I’ve tried, really I have. As a Baltimore Orioles fan, the Kansas City Royals should be my mortal enemy. I should hate them, their lousy outfield waterfalls, their goofy lion mascot (never mind, Sluggerrr is actually quite awesome), and their overly passionate fan base that nearly committed one of the more egregious sins of all time by electing Omar Infante to the All-Star Game (although to be fair, I once cast votes for Luis Matos and Hector Luna).
Really, the Royals should make me think things like this as I watch them reel off another three victories against my beloved Birds:
But I can’t bring myself to do it. Deep down, I love the Kansas City Royals. Even after they tore my heart out like something out of an Indiana Jones movie last fall, I still found myself rooting for them to win the World Series. There’s just something special about the way this team plays the game of baseball, right down to their strategically-challenged leader Ned Yost.
As I watched nearly two decades of “rebuilding” in Baltimore, fans in Kansas City were right alongside me, sharing in the pain of watching failed pitching prospect after failed pitching prospect flounder. Our teams happily served as the pinata for the rest of the big boys to beat up on. We took a beating though, and now look where we are.
Most people viewed the Royals as a nice little one-year story last October after they cut through the American League side of the playoff bracket like a hot knife through butter. They were the hot team whose hitters who didn’t actually hit for power suddenly started hitting for power. The Detroit Tigers were supposed to rise back up again this year and put the scrappy upstarts from Missouri back in their place.
Well, that clearly hasn’t happened as the Royals now have the best record in the league, seven wins clear of both the Toronto Blue Jays and the Houston Astros. Once again, the Royals rank in the bottom-five in the league in home runs with just 101. They’ve struck out the fewest times — over 100 fewer than the next closest team, Oakland — and walked the least. It worked last year, and it’s still working because the Royals have a lineup one through nine that puts the ball in play with greater frequency than anyone else in the league. Generally speaking, that’s a recipe for success, as the league-wide batting average on balls in play rights itself around .300 every year. Sabermetrics aside, the best way to score runs is to hit the ball, especially with runners on base, and avoid strikeouts. I’m not sure when the rest of the league will wake up and realize a strikeout is not just another out to be given away, but the Royals certainly have connected the dots and realized that it is easier to score runs when you actually put bat on ball (on the flip side, we have the Orioles lineup that can score via the home run and only via the home run).
The Royals are a homegrown bunch of players who clearly thrive off each other’s presence. There is an air of excitement and passion that surrounds this team, and it is fun to watch them play ball together. Try as I might, it is impossible to hate players like Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, and the ever-lovable Salvador Perez. I even delight in the hot-headedness of Yordano Ventura and Kelvin Herrera. Those two have their teammates’ backs, rest of the league be damned (it should be noted that unlike many other baseball fans, I do not have a problem with the occasional brawl. I believe they have their purpose and place in the game). As I drove home from work yesterday listening to the final Orioles’ defeat in the four-game series, I found myself enjoying the incredibly vanilla, Midwestern radio broadcast on the Royals’ network.
As it becomes more and more probable every day that Camden Yards will shut its lights off for the winter come October 4, there’s only one team I want to see hoist the World Series trophy, and it’s the team that kept the Orioles from having their own chance to lift that trophy a year ago. Putting aside my Orioles fandom and viewing the game as a fan of baseball, nothing would satisfy me more than to see a World Series trophy delivered to the baseball fans of Kansas City for the first time since 1985. I want that for them, even if it means Omar Infante gets even more All-Star votes next year.
To talk baseball with Josh, follow him on Twitter: @Josh Sadlock