Last night, the Kansas City Royals won in just about the most dramatic fashion you can win a regular season game. Down 1-0 heading into the bottom of the ninth, with the second-place Tigers already having won and the Royals looking at their lead in the AL Central potentially being dropped to half a game, Alex Gordon got a pitch he could hit.
And he hit it.
That's a breathtaking moment in a Royals season that's starting to look full of them. If the Royals win the AL Central this year, that Gordon homer will be at the very top of the highlight video. But nonetheless, you can't help but notice: There don't appear to be that many fans in the stands. One person who noticed was Royals manager Ned Yost, who picked an awfully odd time -- after your team just picked up an amazing walkoff win -- to take a jab at Kansas City fans.
"I mean, what, 13,000 people got to see a great game? ... There's a real need for our fans to be a part of this. We had a great crowd last night, and I was kind of hoping we'd have another great crowd tonight, and we really didn't."
Now, the point here isn't to point out how strange it is for Yost to say this right after a fantastic win, or how it's pretty easy for him to say fans should be streaming to the park because of an August streak, considering he hasn't been there suffering through the nearly 30 years since the Royals last made the playoffs (and it was crazy hot in K.C. last night): The Kansas City Star's Sam Mellinger does a fantastic job of that on his own. The point is that it honestly doesn't matter how many people were in Kauffman Stadium last night, because if the Royals make the playoffs -- like they have a 68.2 percent chance of doing right now -- and they host a game, Kauffman Stadium is going to be so insane and full of screaming fans that Yost will wish he's packed earplugs.
It takes a while for fans to come back after 30 years of losing -- 30 years of losing -- and it's a gradual, painstaking process. (And attendance is up in Kansas City this year, by the way, by almost 2,000 fans a game.) But when fans come back, particularly for a postseason experience, they come back with a righteous, messianic fervor. Simply ask Pittsburgh.
Only six years ago, the Pirates had the worst attendance in the National League and couldn't even average 20,000 fans. (They had roughly the same attendance as BYU college basketball, in a venue with twice as many seats.) This year, they're up more than 10,000 fans on that average. But last October, they not only sold out every postseason game -- the wild-card game and the two NLDS games against St. Louis -- they provided an atmosphere that was unlike anything I'd ever seen at a baseball game. I've seen loud electric crowds in October, I've seen more people at a stadium, I've seen 47,000 humans all shriek with mad, shocked euphoria at once. But I have never seen anything like PNC Park last October.
PNC Park is one of the loveliest stadiums in the game, and whenever I'd been there in the past, I always thought, Man, it's a shame the Pirates have been so bad for so long. This place would be mind-blowing in the postseason. But I had no idea it would be like this.
Pity poor Johnny Cueto.
Listen to those lunatics. That is a hockey crowd wrapped up with a UFC crowd wrapped up with mob of 50,000 people who have been drinking in sorrow for 20 years and have been released to run rampant on an unsuspecting populace. What was happening at PNC Park last October -- in only three games -- transcended baseball, or even sport. That was the sound of humanity being set free. I've never seen a postseason crowd match it. But then again: I'd never seen a crowd watching its team play in the postseason for the first time in 20 years either. I'll never forget it.
Last September, the Pirates played a home game against the Chicago Cubs that they won 3-1. It was the platonic ideal of a baseball game: A beautiful evening, a sharp starting pitching performance from Jeff Locke, an RBI knock off the wall from impending MVP Andrew McCutchen and a victory that put the Pirates into a tie for first place and reducing their magic number to clinching a postseason spot to 9.
And the building was half full. You see the Pirates celebrating this massive win to row after row of empty seats. This does not mean Pirates fans did not care. This did not mean that they were not supportive of their team. It doesn't even mean they didn't want to be there that night. Sometimes it's just hard to get out to the ballpark on a school night. Sometimes you're saving it all up.
That crowd in September didn't preclude what would happen in October from happening. And the small crowd in Kansas City on a sleepy Tuesday evening won't matter, and won't be remembered at all, if the Royals make the postseason. If the Royals host a postseason game for the first time since the 1985 World Series, if fans who have been waiting nearly 30 years for something encouraging finally receive their reward ... oh, man, will they ever be out there. One gets chills just thinking about it.
I understand that Ned Yost was frustrated. It was a delightful night to be a Royals fan, and there weren't as many people there to see it as he would have liked. But there is no reason to worry. Ned Yost need only concern himself with the Royals making the playoffs. If that happens, I guarantee you he will never question Royals fans again. None of us will. But it's his job to guide them there. Get to it, Ned.