In the minutes before the 2014 Wild Card game, the energy both at Kauffman Stadium and around Kansas City was so powerful that it could be felt by everyone. The Royals had made it. They were playing a postseason game for the first time in the life of many fans. Many had seen it before, but their hair was now a different color from the last time, if they still had hair. This was monumental. Even if it was just one game, it would be enough to fuel a fanbase for at least a little while. Baseball was back.
It wasn’t just one game. It wasn’t just one series after that, and it wasn’t just one month. When the crescendo hit, it wasn’t just from that one game either. It was from somewhere between a few months and a lifetime prior.
For me, the Royals run started on September 22, 2013. It was the final home game of the first season the Royals finished above .500 since 2003. They were in contention until the final few games of the season. It was glorious. On that day, Alexi Ogando and James Shields did battle and the game was scoreless heading into the 10th. Tim Collins pitched a scoreless inning and Neal Cotts took the mound in the bottom half. Eric Hosmer doubled to left. Then good pal Joakim Soria came in for the Rangers. He intentionally walked Billy Butler and Salvador Perez hit an infield single to shortstop. After two outs made it seem like Soria would escape the mess, Justin Maxwell stepped to the plate. And on a 3-2 pitch, he absolutely mauled a baseball into the left field stands to give the Royals a walkoff 4-0 victory.
Just putting it into words doesn’t do that moment justice. 2013 was the first time there was real hope in Kansas City. Sure, the 2011 season was fun when all the kids made their way to the big leagues, but 2013 was the first year when we actually saw what they could do. I think the run really started that day. Even with all the playoff moments since then, that grand slam is still one of my favorite moments at Kauffman Stadium.
And now it’s coming to an end. Really it’s been coming to an end for a few years, as Craig noted. Precious few from that 2015 squad now remain, just a reminder of the most satisfying baseball season of my life and many others. There’s something symbolic about 2017. We knew from the start that it was going to be the end of the core in some fashion. Think back even to 2013. We knew that Hosmer, Escobar, Moustakas, Cain, Vargas, Duffy, Dyson and Davis were all scheduled to become free agents after the 2017 season. That fact always lingered.
The Royals took care of three of those issues in various ways, but many still remain, and those are who we’re left to say goodbye to. But it’s more than a goodbye to Eric Hosmer and his tantalizing potential that may finally be realized. It’s more than a goodbye to Mike Moustakas, the man who finally broke the embarrassing team home run record. It’s more than a goodbye to Lorenzo Cain, the 2014 ALCS MVP and heartbeat of this team. And it’s even more than a goodbye to Jason Vargas, the major announcement signing who turned out to actually be pretty darn important. No, it’s a goodbye to the most fun a lot of us have ever had rooting for a baseball team.
When the Wild Card game reached the eighth inning, the Royals were trailing and it sure looked like the magical ride was about to come to an end. At that moment, I decided that I was going to cheer as loud as I could because I only had two innings left with the team that made Kauffman Stadium rock again. Boy was I wrong. You all know they won that game and then seven more in a row. I got to go hoarse screaming about David Glass receiving the William Harridge Trophy and Cain running around with his newborn baby. I got to scream for a World Series game and got to see two World Series wins in person. And I got to drop to my seat with my eyes welling up when Salvador Perez ended that series with a popup.
But even that wasn’t the end. We got the whole 2015 season to watch a group on a mission. Sure the cast changed a little bit, but that team was not going to lose and it showed. They roared out of the gate and had the division in control by July. They were real life buyers at the trade deadline for the first time in forever and got two of the most coveted trade pieces. Then, after a bit of a hiccup early in the ALDS, they found themselves making an improbable comeback in the eighth inning of an elimination game. Once they won that game, there was no way they weren’t going to win it all. I was sure of it, and that’s coming from a guy who is usually sure they’re going to blow it…somehow.
The World Series was a formality in 2015, especially once Alex Gordon tied Game One in the bottom of the ninth inning. The Mets never stood a chance against the team that refused to lose. And then there was that parade. Oh man, that parade. It gets dusty in here just thinking about that. What a day.
No, the last two years haven’t gone quite according to plan. As Darin wrote, the Royals were on the verge of at least a mini-dynasty that just didn’t happen. And that’s okay. Baseball is hard.
But this core woke up a city. This core made baseball fun again. More importantly, this core made baseball relevant again. And some will remain. We’ll continue to cheer for Danny Duffy and Salvador Perez for the foreseeable future. We’ll continue to root for Alex Gordon and hope he turns it around for the next couple seasons of his deal. And you never know. Maybe we’ll still be rooting for some of the guys who are ticketed for a big contract. That’s baseball now. The Royals aren’t exempt from going after big free agents. You just never know.
But if this is it for the big free agents leaving, it is a sign of the end of this era of Royals baseball. Back in spring of 2013, I was part of a roundtable on 610 Sports in Kansas City. We talked about a million different things, but one question stands out to me. We were asked what it would take to make the 2013 season a successful one. My answer was that I wanted there to be one important game in September. There hasn’t been a meaningless September since, and I’m not going to take that for granted.
These last few games for the Royals this season are going to be tougher than most, and it’s because the last few seasons for the Royals have been just the best. For that, I thank this team. It’s been a truly wonderful ride.