Rob Riggle was born in April 1970, a year after the inception of the Royals. He came of age as they did.
As far back as he remembers, the Royals were terrific. So why wouldn’t they always stay that way?
The actor and comedian from Overland Park first attended games with his Cub Scout den when he was in second grade. It was a thrill just to be in the nosebleed seats as the Royals were making seven playoff appearances in 10 years.
He was 15 when he reveled in game six of the 1985 World Series at Kauffman Stadium, where he saw umpire Don Denkinger make an “awesome” call at first base that he concedes St. Louis fans “have a different take on.”
Afterward, no one wanted to leave the electricity in the parking lot. Then there was the euphoria after watching KC’s 11-0 romp in game seven with friends and family at home.
“Anybody that had leftover fireworks, we launched them. Banging on pots and pans, honking horns …” he said in a phone interview Wednesday. “It was almost surreal. It was like one of those things, ‘It happened, it really happened, and it happened to us. WE did it. Kansas City did it.’”
And, alas, that was that.
It turned out there was nothing permanent or guaranteed or inevitable about those moments, no attached birthright or even token “let-me-win- every-so-often” rule.
That’s why nearly three decades of futility later, part of being a Royals fan is like having a perpetual black cloud hovering overhead, waiting for an anvil to drop from it as you anticipate a trap door ahead.
And that’s just when things are going well.
No wonder as one of the most well-known Royals fans, along with his pals and “Big Slick” fundraising compadres Paul Rudd and Jason Sudeikis, Riggle has had taunts crammed down his craw for years.
So with the Royals atop the American League Central Division as late as June for just the second time since 1993, Riggle has something to say.
“I’ve been eating it from a lot of people for a long time,” he said. “That’s all right. I know who I am. I know where I came from. I’m still very proud.
“And they can suck it.”
With more nuance but equal conviction, Riggle spoke to the prime dilemma now facing the long-suffering Royals fan:
Do you dare believe?
“When a city gets beaten down long enough, and they go a long time without getting to a championship, they start to believe they’re snake-bitten. Or they start to believe, ‘Oh, here we go again. Oh, boy,’” said Riggle, who as a Kansas graduate has had a lifeline via KU basketball. “I think it’s time we shake off that cloak and start expecting to win again.”
In the next breath, he acknowledged the Chiefs’ “meltdown” in the playoffs against Indianapolis, squandering a 28-point lead in a 45-44 defeat, their eighth straight playoff loss dating to 1993.
But, really, that only helped him make his point better.
“Look,” he said, laughing, “here’s the deal: The Chiefs’ fate and the Royals’ fate, that’s my fate.”
Meaning, basically, that to gird yourself for failure in your teams is akin to bracing for, even expecting, the worst for yourself.
It’s not a perfect parallel, but he’s got a point.
“So get on board. Get on board and believe,” he said. “It’s going to happen, and when it does you’re going to be real glad you were there from the beginning.”
Maybe that’s easier said than done, but Riggle will be part of from the beginning Friday night at Kauffman Stadium when the Royals take on Seattle.
“I love how they’re coming together,” said Riggle, who two springs ago was at spring training with the club and knows several players. “They like each other. You can feel the energy. They feel like a ballclub, they feel like a ballteam. So the fact that they’re winning, I think, is reflective of how they feel about each other.”
His Friday night at Kauffman actually will start well before the game, when the 1988 Shawnee Mission South grad and co-hosts Rudd, Sudeikis, Eric Stonestreet and David Koechner will be anchoring the “Big Slick Celebrity Classic” Wiffle ball game at the Little K.
That’s just part of a weekend of events to raise money for the Cancer Center at Children’s Mercy Hospital, which netted about $625,000 from last year’s Big Slick campaign.
“The work they do (at the hospital) is phenomenal; it’s a Kansas City treasure, and we need to take care of it,” he said. “That’s why we do it. We’re glad to do it, and we’re going to keep doing it.”
For that matter, it’s also how he sees the Royals:
Something he’ll always be there for even if they haven’t quite always been there for him the way he might have once anticipated or assumed.
“I’ll be here next year,” he said. “Just like I was the year before. Just like I will be till the day I die. That’s just the way it is.”
No matter how he’s been tried.
“We’re at the end of June, and we’re rocking it like this?! … Everybody should be loving it,” he said, later adding, “We deserve it. We’re the Royals. We’ve won (a) World Series. We know what it tastes like. We want back in. …
“It’s about being a believer. That’s all it is. You believe.”