One Final Time Around The Bases

The Royals return home Tuesday for their final home stand of the 2017 season. We’re about a week away from the depressing reality that baseball will take it’s annual leave from us. Another October without baseball. Blah.

It’s not just any final set of games at The K. With a number of players likely leaving via free agency, the tributes are already beginning to arrive. This is, after all, the end of an era. With Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar and Eric Hosmer all likely to don different uniforms next year, this is one final opportunity to salute those players and their accomplishments in Kansas City. These last six games should be a rollicking finale. A testament to what those have done for this city and this franchise.

It’s not about the 2015 World Series team. That team ceased to exist when the parade traveled along Grand Avenue and finished with Jonny Gomes and his flag at the front of Union Station. You remember those guys, right? Not all of them came back. Ben Zobrist and Johnny Cueto cashed in with big contracts. Greg Holland was injured. Alex Rios couldn’t find employment. It’s kind of amazing that the Royals lost so few players from that championship team. Usually, there’s a substantial amount of turnover at the end of a title run. Still, the 2016 Royals team was different from the 2015 version.

The franchise shed a few more players with rings following 2016. Jarrod Dyson and Wade Davis departed via trades that didn’t exactly work in the Royals favor. Kendrys Morales and Edinson Volquez exited as free agents. And of course there was the tragedy of Yordano.

And now it’s probably time for Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Alcides Escobar to likely take one final turn at bat in the Royals home whites.

This isn’t a sad occasion. Not at all. It’s a moment to celebrate.

There is peril in staying in one place for too long. You can get taken for granted. Or, even worse, injury or age can conspire to rob you of what endeared you to fans in the first place. Sometimes it’s better to say goodbye and start anew. For all parties, the player, the franchise and the fan. If these four take their leave, they are departing at exactly the right moment. Just two years after winning the World Series, Hosmer is having a career year that will see him make good on his promise to break the free agent bank. Moustakas departs having finally broken the Royals franchise record for home runs in a single season. Cain leaves as the Royals best all-around player. And Escobar… Well, he does have that consecutive game streak thing everyone seems awfully proud about.

That’s what is so great about this week. These guys are moving on while still productive players. This isn’t some sort of retirement tour where guys get gifts they don’t necessarily want or ones they can afford to buy themselves where we reminisce about the players they once were. Perhaps it’s a shame they didn’t win more, but as Darin pointed out, their run of success was damn impressive, all things considered.

Baseball isn’t like other sports where the greatest players always make the most postseason impact. Lebron James, Steph Curry and Kevin Durant get all the deserved accolades for being the best players in the NBA and they generally make deep runs into their postseason. The best baseball player alive is Mike Trout. That guy has been to exactly one postseason in his seven years in the league, hit .083/.267/.333 as his team was swept in the 2014 ALDS by the Royals.

It’s difficult to win divisions, pennants and championships. The Dodgers have been the best team money can buy for the last few years. They haven’t been to the World Series since 1988. Nothing is guaranteed.

Baseball is not easy or simple. The Royals were lucky during their first sustained run of success with George Brett and Frank White as the cornerstones. It turned out those guys weren’t easily replaceable. I suspect it will be the same for Hosmer, Moustakas and Cain. There’s nothing in the pipeline at the moment that could step forward or even be packaged as part of a trade.

Admittedly, I geek out over the balance one can find in baseball. The Royals won three consecutive divisions in the late 1970s only to lose in the ALCS to the Yankees every single year. Finally, in 1980, they broke through, vanquishing the evil Yankees in the process. They didn’t win the World Series that year, but continued to survive and fight until they finally won in 1985. Ten years. Seven postseason appearances. Six division titles. Two AL pennants. And it was over once they finally won the championship.

The latest run of success was different. It was a rush, happening in a flash, all at once. The balance is in the players. It’s in the team that was built from the ground up, that rose together through the system. Through trades and drafts this was a largely homegrown effort. If all the free agents leave, barring trades, after this season only seven players will remain from the 2015 World Series roster.

Time marches on.

I’ll be there during the final homestand. I always make it a point to attend at least one game out of the final set at The K. It’s one last chance for me to get a baseball fix before winter. And this time, I’ll celebrate a special group of Royals.

So for those players who may be playing their final game at The K this week, thank you. For everything.

And good luck at your next stop.

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