Friday night at 7, a team of young Kansas City Royals players will trot out onto a baseball field where nearly every one of the 42,000 spectators roaring around them wants to see them fail.
When the throng rises with deafening cheers, it will be for the mighty San Francisco Giants, two-time World Series champions in the last five years.
In those moments when the Royals do well, this crowd will turn to stony silence.
Should the Royals falter, they will be pleased.
Yet what the Royals should know — and perhaps they do by now — is that as they flew here to this glimmering city on the bay to play the third game in a best-of-seven series now tied at one apiece, they flew over a nation that’s cheering for them.
That loves them.
That’s pulling for them.
That wants them to win.
How can we be so absolutely sure? Sports polls, sure. They’re good. Right now, they’re showing that America is flowing with more blue blood than William and Kate’s baby. But more, because we met them. We easily found them. They found us, a Star reporter and photographer. We talked to them, recorded them, photographed them.
And we did this by going halfway across the country in a gaudy car chalked up with “Go Royals” messages on its windows, Royals flags flapping, paper cut-outs of players on our dashboard. We rolled west on a four-day, 2,239-mile trip that we tweeted about as a “#Royals Odyssey” from Kansas City to San Francisco.
Like the Royals, we did it the hard way.
The flats of Kansas took us to the Rocky Mountains and to fans lolling in hot springs. In Utah, they stood in the shadow of buttes and mesas and arches formed more than 300 million years ago. We drove south to Arizona and a Navajo nation reservation, to Vegas, through the Mojave Desert and up Steinbeckian central California to take a mad cab ride through San Francisco to stand feet from AT&T Stadium on a sports bar patio in time Wednesday night to watch the Royals crush the Giants 7-2.
Want to hear what those San Franciscans actually think of these Kansas City upstarts?
They get it. They like the Royals. Yes, they wouldn’t mind running over them with a trolley car, but they understand why America loves them.
“First of all, they’re clean-cut-looking. They’re very Americana. I love that clean-cut, friendliness, the camaraderie they have with each other and the fans in the stands,” Judy Myers, 51, founder of a San Francisco media company called uboomerutv.com, said Wednesday night as she watched her team in defeat. Her hair was dyed Giants orange.
She went on about how the Royals are good sports and don’t cheat or boast.
“They’re gentleman,” she said. “You’d like to have them as a guest in your house.”
Giants fan Mike Arend, a 31-year-old guy in finance, completely gets the team’s appeal as well.
“They’re the underdog,” he said. “The small-market, longtime deprived team, a makeshift team that no one else thought would ever make it.”
But here they are. They have made it.
What became as clear as a Jumbotron image on this trip is that as much as fans are rooting for the Royals, the nature and reasons behind Royals love are as weird and complicated or simple as love often is.
Consider Denver sisters Kari Hagaman, 50, and Krys Hill, 52, both major Broncos fans. We met them Sunday night at a Denver sports bar next to Coors Field on the very night Peyton Manning was throwing his 509th and 510th touchdown passes, the most by any quarterback in NFL history.
The place was madness. We were nervous.
This, after all, was enemy territory in sports terms.
The signs and flags on our conspicuous car, our Royals carriage, had drawn honks and thumbs up all the way across Kansas — and would even into San Francisco (although a few of those thumbs were pointed down).
“How ’bout those Royals! That’s what I’m talking about,” a toll booth attendant near Topeka said as she moved us through.
Plus, we knew, of course, that we would find fans in Kansas. Near Fort Riley, there was retired nurse Marcia Jacobson of Leawood. She’d stopped at a rest area and spoke of how she once treated slugger George Brett for his hemorrhoids, but, of course, how she’d liked him and the Royals long before that.
“You didn’t know you were going to find someone who took care of George Brett, did you?” she said, and laughed and laughed. “What a novelty. … It’s my claim to fame.”
There were artists in Lucas, Kan., three of whom had lived in San Francisco. One, Peter Max Lawrence, 37, a native of Kansas City, Kan., had spent 15 years there.
“I see the series as a metaphor for my soul,” he told us.
He called it a “battle.” But not much of one. San Francisco’s rents had grown so high, they forced his eviction. No love lost there.
But we had no idea how Denver sports fans would react. We took the blue flags off the mobile and tucked them in the car just in case we would return and find that they had “accidentally” been snapped off.
The surprise: Everyone we spoke to in the bar was rooting for the Royals. For the two sisters, it came down to how kindly and graciously they had always been treated at Arrowhead Stadium.
“I hope you guys win. I really do,” Denverite Danny Kissner, 52, told us as we left the bar. The Royals’ scrappy, come-from-behind, unexpected play reminded him of the time only a few years ago when his Rockies went to the Series. How do you not care for something that reminds you of what you love?
Over in the old Colorado mining town of Idaho Springs, it was unclear whether Joanie Reecer, 25, actually loved pot or just sold it for medicinal and recreational use as a manager of a shop, Kine Mine, snuggled at the foot of a mountain.
You bet, she said, joking and smiling, legal pot was good for the Royals among Colorado fans because it just made everyone kinder. But the true reason is that her stonemason boyfriend happened to be from Lawrence.
“Go Royals!” she said, agreeing, as everyone did, to don a Royals cap and smile. Photo and off we went, across the state to find, in Glenwood Springs, that hate seems to be on the Royals’ side.
“I hate the Royals,” Vid Weatherwax, a 63-year-old jazz, blues, funk and R&B pianist, told us with vehemence. The diehard Detroit Tigers fan had just finished soaking himself in the mineral pools of Glenwood Springs, below the mountains near Aspen.
But he hated the National League more, a sentiment expressed by someone in every state we entered: Kansas, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, California. Example: More than a thousand miles away from Colorado and Weatherwax, Rick Graham, 63, of Anaheim, Calif., would later tell us the exact same thing outside a 1950s-themed diner.
The Royals swept his LA Angels in the postseason.
“They beat my Angels bad. I don’t like it!” he barked at us.
But, he said, “I’m an American League guy all the way.”
He had been “torqued” that the Royals had lost game one to the Giants.
“Go Royals! Kick butt!”
The most dangerous part of our odyssey came from Utah to Arizona. We’d just rolled the Royal carriage up and over and through Utah’s Arches National Park. Stunning cliff walls, red rock mesas, buttes and massive arches towered all around us. Again, retired teacher Scott Adams, 63, said he grew up a White Sox fan, so he’d go with the Royals and the American League.
OK, we get that. Rah.
Then nearby, Linda Young, 69, a native New Yorker now living in Glen Arbor, Mich., pretty much said she’d root for the Royals because so many other people she’d seen around seemed to be wearing blue and white Royals gear, so Kansas City seemed like a good choice to her.
Nope. She didn’t know any of the players’ names and hadn’t watched them play. Because they were closer to Michigan, that’s whom she’d root for.
We’ll take it. A fan is a fan.
We pressed on.
Tuesday, game one day, found us in Kayenta, Ariz., in the early morning. Two Navajo buddies, antic, raspy-throated guys, saw the car at a stop. They ran over.
“All Navajo love the Royals! They kick butt,” Lance Benally, 52, declared.
That night we needed to make it to Vegas, hundreds of miles off. Oddest part of the Royals Odyssey: actually getting to the Grand Canyon and staying for only 10 minutes. But there on the rim was another Royals backer, just as there would be later in Vegas, where, inside Caesar’s Place, Dick Grove, 70, of Lawrence and Teresa Seymour, 32, of Wichita doubled down on faith after they witnessed the Royals take a 7-1 drubbing in the first game.
“We’re the comeback kids,” Seymour declared.
Wednesday night, she would be proved right.
Finally, in San Francisco, out on a bar patio near AT&T Park, we would find Amy Mark, 28, of Kansas City. She is gleeful. In town for the last two months, she is doing work for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, all the while watching her Royals rise to greatness.
Her office in San Francisco, she said, has been turned into a shrine to the team she loves. All over the country, people are rooting for the Royals — some for who they are, others for who they aren’t.
Mark is set to return home next week.
“We’re going to win. And then I’m going back,” she said.
We all hope they do, Amy.
Even if they don’t, what a ride it has been.