Commentary: Hoping For History To Repeat Itself

May 12, 2017

Despite the Royals' dismal start in 2017, many fans return to the K season after season hoping they can still witness a bit of history.
Credit Luke X. Martin / KCUR 89.3

Sports fans in Kansas City and beyond are generally a forward-thinking bunch — “There’s always next year,” goes the rallying cry. But what keeps fans coming back for more is a healthy sense of history and, as commentator Victor Wishna explains in “A Fan’s Notes,” an occasional blast from the past. 

If you were at Kauffman Stadium on Sunday, you could be forgiven for wondering what year this is. The Royals were sporting old Kansas City Monarchs jerseys, while many in the crowd arrived “dressed to the nines” in their dandiest duds — 1940s-style — all part of a salute to the historic Negro Leagues.

Of course, that’s not the only reason to feel like we’re in a time warp right now.

Is that really the Royals’ keep-the-line-moving lineup out there — dead last in the league in hits, runs and on-base percentage? And since when did opposing teams score after the sixth inning? What’s going on here? Was 2015 really that long ago?

It is said that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. But sports fans are meticulous chroniclers. Yes, sports are all about record-keeping, from the score to wins-and-losses to the all-time marks in every last statistical category.

But more than that, like any worthy tradition, sports is rooted in the past. What happens now only matters because of what happened before, or didn’t happen, or hasn’t happened for a generation or more. Fans never forget — we honor the past and, selectively, we hope to repeat it.

Because retro doesn’t necessarily mean regression.

At the recent NFL Draft, the Kansas City Chiefs selected a quarterback in the first round for the first time since 1983. That’s more than 12 years before Patrick Mahomes II — the Texas Tech “gunslinger” that KC traded up to take with the 10th overall pick — was even born. It’s awfully early yet, but reports from rookie camp reveal the Chiefs just might have their hardest-and-farthest-throwing QB since … well, since anyone can remember.

Researchers from Louisiana State and Australia’s Queensland University found that enthusiasm for sports is firmly linked to remembrance of great games past — the excitement, the shared experience with friends and family, even how the grass smelled or the warm sun felt. As the pioneering sports marketer Bill Veeck observed back in 1965, it’s the memories that keep sports fans coming back each season.

That’s why nostalgia-driven promotions are now standard at ballparks. No season would be complete without a Retro Night or a “Party like it’s 1985” or a Zubazpalooza. Even oh-so-progressive Sporting KC, celebrating its 20th anniversary last year, was proud to break out its rainbow-striped, tech-fonted Wiz jerseys from the distant 1990s.

On Saturday, the Royals are back in town and the first 20,000 fans at the K will be treated to a Memorable Moments Bobblehead of pitcher Danny Duffy, allowing all of us to think back fondly on those moments in, say, 2016, when the team gave him some run support.

And then, of course, we can look ahead.

For all of its tradition, sports — ah, yes, like life — is just a series of fleeting moments. And regardless of the year, a lot can change in a matter of days, weeks, and months. By the time the last home stand rolls around in September, the Royals may have gotten back on track — or, if trade rumors hold, bear a new look altogether.

That final weekend is also when the team will honor its best minor-league prospects, in the ultimate theme promotion of the season. You guessed it: Futures Night.

Victor Wishna is a writer, editor and sports fan. He lives in Leawood.