KANSAS CITY, Mo. – On top of a silver-sheened table in the middle of the Kansas City Royals’ clubhouse sat a plastic box. The bottom and sides are see-through and the top fully breathable, with thin slits every centimeter. Inside of the box were three bugs. The first two sat on fake green leaves. The third hung upside down from the lid, lurking, stalking, waiting, an unassuming predator.
Somehow, the third bug, a praying mantis, had become the biggest story in Kansas City. Never mind that praying mantises are absolute monsters that eat their victims’ faces. The arrival of this one happened to coincide with the revival of the left-for-dead Royals, and as far as miserably trite and ill-conceived narratives go, the Rally Mantis spurring on the defending World Series champions may be tough to beat.
“We’re winning,” one Royals veteran joked, “because of a stupid-ass bug, of course.”
He laughed, careful not to insult the fans that have latched on to the mantis, the TV reporters who breathlessly chronicle its existence – after the death of the original Rally Mantis, the tenuous survival of 2.0 is big news, after all – or the club that for the low, low price of $44.99 now peddles mantis masks.
There is one, and only one, reason that the mantis should have any resonance, and it’s certainly not that the Royals won 18 of 22 games after they adopted one. It’s that in the entire animal kingdom, there may not be a single better representative of the Royals’ ability to make what seems impossible very, very real than the humble praying mantis.
Seriously, look at this attempt to murder a sweet hummingbird. The mantis just chills, chills, chills – and boom! And there were the Kansas City Royals on Aug. 5, not chilling, exactly, but struggling to put together any semblance of decent baseball. Injuries beat them down, and they weren’t hitting, and they weren’t pitching, and the prospect of more baseball in October seemed lost. They were 51-58. Eleven games back of Cleveland in the American League Central. Seemingly, to all rational minds, hopelessly gone.
“You look at it, and we’re a certain amount of games out, and you look at the staff Cleveland has, and you look at these other teams, and it’s like, how does it even make sense for them to come back?” Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “That’s the beauty of this game. It’s nuts. It’s just as easy for a team to fall apart as it is to take off. But what all of this has taught us is when we take off from spring training, we know we’re going to be here for 162 games. And if it starts out rough, or gets rough at any point, we don’t shut down.”
This, now and forever, will be how the present incarnation of the Royals is remembered. They’ve never been the most talented team, the best hitting team, the best pitching team, the best at much aside from winning. They’ve been the ultimate Aristotelian team, losing so many parts – Mike Moustakas and Luke Hochevar for the year, Wade Davis and Alex Gordon for months-long stretches, Lorenzo Cain on and off all year – and witnessing the whole still somehow manage.
“We did it by ourselves,” Royals starter Edinson Volquez said. “You know what? I was thinking about this the other day. When people discount this team, these guys get angry. There’s motivation. They get better. That’s how we take every bad comment. We’re going to make this guy look bad. We’re going to win today. We’re going to win tomorrow. That computer says we’re going to win 72 games. How many wins we got now?”[/restrict]