Kansas City fans celebrated when the Royals won the 2015 World Series, but the team has struggled since then, especially this year. Management has started to make changes, and fans are losing their enthusiasm.
But there are still some hard-core fans holding out hope that they can make one more run at the playoffs before the complexion of the team changes even more.
On Opening Day last year the Royals faced the team they beat in the World Series, the New York Mets. Season-ticket holder Craig Rookstool that day listened to the introduction of his favorite player from the stands.
Rookstool is better known as the owner of the Moose Mobile, a blue Land Cruiser with king-sized tires and moose antlers on the roof. And for fans watching on TV, he’s same guy who skipped through the stadium aisles with the antlers every time Moustakas hit a homerun or made a catch that didn’t seem possible.
This season, Rookstool has rarely pulled the Moose Mobile into the sports complex parking lot. Rookstool insists he hasn’t turned into a fair-weather fan.
“Absolutely not,” he says. “I’m a busy guy. I’ve actually been to more charity events with it this year than I have baseball games.”
Instead, Rookstool says he’s trying to strike a balance. He also has a family and runs an aerospace business.
Moustakas is one of four every-day players in the last year of their contract. So he could be bound for another team next year. But Rookstool says he pulls for Moustakas as long as the third baseman wears a Royals uniform.
“In footage, I can see his activity and the way he pushes his brothers down there,” says Rookstool. “I can see his heart down in the dugout and I really admire his work ethic.”
The Royals have already started to dismantle the 2015 World Series team. The team traded Jarrod Dyson to Seattle last winter.
Dyson brought not only his speed on the field, but his personality into the team’s clubhouse. Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer admitted before the season that he would have to adjust without Dyson around.
“It’s going to be tough,” says Hosmer at the Royals fan festival in January. “Man, there’s really no way around that one, especially for me. Me and Dyson were obviously really close.”
The Royals had already unloaded their closer, Wade Davis. Then last week, the Royals discarded Christian Colon. Though used sparingly, Colon achieved folk hero status in Kansas City. He combined with Dyson for a key at-bat in the World Series-clinching victory two years ago when his single in the 12th inning gave the Royals the lead for good.
Colon says his life changed after the 2015 World Series.
“For sure, it changed a lot,” says Colon the following year at spring training. “Going to different places and talking about—it seemed like daily—my mental approach to the game. It was fun.”
But Royals fans don’t seem to be having as much fun this year. Attendance has fallen as the team struggles on the field. Total attendance is down by around 130,000 from a year ago.
Floyd Wilson is one guy though who’s trying to single-handedly make fans at the stadium a little happier. He directs traffic before the games outside one of the busiest corners of Kauffman Stadium.
“When you see those faces, you make them smile,” says Wilson. “I’m always in their head. ‘We’re going to win this tonight. You got to believe. You got to have faith.’ Guess what? A lot of times we come through.”
When Wilson isn’t at the ballpark, he’s the gym teacher at Success Academy at Knotts, an alternative school for elementary kids.
Essentially he’s doing the same thing in the gym that he does for the Royals in the parking lot: Pumping people up.
“I carry that same presence here and there. You have to. They need to feel the love,” says Wilson. “They need to feel that they’ve got someone they can talk to. They look at me as a big brother. They look at me as a coach.”
Wilson’s job may be getting harder. The contracts of Hosmer, Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain—all World Series players—are also up after this year. They stand to earn a lot more money on the open market.
Rookstool says he’s braced for the possibility of Moustakas moving on.
“I’ve already got a back-up plan for the horns and my fandom when he’s gone,” says Rookstool. “I don’t mind telling you: I’m going to put a crown on top of that and it’s going to become the KC Cruiser. Right now, the Moose Caboose is what I pull behind it. It’s going to be the KC caboose.”
The Royals face an uphill battle in the standings. And with a July 31st trading deadline, more players may be departing before the end of the season.
Greg Echlin is a freelance reporter for KCUR 89.3.