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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

This Moment of Triumph

A journey ended,
a purpose fulfilled,
a dream come true.
© 2015 CNN.com

© 2015 by Ralph F. Couey
Written content and hat picture only.

As dawn broke, I gained consciousness with a smile, unusual for a Monday morning.  The reason for that smile was that my mood was still soaring in the wake of the delirium of joy experienced the night before.

Hours before, the Kansas City Royals had come from behind once again (a mere two runs this time), tying the game in the 9th inning on an insanely risky piece of base running by Eric Hosmer.  It took three extra innings before a 5-run outburst finally put the stubborn Mets down for the count.  Then came the penultimate moment.  The one dreamed of and desperately awaited.  Wade Davis, the stoic Silent Assassin, fired a 1-2 fastball across the inside corner at the knees.  The Umpire emphatically punched the air signalling strike three, but the batter, Wilmer Flores, was already on his way back to the dugout before the gesture was barely begun.  The game, the Series, the season was over and the Royals in New York and their fans in Kansas City simultaneously leapt for joy.

The Kansas City Royals have won the World Series.

It is difficult, if not impossible to overstate the meaning and importance of this triumph.  30 years ago, a similar celebration erupted at the victorious end of a different World Series.  But the bright lights of victory were followed by an inexplicable collapse.  Other than a brief and irrelevant appearance in the playoffs in the strike-shortened season of 1981, 29 years would pass before the Royals once again played meaningful baseball.  For a goodly (or badly) part of that stretch, the Royals were laughing stocks, the butt of a thousand cruel jokes.

In 2000, David Glass brought his cost-cutting talents to the ownership position.  The team promptly embarked on a long string of almost comical ineptitude, but Glass managed to save the team financially, putting them back in the black.  Most importantly, he vowed to keep the team in Kansas City.   In June 2006, Glass hired Dayton Moore, an executive with the highly successful Braves organization, a man with substantial experience in player development.

It proved to be a management team of vision and patience.  Moore and Glass knew they could never compete for free agent glitterati, so they instead began to search out young talent who not only possessed baseball skills, but also the proper mindset.  The Royals mined the Caribbean and struck a motherlode of talent.  A few MLB experts as early as 2011 could detect the nascent glow on the horizon of what had been a very dark sky, heralding the dawn of a new era.  In 2013, the Royals finished with a winning record.  It was only the second finish above .500 in 19 years.  The baseball world took note, but not serious note.  After all, this was the Royals.

In 2014, the Royals broke through.  They finished a remarkable 16 games over the break-even point, missing out on the divisional championship by one measly game.  They qualified for the Wild Card round, facing the powerful Oakland A's.  Nobody thought they could win, and for the first 8 innings the naysayers looked absolutely prescient with Oakland building a 5-run lead.  But the Royals refused to surrender.  They surged to within one run in the eighth, tied it in the 9th, and after Oakland edged into the lead in the 12th, completed an improbable comeback by scoring two in the bottom of that inning, winning the game.

Everyone connected with the Royals considers that comeback to be the team's true turning point.  The players realized that they could surmount difficult odds in the late innings and pull out a victory, thus creating a powerful belief in each other.  The momentum of that win changed them, and has propelled them ever since.

They blew past the Angels and Orioles, winning 7 straight, meeting the San Francisco Giants in the World Series.  The Royals fought hard through seven games, but went down to defeat with the tying run standing on third base.

The pain from that loss stayed with the players through the off-season, and when spring training came around, the team went forward with a palpable sense of purpose.  To a man, they knew they had unfinished business.

The cold months of winter also brought cold judgement on this team.  The experts proclaimed that their success was temporary, a one-and-done fluke that would not be repeated.  Stung by those assessments, and driven by a common and powerful sense of purpose, the Royals tore into the regular season, winning the first seven straight.  The claimed first place in the Central on June 18th and never looked back, demolishing the rest of the Central division by 14 games.  For the rest of the season, they were the best team in the American League, and the second-best in baseball.  Still, nobody outside Kansas City seemed to take them seriously, even though they finished the season 28 games over .500.

Then suddenly, the Royals won the division and were in the playoffs.  Their first opponent was the upstart Houston Astros, who had shared a history of similar futility with the Royals.  It was clear that the rest of baseball was rooting for the young Astros as they won two of the first three games. In game 4, the Royals were down by four runs and six outs from elimination.  They went to work, scoring 5 in the 8th to take the lead, and two more in the 9th, stealing the win, and taking the air out of the Astros and their fans.  The Royals went on to win the final game and headed into the AL Championship Series against the Toronto Blue Jays, one of the most powerful offensive teams in baseball.

The series proved a few things about the Royals.  That you don't need home runs to win, good pitching always beats good hitting, and that this team just doesn't believe they're ever beaten.  The Royals won the first two at home, and lost two of three in Toronto.  In game three, Johnny Cueto melted down and the Jays went up 11-2.  The Royals stormed back to lose 11-8, making more than a few Canadians nervous.  The next night, the Royals crushed the Jays 14-2.  The Jays won game 5, forcing the series back to Kansas City.  The Royals staved off a late charge by the Jays and won the game.

For the second straight year, the Royals headed to the World Series.  Their opponent was the New York Mets.  It seems almost a requirement that any team from the Big Apple has to be the favorite, mainly because...well, they're from New York.  But the Royals ignored the hype, remembering the vision, the goal, the unfinished business.  They won the first two, then traded dominant performances with the Mets in games 3 and 4, before staging another furious comeback, their 6th of this postseason, taking the game into extra innings before the 5-run eruption that sealed the deal in 5 games.

It is interesting to note that it took a World Series triumph for the Baseball World to finally give the Royals their vastly overdue props.  They were hailed as a true team, 25 young men who knew that everyone contributes, and everyone is vital.  Indeed the winning blow in Game 5 was delivered by a guy who hadn't swung a bat in a game for almost a month.  The team represented a new paradigm for Major League Baseball.

So here we are in early November.  The days are vastly shorter, but for the Royals and their fans, the glow refuses to die.  This is more than a victory; it is, as Doc Holliday would say, a reckoning.  But the line that marks the onward march of time is paralleled by the strands of happenstance, dancing in the winds.  Occasionally, those strands wrap together into a knot that defines an event.  We are in that knot, that moment.  But time moves on, and so will this team.

Next March the players will gather together once more for spring training, but missing will be that sense of mission.  The unfinished business is now finished.  The team has been justified as bona fide champions and will be hailed as such over the winter.  Even now, other teams are looking to find their own shut-down bullpens, and switching their offense from clubbing home runs to the Conga Line that so characterized the Royals this year.  And the Royals will change.  Two of the centerpieces of their success, Alex Gordon and Ben Zobrist, may not be wearing the same uniforms next year.  They are eligible for free agency and will no doubt test the market.  I understand.  That's business.  A professional athlete's career is relatively short, and will be followed by a senescence fraught with physical ailments and disabilities.  It is important to them to secure their future, and that of their family's before time takes its inevitable toll.

But as fans, it is difficult to watch this movement.  Our position is, why would anyone want to leave a winner?  Especially one as tightly knit as this team.

Yoda noted how difficult it is to know what is yet to come.  "Always in motion, the future is," the Jedi Master intoned.  Decisions are made every day that shift the paths of our lives ever so slightly, away from failure and towards success.  And in the other direction as well.  For the Royals and their legion of fans, this moment of triumph may prove to be ephemeral.  Their own history demonstrates the vast difficulty of sustaining success.  We can hope for another division championship, a second straight league championship, and even repeating as World Series Champs.  And that could happen.  Then again, it may not.  The threads that formed the knot that created this joyous moment may never coalesce again.  Only time will tell.

This view may seem cynical.  But I am 60 years old, and in that time I have seen enough to take the long view of life.  Nothing would make me happier than for the Royals to embark on a dynasty-like run.  But that is the nature of the future, full of things to be hoped for.

For now, I will live in this moment, rejoice in the victory, and celebrate this wonderful, singular group of young men who showed us the real meaning of the word "team."

Yes.  It is.

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