SAM MELLINGER

The Royals are asking for fans’ hope

Updated: 2013-08-01T17:22:02Z

By SAM MELLINGER

The Kansas City Star

Kansas City is an easy town to push baseball. It’s like a boy band visiting a high school.

Royals fans have had one winning season — ONE — in nearly two decades. The Royals’ last postseason is old enough to be a doctor, and they just set a record for TV ratings.

Now, being a fan here? That’s much harder. Like being a boy band and visiting a nursing home.

You have to work for your joy, squint for your optimism, reach for your belief. You learn to expect the worst, because, well, that’s how you’ve been taught.

That’s what makes these moments — rare moments, when the sun starts to peek through — so consuming. That’s what makes opportunities — these rare opportunities — like Wednesday’s trade deadline so overwhelming.

The Royals are the closest they’ve been to something more than hope in a decade, at least. They are two games over .500 in August for the first time since 2003 and, let’s be honest, that team was a fluke wrapped in duct tape.

This team is legitimately OK. People who root for other teams will laugh at that description, but people who root for the Royals will know why that’s important.

The Royals are OK and trending toward something better. The pitching is among the best in the league. Two frontline starters and a shutdown bullpen anchored by one of the game’s best closers. If the hitters can improve, and they show enough signs to keep you watching, then who’s to say what can happen?

Who’s to say Royals fans shouldn’t dream?

The men who run the Royals are trying to encourage those dreams. Dreams are good for business, of course, but there are enough people who’ve invested enough sweat and tears that the cause has become personal. Beyond personal, in the words of one executive.

That’s what made this trade deadline so interesting. Usually, the trade deadline means nothing, or that the Royals are about to lose one of their best players. This is how it has worked for so long. Carlos Beltran is not just a baseball star. He’s a lesson.

The Royals could’ve gone any direction this year, really. My preference was to double-down on next year if pending free agent Ervin Santana could bring back a valuable piece. But the Royals won their last seven games before the deadline and now stand seven games from a playoff spot, so you could have understood a move for a second baseman.

Instead, the Royals traded for a big, oft-injured 29-year-old outfielder named Justin Maxwell with power potential and a .222 career average.

They didn’t give up much — Kyle Smith is in Class A and projects, maybe, as a middle reliever — which makes it like trading shoulder shrugs when many fans wanted a grand speech.

There are logical reasons for this. The Royals listened and explored. Howie Kendrick, the former All-Star second baseman who’s hitting .301 for the Angels, has a no-trade clause that includes the Royals. Rickie Weeks, the former All-Star second baseman who played for Ned Yost in Milwaukee, is hitting .211 and due $11 million next year when he’ll turn 32. There were, basically, no significant second basemen who moved in trades. The Royals needed what wasn’t available.

So now, the focus goes back to who’s on the field. It is a team good enough to do what many of us expected this season, which was finish above .500 but short of the playoffs. Do that and the Royals are still following the script of the Twins, which was the model from day one.

They won again Wednesday night 4-3. That’s eight in a row now, their longest win streak in 10 years. Last season, they never won more than four in a row.

On baseball’s busiest day, when franchises unofficially declare their intentions, the Royals abstained. They did not go all-in on this year, and they did not improve for next year. They are, basically, betting the players that have shown themselves to be everything from hot garbage (4-19 stretch in May) to something resembling a playoff team (30-19 since June 5) can continue being their better selves.

There are logical reasons for this, but logic’s got nothing to do with following the Royals. They are asking for your hope. Royals fans have put their hope into much less.

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365, send email to smellinger@kcstar.com or follow him at Twitter.com/mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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