That’s how it felt as Alex Gordon peered down the third base line toward home plate with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning and baseball’s World Series championship on the line.
That’s how it felt when Salvador Perez popped out and hearts all over Kansas City began to deflate.
That’s how the city now feels about a baseball franchise that brought unexpected joy and thrills that haven’t been sensed since Ronald Reagan was in the White House and long before most of the Royals’ young stars were born.
There will be no victory parade, but Kansas Citians and Royals fans from coast to coast have been united and uplifted by the team’s astonishing October run.
One fan, Lisa Cordes, eloquently captured the city’s mix of pride, excitement and self-image in a Facebook post: “Everyone in that stadium believed right to the end in this improbable, fairy tale dream. And everyone seemed to immediately understand that it was never about ‘taking the crown,’ it was about all the crazy joy of the comeback, the sense of possibility at the heart of the underdog story, and the essential goodness of a community rallying around this team of boys who played with so much heart.”
The streets of Kansas City, the nightspots, the gathering places turned electric blue over the last four weeks. The city’s image as an energetic and passionate place was hard to miss. When the Kansas City Symphony and Joyce DiDonato took their moving turns at the pre-game national anthem this week, it said something special to the nation about our values and our identity.
Winning is supposed to be everything in sports, but despite the late-game disappointment on Wednesday, the Royals have proved themselves nothing but winners in the eyes of longtime followers and newcomers as well.
Sure the Royals won the World Series in 1985, but former players such as Frank White and Willie Wilson acknowledge that the team on the field that year might not have been as good as the teams of the late 1970s. They battled for dominance in the American League with the New York Yankees and fought competitively for a World Series title against the Philadelphia Phillies in 1980. The Royals of that era produced a decade or more of solid, exciting and championship baseball.
This generation’s Royals team may very well be in for a long dynastic ride as well. Three players — Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer — already have set or tied postseason team records.
With an infusion of October revenue and a long-term commitment to developing young talent and building a team on a model now respected around Major League Baseball, there is good reason to think the Royals will continue to flourish and to capture the interest and the long-suffering hearts of a city.
Some of the names might change — so long, James Shields? goodbye, Billy Butler? — but the fans now understand how each player contributes to the makeup of this team, genuinely and with minimal ego and maximum fun. We know “what speed do” and we know how a ferocious bullpen shortens a game and dazzles with unhittable power and finesse.
The Royals and the city have grown ever so close. After the heartbreak, it’s quite appropriate to consider that the Royals’ 2014 season amounted to the beginning — and a rebirth — of a beautiful friendship.