Royals, fans bond over improbable postseason run
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The game had been over for hours. Kauffman Stadium had gone dark. The roars of a sold-out crowd, which had rooted the Kansas City Royals to a sweep of the mighty Los Angeles Angels, had drifted away into the cool night air.
A few miles away, at a bar and grill called McFadden’s, the party was just beginning.
Greg Holland had showed up, the All-Star closer watching with a grin as highlights of the game played on television. Salvador Perez and Jarrod Dyson, both integral parts in the Royals’ playoff push, posed with fans for more pictures than they could count. First baseman Eric Hosmer put down his credit card and for a full hour picked up the tab for hundreds of strangers.
“It’s fun to get to enjoy it with the whole entire city. It’s a special time,” Hosmer said a few days later. “I think the buildup to this, it’s been so long. They’ve been hungry for a winner. What we’re doing now has just been a blast.”
So much so that Hosmer didn’t mind his credit card taking a hit — he shared the $15,000 bar bill with some teammates — after beating the Angels in their AL Divisional Series.
“We realize how bad the fans want it, how bad the city wants it,” Hosmer explained. “I think this team symbolizes the attitude of this city — tough, we’re not going to quit and we’re going to fight to the end. It’s a pretty special bond we’ve created.”
It’s a pretty rare bond, too, in modern professional sports.
As the Royals prepare to play the San Francisco Giants in the World Series on Tuesday night, capping their first postseason appearance since winning the title in 1985, the relationship they have established with their long-suffering fans harkens back to a bygone era.
It’s reminiscent of a time when players lived in the same neighborhood as working-class fans, because they too were working class. When they had to find offseason jobs just to make ends meet, long before million-dollar contracts. When you walked into the barbershop or the supermarket and would see Duke Snider or Red Schoendienst getting a trim or perusing the vegetables.
Only now, players and fans are connecting over drinks at a bar in the trendy Power and Light District of Kansas City. Or they’re connecting on Twitter in 140-word bursts.
Didn’t hear about that one? Well, life-long Royals fan Nicholas Knapple didn’t have the cash for playoff tickets, so he messaged a few players on Twitter with a plea. One of them was Brandon Finnegan. The rookie pitcher promptly hooked him up.
Knapple found himself watching Game 3 of the AL Championship Series against the Baltimore Orioles with his girlfriend and Finnegan’s mom — and an entire section filled with friends and family of other Royals players.
“After the seventh inning, his mom told us we were going downstairs for the celebration,” Knapple said in a phone interview. “So after the game, we got to go down outside the clubhouse. We got to meet Danny Duffy, take pictures. It was unbelievable.”
About as unbelievable as the Royals’ postseason run.
The happy marriage between the Royals and their fans was a rocky relationship earlier this summer. Third baseman Mike Moustakas was getting booed off the field. Manager Ned Yost had gone back to using an alias when he ordered at Starbucks. Even longtime designated hitter Billy Butler was starting to feel the wrath of a fan base that had been pining for success.
Then two fans popped onto the Royals’ radar, and things seemed to change.
One was Tim Grimes, a 28-year-old fan battling Stage 4 cancer. Doctors gave him a 5 percent chance of surviving the next 18 months. He is spending it relishing every pitch and every hit.
The other was SungWoo Lee, a fan from South Korea. He wakes up in the middle of the night, every night, to watch the Royals online. In August, he finally made it to Kansas City.
Perhaps it was coincidence, perhaps it was fate. But at the same time their stories were told, the Royals started to win. They climbed out of a deep hole in the AL Central, made a big push for the pennant, and then qualified for the wild-card game.
Then they rallied from a four-run hole to beat the Oakland Athletics in 12 dramatic innings.
“I think that’s really when it all came together,” said Bob Fescoe, the host of a popular morning talk show on 610 Sports in Kansas City. “The players saw the way the fans reacted, and the way fans cheered for them and stayed through that entire game.”
In fact, they keep staying through games, until long after they’re over. When the Royals clinched their first pennant in 29 years, security had to begin ushering them out of the ballpark so the cleaning crews could begin their work.
No matter. There was almost certainly a party they could go to somewhere.
Good chance that some of the Royals were already there.
*Photo courtesy of Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images