Friday, October 24, 2014

The Royals and America

Blog By Request Alert!

On several occasions I've used this space to respond to inquiries or ideas from other people. I am glad to do it, although such requests are few and far between. I try to write twice a week (Tuesday morning and Thursday afternoon) although I do not stick slavishly to that schedule. This week I had nothing - and since it's already Friday, I threw out a request for topics to the twitterverse and got this timely one in reply from Chuck Sailors:

Write about Why the Royals are America's Team.

When the Major League Baseball playoffs began, I was rooting for a "Revolutionary War" World Series, one between the Royals and Nationals. Quite frankly, I thought the Nationals had a much better chance of making it. In the end, we get Royals and Giants.

I spent six years of my life living in Kansas City and watching sparsely attended baseball games where parking cost more than tickets. Everyone loved the Royals, but sort of the way you love your fifteen year old, arthritic dog - there's no way you're ever going to kill him, but you're secretly looking forward to the day he died on his own.

This team was historically bad. Often. So it's no surprise that America jumped on the bandwagon for a young team, from a smallish Midwestern city, supported by a traumatized fan base, and sporting a playing style completely anathema to modern baseball strategy (or even common sense).

America does like the underdog, after all. It's how view ourselves. It's part of the reason I didn't push the "Revolutionary War" angle early on - no one wants to be the British in that scenario and I wanted people to root for the Royals.

But in thinking about Chuck's suggestion, I realized this Series is a perfect metaphor for America. We're rooting for them because we think of ourselves as the plucky underdog - but subconsciously that Revolutionary War persona might be the one shining through.

We're the largest nation on the planet, the dominant force economically and militarily. We're the empire now. We've become Britain in that scenario (including the fighting of losing wars in what amount to economic colonies around the world). Even better, America is the giant bully in the room convinced it's David and there are still Giants out there to beat. Low and behold, who are the Royals playing in this World Series? The San Francisco Giants.

This thing comes together all over the place.

It goes deeper, though. The Royals are comprised of young players who use speed, defense, and making contact with the ball to score runs. They've also got an extremely talented pitching staff. These are all things that typically make up an underdog in baseball - but the Royals are not really what they appear to be.

Major League clubs play 162 baseball games over the course of the regular season. An old adage says "every team loses 54 games and every team wins 54 games - it's what you do with the other 54 that matter." This is true, but some teams are richer - they have more depth and by sheer force of numbers, have a better chance of winning more games. It's tough, especially for young outfield players, to keep focus day in and day out for six months. It's far easier for pitchers, who don't play every day, to do their job consistently. This is exactly what we see with the Royals. The pitching is great and the outfield players, while including many highly praised prospects, were relatively inconsistent.

What it takes to win during the regular season is not the same thing it takes in the playoffs. There's no difficulty focusing when nearly every game in a must-win. Playoff pressure creates an entirely different atmosphere. Now, those young, talented hitters are concentrating on every pitch - and they're coming through. Added to the underrated talent and constant presence of the pitching staff you have a virtual juggernaut running rampant over the best teams in baseball.

An outsider (non-baseball fan) watching these games will instantly conclude that the Royals are dominant and outstanding; it's the baseball people who have trouble seeing the might and power these Royals bring forth.

So yes, the Royals are America's team - an obvious superpower to everyone but themselves - facing Giants of incredible lore (two titles in the last five years), but perhaps currently of inferior substance.

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