Every season—usually after a losing streak by the Royals—I get a few comments like the one below. This one came in right after they had their bad stretch in May and right before they started their good stretch in June.
By LEE JUDGE
The Kansas City Star
A reader’s comment
I have quit watching the Royals. It is not enjoyable, and sports is ultimately supposed to be entertainment. It's around this time each year that I thank the maker it's not my JOB to watch this team every single night. Mr. Judge, you have my sympathies and my respect. Good luck.
Far be it from me to tell anyone how to spend their leisure time; look at how I spend my summers. But while it’s certainly more enjoyable when the Royals win, that’s not the only reason I watch. And I was watching the Royals long before anyone paid me to do so. I wasn’t watching 162 games a season, but I watched them most nights they were on TV and spend a lot of time at the park.
My wife once asked me what I found so compelling about baseball and here’s the gist of what I said: if there was a movie that would have you crushingly depressed, followed by so much joy you wanted to hug strangers, loaded with incredible physical stunts and filled with tension because you weren’t sure of the ending, everyone would want to see that movie.
And that’s what a good ballgame is like.
If your team bad you’re still going to see about 70 wins a year; if your team’s good you’ll see about 70 losses. Being a baseball fan requires an even keel: just like the players, you can’t get too up or too down. But even in the middle of a losing season, there are great games and wonderful plays—and nothing beats watching it live. If you hear Jeff Francoeur made a great throw, sure, you can go see the play on the internet; but when you’re in the stadium and a base runner makes the turn and heads for the next base and Frenchy launches the ball with his hat flying and the place going crazy—at that moment you don’t know what’s going to happen next. And that’s what makes it fun; it’s why I go to the ballpark. Seeing it later isn’t the same: you know Jeff made the throw or you wouldn’t be looking up the video.
It’s moments like that: a Francoeur throw, watching Alex Gordon turn a sure double into a single with quiet competence, seeing Billy Butler hit a game-winner, watching Chris Getz dance through a take-out slide and come out the other side alive to complete a double play or James Shields get mad and strike someone out with the bases loaded—those are the moments that make watching the Royals worthwhile.
I moved to Kansas City in 1981 and have been following the Royals ever since. When they won the World Series in ’85 I was sitting about twenty rows behind the third-base dugout. Heck, after Game Six I was so excited I left my house and went to a random bar just to find someone to talk to—I couldn’t stand to sit by myself; I needed to talk about the game.
Obviously it’s been a long drought since then, but I don’t see it as wasted time; the Royals have provided me with thousands of hours of entertainment since 1985. Even if it’s talking about how bad they are it unites people—our team stinks, let’s share that sentiment. Let’s talk about it and figure out who to blame and what should be done next. It’s what holds Cubs fans together and makes them a community. If the only reason to watch baseball is to see your team win, why do Chicago Cubs fans even exist? The amount of time invested in a team’s fortunes probably has some relationship to the satisfaction felt when the team finally makes it to the top; just ask Boston Red Sox fans. A fan who invested a couple decades in the Sox probably had a much different experience than the fans who started showing up with the Red Sox started winning.
If Kansas City ever goes to the playoffs again, or wins a league championship or gets to hold another World Series trophy, I plan on being there.
And it won’t be just because it’s my job—I’m a baseball fan.