The baseball season is long and grueling, an unrelenting beast that stretches from the early weeks of February to October. As such, baseball players will do just about anything to break up the monotony — even road tripping with a praying mantis packed into a tiny cage called a “Critter Cabin”.
Yes, the winding saga of the Rally Mantis reached its sixth day on Friday, as the Royals opened a series against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. It is a story of hope and resiliency and loss. So let’s just get to it.
By the early afternoon on Friday, the Rally Mantis’s cage had taken up residence on a table inside the visitors’ clubhouse at Target Field. By just after 4:30 p.m., a lack of, uhh, movement in the cage caused a minor ruckus in the room.
“He gone,” Edinson Volquez said. “We need another one.”
The latest episode involving the insect-turned-talisman had begun on Thursday, in the hours after the Royals closed out a series victory over the Chicago White Sox. It was the team’s second straight series win — and the second since the mantis appeared at Kauffman Stadium last Saturday. So the club packed up the Rally Mantis and brought him here to Minneapolis.
On Thursday, the insect spent the night with outfielder Billy Burns, who took on the role of guardian. Burns said he spent part of the night on Google, looking up information on mantises. At one point, he placed the cage on his pillow, snapped a photo of the scene, and texted it to his wife.
“While you’re away,” he told her.
Burns put grass in its wood and wire-mesh cage. He gathered a moth to feed it. He let starter Ian Kennedy lug the contraption around.
“He’s the caretaker,” Kennedy said of Burns. “I just carry the house.”
It seemed as if the Rally Mantis would spend the rest of the road trip with the Royals. Yet the story of the mantis took a tragic turn on Friday afternoon. As the team prepared for a series opener against the Twins, Volquez walked past the cage and noticed it wasn’t moving. Before long, catcher Salvador Perez had sauntered over. Volquez called for a trainer. Burns hustled to the trainer’s room to get some smelling salts, hoping to induce some movement.
“He’s dying!” Kennedy deadpanned from a seat across the room.
Moments later, a group of players had gathered around the cage, looking for signs of life.
“He’s not moving,” Volquez said.
For a minute, the status of the Rally Mantis was uncertain. Maybe it was the exposure to altitude and cabin-pressure during the flight. Maybe it was all the attention over the last couple days. Whatever the reason, Burns said, something had started to change in the last two days.
Nearly seven hours later, after a 7-3 victory over the Minnesota Twins, reality had sunk in. The Rally Mantis was sitting motionless in a plastic cup above Burns’ locker. The Royals were preparing to say goodbye.
“We’re pretty sure he’s dead,” Kennedy said.
By late Friday, the clubhouse had offered tepid confirmation in the form of a tribute video. As they finished a later dinner, Burns said he was working on a proper burial. Kennedy spoke of keeping the Rally Mantis in a coffin and taking him on road trips. In six games, the insect had finished with a 5-1 record. The Royals sought to pay their respects.