It’s been covered by many writers (I’m sure most better than me), but considering I didn’t have this outlet last Fall, I’m weighing in now. Last year’s Royals season went beyond magical. It was transcendent. At the beginning of the 2014 season, 2 of 5 Fox experts picked the Royals to win the A.L. Central. No one picked them to win the ALCS. A few MLB.com analysts gave them enough credit to make it to either a Wild Card spot or even lead the A.L. Central, but had them going no further. Bleacher Report didn’t have the Royals making it to the playoffs. Most analysts who thought they had a playoff shot added somewhere in their prediction the phrase “feel-good story”.
Some people might cringe at that expression feeling it comes off as condescending – a bit like big brother telling his little brother he’s not ready to play with the big kids. Royals fans who were honest with themselves realized that 29 years of never sniffing the post season meant that phrase was apt. Recent years held so much promise, but eventually fell short. Still, with all the pieces Royals management had in place, the Royals faithful remained ever hopeful behind the leadership of Shields, the up-and-coming arms of Ventura and Duffy, and the unrealized potential of Perez, Moustakas, and Hosmer.
As the season progressed, we experienced roller coaster-like events. Every gutty performance by the pitching staff, unbelievable defensive gem, explosive track meet across the bases, and timely hit was measured against all those pitches left belt high in the middle of the plate, inexplicable consecutive multi-error outings, facepalms when getting caught leaning or flashing their glacier-like speed to first, and embarrassing plate discipline that had them reaching off the plate like it was a slab of Oklahoma Joe’s ribs that fell on the floor. It was exciting. It was maddening. I was living and dying on every pitch, at bat, or game and had to either go insane or take a step back and just enjoy the ride. After speaking to many Royals fans on Twitter and in person, I breathed a deep sigh of relief to learn I wasn’t the only one who felt this way.
Maybe the moment Royals fans decided to just enjoy the ride was when the Devil Magic began. Maybe it began with social media campaigns like #RoyalsWinForTim or #SungWooToKC to support lifelong Royals fans like Tim Grimes, who was diagnosed with stage four cancer, and Sung Woo Lee, who grew up a Royals fan in Korea by catching Armed Forces broadcasts in the truly dark days of Royals baseball. Maybe it began when the loyal friends of these two reached out to Royals players and the local media to help Tim and Sung Woo Lee experience something they never had before and a community embraced them. Maybe it began when chants of “Let’s go Royals (clap clap, clap clap clap)” were as clearly audible in visitor’s ballparks as at The K. Maybe it began when Royals players reached out to fans in opposing cities and connected with them via a simple game of catch with the kids in the stands. I can’t say for certain. All I can say is the city rallied around the team and the team reciprocated (if such a thing is even possible).
For those unfamiliar with the phrase, #RoyalsDevilMagic began as a fun Twitter trend to explain those random events in baseball – the seeing-eye singles, the flares that drop just out of a fielder’s reach, the usually rock-solid fielder who somehow slips or mishandles a throw. In short, dumb luck. Sure, the Royals fell victim to these events just like every other MLB team. If you ask opposing fans, though, they would be incredulous at the amount of lucky breaks that went the Royals way. Perception’s a funny thing.
Regardless, you can call it destiny, momentum, swagger, or #RoyalsDevilMagic. Whatever it was, the Royals had enough of it to make the playoffs, but not the A.L. Central title. It didn’t matter because this town would see its first playoff game in 29 years and it was humming like an electric guitar in front of a stack of amps. Of course, there were those naysayers who believed a Wild Card game wasn’t really the playoffs. They were in the minority.
People believed in the Royals. It wasn’t just Royals fans. It wasn’t just baseball fans or Kansas Citians. I can’t recall how many people I encountered who couldn’t care less about any sports – you know, the ones who would lump everything together and call it “sportsball” – were suddenly watching, listening to, or talking about the Royals. People out of state wanted to talk Royals with me. People out of the country whose lives revolved around hockey were suddenly interested in the Royals. Aside from those aforementioned naysayers, this city opened its arms and welcomed them in.
I wonder how smug those naysayers felt when the Royals fell behind 7-3 and were down to their last six outs. There were plenty of us on Twitter who had watched our team come back from similar deficits and weren’t panicking. I wonder what look was on the naysayers’ faces when the Royals dropped a three spot in the 8th and one more in the 9th (all thanks to one friend who decided his seat at the K was unlucky so he moved to a different one thus prompting the new hashtags #LuckySeat and #ThatsWhatLuckySeatDo). Confusion? Disbelief? Hope? It didn’t matter because I was enjoying the ride. What a ride it was even when they fell behind by one in the top of the 12th only to come roaring back with two in the bottom of the inning.
Where were you when it happened? What was your reaction? I was so excited I couldn’t sleep for hours. I watched the post-game champagne celebration, Royals Live coverage, shared the joy with friends via Twitter and text, and nearly anything I could to prolong the experience. If the ride was going to end in the next series, at least we had this. But it didn’t end with the ALDS or the ALCS. One of the greatest memories I’ll hold is that of the Royals returning to the field to celebrate with the fans who remained. Regardless of whether they were drenched in champagne or Gatorade, they always returned to show their appreciation for those who supported them. Their class and character shone through and, even though they ultimately lost, I was so proud of them. The team that few believed would even reach the playoffs fought until the last out in Game 7 of the World Series.
So here we are at the beginning of the 2015 season and we’re back to square one. ESPN predicts the Royals to finish 4th in their division. Grantland.com has dubbed them this year’s flop team with Rany Jazayerli, longtime Royals fan & blogger, giving the division to the White Sox. CBS Sports has one person picking the Royals to win the division and one believing they’ll get a Wild Card again, but no further. Bleacher Report has them going nowhere this year. I think you can see where this is headed. I’m once again going to enjoy the ride and, after today’s 10-1 drubbing of the White Sox, it’s off to a great start.