Last year my fellow Royals fans and I spent the World Series exchanging high-fives in bars with baseball fans throughout the five boroughs. They came in many hats and with varied allegiances from the Yankees and the Red Sox to the White Sox and the Cubs. They were excited to see a new face in the postseason and an underdog is easy to cheer for. This year is not a World Series of bar-hopping, but a World Series of hiding out in other people’s homes and staying away from mine. While some Yankees fans are not cheering for the Mets my roomies, all native New Yorkers, don’t have a problem throwing in the towel for another hometown team.
The colors of the Halloween season this year are orange and blue and those are the colors that have painted this town from the light-strung stoops of Katie and Colin’s neighborhood in Carroll Gardens to the top of the Empire State Building. Before I head to their apartment I go to a nearby grocery store to buy beer. A dozen Mets fan with the same idea wait in line with me.
My family wonders what it’s like to be entrenched behind enemy lines. My dad asks me if I have conflicting loyalties, and I assure him that I sure do not. My mother implores me not to advertise my Royals fandom. My sister Ellen, in Portland, tells me to be careful. Beanie, the most provocative member of my family, is all the way in Belgium right now and is thus mute on the subject—though I’m sure she wouldn’t be against me tattooing my face with the Royals colors.
I’m not sure what to do, but luckily the weather leaves me no choice but to button up and hide my shirt. Besides, there is less glee in showing my colors to fans who have experienced a parallel trajectory of suffering in the past three decades.
Ever since the Royals won the pennant I’ve been undercover, especially on the train. The Mets fans have brought out their hats and their jerseys and on the subways they grip the poles with a renewed sense of purpose. Instead of ignoring each other New Yorkers are looking at each other (but never too long) with a sense of solidarity.
At the office I’m greeted with a life-size poster of Duda taped to my coworker’s cubicle and the doorman who steadfastly wished the Royals well during the pennant has now taken to hollering “GO METS” at me. At least one college friend, a native New Yorker, has suggested that I move back home.
Shit has gotten serious. But to the Mets fans’ credit no one has yet called for local stations to ban Lorde’s Royals, and no one has been as outwardly venomous as the Giants and Cardinals fans I encountered earlier in the postseason. And my barista still makes me coffee.
He was crestfallen and confused at seeing my Royals shirt. But why? He wanted to know.I wondered if he would tell me to go back to Missouri, but instead he took a deep breath and wished me luck.
“May the best team win,” he said.
“Let’s shake on that.”
And we did. And then he made me an Americano.
That was all earlier today, when I was sure we’d be the no-contest winners of not only the series, but this game. Earlier today I wanted to apologize preemptively to all the Mets fans who would be heartbroken at the end of the series. We are just destined to win it. But now there is no bravado, no swagger anymore. We’re not looking for a winning run right now, we are looking for the tying run.
The game started in an epic and bizarre fashion with an inside-the-park home run from Escobar. It was the Royals’ first at bat, Matt Harvey’s first pitch of the series, and the first inside-the-parker to happen during a World Series since 1929.
Then the Mets chipped away at Edinson Volquez and we felt bad for him for that, and then felt even worse for him when it was announced after he left in the sixth inning that his father died that day and that his family was heading towards the Dominican Republic with the game still underway. And then I wondered if it right for us to continue watching this game, for us to even care. I mean, it’s just a game! But it must be so much more because so many people care, right? And if it’s not just a game, then what is it?
Well, all I knew was that it was something I was going to keep watching. But there were so many moments when we were challenged and even forced to look away: a blackout in the fourth that lasted four minutes, and then there was Eric Hosmer’s error in the eighth inning.
The blackout wasn’t so bad, especially since we got a reprieve from Joe Buck.While I sat on the couch twiddling my thumbs Katie and Colin start pulling things from the oven and soon we are eating cookies and drinking beer, wondering if we’re going to have to hide ourselves away like a bunch of lepers for this whole World Series.
The beer stopped being recreational in the eighth inning. After a nine-pitch at-bat, with two men already out, the Mets’ Juan Lagares singled off of Herrera. It was an epic at-bat. A heroic one if you’re a Mets fan, a grievous one for Royals fans because Lagares stole second base in no time and then made it home when Hosmer missed a grounder that Flores sent to first base (At least it wasn’t a two-run home run!). Hosmer, owner of great hands (commentators’ words, not mine), three Gold Gloves and a hairdo replicated by grade schoolers throughout the Kansas City metropolitan area, has made an error on a an innocuous grounder. The ball was so close, inches from his glove, and then so quickly gets so far away. And then we learned who Bill Buckner was—the Red Sox first baseman who let a grounder get away from him, thus allowing the go-ahead run in the World Series. The Red Sox went on to lose the World Series to…the Mets.
The eighth inning seemed like it would yield something for the Royals too. There were two men down and two whole runners got on base with Mets reliever Tyler Clippard of the aviator goggles pitching. And then Terry Collins decided to swap him for Juerys Familia, the fearsome closer who hasn’t blown a save since July.
It’s okay, he’s not Madison Bumgarner, we tell each other.
But it was quickly not okay because Moustakas grounded out to end the inning.
And now it’s the top of the ninth and Familia is pitching again. The first batter Familia faces is Salvy, who hits a blooper that doesn’t make it past the infield.
Okay, two outs to work with. Now comes Alex Gordon. It’s a different game, a different ninth inning, but it feels uncomfortably similar to Game 7 last year. Since then Alex Gordon has existed in two different realities. One is the Here and Now, Tuesday October 27, 2015. The other reality is in a parallel universe. Sure, he’s at Kauffman Stadium and it’s the ninth inning but he’s not at home plate, Jeurys Familia is not pitching, and Salvy did not just bat. Instead Alex Gordon is standing on third base waiting to score. He’s been there since October 29th of last year.
The Here-and-Now Alex Gordon wields the bat, shifting his weight from foot to foot with his batter’s cadence. With his beard and wad of pink gum he is half lumberjack, half little leaguer. There is the usual smear of pine tar on his helmet, like the remnants of a fresh, well-aimed cow pie.
It is only the first game, there’s many games to go, but the first game controls the tempo of the series. Rally now or never. We hold our breaths. The first pitch Gordon meets from Familia is a ball. Then he fouls off the second pitch. The third pitch he meets with a mighty smack.
You know those people who always seem to know when a hit is a home run? You hear them at the games—their whoop or groan always precede the stadium’s collective whoop or groan. Some of the early whoopers and groaners are just the excitable sort, but others whoop and groan early because they know. They are fluent to the sounds of baseball. Zack and Muneesh are these such people.
But how do you even know? I’ve asked them on several occasions.
The sound, many will say. That’s the most important thing. It’s something I don’t think I’ve understood until now. A home run sounds like an exclamation point.
Katie, Colin and I stand upon hearing the smack. We look at Gordon, who looks up at the ball, which the cameras don’t seem to have found yet. His eyes are wide, like he just saw Haley’s Comet. Now we wait. The disappointment of last year and the hopes and dreams of this year are all compressed into the millisecond it takes for the ball to reach its apex and crash behind the outfield wall and through a wormhole. In that parallel universe, Alex Gordon perks up (the waiting has made him despondent), and starts trotting home. Here on this planet he is rounding the bases.
Alex Gordon has sent himself home, and the Royals and their fans are sent into a frenzy. We’ve been waiting a whole year for this to happen, after all. Replays focus on Hosmer, who is now off the hook. His eyes are wild and wide and he celebrates in every way possible. He is jumping, he is doubled over with joy, he might kiss the ground, no, he is back up, hugging everyone within arms-length. Jeremy Guthrie happens to be standing next to him, and receives a mighty tug on his sweatshirt.
I am tugging at my own shirt, and Katie, Colin and I tugging at each other and our leaps and bounds add some percussion to the soundtrack of the downstairs neighbors’ lives.
Okay, so far this game has gone through ten pitchers in eleven innings. Hochevar had a clean inning, Wade Davis struck out the side, and Madson pitched out of danger in the eleventh inning. The game is now a pitching duel between the Royals’ Chris Young and the Mets’ Bartolo Colon. Height versus mass. 81 mile-per-hour fastballs that are optical illusions versus well-placed bullets. Young looks like gumby, and Katie and Colin call Colon the pitching potato. He sure looks like one. Young could have been picked off the bench of a Division III college basketball team and Colon, with forearms the size of tree trunks, looks like he was snagged directly from the streets of Queens—from behind the counter of a pizza parlor, whisked from a construction site, or recruited from behind the wheel of a mafia getaway car. Young strikes out the side, and Colon pitches out of trouble—not batting an eye after loading the bases when he intentionally walks Hosmer. My dad texts to say that it was a ballsy performance—pun intended!
On a different note, Alex Rodriguez is now commenting on the game, to the almost certain dismay of Mets fans and anyone else who doesn’t want to hear from a juicer.
Nothing. Nothing is happening this inning, except that Katie and Colin have already packed their lunches for tomorrow and are now brushing their teeth. My mom texts that this is madness and she’s going to bed. Ellen texts that there’s sure a lot of Mets fans in Portland. I remember Beanie is in Belgium. Why is she in Belgium during the World Series?
Chris Young is in cruise control and the Mets batters go softly in the top of the fourteenth. The top of the fourteenth. Yep, that’s what inning we’re in, which merits another seventh inning stretch. Kauffman Stadium is as packed as it was in the first inning. Time reveals itself to be a beast that we have no control over. It’s running in circles, eating its own tail. The score is as even as it was in the first; it’s not the end if the game, it’s just the beginning. Two more outs for a Mets victory turns into a game that could last forever. Chris Young, like the starting pitcher that he is, is pitching like he’s planning to pitch a whole new game and Colon does not seem to be tiring either. The Royals have already proven that they could play baseball for days. The extra innings, where you don’t get second chances, is where the Royals find their Zen. I don’t get it.
Katie, Colin and I have stopped talking. If the Royals want to go on forever, we will go on with them, but without words. We have none. They have become as meaningless as time. We are slack of jaw and sunken of eye.
Here comes Escobar again. What is this, his twentieth at-bat? C’mon Escobar. Another inside the park home run! Please. Or a conventional one. I don’t care. Can you just please?
Escobar does not hit the first pitch, or even the second pitch. He fouls off another three pitches and hits the sixth. The ball bounces obligingly into David Wright’s glove.
But David Wright’s glove does not want ball! It spits ball out! Wright still gathers ball and sends it sailing towards first, and it looks like Escobar will be out. But! Wait! Wright’s throw is too far from Duda. Doubtful Duda must leave bag to catch ball and Escobar is safe.
Yay. Earlier, we cheered uproariously in the twelfth inning when the bases were loaded, and then quickly remembered that some people in this city were not watching baseball and might want to sleep. We stifled our cheers again when Moustakas got a single in the thirteenth inning.
But fourteen innings in, our tone is more sober and business-like. No stifling needed.
Okay, great. Awesome. You can do this. Keep the line moving. Move that line.
Zobrist is up next.
Can you please get a home run right now, Ben Zobrist? You got this Benny Z.
Zobrist does not get a home run, but he does get a single that sends Escobar all the way to third with no men out.
Okay! Great! Well done!
We are now standing again, but with the loose limbs of people drunk on tiredness. The commentators, who have spent the past couple of innings talking about how Colon could go on forever are now singing a more somber tune: “And now Colon is in a jam.”
And now Cain is up. Colon wants no part of Cain, wants to give him no part of any baseball. He walks him. And now Colon’s jam is jammier because the next batter is Hosmer. He’s hungry for victory, but also for redemption.
When people get hungry for victory and redemption, they tend to try to outdo themselves. We hope Hosmer takes an easy-does-it approach.
Just keep that line moving!
First he takes a ball, then fouls off the next two pitches. Then another ball. And the next he does not take easy. He offers it a mighty whack. It does not sound like an exclamation point but it sails far—into Granderson’s glove, but far nonetheless, far enough for Escobar to tag up and tear his way towards home.
Granderson’s throw home is quite spectacular and Escobar would have been out if it were even a foot closer, and if Escobar had been just a little bit slower. But as it is, Escobar is fast and the throw is long but short. He slides home, adding an extra embellishment of victory dirt onto his uniform. The Royals storm onto the field and into each other, a mosh pit of brotherly love.
We are all tired, but we still have strength to jump and hug and rejoice quietly, emitting muffled hollers of mirth. And then I quietly head downstairs, buttoning my jacket before I head out into a joyless Mudville, a city that is just getting to know the Royals. Joe Buck, though I still begrudge him for turning last year’s World Series into a long-running monologue about Madison Bumgarner, summed it up best: Kansas City is Comeback City.
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.