We will continue to go through all the ways this Royals season is unlike any since the first Ford Taurus for as long as this ride lasts, but here’s one you probably haven’t heard yet.
Maybe you’ve missed it somewhere in this 24-8 movie-montage run that dragged the Royals, eight games out and possible deadline sellers, to 72-58 and first place even after an 8-1 loss to the Yankees on Monday, but it’s worth noting all the same:
This was the latest in a season that the Royals have had the better record when playing the Yankees since Sept. 5, 1982.
Since then, we’ve seen eight presidential elections, the invention of the internet and Halley’s Comet.
So the Royals are a legitimate national story now, and not just because of the (regional) Sports Illustrated cover or the quirky SungWoo Lee buzz or that the Royals played on national TV Monday, will do it again Tuesday and be host to Major League Baseball’s flagship Sunday night game for the first time since 1996.
The Royals are a good baseball team backed up by the great story of a fan base taught to expect the worst coming to grips with the out-of-jersey experience of seeing the best. Various projections give them around a 70-percent chance of breaking the longest playoff drought in North American sports. They play gorgeous defense, hit enough, and you can’t walk around the clubhouse without bumping into someone with a 96-mph fastball and torturous breaking stuff.
Who wouldn’t want to see this?
By the end of the weekend, the Royals will have been on national TV nine times this season, with many more almost certainly coming. Royals manager Ned Yost can scoff at the attention — “we don’t think like you,” he told reporters before Monday’s game — but it does matter, whether it should or not. Across the country, baseball fans are remembering that Kansas City has a team and it should be OK to appreciate the rise.
“I’m glad to be a part of it,” outfielder Lorenzo Cain says. “It’s something you probably only get to do once in a lifetime, so I’m definitely enjoying it.”
The flip side is one heck of a combustible mix in a place as simultaneously prideful and insecure as Kansas City. The other day, on a Tigers broadcast, one of the announcers (half) joked that he wakes up every day expecting to see a correction on the Royals’ record.
Aside from a gratuitous barbecue mention, you can expect much of Kansas City’s time in the national baseball conversation to focus on how irrelevant the Royals have been for a generation and outdated criticisms of an ownership that’s outspent its place in revenues for most of a decade.
We don’t always take jokes well, but if that’s the price of success, fans here can surely stomach being treated like charity-case bumpkins while they refresh on how to calculate magic numbers, how playoff rosters work, and who should go to the bullpen in a four-man starting rotation.
Because there is enough of a flyover inferiority complex in Kansas City that the national attention means more here than some other places. Royals fans can be a self-loathing bunch, and part of the stubborn booing of Johnny Damon and Robinson Cano is a bitter backlash to two decades of irrelevance brought on by a conspiracy of changing economics, bad decisions and rudderless leadership from Ewing Kauffman’s death to David Glass’ commitment to change around 2006.
We all saw the beating pulse of a passionate baseball town dying to regain its old mojo two years ago during All-Star week, and people in the industry still talk of the impression made.
Well, if the Royals keep this up — pennant-chasing baseball well into football season — the people here will make that All-Star Game look like a Wednesday night at Applebee’s.
And do it with the baseball world watching like no time in the last 20 years.