The marriage between a city and its sports team(s) is often complex, tension-packed, and unknown to the outsider. Not unlike an actual marriage, the contents of the relationship are loaded with joyful and painful experiences. There are ups and downs, highs and lows, but what remains at the end of the day is a deeply committed bond. They are ours and we are theirs, for better or for worse.
In Kansas City, the relationship between city and sport is woven deeply into its identity. Mostly known for its ungodly supply of delicious barbecue and friendly people, it's a city where people live and die with their teams. Our unabashed love for the Chiefs and Royals is only matched by our loyalty and willingness to stick with them, no matter how bleak things get.
Until recently, that relationship has been characterized by heartbreak, frustration, and when it came to baseball, fatalism. Whether it was Lin Elliot singlehandedly shitting on one of the best defensive units in the past 30 years, year after year of painful and heinous Royals baseball, or Andrew Luck issuing the 2nd largest comeback in NFL playoff history to the Chiefs, this is a city that is all too familiar with sports heartache. So familiar in fact, that it became expected. Each new season brought optimism, but at the core of every Kansas Citian was a resignation that the sports gods did not look kindly on our city, and in the end, our optimism would turn to disappointment.
On Tuesday, September 30th of 2014, decades of hopelessness and dissatisfaction finally took a turn in the other direction. The Royals hosted their first playoff game in 28 years in a do-or-die wildcard game against the Oakland Athletic’s. For lack of a better term, the city was indeed, lit as fu--. The jam-packed K was full of hopeful fans delighted to see their Royals play a meaningful baseball game. Happy to be there and expecting the worst would probably be a fair assessment of where many Kansas City fans found themselves on that night, and as the game developed that sentiment seemed all too fitting. Up 3-2 in the top of the 6th, skipper Ned Yost made the confounding move of putting in 23-year-old flame thrower, Yordano Ventura, in to pitch during the most important game in almost 30 years. He was not a relief pitcher nor was he accustomed to playoff pressure, yet our Yost rolled the dice. This risk did not pay off, Yost gamble was immediately met with a monster 3 run dinger by Brandon Moss.
Down 7-3 by the time the bottom of the sixth rolled around our fate seemed all but cemented. All the things Kansas City fans say to cope started to rush through our collective brain. If you’re an optimist it goes something like this, “Hey, we had a good run” or, “At least we had a playoff game. After all, it's been almost 30 years!”. And if like myself, you’re the doomsday type, then it might’ve sounded something like this, “Here’s to another 30 years of depressing baseball!” or “We are never going to win a playoff game in any sport ever again.” Regardless of where you stood on that spectrum you likely continued to watch no matter how sure you were that we had already lost.
Onward the game went, and with each out we trudged closer to our inevitable defeat. Then the bottom of 8th came and the tide began to turn. A leadoff error, three stolen bases, and two singles, and a wild pitch later, and the Royals had the cut the deficit to one. Still down one headed into the bottom of 9th the Royals tied it up on Nori Aoki sac-fly. Even the most pessimistic of fans had to admit hope was beginning to swell. The Royals hadn’t won yet but with the home crowd and momentum on their side you had to a feel good about their chances.
It wasn’t until the 12th inning that another run was scored, and it wasn’t by the Royals. Behind 8-7, they found themselves three outs aways from their season being over, yet again. A Hosmer triple followed by a megachopper turned infield hit from Christian Colon, and the game was tied at eight. With two outs and Colon still on first, Salvador Perez approached the plate for his sixth at-bat of the night. A few pitches in, Colon made the dash for second and slid in safely, becoming the seventh Royal of the night to nab a bag. So, with the count at 2-2, Colon in scoring position, Salvy took a stab at a pitch located nowhere remotely close to the strike zone and ripped it down the third baseline for the game winning ribby.
The magic of that night now stands for so much more than just a single Royals playoff win. It is emblematic of the day Kansas City sports teams went from being the lovable losers to two-time AL Champs, repeat comeback offenders (Game 4 of the ALDS 2015), World Series Champions, and the Chiefs finally winning a playoff game. On that night we witnessed what we had seen other fans experience for so long. Whether it was the Red Sox coming back from a 3-0 series deficit and ending the curse of the Bambino in 2004, or David Freese and the St. Louis Cardinals somehow beating the Rangers in 2011, Kansas City had finally had it’s breakthrough. No longer did we have to sit and wonder why good things happen to bad cities and smug fans, or why the sports gods never smiled upon us, because on that miraculous night in Kansas City the balance had finally shifted.
So, on the two-year anniversary of that fateful night in Kansas City, take the time to reflect on just how wild the ride has been (Hell, if you have a free three hours and thirty-eight minutes just relive the whole experience) and to savor the memories our teams have brought us the past two years.