Dear Jeff Francoeur,
I am a relatively new baseball fan. I don’t know how long my friends and followers will put up with me saying that because my baseball obsession probably makes them feel like I’ve been a fan my entire life (or at least, their entire lives). Everybody (except other baseball fans) is tired of hearing me talk about baseball. (And other baseball fans are tired of hearing me defend you.) But the truth is, I really have only been a baseball fan for one year. Less than that, even.
We are about to finish the second week of the MLB season (first week of the Royals’ opening homestand), and I’ve already been to two Royals games, with a third coming tonight. With only six games this week to go to, three is kind of a lot, without being a season ticketholder. Last season it was midsummer before I got three games under my belt. I don’t really say all that to brag or prove anything about myself. I say it to show the dramatic change in my lifestyle since discovering the greatness of baseball.
Once I realized I couldn’t have too much baseball in my life, it was easy enough to get attached to the Royals. And to you, Jeff. Last season was a bit of a tailspin season for players individually as well as for the team as a whole. (That includes you too, unfortunately.) Two Royals players got injured so early in the season that I didn’t even know they existed until they came off the DL.
But there were redeeming moments. Just exactly how many redeeming moments there were will vary in opinion, and will probably depend on how long one has been a Royals fan. For me, a brand-new fan, the opportunities to forgive and forget were numerous, and I took advantage of almost all of them, and had a difficult time deciding which player was my “favorite.” (A few days ago, at my first Royals game of the season, a friend asked me that very question, and by the time I finished answering her, I had just about listed the entire 25-man roster, and even a couple on the 40-man. If you’re wondering, Luke Hochevar didn’t make the list.)
But as far as favorites go, you, Jeff, seemed to make the news more often than any other Royals player last year. During a year when Alex Gordon played well enough to earn his second Gold Glove in a row; a year when the Face of the Franchise, Eric Hosmer – tall, dark, and unbelievably good looking – sucked so much it was hard to believe he was a top prospect just a couple years before; the year the All-Star Game came to Kansas City and Billy Butler was all over the news as the Royals’ representative; a year when Yuniesky Betancourt was inexplicably on the Royals’ roster again; and a year when Salvador Perez came off the DL and immediately started turning heads, both with his bat and his defense… With all that going on, it’s interesting that you still seemed to be talked about as much as you were.
But you found a way: You became a Super Friend to the Fans. You threw baseballs wrapped in money into opposing teams’ outfield stands (actually, that happened in 2011, but it was so crazy that it got talked about a lot last year too). You threw baseballs wrapped in money into your own fans’ outfield stands. You posed for a picture with a young fan who had autism. You reached into a fan’s bucket of popcorn after attempting to snag a foul ball.
Haters still found a way to criticize you for these actions, but on the whole, you are pretty well loved by baseball fans around the country. But that’s key: “around the country.” Here in Kansas City, especially last year, you were pretty unpopular, and I took a lot of flack for calling you one of my favorite players. People said I was naive; people said I didn’t care about winning, only about your winning smile; people said I knew nothing about baseball.
But I continued to like you because you continued to trot out there every day like you cared about your job, despite the fact that your team was losing and you were on your way to having arguably the worst season of your career. You continued to smile, despite the fact that people booed you. You continued to hold your head up, despite the fact that a Francoeur plate appearance more often than not meant a guaranteed out for the Royals.
I guess, in the end, the reason the Royals are so likable is that, despite the losing, we have players and managers who are likable as human beings. Royals players don’t get in the news for being jerks the way Yankees players do. Royals players don’t get in the news for starting benches-clearing brawls the way a lot of other MLB players do (of most recent and notable mention, former Royal Zack Greinke, emphasis on former, and Carlos Quentin). There’s a culture of class and sportsmanship about the Royals organization, and that’s why I don’t care that we’ve historically traded away so many talented players like Melky Cabrera, Zack Greinke, Johnny Damon, etc. Of course, it bears remembering that I wasn’t part of the baseball world when those things happened, so it’s easy not to care now.
But it’s also easy to like the Royals, despite their offensive struggles, because they are a group of genuinely good guys whom just about any local fan would want to go out and have a beer with. And yes, sometimes all the losing means it sucks to be a Royals fan, but at least I’m still happy in the rest of my life. Yankees fans, Red Sox fans, White Sox fans, Cardinals fans… They all seem to be disgruntled in general, despite the fact that their teams win a lot. Nothing seems to make them happy.
Fan culture imitates player culture, it seems. And you, Jeff, are one of the Royals players who leads by example when it comes to being a good sport, and a generally good-seeming guy. You even became buddies with Alex Gordon in the offseason, training with him and getting training tips from him, and doing everything you could to become the best baseball player you can be. I say “even” because Alex Gordon is the only Royal I would not classify as “a nice guy.” (However, he’s still not enough of a jerk to be a Yankee. And maybe he is a nice guy, who knows. He just doesn’t seem to be interested in any fan interaction whatsoever, and I guess that’s fine. There’s no rule that says you have to love the fans.) But see, that’s exactly my point. The guy on our team who is the biggest jerk is simply a guy who prefers to keep to himself. That’s how awesome all the other players are.
Anyway, Jeff, I’m probably the only fan in Kansas City who wasn’t outraged when the guy a lot of people thought would replace you this season got traded for a really good pitcher. I’m the only fan in Kansas City who didn’t care that you being on the team was blocking a “better” player from coming up. (Part of my rationale is that we needed good starting pitching more than we needed another potential yet unproven bat. We’ve got plenty of potentially hot, unproven bats. Maybe if we have some good pitching – which, it appears we finally do – our potentially hot, unproven bats can have a chance to relax, get hot, and actually prove themselves.)
But here’s the point, Jeff. You’re a great guy. And sometimes you play some great baseball. (I’ve seen you throw from the warning track corner in right field all the way to third base. I’ve seen you get RBI hits in clutch situations. When I sat in the Frenchy Quarter section at Kauffman last year, you hit a home run in your first AB.)
Of course, my love isn’t blind, and there are other times that you make me facepalm. Like last night, when you swung twice in a row at pitches that were literally in the dirt. I mean, really. I think they actually bounced before they crossed the plate, and you still swung at them. Or like any number of times last season when you would take off running for a base at the worst possible moment and generate a free out for the opposing team. I am pretty sure one time you even ran when the pitcher was staring right at you.
I don’t know what is going through your head when you do silly things like that. I really, really don’t. But I will always be a Jeff Francoeur fan. Because you are a wonderful human being. Because you have a great attitude and a killer smile. And because, when you are playing good baseball, you’re so much fun to watch. I hope you have a good season this year. But even if you don’t, at least you’ll be happier than guys like A-Rod at the end of the season because, whether you end up having a good or bad season, you’ll go into the offseason knowing, At least I don’t act like guys like A-Rod.
But could I give you one piece of advice, Jeff? That goatee you’ve been sporting this season is not a good look for you.
Devoted Royals Fan, Budding Baseball-in-General Fan, Vin Scully Fan, and Active Hater of Bad Attitudes and Spider Crickets
PS If you’re feeling fan-generous tonight, I’ll be sitting in section 131, row G.