Nearly 100 miles west of Las Vegas, the natural environment turns increasingly hostile — for the Royals, as well.
This is Baker, Calif., a mote of a desert town, home to fewer than 600 people, and which bills itself as “The Gateway to Death Valley” in the Mojave Desert. This yellow land can become one of the hottest places on earth.
So hot, in fact, that in 1991, 25-year-old Dan Neisess’ grandfather, the late Willis Herron, erected the town’s claim to fame: “The Tallest Thermometer in the World.”
At 132 feet, it is a concrete column of digital numbers built to commemorate the day, in 1913, the Mojave hit 132 degrees, the hottest ever.
Because the Royals found themselves scorched Tuesday in a 7-1 loss to the Giants, it seemed on Wednesday, before Game 2, a perfect place to be.
Yet Neisess, who runs the Thermometer gift shop, backed away. He literally inched away as if presented with a desert snake when asked whether he might consider donning a Royals cap and rooting, “Go Royals!”
“That’s asking a lot,” he said, laughing, arms crossed in front of him, fidgeting and shifting his feet. “I’m going to have to say no to that.”
That was OK, because it made sense in the way he’d already described the state of Royals support all over California.
Like how in Los Angeles, he said, we would likely find tons of fans because in LA they root for the Angels or the Dodgers. They tend to hate the Giants with as much cross-state loathing as Royals fans tend to have for the St. Louis Cardinals, and vice versa.
So no need to go there? No, Neisess said.
“Dodgers fans are just not going to be rooting for the Giants, no matter what,” he said.
“Los Angeles: You can just bypass it and chalk them up as rooting for your guys in blue.”
Farther north, toward the Bay Area, is the dangerous land of the Giants and some diehard Oakland A’s fans. Niesess is one of them. Royals-wise, they’re a mixed brood.
“You’ll probably find some people who are a little, a little hurt by what you guys did to us in the Wild Card game,” he said. Some of them will refuse to root for Kansas City.
But others will be torn, because, frankly, they’re also not too crazy about their neighboring Giants. That’s Niesess, too.
No real Giants fan, he nonetheless feels a Bay Area baseball allegiance, so he is “begrudgingly” — yes, that’s the word he used — rooting for the Giants.
Although if Kansas City wins, he concedes, he might actually be a little bit happy to watch them take down a team that has such an embarrassment of riches, like a consistently full stadium and three World Series appearances in five years.
Part of him likes the Royals’ underdog narrative.
“I think the Royals are a Cinderella story,” he said. “I mean, the Giants are winning every other year, it seems like. It would be nice to see some blue in the mix.”
But certainly not enough to put a KC cap on his head. No way.
Although, walking to work across from the thermometer, 60-year-old Wal-Mart truck driver Ron Davis of Apple Valley, Calif., had no such qualms. He took the hat. He put it on.
“Go Royals!” he said.
A huge Dodgers fan.
Think of it as an epic journey, a Royals road trip halfway across the country to seek out the devotion that now belongs to the boys from Kansas City.
We in Kansas City have always loved our Royals. But now, say the sports pundits, so does the rest of the nation. This scrappy, sliding, bunting, running team has captured the heart of America.
But how much do people really love the Royals? How much do they actually know about our boys in blue?
Such are the questions that prompted The Kansas City Star to send two of its own — reporter Eric Adler and videographer Monty Davis — on the road, 2,200 miles to San Francisco, in the most conspicuous of Royals cars.
Follow them at kansascity.com or on Twitter at #royalsodyssey. Feel free to contact the reporters on Twitter through @eadler or @montydaviskc.