It’s the ones that fly under the radar and come up to bite you late at night, or in October, that are the deadliest.
But they’re also the most entertaining.
By Peter Zampa – @pzamp
For the last three decades, the Kansas City Royals have toiled in anonymity, however the 2014 edition of the team packs an undercover, yet electrifying punch as they play October baseball for the first time in 29 years.
And not only are they playing playoff baseball, but they’re winning playoff baseball, as they head to the American League Championship Series after sweeping a team many thought were World Series bound in the LA Angels.
The team does not field the superstars and big names that fill headlines and the mouths of ESPN analysts. They play in a city unbeknownst to many AMERICANS much less those from around the world. They do the little things right – they play catch, they play small ball, they take calculated risks – the boring stuff. This 2014 Royals team is everything I, and baseball fans everywhere, love about the game, and the best part is, they’re constantly hungry for more.
Kansas City has zero guys hitting over .300. They have zero guys who have hit more than 20 home runs. They have zero guys with over 75 RBIs, zero with over 100 runs scored, and no pitchers with 15 wins or more. Why is this underwhelming team worth writing about? The ever-so-cliché intangibles.
As I said before, it’s little things that not only get a team to October but help them thrive when they’ve made it. The foundation of sport is built on momentum and not surrendering that momentum when it is finally obtained. It is this idea that allows the lowly, drought-stricken Royals to rise from such burdensome ashes to become one of the last men standing. They have the October “it” factor – something that is more dangerous than a Mike Trout 36 HR, 111 RBI, .939 OPS stat line or a Clayton Kershaw 21 win, transcendent season.
We see it time and time again – the little team that could, chugging along, “thinking they can”, and using something more than the game itself to realize their championship dreams. The 2010 San Francisco Giants, and the 2012 San Francisco Giants for that matter, seemingly snuck into the playoffs unannounced, and used great pitching and timely hitting to dominate the postseason. The 2013 Red Sox went from being the laughing-stock of the game in ‘12 to World Champions the next season, riding the emotion of a city recovering from tragedy.
And now it is time for the Royals. An emotional and resilient 12-inning, roller coaster affair with the Oakland Athletics to make it to the division series displayed it all from this team. The lows – “Big Game James” Shields being pulled prematurely making way for their young gun Yordano Ventura to blow the game, and what seemed like the season. And of course, the highs – winning a game in which they came back three times, utilizing small ball to do so, and creating enough electricity on the field to sustain the entire Midwest for the next 20 years.
The city is ready and the fans are overdue for a change in luck. They no longer have to fall back on Cold War-era baseball when discussing their team’s successes. They have before them a talented team with appealing young, and old, arms, great defense, and hits that come when they need to.
To add to all that, this is an extremely likeable team. No-name strugglers like Mike Moustakas, who settled in at a .212 BA with just 54 RBIs in the regular season, producing a game-winning home run in game 1 of the division series against the titans of baseball Angels.
They went on to win another extra-innings ballgame in game two, and went in for the kill in game three as the bats came alive back home. It’s a team you want to root for. Jerome Dyson stealing third base like a mad man against the Athletics with his team down one late in the game, then getting up from his slide, dancing, showing the swagger off of which this team feeds. It’s a team that utilizes the energy it and its city generates.
Most important of all, it’s a team that reminds all baseball fans why there is still reason to love this game. If this team of intoxicating underdogs doesn’t have you invested in the 2014 postseason, well, there’s some pulse-checking to be done.