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Good Guys of Baseball: Built. Not Built

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“Built. Not Bought.” Those were the words on the sign being held up proudly by a Kansas City Royals fan on the jumbotron screen in the middle of the second game of the 2014 World Series. And those words capture so perfectly just why Royals fans are so proud of these “Boys in Blue,” the first Royals to advance to postseason play, let alone the World Series, since 1985.

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend Game 2 of the series. As a fan who has quite literally been waiting my entire life to see the Royals perform so successfully, it was an incredible experience to be among the 40,000+ in attendance at Kauffman Stadium that night. The atmosphere was electric. The place was packed out. And before all was said and done, I had laughed, cried, and high-fived and hugged complete strangers. I guess it’s all part of the magic of “America’s favorite pastime.”

But at least for me, this was about more than the joy of watching my home team win a World Series game. Although I’ve grown up watching and cheering for the Kansas City Royals, my favorite team has disappointed me over the years more times than I care to count. It’s no secret that the 2014 Royals have far outpaced the success of the team in recent decades. But let me put things in perspective for those of you who may be unfamiliar: for the 25 seasons of baseball that I’ve been alive, the Royals have posted losing records for 19 of those, including 4 seasons with more than 100 losses. There were moments growing up when I questioned why my family kept rooting for these guys. But my dad, who himself attended 4 of the 1985 World Series games, taught me and my younger brother that the Royals are our home team, and that means standing by them no matter what. 

It was my dad who coached most of the little league baseball teams I played on growing up, and although I’ve always had a great appreciation for the game, I freely admit I wasn’t very good. Actually, neither were most the teams I played on. As I recall, we never won very many games. For my part, I was never much of an athlete, and that was often a harsh reality for a kid growing up in a small town in the Midwest where so much emphasis is placed on high school sports. Take all this together, and you can probably understand why I developed an “I’m-a-loser” complex when it comes to sports, which sometimes carried over into other things. And I’ll admit it, the fact that the baseball team I grew up cheering for consistently lost so many games made me feel like a loser by extension. I felt like a loser doomed to a life of cheering for other losers, who happened to be my losers simply due to geography. (Don’t get me wrong here…I’m not calling former Royals players “losers,” just telling you how I felt when I was a kid.)

But that’s a big part of the reason why watching the 2014 Kansas City Royals has been so incredible for me personally. It’s a sort of redemptive experience after all the years of feeling like a loser. And regardless of the outcome of this series, I can say with full confidence that the guys on this team are definitely NOT losers. These are men of character. These are good guys. And that makes them fun to watch both on and off the field.

These Royals seem like a family (indeed, a “Royal family”…sorry, I had to). The bromance is especially evident between outfielder Lorenzo Cain and catcher Salvador Perez. Salvy, as Perez is known to players and fans, posts videos to Instagram of his antics with Cain, often pestering him like a little brother. But make no mistake, it’s not always fun and games with this group. Outfielder Alex Gordon is the model of dedication, coming in hours before game time to put in an intense workout and fielding practice. Teammates and coaches alike praise him for his unparalleled discipline. It’s no accident the guy has won three Gold Glove awards and is nominated for a fourth this year. He’s one of the leaders on a team that doesn’t have the biggest names in the league, but instead has concentrated on the fundamentals of the game to develop an outstanding defense, dangerous bullpen, and solid, often very strategic, batting. Again, a team that’s been “built, not bought.”

Another one of the things I love most about this team is how much they obviously appreciate their fans. Rookie relief pitcher Brandon Finnegan, who is set to become the first person to play in the College World Series and MLB’s World Series in the same year, came through with playoff tickets for a fan who tweeted him stating his regret that he was too broke to come watch his favorite team play in the postseason. Finnegan even offered to go eat some classic Kansas City barbecue with the fan! (One wife has gotten in on the class act, too. Relief pitcher Wade Davis’s wife reportedly gave World Series tickets as a tip to her waiter at a local restaurant.)

No, these Royals don’t seem to have a snobbish bone in their bodies. They’re playing great baseball and having a great time doing it. They celebrate not only with each other, but with the fans and the city they represent. Several players came out to Kansas City’s Power & Light entertainment district after the team clinched their win over the Angels in the division series, and first baseman Eric Hosmer bought a $15,000 round of drinks for everyone in attendance.

And what really makes these kinds of things special is that it shows these guys know how much they mean to their fans. They know how long we’ve waited, despite the fact that many of the players hadn’t been born the last time the Royals made the postseason.

It would be so exciting to me for my favorite team to win the World Series. But more importantly, this year’s Royals show me once again that success starts on the inside. The Royals’ character, teamwork, generosity, and grit should inspire even the most ardent Giants fan (a team with lots of talent and character of its own, I might add). They show us what can happen when good men come together and strive to be their best.

The rallying cry for Royals fans this year has been “Take the Crown.” But whether they get the “crown” or not, you get the sense that these guys aren’t just playing to bring glory to themselves. They’re fighting for a greater cause that brings with it a sense of redemption for thousands of fans like me; fans who can get the chance to feel that sense of vindication I felt one magical October night at Kauffman Stadium when I watched my team win a World Series game at last—that I’m not a loser, and neither are they.

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