Let me introduce myself. My name is Domenica, and I’m a member of the so-called lost generation — that flock of Royals fans who have never before seen this team reach the playoffs.
Well technically, I guess I did. In October of 1985, I had my first taste of mashed-up pasta and meatballs, as my mom meticulously noted in the “Baby’s First Year” calendar. I don’t remember any of it though — the World Series or the red mess I smeared in my high chair.
Waiting practically my whole life for this team to reach the postseason hasn’t been easy. And my peers and I have had every right to complain along with the rest of the blue faithful.
But while we were mired in those losing days, we didn’t realize how much we benefitted from learning the toughest lessons early on. The ones that fans of perennial winners get to skip — unless their teams tumble into the ash heap. Taking so many knocks up front has made us better, heartier baseball fans.
Yes, that unbelievable 29-year dry spell has certainly taught us how to lose. Year after year, we dragged ourselves through the harsh desert sand without a drop of water. Even trying to envision a mirage of playoff wins seemed impossible. While we often had talented players we loved, the seasons could be painful. Afterwards, we smiled, took the jabs from other teams’ fans and moved on.
But the 2014 Royals have brought us something new, something that doesn’t require the same kind of hand-wringing. And the something that’s going on right now is teaching me how to slow down and fully experience the higher rungs of that ladder every sports fan hangs onto.
Let me start from my own beginning.
I was enamored with baseball as a kid. Perched on the black vinyl passenger seat of our car and making my way through the neat swirls of a vanilla ice cream cone my dad had bought me, I listened to my first radio broadcast of a baseball game. The announcer’s voice, cicadas’ buzz, summer heat and black night combined with baseball’s strange concoction of tense calm and flurried activity. It drew me in, and I wanted to hear more.
But by the time I started falling for baseball, the Royals began their downward slide in the 1990s. As the team regressed, my peers and I displayed our disappointment. When a Royals official visited my third-grade class to nicely answer kids’ questions, he found himself tiptoeing through a minefield of queries about the strike and why we didn’t have more wins. Or, when our school uniforms got a day of rest in favor of civvies, rarely was Royals gear found among the zoo of Chiefs starter jackets and Zubaz pants.
My first taste of how others pictured Kansas City baseball came when I went to college. During the onslaught of meeting new acquaintances, the first part of the conversation was often the same after I told them my hometown.
“Are you a Royals fan?”
Usually they couldn’t finish that question without erupting into a deep belly laugh.
As an astute student of sports fandom when living outside one’s own city, I quickly learned the defense mechanism of acting nonchalant and critical of your teams.
Although my new friends eventually eased off the teasing, I was still left with no one to root for during postseason game-watching gatherings. So I tried on different teams. First, the Yankees — perennial winners with iconic pinstripes in one of the country’s best cities. But it didn’t feel right. Having never lived in New York, I didn’t have its sports mindset. And yes, I’m now embarrassed about that life event.
Then my St. Louis friends took me to a Cubs game at Busch Stadium, and I found a secondary home in my state’s other team. I celebrated the Cardinals’ World Series victories in 2006 and again in 2011. David Freese’s home run that forced game seven ranks as one of the best sports moments I’ve seen.
But when I consider the events of this past week, it’s like the difference in picture quality between analog TV and HDTV. For me, the Cardinals’ wins can’t compare to the pure thrill I felt when Salvy Perez smacked that line drive in the wild-card game or when Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer unleashed go-ahead home runs in consecutive games of the ALDS.
No, the waiting hasn’t been easy.
But now we get to learn how to win, and isn’t it great?
I had my first “victory-when-it-counts” lesson while watching the wild-card game. Nervously clutching my Royals cup and decked out in my favorite Royals shirt, I insisted on multitasking with some computer work. That way if we started to get blown out, I could divert my attention and pretend I was really only working anyway. In truth, I flipped out when the Royals fell into a four-run deficit, afraid the whole thing would disintegrate.
It was a lot like the first time I drove a car by myself. New license in hand, I was practically shaking when I turned the key in the ignition and put the vehicle in reverse. So many dreadful scenarios coursed through my head like a reel of film. So many what-ifs.
But once the car was traveling down the road, finding its place in traffic, my right foot loosened up. I realized I enjoyed directing that rumbling machine. I reached my destination without a scratch.
And so did the Royals on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Now, with two wins in their division series, the team is returning to Kansas City for game three. I’m finally relaxed and absolutely relishing the intensity of postseason baseball, which means that I’m pretty sure I’ve passed my first course on learning how to win. And I can’t wait for more.
Domenica Bongiovanni is a copy editor for The Star. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.