I would have hugged him, but he might not have let me on the airplane.
Ultimately, sports fandom is all about self-identification. So many of us love teams and athletes because we see ourselves in their stories. This Royals club, with their unlikely and unprecedented playoff run, clearly is telling a story that the nation wants to hear. It's about teamwork and the triumph of the underdog, the raw power of self-confidence, and the seemingly mystical effect of faith.
America, despite not being an actual underdog since the War of 1812, certainly does loves an underdog story. The Royals are that. For 29 years, this once-proud team had endured a savage, embarrassing postseason drought; the longest in all North American professional sports. Now this troop of mostly homegrown kids and castoffs have stormed into the World Series.
The Royals are also a great story because they play an unusual, exciting, nostalgia-tinged brand of baseball. With the fewest home runs of any team in the majors, they are the epitome of “small ball,” winning with speed, pitching, timely hitting, and ridiculously good defense. Manufacturing runs from what feels like thin air, their style hearkens to a better kind of baseball, before steroids warped the game, erasing so much of its subtlety.
Consider how the Royals scored in the final game of ALCS. Alcides Escobar beat out an infield single. Nori Aoki was hit by a pitch. Lorenzo Cain bunted both runners over. Eric Hosmer hit an easy grounder, but Baltimore catcher Caleb Joseph dropped the throw home and both runners scored. 2-0 and the ball never even left the infield.
That taut style of play also makes for tense games, surely adding to the Royals' appeal. Of their eight postseason wins, four have been in extra-innings. Only one, the ALDS clincher, was decided by more than two runs.
They are a team without stars. Their very make-up demands it. Everyone on the roster must be a “role player.” Better yet, they like it that way. These players take pride in their willingness to sacrifice—often literally—for the good of the team.
Unlike some grim-faced millionaire vets playing for big-market teams, the Royals also seem to be enjoying themselves. They come across as young and fun, both on and off the field, and they obviously love playing with each other. Look at Salvador Perez, Kansas City's giant teddy bear of a catcher. His entire Instagram account seems dedicated to the playful harassment of his teammate Lorenzo Cain.
They also seem to love the fans, and take huge delight in connecting with their city in a way that pro athletes almost never do. After big wins at Kauffman Stadium, Perez or Aoki will throw t-shirts to the crowd. When the team clinched against the Angels, Eric Hosmer went to local bar and spent $15,000 on free drinks for fans. Reliever Brandon Finnegan bought playoff tickets for a broke fan who asked him on Twitter.