Bill Carle has seen his share of bad baseball. He has seen everyone’s share of bad baseball.
“One game in 2005,” he relates, “we had Terrence Long in center field and Chip Ambres in left. With two outs, the batter hit a fly into left-center, and both Long and Ambres came trotting in towards the dugout, thinking the other was going to catch it.”
The “we” to which he refers is the Kansas City Royals. Carle has a one-half share in a pair of Royals season tickets; he goes to somewhere between 40 and 50 games a year, augmenting his allotment with individual tickets for the games he doesn’t want to miss.
He has seen a lot of losses.
“In 2005, we lost 19 straight,” Carle said. “The streak would have ended at ten, but Chip Ambres dropped a long fly to left field that would have been the final out. Cleveland wound up scoring eleven runs in the inning, the game turned into our eleventh straight loss, and the streak went on from there.
“We didn’t have Chip Ambres for very long, but he certainly made an impression.”
Bill Carle is not the average baseball fan; a former member of the national board of the Society for American Baseball Research, he is more devoted than most. His interests in the game go beyond root-root-rooting for the home team, but he is nonetheless passionate about a team that’s the embodiment of Major League Baseball’s inequities.
The size of the Kansas City television market puts a limit on the Royals’ potential revenue. They cannot charge prices comparable to what the Yankees can command for tickets. Their best hope is to put together a young team and see it develop, but that requires rare acumen and judgment.
“They’ve been willing to spend money on draft choices,” Carle noted. “But they’ve drafted a lot of guys who just aren’t very good. Almost all of our #1 picks – Jeff Granger, Jeff Austin, Dan Reichert, Chris George, Kyle Snyder, Mike Stodolka – they didn’t get much out of them.”
Other Royals who have disappointed him were Angel Berroa (“He really perplexed me,” Carle said, “he wins Rookie of the Year and then his stats went down every single year”), Mike MacDougal (former closer with a 4.46 career ERA), and Alex Gordon (“Minor-league player of the year in 2006, on Opening Day of 2007, in his first major-league at bat, bases are loaded in the first inning against Curt Schilling – he struck out swinging, maybe we should have known then he wasn’t going to be the next George Brett”).
He’s seen some good days, too, since moving to the Kansas City area in 1978: the World Series win over the Cardinals in 1985; the playoff sweep against the Yankees in 1980; the day that Brett announced his retirement, then hit the game-winning home run in extra innings. The emergence of Zack Greinke last season.
Then there are the other satisfactions: “I’ve actually had the beer man give me some free ones because I’m such a regular customer,” he says. “When you know the beer man by name, you know you’ve gone to a lot of games.”
The 2010 season will be Kansas City’s third in the last four with at least 92 losses. Even that is a step up from the five years before then, when they lost 100 or more four times. They’ve finished above .500 once since the 1994 strike – 2003, when they were 83-79. Does it ever seem futile to root for a team that seems to start the season with two strikes against it, whose best players are almost sure to leave?
“I try to enjoy them when they’re here, and when they’re gone, I don’t follow them any more, I root for the guys who are on the Royals now,” he said. “I don’t feel angry towards them – though the one guy who still gets booed here is Johnny Damon. I don’t dislike him, but he’s not a popular guy around here.”
On Sunday, Bill and his wife Valerie will be in their accustomed seats in the upper deck directly behind home plate, Section 417, Row C, Seats 1 and 2. “I always go to the last game of the season,” he told me. “I have to say goodbye to my seats. I like to sit there and think about next year.
“I want to see Mike Moustakas [power-hitting third baseman in AAA] make the team. I want to see Eric Hosmer, Danny Duffy, Derrick Robinson, Will Myers – there’s a lot of guys down in the minors I want to see get here. There’s supposed to be a real wave coming…”
One season ends. Another will get here as soon as it can.