The past three years have been a rejuvenation. I’ve experienced a rekindling of something that has been missing from life since high school and college – a love of baseball. Back then, I spent many free summer days playing “sandlot” baseball. It’s more accurate to say concrete jungle baseball as our field was an asphalt, glass-riddled surface that few but the extremely brave or extremely clumsy dared slide upon. It didn’t matter how hot it would get either because we were driven to squeeze in a game even if it meant playing two-on-two.
That’s the exuberance the Royals have afforded me these past few years. Regardless of the struggles due to having the wrong staff (I’m looking at you Jose Guillen, Jonathan Sanchez, Jonathan Broxton, Tony Muser, Trey Hillman, and many others), or the terrible slumps or the humiliating beatings (hello Twins 19 – Royals 1) over the past decade or so, there have been seeds of hope. Now these seeds have been bearing fruit. The hallmarks of winning baseball – solid pitching, timely hitting, and some truly stifling defense – have made this team a joy to watch. Moreover, the zest with which the boys in blue approach the game is infectious and it reminds me of my younger days.
Back to those days playing concrete jungle baseball…
We were a competitive group as one might expect from a group of high schoolers. The yearly Hitchcock (the school where we played) home run contest was always hotly contested between the Jacksons (Tom & Steve), Greg Johnson, Craig James, the Bennetts (Brad & Greg), the Calderones (Nick, Tony, and me), and a host of drop-in players. Having to work or missing a game because of other obligations meant you were that far behind the others who could play that day. That was unacceptable for us just like giving up is for the Royals.
The recent Royals slump was frustrating for me – not because I felt like some fans who thought the team was falling back to their old snatch defeat from the jaws of victory ways. No, it was because I could see them getting outside of themselves and thinking they could hit anything so their plate discipline was atrocious. Slumps are a part of baseball and you just have to play through them. The lucky teams continue to stay true to themselves and usually pull out of the slump sooner rather than later. The recent four game winning streak (including the sweep of the Twins) has seen the Royals get back to themselves and I can’t wait to get home to watch them. I’m talking Steve Jackson-like wiping-spit-from-the-corners-of-the-mouth-and-calculating-stats-on-his-calculator-watch excited. I should explain that.
After an afternoon of playing baseball, our sports addiction still wasn’t sated. So, we’d adjourn to the Jackson’s house to drink some Hi-C (Ecto Cooler, because we were badass like that) and play some Statis Pro Baseball. Steve would organize playing a season and we would all pick our favorite teams to manage in the season. Sometimes that meant we (the Hitchcock crew) played against each other when our teams were scheduled and other times we played against Steve as the official commissioner/AI opponent. After a batch of games were played, Steve would pop open his spiral notebook and start calculating player and team stats on his calculator watch. Quite often this got him so intrigued in the season stats that he would calculate further stats for hours and so much spit would build up that he would only pause his calculations long enough to wipe the corners of his mouth.
That’s how exciting the past year of Royals baseball has been for me.