I'm hearing a lot of hype from various baseball prognosticators about the woebegone Kansas City Royals. Much of it is generous, granting the 2009 team something along the lines of an 84 to 89 win season, and a finish in the upper division of the AL Central.
In a curious phenomenon that lacks any real historical evidence, it seems the miraculous run of the Tampa Bay (Shut-de-Doh'-Drop-Off-the-Devil) Rays has everyone looking for the next Cinderella. It's almost as if fairy tale writers have hired a team of reality show producers, and every year we crown a new contestant simply by virtue of who would most shock the pants off us by not sucking.
Who else but the eternally miserable Royals? The shoe fits, Cinderella '09! Cue Kelly Clarkson! (Think of the ratings!)
Now, before I launch into more cautiously optimistic fortune-telling, I would like to remind some folks that the Royals are not a franchise unaccustomed to winning, despite what seems like a lifetime of ineptitude.
I can understand why some people wouldn't know this, given that many of them were probably born close to or after 1985. Remembering a dynastic Royals team would require remembering Dynasty the TV show, We Are the World, New Coke, or Ronald Reagan before he started forgetting everything.
Wow...did you know that 1985 also saw the introduction of the Nintendo, the Ford Taurus, and Wrestlemania? Rednecks everywhere owe much of their lives to 1985!
The Royals were once the class of the American League. From 1976 to 1978 the only thing that stood in the way between KC and multiple AL pennants were the $@ Yankees. That trend was finally broken in 1980, when KC made it to the Classic, only to lose to the Phillies.
When they won the division for the sixth time in 10 years in 1985, and made two miraculous comebacks from down three-games-to-one in both the ALCS and Series, their time had finally come.
Never mind any talk round St. Louis about any "blown calls," because come on, who remembers 1985?
It wasn't so long ago that the Royals were champs that we can't rub it in the faces of two or three franchises. It's not like we're Indians fans, whose youngest World Series-rememberin' fan is at best a card-carrying member of AARP. You'd have to be from New York if you saw the Giants win a championship, and remember, we're still talking about baseball. And if you're from Texas, heck, you'd like to have a shot more than once every half-century.
I won't mention you-know-who. It's just too easy.
The point is, the Royals were once a proud organization, dedicated to winning games with gritty starters, a strong bullpen, superior base-running, good defense, and timely hitting. They've played National League-style ball in the AL for decades, keeping their beautiful stadium more or less intact, trusting that their fanbase remembers a time when baseball wasn't about short porches and 5.00+ ERAs.
George Brett, Willie Wilson, Frank White, Bret Saberhagen, Mark Gubicza, Dan Quisenberry—these guys weren't overpaid prima donnas, they were dirt-on-the-uniform, charismatic, hard-nosed ballplayers, and they fit right in with the midwestern lifestyle of their loyal fans.
As the steroid era mercifully comes to a close, it's natural that a team playing in a big ballpark with strong young pitching and good contact hitters will mature into a contender. Throw some speed at the top of that lineup, get some legit protection for your main masher, and you've got a shot.
The '09 Royals have got the makings of a good little team.
If Mike Aviles builds on his breakout rookie season; if Alex Gordon and Billy Butler keep growing into their stud pants; if Jose Guillen keeps his mouth shut and his bat quick; if Brian Bannister and Luke Hochevar can toss in around 200 innings apiece; if Coco Crisp makes good on his promise for 40 bags; if Mike Jacobs digs his new...digs to the tune of 30 bombs; if Gil Meche holds the line while Zack Greinke matures in a Cy Young candidate--if all of that holds up, we might get ourselves a winning season, a REAL one, not a fluky '03 run.
I'm sure most Royals fans, despite the heady hype from various sources, would be happy with an injury-free, solid season that has us pushing for the division crown, so long as in '10 we don't sell/fall off the mountain to another string of 100 loss seasons.
Real Royals fans don't want Cinderella hype or superstar rent-a-players, we want steady, sustainable progress. We're patient enough to wait our turn.
It's our style.
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