Tryin' to get the feelin': Boyhood team Royals in World Series—but where did my fandom go?

My Kansas City Royals are in the World Series.

That’s actually a weird thing to say since it’s been more than 30 years since I actively rooted for the Royals.

The Royals were my boyhood team. I celebrated their wins and I was in a funk over their losses. Did I cry when they lost? Oh yes, when they lost year after year to the hated New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series—in 1976, in 1977, in 1978—I sobbed inconsolably. 

Where did my fandom go?

Did I grow up and grow out of it? 

Was I upset at having my heart broken so many times that I could never commit so loyally to a team for fear of being hurt again?

Was it just that in high school and college, I was too busy?

Was it the baseball strike of 1981? During the strike, which lasted from June to August, I lost interest in baseball. When baseball came back, I didn’t. I never made any angry declaration I was done with the sport, but at age 16, I stopped collecting baseball cards, my subscription to The Sporting News lapsed and I impassively moved on.

So for me to say “my” Royals are in the World Series seems funny. Let’s face it, they were “my” team for only six years, starting in 1975 when I made my one and only visit to Royals (now Kauffman) Stadium. Today, six years in the dim, dark past is a tiny sample of my life. But at 16, that was a long time. I could barely remember a time before I was a Royals fan. It seemed to be part of my core being.

The pinnacle of my fandom was 1980 when the Royals finally beat the Yankees in the American League Championship Series. I’m not sure what it says about me, but I don’t remember a lot of that series. Somehow, I remember the losing more than the winning. In my memory, the Royals always lost to the Yankees in the playoffs. I see Chris Chambliss hitting the game- and series-winning homer for the Yankees in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 5 in 1976 and getting mobbed by fans as he tries to round the bases. But I know the Royals beat the Yankees in 1980 because I do vividly remember the Royals losing that year's World Series to the Phillies.

I didn’t lose my fandom because the Royals stopped being successful. In fact, after I stopped being a fan, they had their greatest success. In 1985, the Royals won the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. That Royals team still had a core group of players who stuck around from 1980. It was a team I would have still known well.

But by then, they weren’t really “my” Royals. I was aware of the Royals’ win but paid little attention. I remember thinking that “after all those years of my suffering,” the Royals had “at long last” won a World Series. Again, my fandom was only six years, the Royals in 1985 were only in their 17th season of existence. (For comparison and to drive the point home at how temporally naive I was, the Chicago Cubs at the time were only in their 77th year without a World Series title—the streak is now at 106 years.)

While the 1981 strike seemed to end my baseball fandom, I became a fan again in 1994, oddly, the same year as an even more devastating strike cancelled much of the season and the entire postseason.

I came back to baseball not really a fan of any team. The only thing I was able to commit myself to was a hatred of the Yankees, which has sort of been my baseball constant, thanks to my being a Royals fan. Hating the Yankees, I became a casual fan of their rivals—the Atlanta Braves of the 1990s and the Boston Red Sox of the 2000s.

Of course, it would not have been easy to be a Royals fan for the 20 years since I turned my attention back to baseball. Royals teams languished and were downright bad. Until this year, they had the longest playoff drought (29 years, since the 1985 World Series) of any team in the four major sports.

Since my return to baseball, I have never been able to fully love any team like I loved the Royals. Why? What is holding me back?

Fear of embarrassment for aligning oneself with a potential loser?

Fear of the pain when they will inevitably lose? (Even the Yankees lose.)

Fear of appearing childish for tying my emotional fortunes to one team?

Plus, if I finally decide to root for the Royals, I would hate to appear like a fair-weather fan jumping on the bandwagon. But I never jumped on the bandwagon in 1985 when it would have been so easy—I knew the team, I knew most of the players.

Team loyalty is a hard thing to justify. The players are always changing. You’re actually rooting for the clothes when you get right down to it. You are standing and cheering and yelling for your clothes to beat the clothes from another city. Laundry! We’re rooting, we’re screaming about laundry here.
— Jerry Seinfeld

Frankly, I knew very little about this 2014 Royals team prior to the postseason. My ties to this team are tenuous. My only connection to the past is George Brett—the Hall-of-Fame Royals third baseman and favorite player of my youth. He’s now a team executive, seen on TV cheering each time Kansas City advances in the playoffs.

If I root for the Royals am I simply, as Jerry Seinfeld says, rooting for the laundry?

“Team loyalty is a hard thing to justify,” he says. “The players are always changing. You’re actually rooting for the clothes when you get right down to it. You are standing and cheering and yelling for your clothes to beat the clothes from another city. Laundry! We’re rooting, we’re screaming about laundry here.”

So, just for argument’s sake, let’s say I still can lay claim to being a fan of the Royals. What made me a Royals fan in the first place?

Was it simply geography? I grew up in southeast Iowa, far from any Major League city but there were six teams within a six-hour driving radius—Cubs, White Sox, Brewers, Twins, Cardinals, Royals. 

Was it because Royals Stadium is where I went for my first Major League game? I saw the Royals beat the Yankees (who I hadn’t yet learned to hate) in August 1975.

Was it because I listened to the Royals on a local affiliate of the team’s radio network most summer nights? (I only recently began listening to Royals broadcasts again on the Internet and was pleasantly surprised to hear Denny Matthews still doing play-by-play all these years later, a voice that transported me back to my 1970s bedroom radio.)

Or was it simply because I wore glasses like Darrell Porter’s, the Royals catcher of the era?

If I can lay claim to being a fan of any team, it’s the Royals. It helps that this year’s team, as I’ve gotten to know them in the postseason, is both exciting and humble. They play as a team. Unlike a team with a high payroll that can buy free agents who hit for power and pitchers who rack up strikeouts, the Royals are largely a homegrown team with a strong work ethic and know their strengths. They are speedy on the bases. Their speed contributes to their defense. They lay down the bunt and sacrifice themselves for the good of the team. And they have the three-headed monster of a bullpen of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland that can shut teams down after the sixth inning. And they hang out in Kansas City bars with their fans after games to celebrate playoff series victories. How cool is that?

On the one hand, you don’t want fans to jump on your team’s bandwagon just because they are winning. But on the other hand, if the way the team is winning attracts fans to your cause, how can you do anything as a true fan but help pull new converts aboard the bandwagon and say, “Welcome!”

There can be a great joy in returning to the things you loved as a child. I returned to baseball as a fan in 1994 because it reminded me of my childhood. But without a team of my own, I never really fully came back.

So maybe it’s time to change that. Maybe it’s time to fully commit again. It is crazy to try to justify my fandom with logic, since fandom can be so illogical. But it’s logical I root for the Royals. I just need to relax, forget whatever reservations, whatever fear of pain or loss I have and say simply: Go Royals!

Shawn Plank writes the Box-Toppers blog (at covering Major League Baseball and created the Box-Toppers points statistic it is based on in 1995. 

Box-Toppers tracks who most helps their team win the most games. Using standard box score statistics, Box-Toppers uses a simple formula to determine a Player of the Game for each Major League Baseball game played. That player is the person who contributed most to his team’s win. In regular season games, players earn 1.0 Box-Toppers point for being named Player of the Game and can earn bonus points for being Player of the Day or top player or batter in their league for the day.

Previous Box-Toppers 2014 World Series previews:

Giants have clear Box-Toppers advantage over Royals in World Series, but since 2014 is underdog year, watch out for David slaying 'Giant'

Royals sweep Giants in series—in regular season, interleague series back in August, that is