Last baseball season, I watched more Kansas City Royals games than St. Louis Cardinals games.
That was odd for me, a lifelong Cardinals fan, but I was outnumbered on the News Tribune sports desk: Three Royals fans to one Cardinals fan. (Tony Hawley claims to be a Yankees fan but cares far too much about Royals games to not be put in the blue column.) I might have even watched more Royals playoff games than Cardinals playoff games, though that might have been because, sadly, there simply were more of the former.
It was a new experience for me, but it wasn't an unpleasant one in the least. I have no animosity toward the Royals, seeing as the Cardinals-Royals rivalry shares little more than a highway and a World Series that happened six years before I was born.
So it was nice to see a fellow Missouri team do well. In fact, I think I would have enjoyed it no matter what state I lived in. (Unless, of course, I were an A's, Angels or Orioles fan.) It was a thrilling run kicked off with one of the best games of all-time - not to mention the exciting run just to make the playoffs in the first place. It was good for baseball, and it was hard not to feel the excitement.
But, I wasn't sure how the follow-up act would fare. How were the Royals going to make the magic continue? For one, the A.L. Central got tougher in the offseason, but perhaps more importantly, Kansas City had to compete with the fact the average sports fan doesn't get all that invested in baseball until the end of summer. Would everyone just forget about the Royals until late August - and only then if they were back in the thick of things?
I'm not sure how they did it, but the boys in blue have certainly gotten my attention this April. To start with, winning their first seven games - and 11 of their first 14 - doesn't hurt. Kansas City currently leads the majors in batting average and on-base percentage and is fourth in runs scored and second in earned-run average.
But apparently the Royals figured our short-attention-span world needed a little extra excitement and decided to get into a kerfuffle with all but one of the teams they've played so far. Six players just got suspended for the latest incident, a bench-clearing brawl with the White Sox.
And honestly, it's worked. My interest has been piqued.
It's been must-see TV to watch Yordano Ventura tick off everyone he pitches against. OK, yes. I'll admit we don't need pitchers throwing fastballs at opponents' heads to send a message. That could get ugly fast. But as far as I'm concerned, everything else is fair game. What's wrong with a little jawing? A little "hold me back, bro" chest-bumping? The other major sports have plenty of it, and the last time I checked they're doing just fine.
Baseball could stand to loosen up a bit, what with its unwritten rules and time-honored code of mandated gentleman-like behavior. I want to see my rivals actually act like rivals. I want the teams to actually look like they want to beat each other. Maybe that's too much to ask for in the free-agency era, seeing as players probably have plenty of friends on the other team and could very well end up playing for that team in the next few years.
But the Royals seem to have it figured out.
Because let's be honest: When was the last time April baseball was this much fun?