KANSAS CITY -- I spent most of my Monday night traipsing through and around Kansas City's Power and Light District, where you can find the College Basketball Hall of Fame and the Sprint Center, the $276 million arena that's seven years old and still waiting for an NBA or NHL tenant. It is also one of the few places in America where you can openly drink a beer while walking down the street, an activity you're always sort of obliged to take part in, if given the opportunity.
As you might expect, just about everyone I saw was wearing some sort of Royals paraphernalia. It was the day before the first World Series game in Kansas City in nearly 30 years; that's probably worth breaking out the old royal blue. All told, it's possible you would be arrested if you didn't. But here's the most fascinating thing about all the Royals gear was that most of it -- I'd say at least 80 percent of the caps, shirts and jackets I saw -- was brand new. I mean, like, bought in the last two weeks. You could tell, because almost everything had the POSTSEASON patch on there. A couple adventurous and enterprising fellows even already had the 2014 World Series patch on their hats, something I didn't even know they were selling yet.
In some other towns, one might take this as Johnny Come Latelys trying to jump on the bandwagon now that the team is winning. But not here, and not with this team. More than any other fanbase (with the possible exception of the Yankees, and a lot of that is probably Jay-Z), I've found if you are a Royals fan, you are wearing Royals gear constantly. Even my old New York friends who were Royals fans always had their KC hat on. Maybe it's the lovely shade of blue, maybe it's Lorde, maybe it's a hipster thing I don't understand. But no fanbase that I've seen has been more eager for you to know, in spite of all the pain (perhaps because of all the pain), how much they love their team. To be a Royals fan is to be persistently loyal and hopeful in the face of all available evidence. To be a Royals fan is to believe, even when there is no reason to believe.
So I realized, with my open container, that all these fans of course had tons of other Royals gear back at home. But they needed to buy something that commemorated what was happening now. The hats are the same, the jerseys are the same, the t-shirts are the same. There's just a little patch on the side. It is both commemorative of what is happening, but it is also proof. It is a constant pinch to make sure you're awake: This is real.
The World Series begins tonight in Kansas City, and I sort of think it's important that it is kicking off in Kansas City rather than San Francisco. (Thanks Adam Wainwright and Pat Neshek!) If Games 1 and 2 were in far off San Francisco, the Series would be starting for Royals fans like all other World Series started in the last 29 years: On television. Conceivably, the Royals could be down 2-0 before they played a game at Kauffman, which would be unacceptable. The anticipation is of course part of the point. But it needed to start here.
When you cheer for a very bad team for a very long time, after a while, you stop worrying about whether or not people like your team and worry more about whether anyone even know it exists. (I speak to you as an Arizona Cardinals fan here.) The Royals not only hadn't seen a postseason game before this season since 1985, they'd really not even been in much of a pennant chase. They'd had a few stars drift through town -- Carlos Beltran, Johnny Damon, Bo Jackson -- but then they'd leave and another Royals rebuilding project would begin. The Royals were the team that opponents took a breath and relaxed for a second when they would show up on the schedule; the season is long and exhausting, and the Royals were a refuge. Nobody hated the Royals. Nobody even noticed the Royals. You will be amazed how many national media members, who have been covering baseball for a long time, will be visiting Kauffman Stadium for the first time this week. To my shame, I'm one of them.
What you want is for your team to matter. When you cheer for a team that loses that much, for that long, your team feels invisible. It feels like you're a fan of an indie rock band no one cares about, or an avid devotee of quilting. It's amazing to you -- and baffling -- that no one else gets it. This makes the team yours, in a way it never was for Beltran, or Damon, or even Joe Randa. All those people -- players, managers, even owners -- came and went. You were still there. Other than the stadium and George Brett, those fans are the only thing still connected to the Royals now that was connected to them in 1985. Even if those fans weren't even born yet.
Today, here, this lovely American city, is the center of the sporting world. The World Series is starting, here, tonight. The Kansas City Royals are going to play in it. That is the planet we all woke up to this morning. This is what matters. It's worth plunking down for a new hat. This is why this is fun. This is why this is important. This is real.
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