A Fan's Notes: Great Expectations
The year got off to a promising start for the Royals and their fans. In January, the teen pop singer known as Lorde won Grammy Awards for Best Performance and Song of the Year for her hit “Royals,” which she claims was inspired by a picture of George Brett that she saw in an old copy of National Geographic. When she performed in Kansas City a few weeks ago, the Royals presented her with an autographed Brett jersey. Lorde, born 11 years after the team’s last playoff appearance, called it “one of the coolest things” she owns—and she owns two Grammies. Even the marketing department seemed to play it up with an oblique reference to the song’s refrain as the new official slogan, “Be Royal.”
Yes, the Royals have entered this season armed not just with an improved lineup and the momentum of their best campaign in two decades, but with an unfamiliar blessing, and curse: expectations.
For a sports fan, expectations are an essential but unstable drug. It’s the stimulant that makes sports worth watching in the first place, as well as the catalyst for most of the pain that follows, a reactive agent that heightens hopes and sharpens the sting of every disappointment.
The conventional wisdom is, “never get your hopes up.” But sports fans crave a different kind of buzz. Expectations—chasing them, meeting them, defying them—are what make sports maddening and inspiring.
The favored, superior team that blows a big lead yet narrowly wins will never enjoy the same thrill as the scrappy team that comes from behind to earn the same result. Just ask New York Yankees fans if they’re reassured that it’s only been five seasons since their team won the World Series. Please—you know what they say: the 28th world championship is always the hardest. Anyone who ever says, “a win is a win” dismisses that fundamental divide between the expected and unexpected, between shock-and-awe and shock-and-dismay.
No spectator sport tests fans’ expectations like baseball, with its daily ups and downs and incremental progress. Even the best teams in the league lose dozens of games before the season’s up, playing right into any pessimist’s forecast.
Just look at what’s already happening to the Royals: The best bullpen in baseball has sprung a couple of leaks. The promising power of spring training is lost in a regular-season outage, as KC is dead last in home runs. Moves to patch the defense and stack the top of the order are suddenly in jeopardy after second baseman Omar Infante took a fastball to the chin. Looks like he’s going to be okay, but is the Royals’ middle infield?
And we’re only eight games in.
Royals fans’ great expectations aren’t for a World Series championship or even to win the pennant, but simply to make the playoffs—something every other Major League team has done, at least once, since George Brett retired in 1993.
No, it’s not much to ask. But 28 summers of discontent is enough to temper the joy of even modest anticipation. Yet, for every disappointment, there could be some pleasant surprises, especially this year. Even more than we might expect.