There’s a fantastic moment in the third Matrix movie (probably the only good scene in it, actually) when Morpheus is told, SPOILER ALERT, that the war is over. While other people hugged and cheered, Morpheus just stood with a contemplative look of disbelief. “I have waited for this moment my entire life,” he muttered to himself. “Is this real?”
And that’s exactly how I felt in the moments after Drew Butera secured Wade Davis’ final strike in Game 5 of the World Series. It was a moment I had been waiting for my entire life, and while we came so very close to experiencing it last year, that final out of victory eluded us. But now, in a complete 180 of everything I had become accustomed to when I was growing up, the Royals are World Champions. It’s something I never hoped or dreamed of witnessing 10 years ago.
You’ve heard or remember all the anecdotes; from 1995-2013 (George Brett retired in ’93 and it is likely we would’ve made the playoffs in ’94 if not for the strike), the Royals were the most inept franchise in sports. It’s not just that there wasn’t hope, there wasn’t even a glimpse of it, save for the 2003 season. And it’s not just that the Royals were bad, they were laughably horrendous. But still, everyone could feel the desire within each other. Kansas City wanted a good team, and they wanted it bad.
Baseball is a funny sport. Those who want or need something immediately likely do not appreciate this game. Prospects take years to develop, slumps seem to drag on forever, and there’s always long lines at the concession stands. Even the season itself feels like it lasts an eternity. So when Dayton Moore, hired in 2006 as the Royals new GM, said it would take eight years to develop a winner, he was metaphorically laughed out of the room by everyone in Kansas City. But he stood his ground, and kept telling everyone to trust the process. And as if he had time traveled in Doc Brown’s DeLorean, that process that Moore talked about so frequently came to fruition in 2014, eight years after he was hired.
I, along with many others, thought the season was over as Game 4 of the ALDS headed into the 8th inning. The Royals trailed 6-2, and I could not hide my despair.
I should have known better. We all should have. Because the Royals stormed back for five runs in the 8th and added two more in the 9th for good measure to win the game. From then on faith never left the Kansas City fans, as we watched the Royals come back from multi-run deficits six more times en route to the crown. It makes perfect sense too, as faith is the only reason the Royals have made it to where they are today.
Consider Luke Hochevar. He was drafted #1 overall in 2006, and expected to anchor our rotation. But his best year as a starter came in 2011, when he posted a 4.68 ERA and only 128 strikeouts in 198 innings. Many were calling for his release or to be traded, anything that involved him no longer pitching for the Royals. He was considered a bust. But he moved to the bullpen in 2013 and has since posted stellar numbers. He had to sit out 2014 after Tommy John surgery, but in the playoffs this year he threw 10.2 innings and allowed no runs on six hits, including the two shutout innings in Game Five. He was credited with the win.
Consider Alex Gordon. He was drafted 2nd overall in 2005, and was predicted to be the second coming of George Brett. But that kind of pressure can weigh heavily on a 20-year old kid, and he did not play well in his first couple of years here. He played a mediocre third base and looked downright uncomfortable at the plate more often than not. He was demoted to the minor leagues, and would attempt to make the switch to outfield. Gordon made it back to the show as a left fielder in 2011, where he proceeded to throw out 37 baserunners over the next two years. He hit the game-tying home run off Jeurys Familia in the bottom of the 9th of Game 1, and opposing runners are so intimidated by his cannon of an arm they dare not even challenge it.
Everyone on this team has a similar story. Mike Moustakas was hitting so horribly in 2014 that he was sent down to the minors to straighten out. Same thing this year with Yordano Ventura and his pitching, although he was called back less than 24 hours later after Jason Vargas needed Tommy John surgery. I’ve lost track of the amount of times Kansas Citians wanted Ned Yost to be fired. Being the manager is a tough job, as they are the first to be blamed when something goes wrong and the last to be congratulated when something goes right. The amount of faith you have to have in Christian Colon, who’s first postseason at-bat came in the 12th inning of Game 5 with the score tied, is enormous. But everyone in the organization stayed the course, and now we all are reaping the dividends.
That’s the best part. This is no fluke, this is no coincidence. From 1994-2005, when Dayton Moore was working his way up the ranks of the Atlanta Braves’ front office, they won 11 consecutive division titles, won more than 100 games in a season five times, and appeared in three World Series, winning one of them. I truly believe the Royals are headed for that kind of consistent dominance. But that is such a strange feeling to have. I am still not used to how good this team is. And that’s where we circle back to the look of disbelief I wore on my face after we won our first World Series in my lifetime. When you look back on everything it took to get here, such as trading Zack Greinke for little known prospects Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain, or signing a skinny 16 year old catcher by the name of Salvador Perez for $65,000, disbelief is the only way to describe what I’m feeling.
The 2015 World Series was an exorcism of all the bad memories Royals fans experienced for the last 20+ years. Ken Harvey getting hit in the back by a relay throw, two of our outfielders jogging back to the dugout while a fly ball drops between them, and letting Carlos Beltran walk are things that never have to be mentioned again. Now we can fill our conversations with the resiliency, fun, never-say-die attitude of the 2015 Kansas City Royals.
It’s surreal being able to claim my hometown team as the World Champions. I can’t wait to buy, or be gifted, every piece of merchandise under the sun to celebrate this team. These are the most special group of players I’ve ever had the joy of watching, and I am already so anxious for the 2016 season to start so that we can defend our title. But for the next few weeks, we can all revel in our victory at last. We can watch the parade today with goofy smiles on our faces and accept the new reality. The crown is ours, and no one can take it away from us.