Kansas City Royals catcher Drew Butera, left, and relief pitcher Mike Minor, right, celebrate after they defeated the Cleveland Indians in a baseball game, Friday, Sept. 15, 2017, in Cleveland. David Dermer AP
Kansas City Royals catcher Drew Butera, left, and relief pitcher Mike Minor, right, celebrate after they defeated the Cleveland Indians in a baseball game, Friday, Sept. 15, 2017, in Cleveland. David Dermer AP

Judging the Royals

Lee Judge shares insights from KC's major-leaguers.

Judging the Royals

Fans can give up on the Royals season, but the players won’t

By Lee Judge

ljudge@kcstar.com

September 16, 2017 11:47 AM

For the past month I haven’t been able to go 10 feet without being asked if the Royals were done. The team would suffer some seemingly catastrophic loss and people would ask: “That’s it…the Royals are done, right?”

People wanted to know if they could stop caring about the Royals and move on to other interests, but the Royals don’t have that option.

Fans can give up early, but the players won’t.

Whatever fans or members of the media think about the Royals chances of making it to the postseason, the players have to keep playing and as long as they’re still playing games, players want to win.

Because big league ballplayers are some of the most competitive people on earth.

These guys are not in the business of being embarrassed

Back in 2016, the year after the Royals won the World Series, the team did not get off to a great start. Social media is great for speculation and theories and one of the theories being floated about the 2016 Royals was, now that they had their rings, the players no longer cared.

When that theory was presented to Royals coach Rusty Kuntz, he disagreed and disagreed vehemently.

“You know what happens when a player wins the World Series? He wants to win another one,” he said.

Winning the World Series is so much fun, not to mention profitable, that a player who has had the experience wants to have that experience again. And even if the chances of making it to the postseason seem poor, players still want to win.

As Rusty put it: “These guys are not in the business of being embarrassed.”

If a player makes it through Little League, high school ball, college ball and the minors, that player probably has very competitive nature. And that competitive nature doesn’t change just because that player’s team is four games out of the Wild Card with 15 games left to play.

No matter the situation, big league ballplayers are competitive

I played men’s senior baseball for 20 years and one of those years I convinced Russ Morman to play for my team. Russ played in the big leagues for the Royals, White Sox and Marlins and to watch him play with a bunch of amateurs was like watching a tiger play with a flock of sheep.

It rarely turned out well for the sheep.

Not only was Russ killing the competition, he refused to talk to them. When I asked why, Russ said he already had friends; he was there to win ballgames.

It didn’t matter that it was a meaningless Men’s Senior League game; if Russ was going to play, he wanted to win.

Before Jerry Dipoto was GM of the Seattle Mariners he was a big league reliever who spent his offseasons in Kansas City. Every winter Jerry would strike me out about a hundred times to get ready for spring training.

In all the times I faced Jerry I hit one ball solid and hit it to the opposite field. The first words out of Jerry’s mouth were: “Foul ball!”

We were inside a netted batting cage, so whether a ball was fair or foul was a matter of speculation. I asked: “You can’t even give me one imaginary hit?”

Jerry’s answer was succinct: “No.”

It didn’t matter that it was winter and a meaningless, imaginary hit; if Jerry was going to compete, he wanted to win.

Ending the streak

Last Wednesday the Royals lost to the White Sox and then had to fly to Cleveland. After the Sox game I stopped by Brandon Moss’ locker and, before our visit was over, Moss said the Royals wouldn’t mind being the team that broke the Indians’ winning streak.

When they’re being interviewed, ballplayers know they should say all the right things and the Royals said most of the right things about the Indian’s 22-game winning streak. Ned Yost called it “utterly amazing” and a “tremendous accomplishment.”

But the Royals didn’t fly to Cleveland to be the Indians’ punching bag and after breaking the streak on Friday night, how the Royals really felt might have been typified by what the normally cool Eric Hosmer appeared to say as he went through the Royals postgame recieving line:

“(Bleep) that streak!”

pic.twitter.com/J96rCz2w25

— CycloneBeer (@CycloneBeer) September 16, 2017

Despite finishing the night one game under .500, despite their slim playoff chances, winning a game still meant something.

Play hard until the last out

After Friday night’s 4-3 win over the Indians, here’s what starting pitcher Jason Vargas said to MLB reporter Jeffrey Flanagan:

“You’re never out until you’re out. Nobody wants to go home without the opportunity to put some more jewelry on their fingers. The reality of the matter is we have to take it one game at a time.”

So fans might have stopped caring and moved on to other interests, but big league ballplayers – competitive by nature – will keep playing hard until they’re mathematically eliminated. They won’t wave the white flag early and rollover. As long as there’s a chance, no matter how slim, the players will ice that sore quad, tape up that gimpy ankle or massage that sore knee and limp out onto the field and play to win.

And playing hard until the final out, playing hard until it’s truly and completely over, is something we can all learn from big league ballplayers.

Enjoy today’s game.

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