KANSAS CITY — Well, the All Star Game may have been a bust.
OK, scratch that — it was about as exciting as an empty hamster wheel — but that shouldn’t detract from a wonderful stretch of activities in Kansas City. And an important one for a long-suffering region.
Imagine, for a minute, being a fan of a team that hasn’t sniffed a playoff berth in a quarter century. Heck, imagine following a club that hasn’t been in the ZIP code of a break-even record OR a next-to-last finish in its respective division in nearly a decade.
Picture, if you will (sorry to go all Rod Serling on you), a franchise that is seemingly hellbent on rolling out less than certain major league talent — or, on occasion, bringing up some of your best prospects to SIT ON THE BENCH, go back down to lower levels and never be heard from again.
Get that image in your mind, and you have some inkling of what it’s like to follow the Kansas City Royals. At least until the past two seasons.
The promise is evident with the Royals, with Billy Butler (finally) getting the All-Star honor he has deserved for several seasons and other talented youngsters starting to make their push for All-Star status for years to come.
The growing pains of the Royals this year…well, it’s hard to say whether those are growing pains from the players, managerial mismanagement or functional dysfunction as a result of bad roster construction or a combination of all three. I would like to say that is beside the point of this blog, but in all honesty it’s the crux of the matter.
Flat-out frustrated doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of how Royals fans feel. The talents of Butler, Hosmer, Moustakas, Escobar, Gordon — the list goes on and on — are obvious. But this isn’t the first time Royals fans have been told good times are just around the corner. It’s not the first time fans here have heard the “times they are a-changing” speech even with this group. As a matter of fact, “The Process” — the means for returning the Royals to glory — has already been delayed a couple years. And based on the recent Royals past, a lot of potential fans are not jumping on the bandwagon until The Promise of The Process becomes The Payday of The Playoffs.
This why All Star Game 2012 was so important to this area. Baseball fans have needed something positive for 25 years. Think about it. Young adults leaving college back in May have almost never seen this franchise approach the glory days of Brett and White, of Saberhagen and Balboni, of Jackson (Bo) and Jackson (Danny).
In a way it really hasn’t had since 1985, when the Royals shocked everybody except themselves to win the World Series, or possibly since the last All-Star Game here in 1973, Kansas City got a chance to show off its proud past, and it did so with aplomb and passion, boos directed at a certain New York Yankee notwithstanding.
But nothing for Royals fans gets them “fizzed up,” as team broadcaster Denny Matthews says, quite like the heydays — the chance to rub shoulders with the men who made this franchise great in the 1970s and ’80s. For their part, former Royals like Hal McRae, Fred Patek and Dennis Leonard all seem to have embraced their dual role as links to the past and encouragement (rather affirmation) for the future. McRae perhaps said it best: “It really looks like a baseball town and that makes everybody feel good…You just hope everybody will go to the ballpark.”
In some cities, the plight of a baseball franchise doesn’t affect a lot of people outside the city limits. Not so here. With the stretch of the Royals on radio, a huge chunk of the Midwest is debating whether to give full-throated support to this team. It gave that support to the All Star Game and all the activities, making it a shame it has taken so long for the festivities to return here.
By the time the game comes back to KC, fans here are ready for a renaissance. They deserve it.
*Commissioner Bud Selig stopped at the Negro Leagues Museum, an organization long struggling to display that critical aspect of baseball history in general, and he wasn’t alone. It’s estimated more people know now about the museum in a three-day stretch than did in the decades beforehand.
*Attendance at the celebrity softball game was a near sellout.
*FanFest was flat-out amazing. Displays on the Negro Leagues, Hispanic and women’s influence on the sport, information on the minor leagues, kids trying to steal bases or throw out runners at home, even old gloves as merchandise.
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