People have asked me so many times what drew me to baseball. And why I became such a big fan so fast. And how, after spending my entire life totally ignoring it (and even professing, at times, to hate it), I was able to do a 180 and fall so in love with it. I’ve always just shrugged my shoulders and said, “I don’t know. Just happened. Just got lucky, I guess.” But in recent days and weeks, I’ve realized there’s a truer truth about why I fell in love with baseball.
In April 2012, I was 27 years old. I was in a relationship that had lasted eight months up to that point, and it only had three more to go. I was incredibly depressed. If you’ve ever been in a relationship where you were 100% all in and the other person was more like, “Eh? Why not. Not sold, but might as well. Got nothin’ better to do,” then you know how exhausting and draining it can be to choose to continue loving that person. And yet, if you’re the one who’s 100% all in, then you also know that choosing not to love that person feels completely impossible. You get to a place where you totally inflate average traits and small kindnesses and explain away the bigger flaws and settle for the mediocrity. You feel as if you’re constantly justifying the relationship to yourself and others, even though most people aren’t even asking.
So, one of the reasons I first began to learn about baseball – and specifically the Royals – was to try to gain some traction back in my relationship. The bf was super into the Royals and had been for the last three-plus decades (he was a little older than me). So he had an answer for every question I asked, and like many duped Royals fans, going into the 2012 season, he hung a hefty amount of his hopes on Hosmer and Moustakas. (Wow. Take a moment to appreciate the unintentional alliteration that bloomed in that last sentence. So organic. So lovely.)
The boyfriend’s birthday happened to be in April, so in addition to The Best Birthday Gift Ever #2* I went to Rally House and got us a pair of Royals shirts to kick off the season (no, they weren’t matching shirts). I mainly did it for him, because he didn’t even own a Royals shirt. (No idea what he wore to games before I came along.) But I did it a little for me too. I didn’t really care about owning a shirt, but I thought he might feel prouder to sit next to me at the stadium if I donned the proper attire.
So we spent April and May going to Royals games, when we had a chance and some extra cash. We certainly didn’t go as often as I go these days. But we went maybe three or four times during those first two months of the season.
And then a series of events happened that led to Breakup Day. Breakup Day dawned warm and sunny, as you would expect for a morning in early June. I called the bf around 10 or 11 a.m. and asked The Four Words of Relationship Doom: if we could talk. He said sure, and I drove to his house. He had a housemate getting married that day, and I had no interest in being in the middle of any wedding prep, so I asked if we could take a walk. We ended up walking for a significant amount of time, not saying much of anything. I think I was working up my courage. I have absolutely no idea what he was doing. We ended up at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, which has a picturesque lawn for any type of scene you could imagine – yes, even breaking up. There is not a single activity I can think of that, if someone suggested doing it on the lawn of the Nelson, I would say no. It’s just that perfect of a setting.
So we settled on a bench and proceeded to have our breakup conversation with the pretty backdrop behind us. And, just down the hill and across the street, that housemate of his and his fiancee were saying their vows to each other in the park. Right at the same time. Ah, the cycles of life, huh? Something ends, something else begins. Whether represented in death and birth, or breakups and marriages, or career transitions, it’s always going on, all around us, and it’s both endlessly beautiful and endlessly painful.
To put it as bluntly and succintly as possible, that breakup was a very difficult one. In fact, I almost didn’t even go through with it. I almost tried to ask for a redo in the middle of the conversation. And, in that conversation, or in a few of the months immediately following, if he had ever indicated any feeling of having made a mistake, of wanting to take another stab at things, of wanting me back at all, I would’ve jumped at the chance. But he didn’t. And I know now that’s best. I don’t think things would’ve turned out any better in the end, but if we had attempted a redo, I’m sure the emotional condition of my heart would have only been all the worse for the wear when it was all over.
So how does baseball factor into all this? Well, I’m not really sure when or how it happened. The only thing I know for sure is why. Because of my broken heart, because I needed a distraction, because I needed a hobby, and because baseball provides all of these things every single day for six months out of the year, I turned my full attention to baseball. For the rest of that season, from June through October, I orchestrated my entire life around the Royals’ playing schedule, and then around the (non-Royals) post-season games.
And let me tell you, if you have a broken heart, it’s pretty masochistic to try to patch it up with a perennially losing baseball team. On days that were emotionally harder than most, I quickly learned that I had to lower my expectations for the Royals to lift my spirits. Instead of hoping for a win, I started focusing on deliverables I knew I could get: on-air tangents from Denny Matthews and Bob Davis; tidbits of cheesy catch phrases from Rex Hudler; summer evenings at the ballpark with anyone who wasn’t my ex; as many tickets to as many games as I could possibly get my hands on; HRs from Billy Butler; smiles from Jeff Francoeur; and consistent production from Alex Gordon.
It’s a good thing baseball has a long season because it took the rest of the 2012 season as well as the entire off-season and all of 2013 spring training for me to finally feel like my heart wasn’t hemorrhaging anymore. I came in to the 2013 season with high hopes for the Royals. Key moves were made in the off-season; moves that indicated that the club expects to contend this year. April was really, really fun, even though a lot of people made fun of me for acting like what the Royals did in April mattered.
But it did matter. To a girl with a newly mended heart, a winning April meant more than the whole world. But now we’re almost done with May, and even if we win every single game we have left this month, we won’t emerge with a winning record on the month. Fans are disappointed, angry, and just plain apathetic. They’re calling for front-office jobs, they’re advocating game avoidance, they’re threatening to pack up and move on, to become fans of entirely new teams.
I guess if I’d been around for the last (almost) thirty years of losing, I’d probably be in their camp. But I’ve only been around for one (and a half) years of losing, and I can’t give up on the one thing that put my heart back together. Win or lose, baseball still gets played every day. Win or lose, Alex Gordon still produces. Win or lose, Kauffman still puts on fireworks shows, hosts Buck Night, and changes the colors of the outfield fountains. Win or lose, I’ve used those little red stitches to put my heart back together, and that’s why I’m a fan for life, and I’m not giving up on the Kansas City Royals.