By Ken Reed
The Huffington Post
October 21, 2014
If I were financially independent and free of any family responsibilities, I’d be in Kansas City, Missouri right now soaking up the energy of a city going bonkers for its Major League Baseball team.
The 2014 Kansas City Royals are why we all fell in love with sports in the first place: they’re fun. Pure and simple. There’s no better story in the world of sports right now. The Royals are having a blast playing a kids’ game with a joy and esprit de corps usually missing in the pro ranks. And their long-suffering fans are having a great time watching them.
The Royals are the antithesis of the stereotypical greedy modern ballplayer. They’re happy to sacrifice for each other. Literally. The Royals’ number three and four hitters lay down sacrifice bunts as willingly as the team’s eight and nine hitters.
They also play with a Little League team’s exuberance and a college football team’s speed, aggressiveness and ferocity. They love the stolen base and the extra base equally. Diving plays in the field seem routine, a part of each player’s daily work.
And they do it all for the name on the front of the jerseys, not the name on the back. Sure, it’s a corny cliché, but it rings true for this group of players – a bunch of no-names only a couple weeks ago — who always seem to put the team first and share the credit.
Listen, I’m a cynical and critical sports reformer and journalist. This gushing about a team certainly isn’t typical for me. Nevertheless, I have Royals fever and to be honest I’m a bit shocked by it.
For one thing, I’m a lifelong A’s fan and the only reason I was watching the American League wildcard playoff game a couple weeks ago was because the A’s were playing.
Well, the A’s had a couple “surefire” leads disappear late against the Royals in that game. One perspective would be that the A’s simply blew both leads. But I think a more fair, and accurate, perspective is that the Royals refused to lose and continued to play aggressively until they pulled out a dramatic extra-innings victory.
While bummed at the early demise of the A’s, a team that was a consensus World Series favorite at the All-Star break, I was smitten with this young boyish team in blue. I continued to watch in amazement as they swept the Los Angeles Angels, the team with the regular season’s best record, in typically exciting fashion.
Their attacking, rambunctious style of play was contagious. By the end of the Angels series, I was hooked. I was now fully on the Royals bandwagon.
However, the big, bad Baltimore Orioles, kings of the American League East, were next. The Orioles were carrying some heavy lumber, having hit more than twice as many home runs as the Royals during the regular season. The oddsmakers saw a fairly quick exit for the Royals. I was prepared for the fairy tale to end but the Royals seemed to turn up their energy another notch and swept the Birds.
Now, the Royals haven’t been to the postseason, let alone the World Series, since 1985. So, you can imagine the state of delirium in Kansas City these days.
And as crazy as it seems, I somehow feel part of it. I’ve found myself searching the Internet for stories about the Royals. Who are these guys? What makes them tick? How were they built? How did general manager Dayton Moore and manager Ned Yost create such a fun-loving, team-first culture? As a recent bandwagon jumper, I needed some answers.
I’ll be honest. This Royals postseason reminds me of when I was a 13-year-old kid pulling for the A’s in the American League playoffs and World Series. One of my best buddies was a diehard Detroit Tigers fan. So, when the A’s played the Tigers in the 1972 ALCS we were both on pins and needles with almost every pitch. At that age, we weren’t aware of the problems and issues in sports. We just loved the passion, tension and joy of the games themselves.
That’s where I’m at now. These Kansas City Royals have transported me back to the innocence of my youth, when I deeply cared about the players and whether they won or not.
I want the Royals to keep this magical run going and win the Series. I like these guys and I want to see the team and town celebrate a championship with a parade through Kansas City’s famous Plaza district.
There are a lot of unfair, unjust, unethical things in sports today that make me angry. I work on those issues every day in my current position as sports policy director for League of Fans. But I’m also a passionate lifelong fan of sport at its best. There are so many great things about sports when win-at-all-costs (WAAC) and profit-at-all-costs (PAAC) mentalities aren’t the drivers.
It seems to me that this Kansas City Royals story is about as pure as pro sports can get these days. So, as long as the Royals are still alive and kicking (i.e., stealing) in this World Series, I’m going be a fan and have fun with it.
As activist sports journalist Dave Zirin says, “There’s a time to cheer and a time to seethe. We all have a stake in knowing the difference.”
When it comes to the 2014 Kansas City Royals, I definitely think it’s time to cheer. As this World Series plays out, I’ll be in front of my TV, hundreds of miles from Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. But I’ll be there in spirit, with all the Royals fans having the time of their lives.
Ken Reed is Sports Policy Director for League of Fans.
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League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
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