Baseball is an amazing sport – one that has been provided our society with many unforgettable moments and memories. For as great as the sport is, the game of baseball has taken a backseat to college football and the NFL in terms of societal relevance. While the NCAAF National Championship and the Super Bowl are as popular as most national holidays around the country, the World Series often goes unnoticed by the average sports fan. Heck, the playoffs as a whole largely go unnoticed by the average viewer.
Sure, the World Series gets better ratings than most MLB games, but it is hardly a cultural phenomenon – most people just don’t care, sadly. In fact, the last time the MLB playoffs took the country by storm was 2004 when the Boston Red Sox finally ended that pesky streak. Other than that, how many times have you invested much energy in watching the October Classic?
That is why the 2014 playoffs have been a breath of fresh air – something completely new for the game of baseball. The past three weeks of baseball have been exciting and worth watching. But what has changed? After all, it seems as though many of the same teams are playing in the playoffs year after year.
The answer is simple – the Kansas City Royals.
As a country, we absolutely love underdogs – whether it be in the form of sports or life in general, these are often the people and teams for which we cheer. That is why so many people love the NFL – the parity is so great that each season brings with it a promise of a new champion and a host of surprising teams and upsets. Parity is hardly something that is evident in the world of baseball. Money wins – it always has. The big market teams so often run away with it all and fans get bored of watching it happen year after year.
Boston, San Francisco, St. Louis, San Francisco, New York, Philadelphia, Boston, St. Louis, Chicago, Boston, Florida, Anaheim, Arizona, New York. Those are all of the markets that have won a MLB championship in each of the last 14 years. Of the nine markets represented, three of which (St. Louis, Florida, Arizona) are not considered big markets.
Seattle, Baltimore, New York, Green Bay, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, New York, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, New England, New England, Tampa Bay, New England, Baltimore, St. Louis. Those are all of the markets that have won a NFL championship each of the last 14 years. Of the 10 markets represented, nine of which would not be considered big markets.
Simply put, in the NFL everyone has a chance at some point (sorry Cleveland), that has never been the case with baseball until this year.
The Royals have brought excitement back into playoffs. Instead of watching a roster full of overpaid players, the Royals are fielding a team full of many players who are experiencing the playoffs for the first time. They are athletes who have something to prove – guys who haven’t “made it yet” and who proudly display their love for playing the game of baseball. They are gritty, seemingly down to earth and full of excitement. Simply put, as fans we feel as though we can relate to them as people. These aren’t the Alex Rodriguez-guys making more money per game than many of us will make in 10 years. The Royals are a team made up of players who have come a long way and worked from the bottom up to get to this point – not just a team who signed the best players available.
Ned Yost‘s team has given baseball something they have desperately been searching for – a team that connects with the American people. For a game that often times feels disconnected from its fans, the Royals have humanized the game of baseball for the first time since 2003 when Josh Beckett and the Florida Marlins shocked the New York Yankees. They won’t come close to drawing an audience the size of the Super Bowl or National Championship, but they have brought excitement back to baseball and given fans something to be interested in.
I’ve watched my 16-year old brother’s generation lose complete interest in watching the game of baseball. They have no one to connect to – no Cam Newton, no Peyton Manning, no Colin Kaepernick, no LeBron James, no Tim Howard. The game to them has become something their parents like – something that is void of all excitement and stimulation.
Watching the Royals’ march through the playoffs has garnered the attention of some of those kids – the ones who had all but given up on the game. They have been drawn to the television to check out the Royals; maybe not for an entire game, but their interest is still there which is more than could be said before. They can connect to Eric Hosmer, James Shields, Lorenzo Cain and Salvador Perez. They might not be household names yet, but they are personalities who are attracting the attention of the generation that baseball has largely lost.
Things feel different this postseason, much different than they have in quite some time around baseball. There is a buzz about the game, interest in seeing how the World Series will play out. That all stems from a team that wasn’t even expected to make the playoffs – a team that people outside of Missouri didn’t care about for the past 29 years.
It may sound like an overstatement to some, but it really is true – the Kansas City Royals are saving baseball.
Cover Photo: Getty Images
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