A Royal Blue Island In A Sea of Cardinal Red

I live 149 miles from Kauffman Stadium, but I’m not in Royals territory. I’m a Royals fan in the suburbs of Cardinal Nation, otherwise known as Southwest Missouri. Actually, I’m a fan of two baseball teams. The Kansas City Royals and whoever is playing the St. Louis Cardinals.

You’re in the minority when you’re a Royals fan in Southwest Missouri. Whenever I confess I’m a Royals fan, the usual response is, “The Royals? They haven’t won anything since 1985 and they stole that series! They have a cheap owner! They trade away all their good players!” Except for the cheap owner comment ($55 million for Gil Meche? That’s not being cheap) and the Royals stealing the 1985 World Series, Cardinals fans have been more right than wrong about the Royals for the last ten to fifteen years.

I understand why most people in Southwest Missouri are Cardinal fans. People like to follow a winner, especially a team as successful as the Cardinals. It’s like following a winner makes you a winner, even if you’re not. If you like the Royals, Cardinals fans say, “What’s wrong with you?”

To build a fan base, it helps to have a good radio affiliate. But for the last few years, the Royals Springfield, Missouri affiliate was a 2 watt Bic lighter station called KGMY-AM, whose signal faded outside Springfield at night. In 2011, the Royals finally got a Springfield affiliate with a good signal, KWTO-AM. Meanwhile, the Cardinals have been on KTXR-FM, a 100,000 watt blowtorch, year after year. It’s hard for the Royals to build a fan base when their last Springfield radio affiliate had the signal strength of a pirate radio station.

Having the Cardinals AA affiliate in Springfield, Missouri doesn’t help either. When Springfield was in the running for a AA baseball team, I held slim hopes the Royals AA affiliate in Wichita would move to Springfield. But no, it was the Cardinals. A few years later, the Wichita Wranglers moved to Northwest Arkansas and became the Naturals. So instead of the Royals trying to claim some stake in Southwest Missouri and show the potential bright future of the Royals, they decide to grow their fan base in Northwest Arkansas. Thanks, Royals. You’ve just created another generation of Cardinals fans in Southwest Missouri.

And these Cardinals fans wear and have all sorts of St. Louis and Springfield Cardinals paraphernalia. Go to any Wal-Mart in the area and you’ll see all sorts of St. Louis and Springfield Cardinals gear (no giveaways of Pujols gear yet), but little or no Royals gear, save a hat or two. Realize the owner of the Kansas City Royals was the CEO of Wal-Mart. And Wal-Mart doesn’t carry Royals gear in their stores that are closer to Kansas City than St. Louis. But I’d rather have an opossum on my head than wear any Cardinals gear.

Southwest Missouri used to have more Royals fans when the Royals were good. And that’s been a while. Since 1985, the Royals have had no playoff appearances and 19 losing seasons. The last winning season was in 2003, and before that, the last winning season was the 1994 strike shortened season.

Since 1985, the Cardinals have been to the playoffs ten seasons, won four National League pennants and won two World Series championships. They only had eight losing seasons, the last one in 2007.

The success of the Cardinals and the failure of the Royals have covered Southwest Missouri in a deep sea of Cardinal red. The only Royals fans you see bobbing around Southwest Missouri are the fans of the glory days, or Kansas City transplants who still have some loyalty to a team who has let them down year after year. Meanwhile, some of the self-appointed Best Fans in Baseball crow about the Cardinals superiority. What makes it worse is they’re right. And I’ve heard it for years.

But the Royals could win back Southwest Missouri, or at least claim part of it. How? One, the Royals need to start winning, and soon. Two, the Cardinals need to lose their charmed status and start losing like the Royals have since 1986. A tall order on both counts.

You don’t think the Cardinals are charmed? Take Albert Pujols. The Cardinals drafted Pujols in the thirteenth round and he became one the best players in the game. If the Royals had drafted Pujols, he probably wouldn’t have made it out of AA.

Then there’s the 2011 season. The Braves end of season collapse allowed the Cardinals to win a wild card playoff spot. No worries, the Phillies would beat them in the NLDS. Ok, maybe not. All right, the Brewers would beat them in the NLCS. Ok, maybe not. No problem, the Texas Rangers would beat them in the World Series. Then came Game Six.

The Cardinals won Game Six with a walk off home run in the bottom of the 11th inning by David Freese. David Freese? The Cardinals were so charmed in that game, Rontrez Johnson could have hit the walk off home run, won the World Series MVP and got to drive off in the 2012 Carbon Flash Metallic Grand Sport Corvette Chevrolet gave away. The Rangers were doomed after Game Six. I knew then the Cardinals would win the World Series, even if they fielded a team of 25 house cats for Game Seven. And the self-appointed Best Fans in Baseball celebrated. I sulked, waiting for 2012.

Could the Royals be better in 2012? The Royals have a group of young players who seem to have more upside than the hopefuls of the last ten to fifteen years. Billy Butler, Alex Gordon and Luke Hochevar are becoming the players I hoped they would be. The Royals have a legitimate potential superstar in Eric Hosmer, who with his beard looks like an Amish warrior in a Royals uniform. And don’t forget Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez, Greg Holland and Felipe Paulino, among others. And there’s more prospects in the Royals farm system who have a better chance to succeed than to flame out.

And what of the Cardinals? Tony LaRussa retired, being replaced by first time manager Mike Matheny. Albert Pujols bolted to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of California of the United States of North America of the Western Hemisphere of Earth of the Solar System of the Milky Way Galaxy of the Universe (That’s not the team’s official name, but it should be) for ten years and 254 million dollars. Could the Cardinals charmed run be coming to an end and they lose 100 games, the first time since 1908? Or will they field 25 house cats and win another World Series title in 2012?

I’d like to see the Royals do better than the Cardinals in 2012. But until that happens, all I can do is hope, surrounded by a sea of Cardinal red.

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