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Fri June 28, 2013

A Fan's Notes: The Long, Hot, Royal Summer

Kansas City Royals' Lorenzo Cain (6) adds the bottle of Billy Butler Hit A Ton rally sauce onto his arm muscle in the dugout after hitting a two run home run in the ninth inning to tie during a game against the Detroit Tigers on June 12, 2013, at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
Credit John Sleezer / The Kansas City Star

You think the road is long and difficult for the Kansas City Royals? Imagine how hard it must be for Royals fans.

Commentator Victor Wishna shares his thoughts on the roller-coaster team in this month's "A Fan's Notes."

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The legendary broadcaster Ernie Harwell was not the first or the last to say that, “Baseball is a lot like life…full of ups and downs.”

Well, if Royals baseball is like life, then life has been hard.

But with all the ups and downs this season, I’ve found myself watching nearly every game, and I’ve come to realize just how arduous a task it is to follow a baseball team.

Sure, as a Royals fan, it takes great resilience to endure so many years of futility. But usually, our collective heart rate recovers by mid-May, once the Royals have flat-lined.

Not this year. All these highs and lows have kept us right in the middle of it. It’s frustrating: the best pitching in the league—best of any Royals team in 30 years—is wasted by the worst offense in nearly as long. The team leads the Majors in come-from-behind wins, in part because they rarely get out in front. There’ve been losing streaks spawned from singularly dumb coaching decisions, and weeks of winning inspired by a bottle of Billy Butler’s “Hit-It-A-Ton” barbecue sauce. Every time the Royals appear to have turned it around, they turn it right back around.

But baseball is long—to call it “a season” is almost a misnomer: it starts in spring, carries through summer, and winds up sometime in late fall. There’s a drudgery to it. Most every game is not a special occasion—how can it be when it is literally an everyday event? It’s why baseball doesn’t have fans so much as followers.

Last season was supposed to be “Our Time.” It wasn’t. This year’s slogan is “Come to Play.” Um, okay. I prefer the unofficial slogan from 2003, coined by ebullient manager Tony Peña: Nosotros creemos…”We Believe.” The Royals started that year shockingly, with nine straight wins, and ended with what is still the team’s only full winning season in twenty years—and really, the only one, until now, that was worth watching

But in some ways, “we believe” is more apt for this year, as the Royals fans' belief is tested, inning by inning.

And perhaps more than any other spectator sport, following baseball takes a bit of faith. From Damn Yankees to Angels in the Outfield, there’s always been the hope for a little divine intervention—not just on one critical play here and there, but over the course of a long, lingering season. There are good days and bad days, and you hope, at the end of it all, like in life, the good have outnumbered the bad.

Going into this weekend, the Royals are still within reach of five-hundred—that line that literally divides losers from winners. And they’re only a handful of games out of first—with eighty-six to go.

And after 28 years, why give up now? Some of the young bats are heating up, just as the veteran pitching is faltering a bit. But perhaps they can find the right balance. Perhaps “interim” hitting coach George Brett will engineer a slow, steady return to glory. Maybe another win streak is just one bottle of “rally sauce” away.

Royals fans complain. We doubt. We tire out. We even turn away. We know that to think this really could be the year would be naïve. But we come back. Because, though we won’t always admit it, we believe.

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