“No one believes in us.”
You hear that all the time in sports. You hear it so often that it’s almost become meaningless now. You hear an athlete say it, and you just kind of roll your eyes.
“No one believes in us.” Okay, bro, you think.
Whatever you say.
The thing about “no one believes in us,” though … is that most of the time it’s deserved.
When people don’t believe in you — as hard to accept as it may be — what it usually, finally, amounts to is this: You haven’t done something worth believing in yet.
It means that you still haven’t proven it. That you still haven’t proven you belong.
And honestly, that’s how it should be.
But what about when you have done it? What about when you’ve proven you belong — and still no one believes in you? What then?
Well, there’s a word for that. There’s a word for what that makes you, in people’s minds — when you’ve done something once, and no one believes you can do it again.
When Spring Training started this year, it was clear that “a fluke” is what the Kansas City Royals were to most people.
Maybe no one said it out loud, or said it directly … but even still. You could tell. You can always tell.
We knew where we stood.
We were the defending AL Champs. We had come within a game — and as close as you could possibly come, within that game — of winning the World Series. We were a young team, with its core returning intact.
And yet … no one was picking us to even make it back to the playoffs. Not the World Series … not the American League … not the division — the playoffs. We were predicted, by consensus, to miss the postseason entirely. We were predicted, essentially, to be a flash in the pan. A cool moment, a nice story … but a footnote. A team that people would look back on in ten years and say, Oh, hey, remember that one random Royals team? That was fun.
We were That Team — that’s what people assumed. We weren’t built to last.
And on some level … I get it. From the outside looking in, I can see how someone might come to that conclusion. At times during the regular season last year, a lot of our younger guys struggled — myself included. We had a season to be proud of, of course — we won the Wild Card, the Royals’ first playoff berth in 29 years — but it’s not as though we had set the world on fire. We won 89 games. We were solid. That’s it.
And then, in the playoffs, we found this magic. We were in the Wild Card Game, down 7-3, in the eighth inning, with Jon Lester — a legendary postseason pitcher — on the mound.
And we found … this … magic.
To this day, it’s hard for me to explain what happened that night. I’m still not sure I totally know myself. But here’s the best I can come up with: When you have your back against the wall, and are facing adversity — that’s when you find out who you really are. That’s when you really get a good look in the mirror.
And I think we looked ourselves in the mirror, as a team, and we liked what we saw. It felt like this — playing on national TV, in prime time, in a meaningful baseball game in October — was where we belonged. And we didn’t want that feeling to end.
And somehow, it didn’t. We scratched and clawed, bit by bit … and by the time that Salvador’s single dropped in, early into the next morning … we had won the game, 9-8, in a 12-inning miracle. We found a way — and I think a lot more, besides: We found our identity. Our groove. Our potential. Our selves.
And there was no turning back.
It’s no accident that, in the next two series, we started to play with a swagger. After that Wild Card Game, we felt a swagger. We felt like, in those middle innings against the A’s, we had attended our own funeral. People had already declared us dead. But we weren’t dead — we were very much alive. And we had nothing to lose.
We weren’t “hot.” We were good. We were almost great.
And we didn’t lose. Not in the Division Series. Not in the League Championship Series. For two straight playoff series, we didn’t lose once.
Remember when I said that we were an 89-win team? That we were “solid”? Yeah — we weren’t just solid anymore. During those two series, our team grew up. And we became really, legitimately good.
In the World Series, we gave it everything we had. We lost, in seven, in an instant classic. “Heartbreaking ending” — another sports cliché. But that’s how it felt. Man, we came close.
And we knew. We knew how close we had come, and how well we had matched up with a Giants team that will probably go down as a dynasty. We had gone toe to toe. We had taken the Champ’s very best shot, and endured one of the best World Series performances in history from Madison Bumgarner — and still we had nearly come out on top.
We weren’t “hot.” We were good. We were almost great.
And that’s what everyone who assumed we would take a step backward this year failed to fully understand. We didn’t just “go on a run” last year. We had been a young team, trying to figure it out. And together we did. We came of age, and into our own.
After Game 7, the whole team sat with each other in the locker room for about an hour and a half. No one even took their uniform off. Honestly, I think we were all just a little confused. It was a terrible feeling.
But looking back, now, I understand what that confusion meant.
We were confused that it was over — and that we weren’t holding a trophy.
We had expected to win it all.
When the season began this year, I knew we were a team that had several identities — that represented a lot of things: Comeback kids. A new generation. Playoff veterans. The defending AL Champs. But one identity stood out above the rest: No fluke.
And that, to me, is what has defined this team all season long — and has made it so special, and its objective so unique.
While every other contender right now is playing with the goal of proving that they belong this year — for us the stakes are even higher. For us, we feel like we aren’t just playing for this year … we’re playing for last year as well.
We’re playing to win the pennant. But we’re also playing to prove that last year’s pennant was real. We’re playing to prove that the “heartbreaking ending” to our season was only one of those things: That yeah, it was heartbreaking. But it wasn’t an ending at all.
It was a beginning.
They predicted that we would win 75 games this year. We won 95. And now we’re in a fight for our playoff lives.
In other words: We’re right where we want to be.
We weren’t a fluke.
We’re the Kansas City Royals.
We’re here, now. And we’re going to be sticking around for a while.