I kind of painted myself into a corner here. When I first came up with the idea of breaking down the Royals on the radio, I really only thought about writing some snarky shit about what I listen to each night and then call it that. But, being the genius I am, I thought “three-part series!” and, well, here we are.
Now, I could still do what I usually do and just list off five or six things, then unleash my acerbic wit for a couple of fart-and-hyphen-filled paragraphs, let JR add some pics & captions and call it a day. (That’s pretty much Bellwether Hamburger Helper, and if you haven’t noticed, there’s not much more than cheap ground beef in these keystrokes.) But you see, doing that would mean that I would have to procure a subject matter, and being that I have already written about Royals radio broadcasts in terms of the announcers and the commercials, I’ve pretty well exhausted the resources at my disposal. So, where does that leave us?
Well, since I’ve discussed the idiots calling the game, and the idiots trying to sell me shit between innings, there’s only one idiot left in the room. So it’s time to turn the keyboard back at myself and -- as if I don’t do so every waking moment of my life -- psychoanalyze a sad, sour Royals fan.
I remember when my mom first told me that we were moving to Kansas City. The first -- and I mean, very first -- thoughts that I had were of the fountains at Kauffman Stadium, the color blue, and George Brett. I don’t really know the reason for that (actually, wait, it was all the hours playing every single title in the RBI Baseball series) but it’s remarkable that, from the first time I knew I’d live there, to this very day, when I think of the city where I spent my most formidable years, I think of a shit-sack franchise of perennial losers. And I couldn’t be happier about it.
I like to think there’s something noble about being a Royals fan; something almost chivalrous about attaching your hopes to a doormat year-after-year. I still have my Carlos Febles game program from 2001. I’m still waiting for Mark Teahan to break out. And I still have a 2005 pocket schedule with every W and L marked and August 9th completely blacked-out with ink. But sure, we all have those things that remind us the the teams we love. With the Royals, you’re a little more sadistic than most, but hell, how can you not be with all that losing?
But, see, that’s nothing new. That’s the Stockholm Syndrome explanation that’s been fed to us for years; we’re pathetic, and we’re just so bad that nobody but Royals fans know what it’s like to be Royals fans. We’re different than the Cubs and Red Sox in the fact that nobody wants to bandwagon on our wretchedness. We’re different from the Pirates and Phillies in the fact that we haven’t been around for over 100 years... and we’re not located in Pennsylvania.
If you want to re-hash that “Aww shucks, we suck again” allegory, read Posnanski. Srsly tho, Poz is the best, and you really should read him, and anyway I don’t ever get that tired of him waxing pathetic on my team. But to me, the Royals are something different. To me the Royals mean something more.
In 2005, my best friend John was diagnosed with cancer. It was very shocking to say the least. He died in January 2008 at the age of 25. It’s tough watching the guy who was supposed to be the best man at your wedding and the godfather to your first kid waste away while you try to navigate your life after college and find your place in the world. It was probably what a psychologist would call a defense mechanism, but we dealt with our relationship and his illness by distracting ourselves with the Royals. There was very little talk of mortality or treatment or the pain he dealt with every day. But goddamn could we bitch about Angel Berroa.
But doing that will wear on you. It wore on us. And one day, I needed to unload; needed to let out what I was feeling about the fact that my best friend wouldn't be around much longer. So I wrote an email to Damon Amendolara. Along with listening to the Royals, we also listened to DA in the morning on 610. We were living in different cities at the time, but had the morning commute’s Stormbot segment to hash over. I kind of told DA -- a guy about whom I knew nothing about other than his voice -- about how me and my best friend couldn't see each other, or hang out all that often, but we were able to connect thru his show and thru the Royals.
To be honest, I didn't think too much of it, but the next morning, John called me as I was just sitting down to my desk at work. DA had not only gotten the email, but he read it on the air, and John had heard it, listening right as he was pulling up to a doctor’s appointment. Over the next couple of days, DA ended up reading more of our emails on the air. To everyone else, it seemed like he was reading two appreciative fans who were acknowledging their gratitude that we could connect thru his show, but to me and John, we were writing to each other; thanking our best friend for his love and courage and support.
Two weeks later I was back in Kansas City and went out to Westport after attending a Royals game with some friends. As I was waiting at the bar for a drink, I glanced over my shoulder -- as one is wont to do in a crowded place -- to see none other than DA standing behind me. We talked for awhile about John and the Royals game -- Buddy Bell had gotten tossed that day -- and other such things. I then called John and, in probably the most excited phone call I've ever made, replayed every minute of the conversation I just had.
I still have the items from the gift package that DA sent John for Christmas that year. I still remember the email he sent me when John passed. And I still in some circles go by the email tag I used, a pun on the city in Iowa where I was then living: “Chris from Death Moines.” And I still remember driving down the highway to work, both the antenna and my ears reaching to hear the radio thru the static 200 miles away.
I don’t know if any of that is possible without the Royals. Shitty season after shitty season, you can still make them whatever you want them to be. You can use them as a crutch. You can use them as a source of animus, or use them to espouse your baseball knowledge. Or you can use them the connect with and encourage you best friend as he’s fighting for his life.
And that’s what I think about when I think about the Royals. I think about distance. I think about struggle and futility. I think about love and hope and ambition. And I think about my best friend.
You’re the best.