(Not) just another bandwagon fan 

By Heather Nelson

It’s no secret that I’m a die hard Red Sox fan and that the most joy I’ve ever felt was after the last out in Busch Stadium in 2004. I have a love for baseball that far exceeds most other sports. (In the offseason, I watch Red Sox World Series DVDs to relive any little bit of baseball. You’ll probably even find me wearing Red Sox apparel with no shame.)

Bascially, the Red Sox come before the Royals...
Basically, the Red Sox come before the Royals…

With the above being said, I’ll proceed with caution.

I won’t pretend I’ve been a Royals fan all of my life, but, damn, the Royals have been a fun team to watch. As an Omahan, I’ve had the pleasure of watching many of the World Series champions literally grow up through the Royals’ farm system. The Omaha Storm Chasers’ home, Werner Park, is 20 minutes from my house. Besides the College World Series, there isn’t much to keep Omahans busy in the summer, and since the park opened in 2011, I’ve made it to at least a few games each season.

2011 Omaha Stormchasers (from baseball reference)
2011 Omaha Storm Chasers (from baseballreference.com)

During the Storm Chasers first season with the new name, 21-year-old Eric Hosmer stole my heart. I immediately bought his player t-shirt. A few days later, the Kansas City Royals called Hosmer up to the majors. My heart broke. It’s tough being a “fan” of a Triple-A team, where the roster is constantly shifting, but I didn’t stop there. The Storm Chasers won the Pacific Coast League in 2011 under manager Mike Jirschele. The Chasers topped the PCL in 2012, but fell short of the championship.

As a student at the University of Kansas, I found it rather hard to resist the hype around the Royals during baseball season. Thanks to the Royals student ticket promotion, I was able to attend a few games on a budget — not that Royals tickets have ever been too expensive. In 2013, the Royals claimed their first winning season in 10 years. Fans started to believe the hype. After overcoming a losing record halfway through the 2014 season, the Royals won their way to game 7 of the World Series. The Royals gave fans a team to believe in again.

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Royals fans from KU ready for game 7.

I found myself in the parking lot of Kauffman Stadium with good friends and a few die hard Royals fans. I felt the twinges of nervousness Royals fans felt before game 7. I didn’t eat much, but I didn’t turn away the Boulevard. (It took the edge off.) I patted my friend on the back, and told him, “Whatever happens…these guys made a good run, and we’ll see them again next year. This is a good team, and their farm system has talent.” Who knows if he listened to my words. I think he was too wrapped up in the spectacle of the game, how the lights of Kauffman looked from the parking lot. It looked like the Royals were going to pull it off. But, the roar of the crowd spoiled the radio broadcast we listened to from behind the outfield gate — it was over. Tears streamed down my friend’s face. And all I uttered, “Next year.”

I laugh, now, because those words are so cliche. I’ve already consoled myself with those words following the shortcomings of the Red Sox this year. I did believe the Kansas City Royals would win the title in the near future — I just didn’t know how soon. In 2013 and 2014, the Omaha Storm Chasers won the Triple-A Championship arguably proving to Kansas City fans hope was on the horizon.

I watched last night’s game from my couch with memories flashing through my mind. Memories of my parents taking my sister and me to Rosenblatt Stadium to see the Omaha Royals to watch the fireworks. Memories of the hand puppet I owned — Casey, the Omaha Royals mascot. Memories of the short-lived Omaha Golden Spikes. Memories of my neighborhood friend who never once doubted the Royals. Never. Memories of the final Omaha Royals game at Rosenblatt; when “Moose” got his nickname; when Salvy got his start; when Gordon — the Nebraska boy — earned his spot on the KC roster. Memories of watching Hosmer and several others play on a small field in Omaha.

Last game at Rosenblatt Stadium (2010).
Last game at Rosenblatt Stadium (2010).

I watched their dreams come true. And I couldn’t help but count myself in the KC camaraderie. I’m not just another bandwagon fan. I’m a hometown fan that’s never accepted her fandom, until she realized she was missing out on all the fun.

Congrats to the Kansas City Royals and to all those die hard fans for hanging on so long. Pitchers & catchers report: 109 days. Royals v Red Sox: May 16 – 18.

The playoff Red Sox have returned

The Red Sox clinched a playoff spot on Sept. 19 after a win against the Orioles.

The playoff berth comes one year after a mediocre performance by the Red Sox in the 2012 season. They finished 69-93 — a complete flip of this year’s record.

What is the difference between the two seasons?

I see two: the managerial change and beards. Lots of beards.

Last September, when the Red Sox management fired Bobby Valentine, I threw a party. For one, I was still bitter that Terry Francona had called it quits on the Red Sox. I couldn’t think of anyone better to lead the team. Then, Bobby V was announced as skip. People tried to convince me that he would lead the team to success. Ahem, 69-93? No.

Although a year isn’t a good indicator of what a manager can do with a team, I will never believe Valentine was a good fit for the Sox clubhouse. Thankfully, the Red Sox hired former pitching coach, John Farrell.

I had a strong feeling that the Red Sox needed Farrell; it’d only be a matter of time before the Sox would start winning again. Most importantly, the Red Sox needed a serious attitude adjustment.

The 2013 Red Sox possess the child-like essence that was missing the past few years. Francona’s final (and controversial) season lacked the quirky-ness the team had in years before. The Valentine-era reeked of tension and distrust. He called out his own players, which created problems.

Along with Farrell, the Red Sox added players to their roster who fit the clubhouse mould. Ben Cherington (thankfully) did a good job of adding veteran guys to the roster. Enter Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, Shane Victorino and Ryan Dempster.

The Idiot-esque beards returned. And thankfully, so did the wins. The Red Sox had the best record through the first month of baseball. This success continued for most of the season. I turned on a Red Sox game expecting a win.

Now, they’ve entered the playoffs. The next thing on their checklist? Winning the American League East.

The Red Sox beards set the team apart from any other in the league. The personalities of the players in the clubhouse make them fun to watch. (Photo from Jim Davis of Boston Globe).
The Red Sox beards set the team apart from any other in the league. The personalities of the players in the clubhouse make them fun to watch. (Photo from Jim Davis of Boston Globe).

After a spirit night like “Dollar Beard Night,” I think it’s apparent the Red Sox separated themselves from the pack.

Think about 2004. A team of oddballs. Who would’ve thought they’d kill the curse. This year, I’m hoping for no different.

Who cares if George Steinbrenner wouldn’t approve?

Go beard or go home.

The tale of a girl raised on the Red Sox

By Heather Nelson

It started in fifth grade when I discovered what the Green Monster was. My fifth grade teacher assigned the class an art project to create a perspective drawing of a cityscape. I was determined to create a cityscape of Boston.

I had no prior knowledge of Boston. I didn’t know anything about it other than that Paul Revere had famously made his night ride through this historic city.

I forged on with my cityscape project. I created a quite accurate, miniature version of Boston. That’s when my teacher suggested adding the Green Monster.

“What’s that?” I said. “A monster that lives in Boston?” I was baffled.

My teacher explained that it was the large, green wall in left field at Fenway Park – another word that was unfamiliar to my minuscule sports vocabulary. In the last few months of school, I began to ask my teacher more questions. I wanted to know more about baseball. (I asked my dad so many questions that I think he’d have rather watched a game without me).

When I was in sixth grade, I finally learned the true meaning of the sport and of true (and insane) fandom. October 2004, the Red Sox entered the ALCS against the New York Yankees. I hardly knew the magnitude of these games. Especially, the fact that the Red Sox were able to escape a 0-3 deficit against the Yankees.

And then, the team swept the Cardinals in the World Series. My dad called his cousin in Boston; we spoke with her on the phone. (I could barely hear her voice over the screaming fans she was surrounded by in the Boston bar). My sister and I screamed and chanted as we ran up and down the block with our Red Sox flag. Even better, we stayed up past bedtime on a school night.

The team of “Idiots” won the World Series, which silenced the endless taunting I had received from a gang of Yankees fans in my class. Because I was the lone girl sports fan, I was easy to pick on.

I missed the school day to watch the Red Sox parade through Boston on my TV. (I did that again in 2007, when I was in high school. This time I faked sick).

After the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, my family took a trip to Boston. And even though the Red Sox followed such a thrilling win with a horrid season, I enjoyed every minute of my trip to the city. I became infatuated with Boston. The trip opened me up to the possibility that I’d be a Sox fan forever.

So, I followed baseball religiously. My dad taught me how statistics were acquired. I found myself getting caught up in a pitcher’s count – I knew when the coaches should consider taking him out of the game. I picked favorite players. My first was Trot Nixon, but after he left the Red Sox, it became Josh Beckett.

My fandom progressed and spread as former Sox players dispersed across the league. I found myself rooting for more than just the Red Sox. Only a few years earlier had the sport put me to sleep.

The Kansas City Royals farm team, the Stormchasers (formerly the Omaha Royals) is based in my hometown, Omaha, Neb. My dad started taking my siblings and me to the games. I saw Alex Gordon before he was a shining star and Saltalamacchia before he was a Red Sox. I started to learn what farm-system teams were all about.

Since then, I’ve gained an appreciation for the sport. I understand the deep rivalry within the American League East – arguably the toughest division in baseball. I run my own fantasy team, which requires some help from my dad. But, more importantly, I long to watch baseball year-round. During the offseason, I complain to friends and family about how long I will have to wait for, at least, spring training to start.

I aspire to write for sports someday. I tell anyone who asks that I will write for any sport, but my heart will always belong to baseball.