ALCS Game 1: The Only Thing Missing Was Paul Rudd

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. 

rudd hamm

i did not take this picture

Last year I watched Game 3 of the World Series with my co-worker, Adam. He lived in San Francisco for eight years before moving to New York City. He was cheering for the Giants, and I was cheering for the Royals. It was a close game, but we won 3 – 2.

This year Adam promised to cheer for the Royals with me, and together we’re watching Game 1 of the ALDS at a place called Foley’s, year Harold’s Square. It’s a watering hole for bonafide baseballheads, with flags, mascots, bobbleheads and knickknacks of baseball teams present and past, minor and major, American and National.

I chose the place because it’s midway between Adam’s apartment and my house. Also, during the first days of the playoffs, there emerged on the Internet a picture of Paul Rudd and Jon Hamm together at Foley’s, two faces representing both sides of the I-80 conflict. Basically I wanted to increase my chances of maybe someday meeting Paul Rudd. Jon Hamm would have been a bonus, but I didn’t expect him to show his face after the Cardinals were obliterated by the Cubs, which is a little scary. There are murmurs now of the Back to the Future prophecy that the Cubs would be in the World Series in 2015. And now, the prophecy was coming as close to being true as anyone could have imagined. But wait! Here’s a twist! Back to the Future was made in 1985, when the Royals won the World Series! That has to mean something, right? Right?!?

If we survive the Blue Jays and make it to the World Series it certainly won’t be comforting to play against a team backed by a Hollywood prophecy. On the other hand, playing the Mets will be nerve-wracking as well. They defeated the team with the biggest budget in the Major Leagues, who, until now, had the most vaunted starting pitchers in baseball. And they wear orange.

It’s not that I have anything against orange, but in my post—ALDS Game 1  dream a batter in orange, last name Flowers, either struck out or hit a two-run homerun at the bottom of the ninth. I still can’t figure out which. The only thing that had a little clarity was an unmistakable sense of despondency in the stadium, which can only mean to me that someone somehow hit a two-run homerun off Wade Davis. I tell myself the dream is meaningless because there is no one named Flowers on any of the teams—and it’s a dream. I don’t talk to anyone about the dream or Flowers because I don’t want to alienate myself from the rest of society. Besides, we have our hands full with the Blue Jays for the time being and they’re blue through and through.

When Adam and I get to Foley’s there’s no room to sit at the bar, where Paul Rudd and Jon Hamm would have staked their territory; all the stools have been occupied by men who seem like they’ve been parked there since the beginning of the LDS and their backs have been permanently curved into commas. Adam and I are forced to move on.

When we get to the back I’m surprised to see two whole tables occupied by Royals fans. I’ve finally found a place where we have reached something approximating a critical mass! The only thing missing is Paul Rudd.

“Maybe he’ll come by later,” Adam says because he has to, not because he believes it.

I am nervous as I get settled for the game. The Blue Jays lineup has the potential to spark a blitzkrieg and their hunger is menacing. People call Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard Thor because of his blonde locks and his fastball, but the guy who’s really like Thor is José Bautista. His bat is his hammer, and he bashes homeruns that crush the soul—if your soul is Texan. Then he stares daggers into his foe with stone cold eyes. It’s his way of ripping out his enemy’s beating heart and pounding them on the head with it. But even then he’s not done. His final stroke is the bat-flip—his way of playing cat’s cradle with their entrails. Tulowitzski is the raven that flies at Thor’s side, waiting to gouge people’s eyes out. They have no fucks to give and their attitude makes the Astros, even Colby Rasmus, seem like golden retriever puppies. I’m not sure how this is going to turn out.

I’m worried about Volquez. The Astros gave him a hard time in Game 3, but one of the three guys at the table behind me—all Royals fans—tells me that Volquez has been the most consistent pitcher this season. I’m not sure how that forebodes when the Royals’ starting pitchers nearly gave away the most earned runs in the American League this year.

When the waiter comes to take our order, Adam asks for a burger and fries and beer, and I ask for a hard cider.

“You’re not hungry?” Adam knows I eat every two hours.

“I’m nervous.” I tell him I’ll eat when we have a lead.

The opportunity comes in the third inning after a series of doubles by Gordon and Escobar, which produces a run. Zobrist grounds out, but Escobar advances to third. Then he scores on a single by Cain, who also stole second base, earning everyone in the country a free breakfast taco from Taco Bell. Now how about that?

When the waiter comes around again I order a shepherd’s pie. I pray that a Blue Jay bombardment doesn’t happen before I start eating.

volquez for victory

volquez for victory / i did not take this picture

But as it turns out the Royals are doing the bombarding today and Estrada, the Blue Jays’ pitcher, can’t seem to find cover. This game turns into one of the most relaxing affairs a Royals fan could ask for. The Blue Jays hit the most home runs in the American League during the regular season—a whole 232, but the only home run of the game came from Salvy in the fourth inning.

By the time my shepherd’s pie came the score was 3 – 0, and I dig in.

The diminished cortisone levels are affecting my fellow Royals fans and we made the most of it. We are high-fiving while in line for the bathroom, skipping up to each other’s tables for more high-fives, and throwing smug smiles across the room while the other patrons sit aloof, eating their fish and chips and hamburgers and talking about the Rangers.

Volquez seems to be on cruise control, but adds some spice to the game in the sixth inning, when two Blue Jays get on base. I am halfway through my shepherds’s pie and suddenly don’t know how much more I can eat. But Volquez takes a deep breath and retires the rest of the batters–including Tulowitzski, who strikes out for the second time. Bautista walks a lot, but his hammer is inactive. The Blue Jays can’t put anything on the board. We exhale deeply and audibly when the inning ends. The sanguine mood continues, and I finish my pie.

The three men sitting at the table behind me live in Kansas City and are in town for an event at Madison Square Garden. When they find out I live here they suddenly have a lot of questions. What brought me here? What kind of Metrocard should they get? How do you swipe it? Do the trains ever crash? What should they see? Will I be back here to see tomorrow’s game?

I have a few questions myself. Do they live in Kansas or Missouri? Have they been to New York City before? How long are they staying? And did they go to the K for any of the postseason games?

They had—the Wild Card game last year. And they already got tickets to the World Series. I admire their faith, and possibly their foresight. The World Series seems light years away still, but tonight we pass another hurdle.

The game ends 5 – 0. The Royals fans clump together to share high-fives, so does Adam, who never mentions that he’s a Giants fan.

The only thing missing is Paul Rudd.

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