It was the last inning of the championship game. The Yankees had a sizable lead, but were struggling to get the final out. Their hated rivals were trying to put together one last miracle rally. Anything to tie the game.
With runners at first and second, the lead was looking to be in doubt. There were two strikes on the hitter, though, and the Yankees had their best pitcher out there. The catcher called for a meeting on the mound.
"Splitter," said the young catcher, and just like that, he had returned to home plate.
After a deep breath, the pitch came in. A splitter it surely was, only the hitter wasn't biting. The catcher wasn't much concerned with that, though, because the runners were going on the pitch. Out of the crouch, he fired a strike to third base. The third baseman applied the tag and waited for the call.
"He's out!" The umpire cried. The runner was out by a mile.
The celebration was on. There were hugs and cheers everywhere. Overwhelmed by the turn of events, the catcher launched his mask into the air wildly, almost knocking out a teammate. It didn't matter. They had won. After a long, grueling season in the hot sun, the Yankees had proven they were the best in baseball. Nothing in the world had ever been this sweet. They were champions.
. . .
The Royals lost another game tonight. More importantly, the Royals lost another winnable game tonight. This one hurt more than usual, though.* Maybe it was the fact that they made another handful of mistakes along the way, mistakes I'd expect most decent high school teams to avoid. Maybe it was that they had very good chances in the eighth and ninth to at least tie the game, and anytime you come that close to winning and don't, it's hard not to be upset.
*It seems every other loss hurts more than usual. Or maybe this team has been losing long enough now to the point where every loss hurts more than the one before. Or, it's possible this team has been losing long enough now to the point where I've become completely delusional.
More likely, though, it's because, like in most close games in any sport, the good teams find a way to win, and well, you know the rest. The Royals, of course, found a way to lose tonight, as they usually do. They always seem to be just good enough to lose. It's the one thing they never fail to do.
It's more frustrating because after winning three of their last four, including two of three from the Cardinals over the weekend, the Royals had a real chance put a dent in the Twins' lead in the division in the next few days. And yes, they still have that opportunity, but we all know what's more likely to happen. Just as they string together a few victories, the Royals, as they are accustomed to doing, will fall into a tailspin long enough to negate any progress they've made over the last week or so. The cycle will continue, as it has - give or take - for the last two decades, until the end of the season. The Royals will never get closer than arms length to first place, and will finish somewhere near the bottom of the division.
It's killing me. That may sound silly. It is silly, because it's not really killing me. With every loss, though, a part of me, at least the side of me that loves baseball, is dying. I know I can take it for awhile. I've proven that over the last twenty years. I do not know how much more I can take, though.
I sense that most people, after reading that last sentence, will laugh and assume I'm being overdramatic. While it is likely that I'd still watch another twenty years of losing Royals baseball without blinking, the thought is sincere. Really, at what point do we, as fans, finally say enough is enough, and save ourselves the hurt? Does that point ever come? I guess I really don't know.
Anyway, for whatever reason, tonight's game stuck with me for awhile. It wasn't this game in particular, obviously, but more of a cumulative frustration. It inspired some deep thought. After I got over the natural 'what could we have done to win' thoughts, I started thinking about my relationship with the Royals. Obviously, my affiliation with the Royals makes sense because I was born and raised in Kansas City. I love Kansas City. I wondered, though, do I love the Royals?
I think I've come to realize that my true love is with baseball, not the Royals. This is not to say that I don't love the Royals. That possibility is there. But without the Royals, we still have baseball. Without baseball, there are no Kansas City Royals.
And with every mental mistake a player makes, blown lead, star player traded and so on, it becomes even harder and harder and harder to love this team. What is Yuniesky Betancourt thinking when he botches a suicide squeeze with the game on the line? What's going through Billy Butler's mind when he fails to cover a base on a blooper? What exactly does David Glass think about the seventh consecutive team he's allowed represent his organization that has absolutely no chance of winning?
Does the thought in those men's minds have anything to do with their love for baseball? How about their respect for the sport? I seriously doubt it.
See, I played this sport once, too. I was the catcher on that Yankees team that won the championship. The hated rivals were the Vipers. It was South Suburban little league baseball in south Kansas City. It was one of the greatest moments of my life.
Some of my best memories were created on those Clark Ketterman ball fields. I discovered baseball there, and it's no wonder why I'll never forget the times I had. It was my first true love. I will always love this game.
It's no mystery why my mind drifted to our championship game victory while I reflected on the Royals tonight. It's possible it would take some similar soul searching - I mean truly searching for the reasons why - in order to revive this organization.
I hope it happens sooner rather than later. My love for the Royals may be running out. My love for baseball, on the other hand, will never fade.