BEWARE and WARNING! This sports column is different from other columns. You and YOU ALONE are in charge of what happens in this column, the theme, structure and first 24 words of which have been inspired and/or copied from the Choose Your Own Adventure books that livened childhoods in the 1980s.
Because this column is about YOU, and your navigation of being a Royals fan in 2018. This is a different experience than you've had in recent years because your Royals are different than they've been in recent years, and depending on your background, you have many options on how to proceed.
These are personal choices, each with dangers, adventures and consequences. But don't despair. At any time, YOU can go back and make another choice, to change your path, because this is your, um, Process.
The first decision you must make is how serious of a fan to be. This is the basis for everything that follows, and if we're honest, some of how you live. Remember, there are no right or wrong answers here, only different paths, with different pros and cons.
To be a casual fan, the kind who first watched the Royals after Jarrod Dyson's back flip and who will miss out on both the maximum joy and pain that comes with caring too much, go to No. 1.
To be a moderate fan, the kind who might go to a few games a year and know most of the players but also be able to forget about the team for days and weeks, go to No. 2.
To be a serious fan, the kind who not only remembers Eduardo Villacis but is still a little angry about how that all went down, go to No. 3.
1. Congratulations! You might keep up the bare minimum for appearances' sake — for the next month or so, you can throw in a, "Man, I just wish Salvy was still out there" to move the conversation along — and you might keep an ear open in case something crazy happens. But for the most part, you can feel free to live a normal life this summer. Plant some tomatoes. Read some books. Go to the pool. Check back in a couple years.
For now, this is the end of your Process.
2. Congratulations! You have some base characteristics of a well-adjusted adult. This Royals team will be worthy of your interest, too. They're going all-in on their 50th anniversary, which will mean some cool giveaways and events and promotions, like throwback pricing for the April 15 game, which means if you play it right you can see Shohei Ohtani for $5.
The roster has some interesting spots, too. Danny Duffy is fun. Whit Merrifield is developing. The Jorges — Bonifacio, when he's back from suspension, and Soler in the meantime — could be major parts of the Royals' future. There is enough to keep your interest if you want, in other words, at least until football returns in the fall. But you have to be honest with yourself.
If you will be disappointed if the Royals are 12 games out of a playoff spot in August, go to No. 4.
If the above scenario will merely clear space in your sports life to obsess over Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, this is the end of your Process.
3. OK. Your fan life is now complicated, but you already knew that, because you are the type of fan who was puzzled at the Jon Jay signing initially, but immediately connected the dots when Bonifacio's suspension was announced. You've been through this building process before, with mixed results and both the scars and parade pictures to prove it.
Your biggest decision this season is likely whether to root for the Royals to win ... and only a fan like you knows the truth in this sentence.
If you are rooting hard for the Royals to win, because if the 2017 Twins got into the playoffs anything is possible, then go to No. 5.
If you are rooting for the Royals to lose, because you'd rather pick fifth in the draft with the corresponding bonus pool than end up 77-85, then go to No. 6.
4. The Royals may have crept deeper into your heart than you realize. For good reason, too. The thrill ride of 2014 and 2015 was unlike anything Kansas City has experienced in a generation, at least, righteous payback for the 2004 Royals and the 2012 Royals and Scott Elarton on opening day and Mark Redman in the All-Star Game.
Baseball does this to us sometimes, even without our consent. We can pretend we don't care, but it's always there, always available, and once it gives us that euphoria, it's hard to turn away. This doesn't mean your day is ruined if they lose. But it does mean you care, whether you admit it or not.
If you can admit that, go to No. 2.
If you will deny it out loud to your friends, even while feeling it in your heart, well, we wish we could tell you this is the end of your Process.
5. Congratulations! There is no right or wrong way to love baseball, but yours appears pure and hopeful in all the corny ways that make the sport great. The margin for error is minimal, and the star catcher injuring a knee carrying luggage is an inauspicious way to begin, but imperfect and improbable teams make the playoffs every year.
Last year's Twins are the most recent example. They made a seller's trade at the deadline and still were stubborn enough to grab a wild card spot. If Duffy pitches to his talent, and the bullpen comes together, and enough guys stay healthy and productive, crazier things have happened. Not many, and not even in 2014, but still.
If you will be left angry and disappointed if the Royals do not contend, go to No. 7.
If you will be disappointed, sure, but still hold dear the memories of 2014 and 2015 and look for progress where you can find it, then go to No. 2.
6. Now we're really getting complicated. Actively rooting against your team requires a next-level compartmentalization. If you or someone you know is an avid NBA fan — particularly of the 76ers — you might want to borrow some tricks on how to navigate this world.
You will root hardest for those under long-term club control, like Merrifield, Perez, Duffy, Jakob Junis and the Jorges. But this mental gymnastics will also push you to want Ian Kennedy and Kelvin Herrera and Mike Moustakas to do particularly well, because they would be the club's most trade-able pieces at the deadline.
Go directly to No. 8.
7. This could be the worst season of your rooting life in quite some time. The team you've chosen does not appear to be above average offensively, defensively, in the bullpen or starting rotation. The roster is also old.
Nobody can tell you how to be a fan, so if this is your path, good for you. Expectations should be high, and the Royals would be in better position if better decisions had been made. That's true from 30,000 feet, with things like the terrible current local TV contract, but it's also true if you want to get into the weeds — the Royals' attempt to win and rebuild the last two years has meant doing neither. Recent drafts have not produced enough talent, and personnel decisions like Alex Gordon's contract have backfired.
The Royals are in a strange place, then. Their proud history is firmly in the past, and their hopeful future is not yet in focus. The present could feel a bit like treading water with no rescue in sight.
But you didn't get this far without some faith, right?
Go directly to No. 8.
8. Godspeed to you, this is the Process you've chosen.