The Second Reaction

We’ve just taken two from the White Sox in Chicago. We’re back to .500 for the fourth or fifth time this season. We’ve won 50 games and lost 50. That leaves 62 games in the season. If we win ‘em all, we’ll finish 112-50. If we lose ‘em all, that’ll put us at 50-112.  

“We” are the Kansas City Royals and this was supposed to be the year. If the current trend holds, it will not be the year after all, though we’ll likely remain mathematically alive through Labor Day-ish.

The numbers can add up. It’s mathematically conceivable. It is within the realm of possibility that the exact combination of Royals victories, Detroit and Cleveland losses could propel Kansas City into the playoffs for the first time since winning it all in 1985.

The chances are slim.

It’d be easy for me to default to cynicism. A snarky Royals blogger says if the Mariners offer the Royals “a bucket of baseballs” in a trade for Billy Butler, we should jump at the deal. My first reaction is, “Yes!” With extreme prejudice.

My first reaction is these guys get paid millions to play a game, so earn it already. Which, in its own incendiary way, only sharpens the cynicism.

As the precipice of middle age draws nearer, I’ve come to appreciate that my first reaction is very often flat wrong.

My second reaction is to think of Billy Butler, the human being.

In the second reaction, I imagine his offensive struggles this year are taking an emotional toll. The man has one job. Hit the baseball. Everyone on his team and in the stadium expect him to do that one thing. How badly must he feel when he doesn’t?

I think of Butler’s father, who accompanied his son with other players’ dads on a Father’s Day road trip to Chicago and Detroit.

During a TV interview, you came away with just exactly how much the man loves his son. Pride, sympathy, wanting to do nothing more than crawl inside his son’s psyche and take the pain and hurt away.

But he can’t.

In the second reaction, reality emerges.

Billy Butler is my guy. Mike Moustakas, Nori Aoki and Brett Hayes are my guys. Just like Bobby “The Hammer” Hamelin was my guy in 1995 when he struggled after winning Rookie of the Year in ’94.

Just like Mark Davis was my guy when he couldn’t find the plate in 1990 after his ‘89 Cy Young Award season.

Just like all the underachievers, all the guys who have donned the Royal blue and white since 1969, striving to fulfill their potential.

Every Kansas City Royal desperately seeking the Mendoza Line.

In the second reaction, I am thankful to have a big league ballclub in the area and I am loyal to the guys on my team, regardless.

Guys with fathers, mothers, wives and children who love them. Guys who have good years. Guys who have miserable years.

The second reaction allows room for a little grace.