Monthly Archives: November 2015

ALDS GAME 5: Cueto Wrangles with Self, Wins

I am a Royals fan living in New York City. If anyone wonders why I didn’t post anything in October, there’s your answer. The following entries detail the experience of watching the postseason far away from my hometown, in a much different place where fans from all over this huge country converge. Immigrants proudly display flags of their home countries in their windows and dwellings, but during the postseason, signs of national migrants’ provenance appear on heads and hearts in the form of caps and shirts. Giants fans scowl at Dodgers fans as Yankee stadium looms in the distance–it’s always looming, literally and figuratively. You can see it from the plane as you leave the city for wherever you’re from, and again when you come back. Meanwhile, in stretches of Brooklyn and Queens, and especially on the 7 train to Jackson Heights when you need to eat momos, you’re reminded that, hello, the Mets are here, too! I see lots of Orioles fans, Phillies fans, and yes, even Red Sox fans. There are not many Royals fans here, but the postseason as an expat is never a lonely experience, just a different one.* 

*Disclaimer: These posts might contain cliche images of athletes. Writing about sports means I have to deal with levels of kitsch I am not used to accommodating. I’m sorry. Also, I’ll get back to my Craigslist stories after this. johnny cueto

I hadn’t planned on watching this game at home, but here I am! It’s the first Royals game I watch at home, and only the sixth I’ve seen this entire season. The regular season games are not broadcast here for regular people with no special channels. I have an old computer that it utterly incapable of streaming anything, and no way am I squinting through an entire game on a smartphone. Besides, half the reason for sports is so that it can be a collective experience. But I did religiously check the standings every night and rejoiced in August and cringed in September, just like all the other Royals fans.

I did get to see one game during the regular season with Katie and Colin. It was the game where the Royals lost to the Yankees, 14 – 1. We saw it happen in person, at Yankee Stadium. Jaremy Guthrie gave up 11 runs in the first two innings, before we were able to make it to our seats.

Being Royals fans, we stuck around for the whole thing, and when it ended the sound of Frank Sinatra penetrated every corner of the stadium.

These little town blues

Are melting away

I’ll make a brand new start of it

In old New York

The song is meant to convey that no matter how the Yankees are doing, no matter their standing, they are always on top of the world by virtue of being in New York City.

In our blue shirts we were easy to pick out in the crowd as we made our way down from the nosebleed seats and  converged with some of the bleacher creatures who occupy the right field bleachers. They started singing in our general direction.

These Kansas City blues

Are melting away

We wondered briefly if they would have been easier on us if the Royals had won, and quickly concluded that they would not.

“It’s hard when you’re against the home team,” said Colin.

But anyway, back to Game 5.

I was going to watch it with Katie. She was stuck at work, and we wouldn’t be able to meet  up until a couple innings in. I was famished when I got home from work and despaired upon opening the fridge and discovering the full extent of my culinary negligence during the past week. There was nothing.

I called my favorite Mexican joint to order in, and was told it would be a forty minute wait. That is how I ended up watching the game here, amidst Yankees fans who are actively rooting against my team.

But except for some cheering and clapping in the second inning, when Johnny Cueto gave up a two-run home run, they have been poker-faced.

I did have my fair share of doubts that inning, when it seemed that Johnny Cueto’s alter ego, Johnny Couldn’t, was sticking around this postseason. He had wanted us to lose Game 2, and now he had a second chance to make it happen in Game 5. But after Valbuena hit that homerun, the real Johnny Cueto suddenly came to the mound, where he and his imposter conferred.

Cueto held out his hand to take the ball. Couldn’t shook his head. “I’m not done here. I still have to give Rasmus a three-run homer.”

“You will give me the ball,” said the real Cueto.

“I’m not sure about that.”

“I am.”

Cueto glanced over to the money seats above the Kansas City dugout, where his brothers stared fixedly at the situation. Their thick dreadlocks were unmoving in the breeze, but their muscles rippled under their micro-fiber, sweat-resistant shirts.

“Fine,” said the imposter, handing the ball to Cueto.

No one knows where he spent the rest of the game—no one would see him until showed up in Toronto a few days later. But everyone knew the real Johnny Cueto was back in Game 5 when he survives the inning with no more damage and retires the side in order each subsequent inning.

But Collin McHugh, pitching for the Astros, doesn’t concede much hope until the fourth inning.  He gives up a single to Lorenzo Cain and another Eric Hosmer—and of course Cain scores from first base. Because that’s what he does. McHugh allows himself to be more generous in the fifth inning when he hits Salvador Perez with a pitch and gives up a double to Alex Gordon. A. J. Hinch, the Astros manager, thinks he’s being too kind and puts someone else to pitch instead. The commentators say this is a guy who had a no-hitter in August. But Alex Rios doubles off this guy. After two Alexes and two doubles, and the game is in our favor, 3 – 2. For good measure, Alex Rios comes home after a pretty sacrifice bunt from Escobar–on the first pitch of course, and a sacrifice fly by Zobrist.

My roommates say nothing until the top of the next inning, when Zobrist, Gordon and Escobar all make nifty catches. Gordon and Escobar almost collide when they chase a fly ball with a zeal that makes them seem part golden retriever. It is Gordon who scoops the ball, and sweeps the foul track with his body.

“Wow, they’re sure on fire,” says one before she heads to bed.

They sure are.

But Royals’ pyromaniac streak is just getting started, apparently.  I watch as a new conflagration erupts in the eighth inning, when the Astros bring out Keuchel, who they hope will do Madison Bumgarner type things to our offense. On the second pitch Escobar hits a double, and it becomes clear that Keuchel is unable to channel Bumgarner. He tries to settle down a little bit and manages to strike out Zobrist, but then he walks Cain, the only guy who was able to score off him in Game 3—with a homerun. From there things quickly unravel for Keuchel. He probably planned on spending this inning keeping the score close, hoping his teammates would hit some homeruns. Heck, they had two homeruns in one single inning in Game 4. He was probably counting on Johnny Cueto’s imposter coming back to pitch in the ninth.

Commentators ponder why he walked Cain, and suggest he wants to get Hosmer to hit into a double play. But Hosmer wants not part of this plan and gets out on a pop-up foul ball, giving us one more out to work with. And Morales sure did work it, hitting a three-run homerun. That is two more runs than Keuchel allowed in seven entire innings during Game 3.

morales skips

skips, not bat-flips

sad keuchel

another look /AP Photo

It is the best, and Morales knows it. His is skipping, not bat-flipping, to first base when he sees the rocket he’s launched. My one remaining roommate slumps into the couch, trying to retreat into the cushions. He is silent in his resignation, I am vociferous in my rejoicing. I pump the air, bellow, and pace the length of the living room.

Wade Davis comes in for the ninth and already I know we’re going to the Champion Series. Cueto has given Royals fans something they hardly see: a starting pitcher who goes a whole eight innings. Eight whole innings! My roommate is engrossed in his phone at the game’s conclusion, but he looks up and gives me a high-five from his burrow in the couch.

“Congrats.”

This is the same guy who thought the Astros would sweep the Royals. I would have been more gracious if he hadn’t been so smug when he made his ill-informed prediction, but as it is I’m eager to rub in his face how wrong he was.

“And you thought we’d lose in three games.”

“Heh, heh, yeah.”

When people make predictions based on nothing but hubris, or the way things have always been, they’re likely to be wrong. But hey, my roommate can take comfort in the fact that a slew of commentators and analysts and maybe everyone else in MLB were also wrong about the Royals all season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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ALDS GAME 4: Have Pulse, Will Win

I am a Royals fan living in New York City. If anyone wonders why I didn’t post anything in October, there’s your answer. The following entries detail the experience of watching the postseason far away from my hometown, in a much different place where fans from all over this huge country converge. Immigrants proudly display flags of their home countries in their windows and dwellings, but during the postseason, signs of national migrants’ provenance appear on heads and hearts in the form of caps and shirts. Giants fans scowl at Dodgers fans as Yankee stadium looms in the distance–it’s always looming, literally and figuratively. You can see it from the plane as you leave the city for wherever you’re from, and again when you come back. Meanwhile, in stretches of Brooklyn and Queens, and especially on the 7 train to Jackson Heights when you need to eat momos, you’re reminded that, hello, the Mets are here, too! I see lots of Orioles fans, Phillies fans, and yes, even Red Sox fans. There are not many Royals fans here, but the postseason as an expat is never a lonely experience, just a different one.* 

*Disclaimer: These posts might contain cliche images of athletes. Writing about sports means I have to deal with levels of kitsch I am not used to accommodating. I’m sorry. Also, I’ll get back to my Craigslist stories after this. 

USA TODAY Sports

I already do not remember what I was thinking on the train ride to Carroll Gardens. Did I try to read Middlesex? Was I on the lookout for Astros fans? Did I turn the stove off when I left the house? I don’t know. All I know is that we have to win this game and the thought kept me in slow motion all day.

But now I’m at the bar with Katie at bar near Brooklyn Bridge Park. It’s the top of the second inning, and the score is 2 – 0. We’re winning and even though Ventura concedes a run in the second inning I decide it’s safe to eat. Katie and I each order turkey burgers and something to drink. I get a ginger beer and Katie gets a real beer.

Katie and I are the only daytime drinkers here. The television mounted above the sink is not a widescreen, but that’s okay, we’re close enough to see the game unfold. The volume is low but audible. Katie and I are relaxed and even venture to talk about something other than baseball, like the ways in which Jon Snow could come back from the dead.

But by the bottom of the third Carlos Correa hits a one-run homerun and the game is tied. The Astros score again in the fifth inning—off a double by Correa. That’s okay, as long as we keep the score close there is hope. That is what I tell myself, anyway. My stomach knows I’m bluffing, though.

In the seventh inning Salvy is hit by the pitch and Terrance Gore comes in to pinch run. Katie and I exchange loaded glances. We are sad to see Salvy go, but we know this is going to be exciting.

Our excitement is not unfounded. Gordon strikes out, but not before Gore steals second. Then he steals third during Alex Rios’ at-bat. Wow. Awesome. Katie and I are on the verge of spilling our drinks. The tying run is at third! But the Astros manager demands a review of the play. Gore has to be safe, he’s never not been safe when stealing bases, we say to ourselves. This will be a waste of time.

They replay is broadcast in slow motion, in many angles, Gore slamming into third, tagging the base, and his body and the third baseman’s collide. They show the replay again and again, each time slower than the last. The slower the replay, the more momentous and cataclysmic it seems. The convergence of the twain is now as serious as two tectonic plates crashing into each other. The is an aftershock. You can almost see the players’ bodies ripple like the crust of the Earth. The replay is so slow you think the collision will last forever, their bodies gathering power and momentum, and soon you can see mountain ranges being created before your very eyes where there were once baseball players.

The issue seems to be Gore’s foot. Did it get off the plate or did it not get off the plate? Was he pushed by the third baseman or not? These watchers, being slightly biased, did not think his foot off the plate—and if it was, it’s because Gore was pushed. But when the umps phone New York they do not talk to us and Gore is ruled out.

Our rally is killed, but that’s fine, we tell each other. We have momentum. This is not over.

But half an inning later it certainly does seem over and I think maybe my roommate is right after all. Ryan Madson concedes a two-run homer to Correa, who has been prolific today. Then, the homerun-hungry Colby Rasmus gets one too, just for good measure. A four-run deficit heading into the eighth inning is not good. Sure, we overcame it in the Wild Card game last year, but that was that was a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. That’s what made that game so special. Things like that just don’t happen a lot.

I almost want to leave the bar then and there. The end of game seven of the World Series was really hard, but at least we knew that we made it tremendously far, ridiculously far given who we were up against and our extreme lack of postseason experience. We came ninety feet away, and isn’t that something?

If we lose this, the Royals will not be thought of as the team that defeated the odds and the oddsmakers who thought we’d win 73 games this year, and who certainly didn’t expect us to be back in the postseason. Instead, the Royals would be the team that failed to finish the job, the team that left Alex Gordon on third—where, in an unknown galaxy, on a planet of broken dreams, he still stands, waiting to go home. Which isn’t fair, but that’s how people think in posterity.

“Well, we won the Central Division for the first time, and that’s something,” I say to Katie.

“Yeah, and we had the best record in the American League.”

We know we can handle this loss. We are Royals fans.

“I think we should go for a walk in the park when this game ends,” I say.

“Yes, we should definitely take a walk in the park.”

I don’t have time for the postseason anyway, I tell myself.

The commentators seem to have written the Royals off, too, and start a long-running cascade of hogwash, saying things that range from “this could be Alex Gordon’s last game with the Royals,” to “the Astros have struck out 48 times and this could be the first time a team that strikes out so much makes it to the ALCS!”

The Astros make two more hits after the Rasmus homer, getting on third and second. There are still two innings left for the Royals after this, but they seem like a formality. The undertaker has already started digging a grave.

“This is it right here,” says one of the commentators. “If they get these two runs in you can pretty much just wrap it up for the Astros.”

Keuchel agrees, and is seen sanguinely petting his beard in the dugout.

The excruciating inning does close with no more damage, though, but it still seems like a wrap for the Astros. Alex Rios steps up to the plate again. Katie and I are clenching the bar with white knuckles and knotted stomachs. He swings and hits a single on the first pitch. Katie and I punch the air and pound the bar. Considering the odds we are more excited than we should be, but now it seems like there is still so much game left!

And boy there is. The Royals don’t want to die. Neither does this inning, and for a while it seems like it’s immortal. There are five hits, two walks, one error, two pitching changes and eleven at bats—with Rios batting twice in the same inning. Drew Butera, our backup catcher who had not had a single at-bat in the post season drew a walk after ten whole pitches off the unfortunate Luke Gregorson, who did not fare well against the Royals in the Wild Card game last year. After it all, Astros fans are clasping their hands beneath their chins in utter sorrow. The Royals have scored five runs.

sad saddity sad

sad saddity sad /AP Photo

What happened? Is it that the Royals are fans of a huge narrative arc? Has everyone crapped their pants and cried into their cups? Yes? Okay, let’s win this thing! Is that what they say to each other? Or was it just a matter of probability? That the team with the best record in the American League wins against the Astros and it’s only a matter of when and how? Or are the Royals blessed by the gods? The problem with being blessed by the gods is that one becomes, by default, their plaything.

I can see it now—somewhere in the 7th inning, just for the heck of it, Nike, the goddess of victory, launched a boomerang into the nether—so far that it reached Hades. This boomerang, being the Royals, hovered over the banks of the River Styx, where Cerberus spotted it. A glistening rope of saliva trailed from the beast’s three be-fanged mouths as the he lept up to ensnare it in his frothy jowls. But to the great hound’s vexation, the boomerang snaps away and heads back towards Victory.

Yogi Berra might have been a Yankee, but right now the team that best plays to his motto is the Royals. My team!

The cameras zoom in on the Astros players. They are deflated. Their smiles have wilted. They are slumped on their bench, chewing their tobacco and gum and sunflower seeds not with bravado of a team that can smell victory, but with the resignation of a cow chewing cud.

“If we win this game we have to have shots,” Katie says. She is careful to use if because she doesn’t want to jinx anything.

“Totally, and we still have to go to the park.”

At the top of the ninth, Ben Zobrist walks, and Hosmer hits a homerun. Though it’s good to have insurance runs, Wade Davis is coming back out in the ninth, so it all seems like it’s for shits and giggles at this point.

wade davis pitching

Getty images

Wade Freaking Davis. He and Mariano Rivera have been mentioned in the same sentence on several occasions, by sports writers who don’t even work for The Kansas City Star, and he is on my team. My team! The Royals! As long as I can remember, no one on my team has been compared to anyone as high caliber as Mariano Rivera.
Wade Davis’s hat is angled so that his eyes are obscured by shadow. When other pitchers spit and shuffle about the mound, it feels like a tactic for them to gather their wits about them, but when Wade Davis spits, it’s the spit of a cowboy who has just done eight seconds on the bull. When he shakes off pitches, it’s a small and subtle. If you blink you’ll miss it. There’s another thing. Does he blink? You catch other pitchers blinking, staring up at the sky asking for deliverance, but I don’t think I’ve seen Wade Davis blink. If you can’t see him blink, you don’t know he’s human. When other pitchers wind up for the pitch cameramen seem to zero in on only the grotesqueness of their extreme physical exertion; we see their bulging eyes, their straining neck, and their jowls quivering like jello during the slow-mo replay. But by the look on Wade Davis’s his face, you would think he’s simply meditating. The cameras can’t catch anything. I don’t know how the batters feel, but I know I’d be scared.

Regardless of how the Astros feel, Davis retires the side and that’s that. Katie and I each have a shot Jameson and walk off into the sunset. Holy Mackerel. What a game.

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ALDS GAME 3: Good Night and Good Luck

I am a Royals fan living in New York City. If anyone wonders why I didn’t post anything in October, there’s your answer. The following entries detail the experience of watching the postseason far away from my hometown, in a much different place where fans from all over this huge country converge. Immigrants proudly display flags of their home countries in their windows and dwellings, but during the postseason, signs of national migrants’ provenance appear on heads and hearts in the form of caps and shirts. Giants fans scowl at Dodgers fans as Yankee stadium looms in the distance–it’s always looming, literally and figuratively. You can see it from the plane as you leave the city for wherever you’re from, and again when you come back. Meanwhile, in stretches of Brooklyn and Queens, and especially on the 7 train to Jackson Heights when you need to eat momos, you’re reminded that, hello, the Mets are here, too! I see lots of Orioles fans, Phillies fans, and yes, even Red Sox fans. There are not many Royals fans here, but the postseason as an expat is never a lonely experience, just a different one.* 

*Disclaimer: These posts might contain cliche images of athletes. Writing about sports means I have to deal with levels of kitsch I am not used to accommodating. I’m sorry. Also, I’ll get back to my Craigslist stories after this. 

dallas keuchel beard

Dallas Keuchel. From MLB.com

The game goes as expected. We are losing to the Astros and Herr Keuchel. There are close ups of his mother in the stands, in Houston, breathing a sigh of relief every time her son, Dallas, finishes an inning.

I watch the game at a bar in Brooklyn with Katie, a high school friend from Kansas City and her boyfriend, Colin, who is from outside Philly. I’m learning that basically everyone who dates anyone from Kansas City turns into a Royals fan—and not in a lackadaisical just-while-we’re-in-the-same-room kind of way either. These converts are zealots.

Most of our focus is on this game, but there are others to talk about. The Blue Jays, one of the most offensively lethal teams in the American League, is staving off elimination at the hands of the Texas Rangers, and the Mets game last night has further strained relations between New Yorkers and the Dodgers. Colin, a graphic designer, shows us a photoshopped picture he did of Chase Utley as the Joker. Utley became a villain overnight when he crashed into the Mets’ second baseman, Tuben Tejada, breaking his femur. I remember walking by a bar on my way to a Comic Con after party, and seeing that the Mets were up by a point. Since the Royals were not playing I was determined to ignore baseball that day but everyone inside the bar and all passersby outside were staring at a replay of the collision. A collective groan ascended into the night, above fire escapes and rooftops, accompanied by some choice curses. Tejada was replaced by Wilmer Flores, but the damage was done and the Dodgers scored four runs in one inning.

Katie, Colin and I spend most of this game groaning too, oooh-ing , ahhh-ing, aaaarg-ing, and face-palming in unison. But we stand strong, weathering it together. It’s what Royals fans do best. The wood bar supports our elbows and our sorrows. Katie opts to sit on a barstool while Colin and I stamp and shuffle on the floor. We are assembled in this commiserative configuration when a man comes up to us. I had first noticed him outside, smoking and schmoozing with an older gentleman who was carrying a canvas tote bag over his shoulder.

The man has a goatee, a leather jacket, and a neutral grey baseball hat. He is animated in a way that belies not natural enthusiasm, but the consumption of lots of alcohol. He hovers behind me while I watch another Hosmer at-bat. Keuchel has been keeping the Royals down, but maybe Hosmer can conjure some piñata-hacking magic again. But the man forces his way from the periphery of my vision to the center—right in front of my face, actually, and shoves his phone at me.

“Hey. Hey! Look at this. This is the best thing you’ll ever see.”

Keuchel is wasting time, shuffling about the mound, so I spare a glance at the phone.

“Look at this shirt. My friend designed this shirt. It’s the best thing you’ll ever see.”

There was a picture of a pale baby blue shirt with the band KISS dressed in Royals uniforms. It sure is an interesting shirt, and I say as much to the man before turning to the game again, thinking he would move on. But he does not.

“Yeah! It’s awesome. Isn’t it awesome? Just look at it!”

“I saw it, it was great.”

Colin asks to take a look and concurs that this is an exceptional shirt indeed. The man turns to me again. He has now squeezed himself between me and Colin and gesticulating at his phone with the urgency of a traffic controller. His tone is less inquisitive than it is demanding.

“Look at it. Isn’t it awesome?”

“Yeah.” I don’t know what else to say.

“You don’t even care.” The man is hissing like a steam pipe now. He is right, though, I sure do not care.

“I’m just trying to see this at-bat,” I tell him. But this excuse expires quickly when Hosmer strikes out a second later.

“You know they’re going to lose,” the man says tersely.

Finally bored with me and evidently not wanting a male audience, the man ignores Colin and directs his attention to Katie and obliges her look at the shirt. She also concurs that it is awesome. But nothing is going to make this guy happy, especially when he sees her KC hat.

“You’re cheering for the Royals?”

“Yes.”

“I hate the Royals.” The man is now flapping his arms wildly and punctuates each word by slicing the air with his hands. Katie treats him as one would a wild animal and hunches in her stool to make herself smaller and non-threatening, and even offers a smile.

“Okay, man, that’s enough,” says Colin, who moves closer to Katie.

I do not understand the man’s rancor. He is not actively watching the game, so I am surprised to see that he is so invested in hating the Royals.

“Are you from Houston?”

“I’m a Cardinals fan, and I hate the Royals.”

I want to say that this explains everything, but that would not be fair to Saint Louis, which does, in fact, harbor some nice denizens. The man commits further violence to the air, impaling it with a lance-like index finger. We are wondering how to neutralize him when his tote-carrying friend, who had been absent until this point, apparates onto the scene and whispers into his ear. He is a skilled drunk-whisperer, and the Cardinals fan’s eyes are suddenly downcast and he silently heads to the door. The drunk-whisperer follows him. On his way out he shakes our hands and wishes us good night and good luck.

We lose 2 – 4.

 

 

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ALDS GAME 2: Haters Gonna Hate

I am a Royals fan living in New York City. If anyone wondered why I didn’t post anything in October, there’s your answer. The following entries detail the experience of watching the postseason far away from my hometown, in a much different place where fans from all over this huge country converge. Immigrants proudly display flags of their home countries in their windows and dwellings; during the postseason signs of national migrants’ provenance appear on heads and hearts in the form of caps and shirts. Giants fans scowl at Dodgers fans as Yankee stadium looms in the distance–it’s always looming, literally or figuratively. You can see it from the plane as you leave the city for wherever you’re from, and again when you come back. Meanwhile, in stretches of Brooklyn and Queens, and especially on the 7 train to Jackson Heights for momos, you’re reminded that, hello, the Mets are here, too! I see lots of Orioles fans, Philles fans, and yes, even Red Sox fans. There are not many Royals fans here, but the postseason is never a lonely experience, just a different one.* 

*Disclaimer: These posts might contain cliche images of athletes. Writing about sports means I have to deal with levels of kitsch I am not used to accommodating. I’m sorry. Also, I’ll get back to my Craigslist stories after this. 

hosmerbuttout

Kansas City Star/Tammy Ljunglad

It’s past 3:30. The game has started and I’m in my office. I won’t be able to leave work until an hour and a half after the game starts. I have stuff to do, so I make it a point not to look at the box score online for at least an hour. Nothing usually happens in the first innings anyway, I tell myself. In retrospect–when it’s the Royals we’re talking about–I am totally right, but an hour after the game starts curiosity overrides pragmatism and I go to MLB.com.

As soon as I do my forehead meets my desk—not gently. It’s the second inning and the Astros have already scored three runs.

Come on guys, don’t be the 2014 Angels….

If we lose this game we’re losing the series. Anyone who knows anything about these two teams knows we’re fucked—my roommates know better than anyone else. Dallas Keuchel, the Astros’ pitcher for game three, pitched the Wild Card game against the Yankees. Keuchel didn’t concede even the smallest ray of hope to the Yankees and my suffering roommates watched him turn the Bronx bombers in the Bronx bumblers. Yankees fans are poor sufferers and my roommates seem to think that cheering against the Royals will make them feel better about losing the Wild Card game.

“The Astros are totally gonna win—in three games,” said one after the first game.

“You think so?” I asked, for I did not think it would be so.

“Well, maybe in four games.”

“We’ll see.”

It’s all I could say without ruining everything. An insane optimism overtook me during the regular season—the kind that lends itself to believing in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the notion that you always get to be what you want when you grow up—and I am certain we will win the World Series despite last night’s game. But if I say it out loud, I’ll jinx it.

Right now though, as I slouch at my desk, I think my roommate might be right. Every ten minutes I look at the score.

Johnny Cueto has a hard time settling down and the Astros tack on another run in the third inning—a home run by Colby Rasmus.  But it’s only one run! This is good for the version of Johnny Cueto that is pitching right now, and he does not concede another hit during the inning. Does this mean Cueto has found his stride?

To make things equitable, we gain a run in the inning too, and the score is 4 – 2. Are we also gaining momentum? I tell myself it doesn’t matter. Syrian children are washing up on Greece’s beaches, glaciers are melting and there is an island of trash the size of Texas floating in the Pacific Ocean. This is just a baseball game. If we lose this series I will feel bad for the team, but I could focus on my other fall activities—the only ones I ever knew before last year: pressing leaves, sampling different squashes and root vegetables from the farmers market, concocting a Halloween costume.

Sometimes, when I need to put my mind at ease, I go on a run. When I can’t do that, I listen to Radiohead’s Everything in its Right Place. Before leaving work I plug in my headphones, find the song on Youtube, and sit at my desk with my eyes closed and my index fingers tracing circles in my temples. I wonder if anyone on the Royals listens to Radiohead. That would be interesting.

I will watch the game, and I will be fine with the outcome, I tell myself. I am a liar, but at least I am calm as I head to the subway and ride it to my friend’s place in the Upper West Side, where I’ll watch the rest of the game.

There is nowhere to sit on the train, so Middlesex does not make an appearance. I try to see where other riders’ loyalties lie. There is not anyone from Houston on this train, it seems. But I do spot a college student in a Cubs hat, a few people with Mets hats, and of course many with Yankees hats.

I get out of the subway and cross Broadway, heading towards Amsterdam. There are many sports bars on the way and I am careful to avoid looking at the glaring screens that are visible from outside. It is hard—if something good happens I’d want to see it the moment it happens. If something bad happens, though, I’d rather see the replay in the comfort of my friend’s apartment.

But try as I might, it is impossible to avoid a baseball game in the streets if New York City. At the last bar before my friend’s block there is a television sidled all the way up to the window, facing passerby. I see Hosmer at the plate, and see that it’s the bottom of the sixth, and I also see we have someone on second base.

I quickly avert my eyes and run to my friend’s building. He buzzes me in and I share an elevator with two men in Mets hats. They are smiling in anticipation of the game against the Dodgers later that night.  I wonder if they notice my Royals shirt beneath my partially buttoned jacket.

The elevator seems to move only millimeters at a time. I am bouncing with anticipation as it reaches the eighth floor and burst into my friend’s apartment.

“Hey!” He looks excited. I try to read his face to see if the excitement belies any status update about the game, but his excitement is essentially meaningless in that regard because he is always excited when watching baseball.  Also, as a native of this city, he has no official loyalty to the Royals.

“Hey?”

“Did you see?”

“See what?” I take off my shoes and jacket and trot over to the television.

“The Royals just scored a run!”

I had gotten there just in time to see the replay of Hosmer’s single. The main focus of the replay isn’t that he got a single—but how he looked when he got it. Before I see him hit the ball, I think there has been a mistake; this is not going to be a single! They are showing a strike! Hosmer’s knees are bent and his posterior is so far away from home plate it looks like he is preparing to do an Olympic dive, and he is swinging the bat like a child attacking a pinata. But he makes contact, and the ball softly wafts over the infield. Lorenzo Cain sprints home.

The hit is even more impressive when the numberheads run stats on it. The pitch was nine inches off the plate; during the regular season only 20 pitches that far from the strike zone have yielded hits.

The Royals get one more run to tie the game and eventually we win it, 5 – 4. I leave my friend’s place and cross Broadway to get to the subway. A drunk Giants fan tells me I’m ballsy to be wearing a Royals shirt.

“I hate your team,” she adds–a final, slurry salvo.

It’s not that I’m ballsy to wear a Royals shirt here. It’s just that she doesn’t want to see it. The Royals and the Astros are playing each other in the ALDS, and the Yankees and Giants, who are among the oldest and highest spending franchises in MLB, are out of the postseason. How the mighty have fallen.

I am in good spirits. The girl’s spite means that the Royals mean something outside Kansas City. Also, the Astros are officially not the 2014 Royals. The Giants girl stands on the other side of the platform, and I take out Middlesex. A friend’s business card is my new bookmark. I read all the way back to Brooklyn. Everything in its right place.

 

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ALDS GAME 1: The Sacrificial Ticket

I am a Royals fan living in New York City. If anyone wondered why I didn’t post anything in October, there’s your answer. The following entries detail the experience of watching the postseason far away from my hometown, in a much different place where fans from all over this huge country converge. Immigrants proudly display flags of their home countries in their windows and dwellings; during the postseason signs of national migrants’ provenance appear on heads and hearts in the form of caps and shirts. Giants fans scowl at Dodgers fans as Yankee stadium looms in the distance, and it’s always looming, literally or figuratively. You can see it from the plane as you leave the city for wherever you’re from, and again when you come back. On the 7 train to Jackson Heights for momos you’re reminded that, hello, the Mets are here, too! I see lots of Orioles fans, Philles fans, and yes, even Red Sox fans. There are not many of us here from Kansas City, but the postseason is never a lonely experience, just a different one.* 

*Disclaimer: These posts might contain cliche images of athletes. Writing about sports means I have to deal with levels of kitsch I am not used to accommodating. I’m sorry. Also, I’ll get back to my Craigslist stories after this. 

AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

I go to a bar in Carroll Gardens. My friend who was supposed to meet me strained her ankle so I am by myself. Home is off-limits for watching this series. My roommates are Yankees fans and the only way for them to feel okay about losing the Wild Card game to the Astros is if the Astros win everything.

I have a feeling I’ll run into Royals fans at the bar. Last year, everyone in New York City who was not from San Francisco was cheering for the Royals. Their allegiance only had a little to do with the fact that New Yorkers are still mad about the Giants ditching the city for California. They harbor similar contempt for the Dodgers.

The second I enter the bar I spot a schlubby guy in a KC shirt and hat, sitting by himself. He is amazingly short for someone from the Midwest. We become fast friends and suffer through the game together—along with the bartender, who is completely decked out in Royals gear. The bartender rings a cowbell every time the Royals score, which is twice, and every time our pitchers strike someone out, which is 14 times.

The Astros’ Collin McHugh allows only two runs in six innings; Ventura allows two runs in the first inning, setting the tone of the game. The game ends with serious concerns that the Astros are this year’s 2014 Royals, which does not bode well for the 2015 Royals. Except that the Astros already aren’t the 2014 Royals because their 4 – 0 win over the Yankees was as scintillating as a yawn compared to the Wild Card game last year.

On the train home, I take out Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides. I started the book a week ago, after picking it up from a box of books someone left on the sidewalk outside an apartment on Cortelyou Road. A crumpled piece of paper taped to it read Free books. Sometimes, along with free books you also get free bedbugs, but not this time. Before reading the book I opened it and smelled it. Books are like flowers; they are always going to smell like something. I fanned its pages, like I always do before I commit to reading a book. But the rhythm of each page gliding past my thumb was broken—something was left between its pages. I fished out a yellowed ticket to an Astros game against the Nationals. 2005 National League Champions, it boasted.

I didn’t think much of the ticket and used it as a bookmark, but when the Astros won the Wild Card game it started worrying me.

Robin, you are not going to let yourself get worked up over an old ticket, I told myself.

I let the ticket keep its post in Middlesex, and had even forgotten about it. But on the train after Game One I open the book, and it was the first thing I saw. Astros vs. Nationals. 2005 National League Champions. I would be remiss not to take this as a sign.

Something has to be done.

When I get home I run up to my room and find a lighter. I make my way top the backyard with it, and the ticket. I crouch over a planter that had been flooded in recent rains, drowning a small crop of carrots left over from an urban agriculture experiment; all that was left was a mud stew that still had not evaporated. I bring the flame to the stub end—the one that says 2005 National League Champions. The little flame greedily swallows up the whole ticket, which I drop into the planter before the fire can bite my fingers.

It’s not that I have anything against the Astros—I’m glad they were able to improve so much this year, and defeating the Yankees should give them a nugget of pride. And it’s not that I think my single act of torching the ticket will affect the Royals’ chances in this series. But sometimes you hear people say that if enough people prayed or did yoga together, then there would be world peace, right? Even if you’ve never heard anyone say so, you’d at least be able to find a Facebook page that did. A flaming ticket and a baseball game have nothing to do with world peace or the course of humanity, but could it be that if enough people believe that their actions and the outcome of distant events are intertwined, then maybe it will make a difference? It’s not necessarily the actions, but the belief that matters.

But this is not just about baseball, I tell myself. The ticket had to burn because I did not want it to ruin my reading experience. Before nodding off to sleep I read a few pages of Middlesex to erase baseball from my mind. My mind doesn’t want baseball in moderation, though. It is busy working overtime, compensating for those 29 years that the postseason was not even a blip on the radar and I have dreams of being sitting in a stadium filled with people in orange. A batter named Flowers hits a two-run home run. Or strikes out. I don’t know.

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