Usually, I just use this blog to announce theater things. I’ve got so much to get off my chest, by chest, I mean shoulders, because that’s where most of my tension goes. I’m approaching my last semester in grad school. I’ve got upcoming deadlines. Deadlines for deadlines for Deadlines. Research to do about things to apply for when I leave, and knowing I will have to write things for those applications.
When my mind floats away from this massive load of The Rest of My Life, there’s one thing I can’t get out of my head: the Royals’ Eric Hosmer’s sprint from third to home in Game 5 of the World Series.
The Royals were up 3-1 in the World Series, but down 2-0 in the top of the ninth. Hosmer hit an RBI double, and was at third when Perez hit a broken bat ground ball. As you probably know, or can read online. Hosmer scored, and the Royals went on to win the game in extra innings, and thus the World Series. All this is very well documented all over the internet.
I’ve been a Royals fan since I gained consciousness. I could translate the box scores and standings before I could read. I would make my parents open up the sports page every morning when I was three so I could see how they did, and look at the stats. The first World Series I remember was the 1980 World Series when I was five, and they lost to the Phillies in six games. I was ten, when the Royals won it all in 1985. Then for 30 years, they were mostly awful. One of the worst franchises in sports. There are plenty of essays online that talk about the trials and tribulations of being a Royals fan. No matter how bad they were though, I could not but help to check the box score every day in the paper, and later on the internet. I remember my freshmen year at Georgetown in the fall of 1993. I found out a guy down on the hall had his computer set up so he could get the internet and could see who won the baseball games in real-time. I used to go down and bug him, like I bothered my grandfather to play catch with me when I was kid, to dial into his Compuserve account so I could look at the scores.
When your team loses continually for 30 years, you learn to detach and emotionally disconnect immediately. It helps when you attend multiple Chiefs playoff games in the frigid cold to see heartbreaking losses, and to see a Jayhawks basketball team suffer a lot of tourney upsets. The 2014 season, again which has been documented well, was a miracle for Royals fans. A team and organization that had shown promise for several years with the drafting and development of talented players, made the Wildcard game vs the A’s, and had one of the most improbably comeback wins in the history of the sport. I watched that game alone in a Buffalo Wild Wings in Athens, Ohio. The five-hour game went so late, that the only people left in the bar were the manager and the bartender. When we scored the winning run, I backed up into the middle of the bar to give myself room to breathe, held my head and literally said, “Oh My God!” thirty times over and over.
The Royals went on to sweep the Angels and Orioles, both of whom were favored, and lost in 7 games to San Francisco in the World Series. Alex Gordon was stranded on third base, when Sal Perez made the last out. We were 90 feet away from home, and a tie game.
This year, the team defied expectations of nearly everyone, and finished with the best record in the American League. The two teams I feared the most, the Astros and Blue Jays, we defeated in the ALDS & ALCS. This Royals squad become known as one of the most “clutch” teams in baseball history, with multiple come from behind wins in the last three innings. It got so that Royals fans, like myself, conditioned for it all to go wrong at some point, started to have more and more faith that we would somehow find a way to win even when losing.
So we get back to Game 5 of the World Series. Hosmer on third, one out, the Royals down by one. Perez hits a little broken bat flare in the infield. Mets’ third-baseman, David Wright ranges to his left to field it. No one on the Mets is covering third, and Hosmer crow hops towards home after Wright looks back at him and turns to throw to first. Hosmer could have actually even taken a bigger lead. Every time I watch the play, I scream at him in my head to take a couple more steps towards home. The Royals scouting reports relayed to the players said that Wright, and first basemen, Lucas Duda, were both below average fielders, with weak and erratic arms. Hosmer knew this. Hosmer also knew that your dreams can die on third base when for someone else to make something happen as it did in Game 7 the year before. He also knew that aggressiveness combined with research and diligence wins games, as Lorenzo Cain and third base coach, Mike Jirschele demonstrated in the ALDS vs the Astros when Cain went to first-to-home after an Astros fielder slipped, and the ALCS vs the Blue Jays series when Cain scored from first base on a single, the only time that had happened all year in MLB when a runner wasn’t already trying to steal second on the pitch.
Cain scored on both of those easily because of his speed and alertness by Jirschele and himself.
Hosmer’s run home in Game 5 was bold to put it kindly. A good throw home by Duda would have nailed him. But Hosmer had all these past experiences, knew what was on the line, knew that the Royals make the other teams make mistakes, knew the scouting reports, and knew that sometimes you have to make it happen rather wait for luck, or someone to tell you it’s okay to take a risk, or for someone else to get a hit against the odds. He saw a window of opportunity, and he took it. And it was smart. They had two games at home to win just one game, if he was called out and the Royals lost the game.
The Royals went for it this year. After coming 90 feet away the year before. The Royals went and traded away a handful of really good prospects for big name players, Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist. The Royals wanted nothing less than a World Series victory. They were going to go all-in, and if they didn’t succeed, well then at least they gave it their all.
In theater, comedy, and entertainment, and anything you’re passionate about, no one is going to give you anything. Your family doesn’t want to you take a risk and fail, but the thing is anyone who’s really successful has to fail over and over and over. You will be told you’re not good enough a million times more often than you can succeed. When you are told you have what it takes to do well, and it’s by someone that’s in a position of more experience or a mentor, it’s such a shock that it’s like someone just handed you $100,000 out of the blue.
You will have fear. You have fear lying on your bed with your laptop sitting across the room waiting for words to be typed in it. With the script lying on your bedside table waiting to be broken down, and learned and sweated in, and eaten, and spit back out. You will have fear of being alone, dying alone, never finding anyone, never being able to be a good partner when you do find someone because you’re so handicapped with fear from everything else.
When Hosmer first came up to the big leagues, he would ask veterans on his team and around the league how to do deal the fear and anxiety and the adrenaline when he found himself in Big Moments. When it’s bottom of the 9th, and a runner is in scoring position, and he has to knock it in. Even spending all your life preparing for these moments doesn’t prepare you to do it on a big stage in a stadium with 40, 000 screaming fans while a future Hall-of-Famer Mariano Rivera looks in for signs from the catcher. The game speeds up. Doubt creeps in. Making sure your mechanics on your swing are sound. Remembering your mantra. Knowing how he’s pitched you in the past, what the scouting reports say he usually does to left-handed batters in a certain count. Doubting that research, and knowing the pitcher knows the book on him, because he thinks you’ll be looking for that one pitch that he usually throws (a fastball away on on 2-0 counts), and throws an inside slider he knows you have a tendency to swing at. Doubt of how you’ll face your teammates if you fail. How you’ll face your loved ones. Your fans. The girl you like. What if you fail? And you try so hard. You try too hard and you make a mistake and you fail. Of course you fail. If you’re a great hitter, you’re going to fail 7 out of 10 times in the best case scenario. You just have to keep doing it over and over and over again, and experience some success and realize your teammates treat you the same when you get back to the dugout no matter what you do, and your family still loves you, and maybe that girl still loves you and maybe she doesn’t, but you know if she doesn’t there will be one that does.
But on this play, this defining play, Hosmer wasn’t up to bat. He was standing on third. He’s still quick for a first basemen, but doesn’t have elite speed. Good players can beat you a variety of ways, just like a good writer can tell a good story a variety of ways. Lorenzo Cain, the fifth best player in the Majors this year according to a stat called WAR, hit for a high average throughout the post-season, but underneath the numbers, at least to my eye, struggled in most big situations at the plate. he was hampered by a bruised knee, and opposing teams were hammering him with high fastballs that he’d chase out of the zone or foul off. Yet, Cain, of course, played sterling defense, and as I wrote in this post, won two games with his speed on the basepaths. His two biggest at-bats in the post-season he was able to draw a walk, when neither he nor most of the Royals walk very much. He drew a walk, and got on base, and that kick started game-changing rallies. So Hosmer, who’s known first for his glove and bat, and his leadership ability and affability, was on third, and decided to make something happen with his legs.
Hosmer said the first two steps towards home, he thought it was a huge mistake. The third base coach thought he was crazy. Alex Gordon, the all-star third baseman standing on the on-deck circle, thought “oh crap.” But Hosmer knew once he took that second step there was no going back. He runs fast. He got up to 19 MPH. I’ve played and watched enough baseball, to know that he would not be able to get to home before the throw go there. I was standing in a Royals bar in Chicago with my best friend and a couple hundred other fans. I think I screamed, and jumped up and down, and grabbed my buddy Dan’s shoulder. At least I think I screamed, but I don’t remember sound. I feel like a vacuum sucked all of the air and the sound of the bar. The Royals were the team that was relentless and took risks and believed in ourselves and took any bit of luck and ran with it. A good throw would have nailed him. But Duda yanked the ball and it flew past the catcher and Hosmer slid in safe. We won the game three innings later. Of course, we did. We knew we would.
When Wade Davis called third strike hit Drew Butera’s glove and the Royals won the World Series, I thought “now what?” To want something so bad for so long, and to finally get it. It’s surreal. You’re head is in this game. It’s a GAME for God’s sake. And then it’s over, and people call their Uber’s, and go home, and go to bed. Now what? I lay in bed that night and watched Hosmer’s slide at home over and over. From the different angles, you could see the reactions of the Mets fans. The entire stadium’s hands went to their heads in disbelief when the throw went wild and Hosmer scored. I watched it over and over and over. Incredulous that it happened. Wright looked back. Hosmer tense. He takes off. Duda throws the ball. It sails to the right of the catcher. Hosmer slides in safe.
I woke up the next morning early, but not early enough, to head back to Ohio and grad school. I was just kind of groggy and lost and drove through Chicago wondering why everything felt the same. A light bulb sparked, and I brought up sports talk radio stations from KC on my phone, and listened to them for two hours. I got to relive the highlights of the entire post-season they’d play periodically. To hear these guys on the radio talk about what it meant to the city and the fans.
Two days later, Kansas City hosted a victory parade for the Royals (see first picture). In 1985, the last time the Royals won the World Series, my mom took me out of school, when I was in fifth grade, to see the parade. There were old cars and tons of confetti, and no barriers to keep the crowd back. Cars kept setting the confetti on fire, and after waiting for several hours in front of Crown Center, the parade route changed and turned away from us toward’s Liberty Memorial and never went past us. We streamed to the Liberty Memorial to try to see and hear the rally, but really heard and saw very little. It was disappointing, but the excitement and memories of the parade are still clear in my mind. This year, all the schools canceled class so students and parents could go. 800,000 people showed up. They lined the streets 10 to 15 rows deep. Cars parked on the side of the highways into downtown, because of the traffic, and fans walked to the route. I saw a picture of thousands of fans on Broadway, a couple of miles north of downtown walking to the parade, and that really hit home. So many people, so far away, streaming to the parade. I was able to watch all of this online. I was able to feel connected to my hometown, to my tribe, just all of my friends and family that no longer live in KC were able to. I was able to see the players and coaches and GM give their shoutouts to the fans to culminate the parade.
In KC or Ohio, where I’m in grad school, I wear a Royals hat or Royals t-shirt almost every day. It’s just sort of a uniform for me since I don’t really have to dress up. I’m glued to MLB Gameday during every game, and obsessively check twitter for the latest news, analysis, and quotes. I seem over-the-top. Maybe, I am. But looking at these pictures, going to a playoff game with my father last year, I realized that I was a not a singular phenomenon. I was just a fan away from home. Always prepared for the worst, and dumbfounded and giddy and dangerously hopeful, as my team kept winning.
And I could not get that image of Hosmer taking off for home. Taking off for home. He would not be left on third. He refused. He went for it. He went for it. He went for it. Forcing the issue. If he was out, he’d beg for forgiveness later. Actually, he would never have to or at least need to. Not to himself, or his teammates, or to me. He prepared his entire life for this moment. He could have waited on third, forever waiting for someone to do something, but he saw his chance, and he went.