom. His loss creates a void that simply cannot be imagined.

The dichotomy was sharp as later that day, across the country in Los Angeles and throughout baseball, there was a celebration of Vin Scully and his 67 years behind the Dodger microphone. Scully, like Fernandez, means so much to so many fans. And players, too. As each Dodger strode to the plate for his first at bat on Sunday, they pointed to the broadcast booth and tipped their cap. A subtle and wholly fitting gesture for a dignified icon.

Scully may have lost a tick or two on his fastball, but he can still bring the broadcast version of the heater. How fitting was it, at his final Dodger Stadium broadcast, he gets to call a walkoff home run that is the NL West clincher. And how great was it that the Dodgers paused their on field celebration to offer a tribute to an icon.

A day that opened with immeasurable sadness ends with a measure of joy. It was a reminder that baseball doesn’t pause. We should enjoy every moment of this still great game.

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