In the final week of October, two jaded franchises, the New York Mets and the Kansas City Royals, squared off in the World Series. The Mets couldn’t ride a historic late-season run past a budding Kansas City Royals squad whose philosophy centered on balance, fundamentals and a phenomenal bullpen. As eclectic a community as Wesleyan is, there aren’t too many Royals fans around. Kansas-born Associate Professor of Government Doug Foyle, however, has endured the highs and lows of Kansas City sports fandom since the 1970s. The Argus could think of no one better to steep us in the history of the world champions and enliven a Middle America sports hub perhaps considered parochial by the majority of spoiled coast-dwellers among us.
The Argus: Tell us what it’s like to be a Kansas City fan.
Doug Foyle: In general, it’s about having high hopes and then having those hopes dashed. Being a Kansas City Chiefs fan, that’s a lot of what it’s been about. And being a Kansas City Royals fan, it’s basically been about not having any hope at all for the last 25 years. They’ve just been miserable. They’re really out of it before they’re even in it, so it’s been kind of terrible. I’m not sure if it’s worse to get your hopes up and then have them crushed, which has been kind of the football side, or just not have your hopes up at all, with the Royals.
A: But not so much recently.
DF: Yeah. It’s been fun the last two years with the Royals, and even before that, because you kind of see this team being built, and having a plan, you know, still not really believing it because teams have big plans all the time and nothing ever comes of it. But last year really caught everyone by surprise. They came out of seemingly nowhere. No one was picking ’em they got in out of the wild card. Even when they were having the playoff run in 2014, you still really didn’t think they were going to actually make the playoffs, and then when they made it you figured that they were gonna lose. And then of course they came so close, but even that wasn’t enormously disappointing because no one even expected them really to be there. But this year, had they lost, it wouldn’t have been good at all, since they were so good all season and looked so strong heading in.
A: Did you watch every game?
DF: Yeah. Staying up until very, very, late. There’s been a decided lack of sleep. There’ve been a lot of extra innings. A lot of them went so late, like ’til 1 a.m.; the last one went really late, too. At a certain point you’re just like, “Please, somebody win this game.”
A: As a fan dislocated from your team’s fan base, what’s it like to root for them? Do you watch regular season play?
DF: For baseball, since there’s always a game on, I mostly just read about ’em in the paper. So I don’t watch much baseball in the regular season. It’s kind of still like it was when I was growing up, where you only really catch it when it’s on the network TV. So I’ll pick up a big game on Sunday night baseball, but not a lot, especially during the regular season. But I watched all the playoff games, because they’re consequential, and they’re fun to watch.
A: What was great about this year’s team?
DF: The Royals are a fun team to watch, which is what so neat about them. They’re fundamentally sound and they’re really just a smart team, which makes it a lot of fun to see them play. Smart team. The way they won the Toronto series with Lorenzo Cain going from first to home on a single. It’s smart base-running, smart coaching, planning, really just a nice, fabulous play.
A: Talk a little bit about the history of your Royals fandom.
DF: I’ve been a fan of the Royals probably since ’75, which is when I was like, seven and first started to pay attention to baseball. And then I moved out of Kansas to go to college in ’86 and really haven’t lived there since then, except for over the summers. But when I was in graduate school at Duke, I’d drive down to spring training and follow the Royals down there. Because of course, our spring break aligned with spring training, so I could go down for a couple of days and follow the team around.
I came here in ’98, and when you have kids, you kind of have to decide how you’re gonna root as a family. And so, we decided, you know this is one of those important family decisions, that we were gonna root for the Red Sox, because I never really had any antipathy toward the Red Sox. So they’ve been my backup team. It wasn’t gonna be the Yankees, because growing up in the ’70s with the Royals, it was the Yankees that kept knocking them out of the playoffs.
A: Does your fandom bleed into your work here? Were your classes aware of the Royals playoff run?
DF: It does, periodically. I mean, this semester, my classes have had to suffer through a little bit of it. You know, after the Royals won, I kind of used it when I talked about hegemony. About being the world champions and all that stuff. I definitely hid some slides in the PowerPoints here or there. So I wove it in a little bit during the playoffs when I could, but I didn’t hook too much around it.
A: Track your more general sports fandom for us.
DF: When you get older and you have competing responsibilities you have to kind of prune back what you pay attention to. Football is much easier because I’ve got a certain amount of time on Sunday, or maybe Monday or Thursday, where that’s my time to watch football. And then I pay attention to baseball and follow it on the radio and in the newspaper, and then I’m vaguely aware of basketball, and then soccer, I follow the big stuff.
A: Back to the Royals. Take us through the ups and downs of your relationship with them. We need a little baseball history.
DF: It was tough with the Royals growing up. Because through 1985, they were good, but they would never really make it. They lost in the playoffs in ’76, ’77, and ’78, and then they made it to the World Series in 1980, but lost to Philadelphia, so that was kind of what would happen to them. And then they broke through in ’85, and it was one of those weird things where they came back in both those series. They beat Toronto down 3-1, and then they beat the Cardinals after they were down 3-1 to win the World Series. It was kind of surprising. And then you kind of felt like optimistic from ’85 to ’93 and you felt like every year was gonna be their year. Then they really stopped spending money in the early 1990s, and then there were just those years from then until the last four or five years where they were just miserable. And you just knew they were gonna be bad every season, and there was just no hope. There was one season that was out of control where they started like 0-17 or something like that. But now they seem to be competitive and they have a good philosophy. You know, it’s always fun, but it’s obviously better when they’re competitive, so this is really exciting.
A: Final question. Tell us about an experience or two at the Kauffman Stadium.
DF: My wife and I, we’d just pick up and go to the ballgame and go and sit in G.A. [general admission]. So over the summer we’d work and then go to the game. And then drive back. You could go at the drop of the hat and just sit in G.A., and it was only like five dollars, so it was just ridiculously cheap. And you know it was a big thing to go to the Royals games, and I was doing research in the Truman Library in the summer of 2000 or 2001, and, you know, when the archive closes there’s nothing to do, so I just drove up and got a single seat, behind home plate, watched the game. You could just walk in and get a seat. But those teams in the ’70s were just something else to watch. The crowd was amazing, and it was AstroTurf, so it was fast, and it was something special. Just a lot of fun.
This interview has been edited for length.