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Still Believe

Still Believe
While living in Virginia the past several years, the St. Louis Cardinals made it to the World Series a couple of times. Several people in the Old Dominion asked me if I was excited. They seemed surprised when I answered "no, I'm a Royals fan." 

"Why are you a Royals fan?" I often heard back in response. "Aren't you from Missouri?" 

As I explained that the Royals are in Kansas City, Missouri, I usually saw surprise on the face of my East Coast friends. For good measure, I would quickly add that the Kansas City Chiefs are also in Missouri. 

Yet, the question was actually a good one: even though the Royals are in Missouri, why not be a Cardinals fan like most Missourians? After all, a mapping of baseball fans at the start of this year's season showed my home county going for the Cardinals over the Royals by a 69-9 percent margin (the Chicago Cubs pulled 5 percent so Royals fans are sparse for a city just two hours from Kauffman Stadium). An important footnote: that margin would've been closer a couple of decades ago when the Royals beat the Cardinals in the 1985 World Series. 

I don't really remember the 1985 World Series. I was only four at the time, but I grew up in its exciting shadow and got hooked on the team. I remember going to Kansas City with my dad (who often went there for work), staying in the Drury nearby, and walking over to catch games. I remember going with one of my closest friends (who later was one of my college roommates and one of my groomsmen) and his family for his birthdays. Like all of the other boys at the game, my friend and I rooted for George Brett and called him our hero. Probably because all the men around us did the same.

Then Brett retired, the management seemed uninterested in winning, and the Royals fell to the bottom of the league. Dark times that made 1985 seem like a fading dream. Yet, I remained a Royals fan. Perhaps true faith doesn't' always make sense. 

On Wednesday, an incredible season of baseball - and a nearly amazing postseason - came to an end just a bit too soon. Yet, even after the Royals lost the World Series I reiterate the slogan that recently occupied many posters in Kauffman Stadium: "We believe." 

Sure, the Royals lost the World Series, but I still believe they could have won. They weren't swept in four, like the Giants did to the Tigers two years ago. They made it all the way to the mythical "Game 7" and even then lost by only one with a man just 90 feet away from home plate. 

It was two outs in the bottom of the ninth, no one on base, and down by one. I hate to admit it, but I was losing faith. I wasn't sure I believed anymore, despite that crazy Wild Card Game and that historic winning streak that followed. I had believed so much, but now it seemed over. And then Alex Gordon hit what should've been a single. But the first Giants outfielder missed the ball, so Gordon started running toward second. Then a second Giants outfielder missed the ball, so Gordon started running for third. 

I started to believe again. I shouted for an inside-the-park home run. But Gordon stopped on third base and then watched hopelessly as Salvador Perez's foul pop-up brought the final out. 

Yet, I still believe.

Even though video "evidence" suggest Gordon would've been tagged out at home had he not stopped at third, I still believe he could have made it. Had he been wearing a different uniform, I wouldn't have thought Gordon could make it. But considering the postseason the Royals put together, an inside-the-park home run almost sounded normal. So I still believe he would have done it.

Even though Perez's foul pop-out ended the game, I still believe he would had saved the day on the next pitch if only that foul ball had flown into the stands. Then he could have done on the next pitch what he unexpectedly did in the bottom of the 12th inning of the Wild Card game: a beautiful single that sends a runner home. So I still believe he would have done it. 

Even though Perez stayed in the game after a nasty hit by a pitch, I still believe that my friend Erik Kratz could have saved the game. As the back-up catcher, maybe he would have been at the plate with Gordon on third during the bottom of the ninth. The pitch, the swing, the game-winning home run. Probably not likely, but he has hit some good ones. So I still believe he would have done it.

Perhaps these beliefs make me delusional considering the Royals lost the World Series. But surely these thoughts are less odd than the fact that I started the season as a Royals fan even though they hadn't been to the postseason in 29 years! Perhaps true faith doesn't always make sense.

I live in an otherwise Cardinals town in Missouri, although it has, nicely, turned much bluer since the Cardinals got knocked out this year. Yet, my pastor is a Royals fan (it's nice to find a pastor with good judgment around here). He told me a few weeks ago that he used to mention in a sermon each Spring that Lent was a time of rebirth and new life, just as the Royals would find in the new season (at which point, many congregants - likely Cardinals fans - would groan). Yet, for 29 years he kept the faith - at least it wasn't a biblical outcast period with another 11 years to go!

True fans don't believe only until a loss. Those who do never truly believed. It wouldn't be faith if it didn't come with doubts, trials, and losses. And believing is about more than just getting good things in the end.

Even though the Royals lost, the city came alive again, and those memories won't suddenly die. (I suspect Royals fans will be cherishing this season even longer than Giants fans, who had bigger victories in recent years.) Come spring training, the excitement will surpass that of any spring in nearly three decades.

Even though the Royals lost, the team will no longer be the laughingstock of baseball. After watching this nearly magical season, a new generation of fans will be spurred on to cheer for the Royals. Hopefully those young kids won't have to wait until their 30s to see another World Series opportunity.

Even though the Royals lost, I saw my passion for the team and sport come alive unlike any time since my childhood. When asked who my favorite team is, I'll no longer feel the need to say, "I hate to admit it publicly, but I'm a Royals fan."

Even if the outcome we hope for doesn't happen, that doesn't mean we shouldn't believe. Perhaps true faith doesn't always make sense. The mere act of believing changes us. Maybe that's the point.

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