This is a good time to be a Royals fan.
Well, a patient Royals fan, anyway. The Royals might lose 100 games this year. Might lose 105. Fans who don't believe in crystal balls might not suffer 100 losses gladly.
Me, though? I'm patient. I just don't know if I'm still a Royals fan.
Without the Royals, I wouldn't be Rob Neyer, Baseball Writer. I don't know what I would be. Rob Neyer, High School History Teacher. Rob Neyer, Small Time Lawyer. Rob Neyer, Pizza Hut Manager. Something. Before my family moved to Kansas City in 1976, baseball was just another sport. Before I became infatuated with the American League West-winning Kansas City Royals that summer and fall, the Royals were just another team that occasionally showed up on the radio playing the White Sox (the team I'd sort of half-followed before).
Everything changed in 1976. I cried that October, then again the next October. I rejoiced in 1980 when the Royals finally beat the Yankees, was despondent just days later when the Phillies beat the Royals. My affections somehow grew stronger in the fall of 1984, when the Royals improbably hung on to reach the playoffs with a patchwork roster and an 84-78 record. In 1985, Nirvana.
But it wasn't just the pennant races and the postseason runs. Beginning in 1976, I followed the Royals obsessively, from spring training through 162 games, good or bad. In the summer of 1980, I was involved in a fairly serious auto accident, was unconscious for a number of hours. When I finally came to, my first words to my mother were, Did the Royals win last night?
Through junior high and high school, the car wreck and my parents' divorce, those awkward teenage years and my miserable attempt at a college education, and ... Hey, if you're reading this you probably know exactly what I'm talking about. Your team was probably always there for you, too. For seven or eight months every year, no matter what was happening in your life you always had your Royals or your Twins or your Yankees or your Dodgers or your Padres or your Diamondbacks or your Cubs or your Reds or your Mets or your Phillies or your Marlins or your White Sox or your Red Sox or your Angels or your Giants or your Mariners or your Astros or your Rangers or your Brewers or your Pirates or your Rays or your Cardinals or your Indians or your Athletics or your Rockies or your Braves or your Blue Jays or your Tigers. Or, until 2005, your Expos.
You know what I mean.
I stuck with the Royals after leaving the Midwest in 1996. A few years later, Extra Innings made it easy, and for a number of years I wrote about the Royals, just for fun. My partner in crime was Rany Jazayerli. We called it "Rob & Rany on the Royals." Today I guess you might call it a "blog."
Admittedly, the only time "Rob & Rany on the Royals" was actually enjoyable for me -- rather than a sort of sick compulsion -- was the first four months of the 2003 season. The Royals, having lost exactly 100 games in 2002, took the American League Central by storm in 2003. At the All-Star break, they somehow were in first place ... with a seven-game lead. Teams with seven-game leads in the middle of July nearly always finish the season in first place.
Well, the Royals finished the season seven games out of first place. They simply found their level, as teams usually will if you give them enough time. But I was right there with them, throughout. Even though it had been nearly 20 years since they'd been to the playoffs and I'd moved from Kansas to Chicago to Seattle to Boston to Seattle and finally to Portland, I'd been with them, throughout, watching their games on TV far more often than was healthy for me, professionally or emotionally. I had never learned (or forced myself) to do anything else.
It was the next five years or so that changed me. I suppose you might accuse me of being a fair-weather fan, but I was a fan through more than 20 years of foul weather. On the heels of that exciting-for-five-months 2003 campaign, the Royals lost 310 games in three seasons. The managers were lousy. The front office was a mess, celebrating ignorance. Ownership was meddling, occasionally reprehensible. I found myself drifting away, without even thinking about it. I stopped writing about the Royals regularly, because I found unattractive the negativity in myself that the Royals' performance demanded.
In 2009, I watched most of Zack Greinke's starts but little else. In 2010, I watched the Royals hardly at all.
Is my love for my Royals gone, or merely dormant? I don't know. I will be checking the minor-league stats for all those prospects Dayton Moore has assembled. Maybe that means I'm already there. But checking stats for a few minutes every week is one thing; investing three hours of baseball time every night is quite another.
When the Royals' hot prospects begin joining the big club, I suspect that I'll tune in, for curiosity's sake. Will I stick with them through 2012, when they're fighting to avoid 90 losses?
That will be the real test, and I don't have the slightest idea. For most of my life, I was a Royals fan, that particular shade of blue coursing through every vein in my body. Today, I don't know what I am.