Once again I had to relearn a tough lesson about letting one’s happiness be defined by others. To wit, the heartbreaking end of the 2014 World Series for those of us who are Kansas City Royals fans. I’ve been there before—1976, 1977, 1978, 1980, and now 2014—where the Royals just could not complete the deal in the last game of their season.
Fact is that as a youth I lived and died by the Royals and how their seasons played out. To date, only 1985 has ended with a championship win. Over the years I thought I had moved beyond that with several heartbreaking losses by the National Football League’s Kansas City Chiefs in the ’90s and since then recent playoff losses by them have left me saying, “Oh well!”, and laughing it off. But to see the Royals go on the hottest winning streak ever seen in Major League Baseball post-season play from their improbable win over the Oakland Athletics in the Wild Card game that went 12 innings to their sweeps over the Los Angeles Angels and Baltimore Orioles in the ALDS and ALCS, respectively, just sucked me in. I had an uneasy feeling about the World Series with the San Francisco Giants. Too many pundits were stating that the Royals would win and positing their varied reasons why. Such does not bode well and often becomes a “kiss of death.”
And so it played out with the Royals losing game 1 of the Series—their first loss of this post season—then bouncing back to win games 2 and 3 but losing a very important game 4 in a fashion that gave the distinct impression that the wheels had come off the express and a certain championship was not guaranteed. Then came game 5 where the Royals were shut out (didn’t score at all) by a stellar complete game pitching performance by Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner left little doubt that the Royals were now in deep trouble and down in the best of 7 series 3 games to 2. A bounce-back shut out by the Royals in Game 6 gave hope that being at home in Kauffman Stadium the Royals could pull off the improbable again except that media was stating that Bumgarner would be available for relief in game 7, certainly not reassuring to this Royals fan.
Game 7 played out as a worst case scenario for the Royals. After downing the Giants in order in the top of the first inning, the Royals failed to score and take a lead in the bottom of the inning even though they had base runners. The Giants then jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the second and things looked good when the Royals jumped on Giants starting pitcher Tim Hudson for two runs in the bottom of the second. Giants manager Bruce Bochy made his move and brought in former Royals pitcher Jeremy Affeldt to end the second inning rally and then pitch a scoreless bottom of the third. The Giants scored their go-ahead and eventual winning run in the top of the fourth and that was all Bochy needed to go back to Bumgarner who was the most effective pitcher against the Royals this post-season (Affeldt was the next most effective). It was a wise decision as Bumgarner held the Royals scoreless for six innings and secured the championship for the Giants and received the well-deserved Most Valuable Player award for the World Series.
I was down through the night and until about noon the next day. Yes, I had allowed the performance of a professional sports team—over which I have no control nor influence—to dictate my mood. I had tried to tell myself that I would be happy with whoever won, but clearly I wasn’t when it was over. I’ve nothing against the Giants as they were my maternal grandfathers team back in the days when they were in New York and most people around here were likely Saint Louis Cardinals fans. By late afternoon the next day I could listen to some media wrap up for the first time and finally made the realization that I had allowed my happiness to be defined by others as a result of my emotional investment in their accomplishments rather than by my own accomplishments and beliefs.
The Giants showed why they have secured three championships within the past five years. The Royals should look at their organization and take a few pointers. Yes, the Royals are still a young team with a bright future who caught lightning in a bottle and rode a wave the likes of which will likely never be seen again, at least in Kansas City. Expectations will be high for the Royals next year and it will be difficult for them to get back into the post-season, let alone the World Series, in 2015, as teams will adjust their style of play to counteract the Royals style as the Orioles tried to do and the Giants successfully did. The Royals will need to make their own adjustments due to various players becoming free agents at the end of the season/post-season and so next year’s lineup will certainly have a number of different faces. Still, the 2014 Royals will have a special place in the hearts of their fans old and new.