(EDITOR’S NOTE: As you know by now, the Kansas City Royals won the 2015 World Series four games to one over the New York Mets. Chris Kamler penned the following piece on this Royals team)
by Chris Kamler
Baseball is heart.
That’s what the game is when you boil it down. It’s about heart. Of course, that’s kind of a BS phrase. What the heck does heart mean? How can you quantify “heart?”
Look at the 2015 Kansas City Royals.
Baseball is, of course, a conglomeration of thousands of little things. Little tweaks. Little adjustments. Mechanics. Repetition. You can hit a baseball 1,000 times and it will never land in the same place twice. You can pitch a baseball 1,000 times and never quite get a pitch to zip the same way.
Baseball is random and frustrating and exhilarating.
Baseball is life.
What you just witnessed will easily go down in the city’s history and perhaps baseball history as the greatest team who wouldn’t say die. After Alex Gordon was stranded on third last year, this team was supposed to go gently into the night. They were supposed to blow up after losing Billy Butler and James Shields.
Nobody got the memo.
Prognosticators and computers from Baseball Tonight to PECOTA gave the Royals zero chance to repeat as American League Champions. They said the window was closed and what remained lacked what it took to win.
They didn’t factor in the heart.
The Royals opened their season under fire for passion. Targeted by teams like Oakland and Toronto and Chicago. They were hunted and challenged. “Baseball players” didn’t like the way they celebrated. It was against the code. The unwritten code doesn’t have a rule about heart. The Royals met every challenge and opened the year with a winning streak and perched atop the AL Central for the remainder of the season.
The fans grew each game and set a franchise record for attendance providing unwavering support after the Bumgarner game. This is an easy team to root for because you see the heart right there on the sleeve.
Heart is a garbage term because it’s not able to be defined. Yet, when you look at Alex Gordon or Ben Zobrist or Wade Davis and then you look at the smiles of Salvador Perez and Lorenzo Cain – can’t you easily see it? Can you see how much heart this team has?
Whether you’re a 30 year baseball coach or a guy updating spreadsheets who has never picked up a glove, you can learn so much from this baseball team.
If you’re a baseball coach, this is the team you want to use as a template. Sure, it’d be great to get your kids to hit like Mike Trout or pitch like Matt Harvey. It’d be amazing to have someone who could crush taters like Yoenis Cespedes or win awards like Josh Hamilton.
But if you’re a baseball coach, you’d be wise to teach your kids to overcome failure like the 2015 Kansas City Royals. You’d be wise to teach them about their heart. The team that was left for dead with Bumgarner’s boot in their back. The team that refused to go away after beanballs and BBTN and eighth inning deficits.
If you’re delivering ice off the back of a truck or filling potholes or sending emails all day, this is the group you want to use as a template.
You can learn about how to face failure. Alcides Escobar was left in ball games in 2011 for the sole purpose of failing. He failed spectacularly. Escobar, as you might recall, was named the 2015 ALCS MVP.
You can learn about how to face haters. Ned Yost was continually blasted for in-game moves. YOSTED became a household word. He discounted statistics. He played hunches. He bunted – IN THE AMERICAN LEAGUE. He constructed a lineup the way one might go, famished, through a Chinese buffet. Ned Yost has the highest winning percentage in the postseason of any manager in baseball history.
You can learn how to tweak and grind. Dayton Moore inherited a baseball club that was nothing short of a tire fire. He rebuilt the infrastructure through scouting and player development. He funded a Latin American scouting corps that found Salvador Perez. He took advantage of high draft picks to get Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas. He parlayed Zack Greinke into two ALCS MVP’s.
And after he lost last year, we went back to work. This time not making structural changes, but touch ups. He replaced James Shields with Edinson Volquez. He replaced Billy Butler with Kendrys Morales. He tweaked pieces at the trade deadline with Ben Zobrist and Johnny Cueto and then he set the boat in the water and hoped it would find its way 90 feet further.
By the way, master classes will be taught about Mike Jirschele, the lifelong minor league manager, and how he handled baserunners in the 2014 and 2015 postseason. It will be titled: Baserunning 301: A contrast at third base.
You can learn how to face physical pain by watching Salvador Perez step into the octagon every night. He comes out dizzy and battered with a wink and a smile.
You can watch the expressionless face of Wade Davis. And, honestly, if you’re staring at Wade Davis in anything you do, you should just throw up your hands and walk away – because you’ve already lost.
You can look at the chiseled marble arms of Alex Gordon and maybe, just maybe, find enough motivation to get your fat ass up to go to the gym. You can learn about faith from Ben Zobrist and rehabilitation from Luke Hochevar.
You can learn about being a big player in a small role from Christian Colon.
Pick a name on the roster and I’ll list you a life lesson you can take away.
You can learn about how to face unimaginable grief. Chris Young, Edinson Volquez and Mike Moustakas all lost parents during the course of the year. They handled it, by every account, with grace and passion.
You can learn about how to face challenges as a team as well. Just look at the number of times they came back after the seventh, eighth, and even ninth innings this postseason. It’s a record that may stand forever. Teams aren’t supposed to do that. Team’s aren’t supposed to catch fire with only a small spark.
But there they were. Night after night. Keeping the line moving. Forcing a walk. Fouling off pitch after pitch. Wearing out starters and middle relievers and closers. Making 60 point headlines in the New York Post – and not the good kind. Quitting isn’t in the DNA of the 2015 Boys in Blue.
You’d be wise to learn something from the 2015 Kansas City Royals.
This is a baseball team that you can be proud of. This is a city that deserves that. A flawed city – let’s not kid ourselves. But a city that goes to work every day and keeps the line moving. A city that faces loss with heads held high. A city that will never be the big boys but can still stand atop the mountain proudly.
This baseball team reflects the heart of this town. There were no arrests, no riots Sunday night after the final out was made. There were no shenanigans on Tuesday during the parade. This is a team that is in sync with its city. This is our city. This is our baseball team.
When it’s all boiled down and the elements are separated, you have statistics, you have execution and you have the intangible. You have what cannot be explained.
The Kansas City Royals are your 2015 World Series Champions.
Baseball is life.
Baseball is heart.