I like to say that if the Royals' World Series drought were a person, that person would be me. I was born just a couple hours after the Royals' 1985 championship, and my dad watched the Game 7 clincher in a Dodge City, Kansas, hospital while my mom endured a long, grueling labor.
Just as my parents never let me forget that I was difficult even before birth, they've always been quick to remind me of that link I share with the Kansas City Royals. My mom has said repeatedly over the years that she wished she'd written to Bret Saberhagen, the Royals' Game 7 starting pitcher, to tell him the story and ask for an autographed picture.
I'm sure in the moment, it seemed like an all-too-perfect dovetailing of moments: the Royals win, and then your first child is born. But fast-forward through 30 years of ineptitude and failure -- I'm talking mostly about the Royals, here, though I'm not exactly the embodiment of a 100-win team -- and that once-precious connection to my favorite team turned into something like a burden: Did my birth levy a curse against the franchise?
It's a question posed only in jest, but baseball loves its superstitions. I was born the same night as the Royals' first World Series win. That also made me the embodiment of its failures. Yes, the Royals' series drought -- and, until last year, its playoff appearance drought -- was a pale, soft-bodied 30-year-old with near-sightedness and a terrible eye for fielding fly balls.
Together, the Royals and I have learned the art of humility. As a young right-fielder playing baseball for the first time, I discovered that my swinging the bat was a worse strategy than just standing there and hoping the pitcher threw four balls before three strikes. Meanwhile, the Royals were assembling a young, promising group of players, headlined by Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye and Carlos Beltran, that would depart the franchise before leading it to any real success. All three enjoyed great individual success elsewhere, and Damon helped an even more accomplished loser, the Boston Red Sox, break its long, haunting playoff drought in 2004.
In 2003, I went all-in on Tony Pena's lively managerial style, and on a team that finally started to churn out some wins. I bought a shirt that read, "Nosotros Creemos!" or "We Believe!" because I did believe. And that team was briefly great, leading the AL Central for 93 days before dropping back on August 31. The collapse was swift and deflating: The team 83-79, seven games out of first place.
What followed was cruel and unusual: Three straight seasons of at least 100 losses. There were flickers of hope: The Royals drafted Nebraska native and Huskers star Alex Gordon in 2005, hired alleged genius Dayton Moore as GM in 2006 and Zack Greinke won the Cy Young in 2009. Still, the results never materialized, and after watching Mike Sweeney spend the entire prime of his career toiling fruitlessly for a terrible franchise, I was quickly acquiring the wisdom espoused by pessimistic fans everywhere.
For my entire life -- and particularly since I'd been able to follow sports on my own -- the Royals had embodied Murphy's Law. Everything that could have gone wrong, did.
And then 2013 happened. The Royals still missed the playoffs, but their 86 wins were the most of any team since 1989. Even better, there appeared to be a core of young, returning talent, a rich farm system, and a vision -- built by Moore -- for how the team would compete and win.
In 2014, it came to fruition. After the All-Star break, the Royals' respective parts started to gel. Gordon had matured into a veteran leader, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas had delivered on their long-heralded potential, and league afterthoughts like Wade Davis were developing into key contributors. The team's 2014 wild-card victory against the Oakland A's, which featured a late four-run rally and a gritty win in the 12th inning, broke through the glass ceiling and marked a turning point.
Even in the moment, when the World Series seemed far away, it seemed like the franchise had turned a corner. What wasn't obvious was just how perfectly that single game would characterize this team -- a contact-hitting roster that typified the definition of a team while leaning on late rallies and lockdown pitching relief. That blueprint for success, however unorthodox, became the team's identity -- not just within its clubhouse, but among fans across the country.
But because it was unorthodox, it was seen as a one-hit wonder. The Royals' run to the 2014 World Series just had too much good fortune and timely hitting to be reproduced the following year. Toward the end of the regular season, it seemed that would prove true. Despite trades for Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist -- gutsy moves that swapped coveted prospects for win-now contributors -- the Royals entered the playoffs wobbly, particularly in regards to its starting pitching. Losing All-Star closer Greg Holland in September only added to the case against a second long playoff run.
And yet, that's exactly what happened -- the same aggressive style of play, the same lockdown relief pitching, and the same joyful energy that carried Kansas City to the AL pennant one year earlier. Only this time, that run ended with a World Series.
The Royals' playoff performances would feel routine if they weren't so unexpected and unlikely -- if they didn't fly in the face of even a casual baseball fan's expectations. Twice in the last two years, the Royals have rallied from a four-run deficit in the eighth inning of an elimination game. Twice in this year's World Series, they rallied in the ninth inning to force extra innings -- and won both games.
This postseason, the Royals plated 40 runs in the eight inning or later. No other team managed more than five. And how's this for Kansas City's Comeback Kids: The New York Mets led 43 of the 51 innings in this World Series. The Royals beat them 4-1.
And with that, the curse is lifted. The weight of a fan base is off my shoulders.
I watched the Royals celebrate on the field Sunday night, thinking about the intersection of sports and our daily lives. In a lot of cases, professional sports are just entertainment, and we watch to be entertained. But sometimes -- either through our own intentions, or due to circumstance -- we realize the stories of our own lives become entwined in the narratives of our favorite teams.
I've chosen every other sports team I've followed, but the Royals were given to me. Our stories were linked from the moment I came into the world red-faced and irritable. Through that stupid little baseball team, I'm able to find some sense of home.
My mom called me this morning. She had fallen asleep Sunday night during the 11th inning, and was catching up on the night's events. Now she was watching the news, catching up on the game and reveling in the victory. She asked if I was excited, just to hear my reaction. My mom isn't much of a baseball fan, but she loves a good story.
"Watching them play," she said, "just had me thinking about a lot of other things."
-- Follow Jonathan Crowl on Twitter @jonathancrowl.