The Loneliness of the Long Distance Royals Fan

Hi. My name is Eric. And I’m a Kansas City Royals fan.

We’re a week into the baseball season, and the Royals are already in last place in the American League Central, two and half games behind Twins and rolling on a three game losing streak. While all of my friends and neighbors and all of the sports columnists I read hopefully banter and debate about the relative merits and outlooks of their beloved Yankees or Red Sox or Mets, there is no joy here in Smithville, for I am all but certain than someone in the Royals anemic lineup has certainly just struck out. royals.jpg (Q: If a batter swings and no one is there to hear it, does he still go “whiff”? A: If he is a Royal, yes.) About the only thing I can ponder as I look deep into the season is whether the Royals will lose 100 or more games again this year, as they’ve done four out of the five past seasons. From where I sit, a 63-99 season is quite the success story.

I’m sure (well, at least I think I’m sure) that if I lived in or near Kansas City, there might be some other folks around for me to talk about my Royal fandom with, and who would appreciate my quiet, lonely dedication to the losingest of all possible losing causes. But in the 32 years since I actually lived in Kansas (for 11 formative months), I have only encountered one person who would admit to being a devoted Royals fan like me. I think we were both embarassed by the confession, and being manly men with brawny shoulders, we haven’t talked about this sad little secret weakness since.

It wasn’t always so lonely being a Royals fan. As a kid in the Carolinas, I followed my Dad’s lead and was a devoted Washington sports fan. I diligently followed the Redskins, then the Bullets when they came along (and before they became the Wizards), then the Capital when they came along. But in the early ’70s, after Washington lost its second baseball franchise, I was without a team to root for. Then we moved to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas for a year, where the new-ish Royals were doing whizbang good for an expansion franchise, making the postseason for the first time in 1976.

Since I didn’t have a Washington-based baseball team to claim as my own, I quickly jumped on the Royals bandwagon that fall, becoming a dogged, diligent fan of great players like George Brett, Frank White, Cookie Rojas, Larry Gura, Freddie Patek, Amos Otis, Bret Saberhagen, Hal McRae, Willie Wilson, Dennis Leonard, Paul Splittorff, Dan Quisenberry and so many others on the classic ’70s and ’80s rosters. Times were good then: the Royals made the postseason in 1976, 1977 and 1978, then made their first World Series appearance in 1980, losing 4-2 to the Phillies.

After a pair of quick postseason eliminations in 1981 and 1984, the Royals finally ascended to baseball’s highest pinacle in 1985, when they beat the Toronto Blue Jays 4-3 in the American League Championship Series, and then beat the St. Louis Cardinals 4-3 in the World Series. Of course, the East Coast Sporting Elites wanted to sully my celebration even then, noting that the Royals were the beneficiaries of a series of ridiculously bad umpiring calls, not to mention Cardinal pitcher Joaquin Andujar‘s monumental on-mound pyscho meltdown in Game Seven. But I didn’t (and don’t) care. The Royals were the champs in 1985, and I gloated like a champ, as the only known Royals fan within a 500 mile radius of Annapolis, where I lived at the time.

It’s a good thing I gloated so much then, because the Royals have never returned to the post-season, and I haven’t been able to do so again since. I don’t believe in the Curse of the Bambino any more, but I do believe in the Curse of Joaquin Andujar, who most certainly directed so much antipathy towards the Royals and Umps who shamed him that they have never been able to get out from beneath the lingering cloud of bad karma that he tagged them with in that ominous, potentious seventh game. They won the battle that year, but clearly the war turned against the Royals and their fans.

I am sure that somewhere Joaquin Andujar smiles at our suffering.

About J. Eric Smith
Executive Director, Salisbury House Foundation.

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