By Jeremy Bernfeld
The Kansas City Royals have won the World Series every time they’ve made the playoffs the last 27 years. Problem is, they’ve only made the playoffs once in that span – in 1985.
This week, though, Royals fans had their best week in years when Kansas City hosted Major League Baseball’s 2012 All-Star festivities. It gave the city’s fans a rare midseason moment of baseball-related hope.
Hope is a foreign thing for most Royals fans, including Michael Engel.
“There are sometimes where I think that if I lived somewhere else it might be easy to just turn around and find a new team,” Engel lamented.
Engel lives in Lawrence, Kan., and he’s been a Royals fan for every one of those 27 long years. He’s the editor of the Royals blog Kings of Kauffmann, so he watches a lot of Royals games…enough games that he has been pushed close to the breaking point.
“You start tearing your hair out because you wonder, ‘When’s it going to turn around? Why do I do this? Am I wasting my time? Do I need to start watching soccer?’” Engel said. “That’s what it starts to feel like because, you know, Sporting KC – they’re in second or third place right now. The Royals, they’re still in fourth.”
There’s an entire generation of Royals fans that hasn’t even seen their team in the postseason. Engel is one of the lucky ones. He actually remembers the 1985 World Series, if only barely.Four 100-loss seasons in five years. Trading away popular stars like Johnny Damon, Zack Greinke and Carlos Beltran. No improvement for years. Only the most faithful fans have survived.
“It feels like the Royals have been rebuilding since about 1995 and every year it’s like a three-year plan and it never comes around,” Engel said. “It’s almost like being in Stalinist Russia.”
This year, though, was supposed to be the year things turned around. The team was ready to harvest burgeoning talent from a well-regarded farm system and young players with star potential were making their ways to the big-league club.
And, hosting the 2012 All-Star Game was supposed to be the perfect stage on which to shine the spotlight on a new team, a new brand of Kansas City baseball.
It didn’t last long, especially after a rash of injuries and an early 12-game losing streak cooled expectations pretty quickly. Even with those cooled expectations, Royals fans flocked to a downtown convention center a few days before the All-Star Game to check out Major League Baseball’s Fanfest. The convention hall was filled with kids’ events, autograph signings, baseball history exhibits and, of course, plenty of places to buy baseball merchandise.
For Mark and Cara Baker, Royals fans from Seneca, Kan., enjoying All-Star festivities was a great way to stoke a passion for the Royals in their 9-year-old son, Landon.
“It’s something to get excited about and hopefully we can just build off this and improve our team,” Mark Baker said. “It’s a good opportunity, especially with him being young – 9. He loves baseball and I think [the All-Star Game] just energizes the whole city and the whole area.”
Landon, wearing the jersey of young Royals first-baseman Eric Hosmer, said the excitement was working.
At the All-Star break, the Royals were sitting in their customary position – almost 10 games back in their division – nestled comfortably in fourth place. But Tuesday’s All-Star Game provided a bright spot for Royals fans to focus on, and bright spots can’t often be seen in Kansas City in the middle of July. That had Royals fans crowding the streets for the pre-All-Star Game parade on a hot summer day.
Fans like Rob Wesley from Raytown, Mo., said they weren’t going to miss the opportunity to celebrate baseball.
“Our last big celebration was in 1985,” Wesley said, both laughing and cringing.
Wesley said it just felt great to live in the center of the baseball universe once again, if only temporarily.
“It’s a new feeling but it’s a great feeling to bring it home, to actually get the opportunity to have something of this magnitude in Kansas City,” Wesley said.
Fans lined the streets and watched each All-Star tour the streets of Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza neighborhood. Sitting in the beds of pickup trucks, the All-Stars waved to fans and tossed out little, plush baseballs.
Seeing the All-Stars up close was a treat, Wesley said, but not quite the event he’d been hoping for.
“No, the parade I really want to see, it’s going to be a little bit colder, but it will be when the whole city and the world will know that they have made it – they have arrived again like they had in 1985,” Wesley said.
Royals fans hope to see a passel of All-Stars on the field at Kaufmann Stadium again soon. Only this time, they hope it’s in October.