Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Columbia, Missouri is midway point. between Royals and Cardinals parks and Cardinals territory per Times fan map, but a local has 'seen a lot of brand new Royals hats lately'-NY Times, Rohan

10/7/14, "Same State, but Divergent Paths," NY Times, Tim Rohan

"They are separated by 250 miles: the Royals of Kansas City on the western edge of Missouri, the Cardinals of St. Louis all the way in the east. The Royals, in their blue trim, are back in the postseason for the first time in 29 years — the last time, they beat the Cardinals in the World Series— and for much of that time have been lost souls. The Cardinals, meanwhile, in their distinctive red, have become the Yankees of the Midwest, with 11 World Series titles to their name and so many postseason appearances in recent years that fans elsewhere may be starting to grow a little resentful.

So in baseball terms, the distance between these two clubs is a lot larger than what the map shows. Still, the assignment was to drive from one end of the state to the other, to start off amid the euphoria in Kansas City, where the Royals have already surged into the American League Championship Series, and to end up in the been-there-before atmosphere of St. Louis, where the expectations were that the Cardinals would once again find a way to advance deep into the postseason.

Blue state, red state. The question was what kinds of baseball sentiments I would encounter along the way.
I started my journey late Monday morning in the parking lot of the Royals’ home field, Kauffman Stadium. The night before, fans had stood there in the rain, cheering and chanting, laughing and crying, after Kansas City swept its division series against the Los Angeles Angels. 

That’s what happens when you haven’t been in the postseason since 1985 and when even this season’s journey to October took place on a tightrope, with the Royals clinching a wild-card spot only in the final days of the season.

Thirty miles out of Kansas City, driving east on Interstate 70, as I was checking in on baseball on sports talk radio, an exit sign caught my eye: Odessa, Mo. Odessa, Tex., remember, was the setting for the hit football book “Friday Night Lights.” So why not check it out?

Past the row of shops just off the exit, shortly before 1 p.m., I came across two men grooming a football field. They were Randy Osman and David Larson, groundskeepers for the local school district. Larson was pushing a handcart, painting the field lines; Osman was about to fix the vandalized sprinkler system.

“Ornery little kids, man,” Osman said of the culprits.

They said they had grown up nearby and were longtime Royals fans. Osman mentioned that one of his neighbors was a Cardinals fan, from St. Louis. But that was O.K., Osman said, because his neighbor didn’t insult the Royals much when they were down. The Cardinals fan was outnumbered around here anyway, he noted.

As for Larson, he liked the Royals’ chances to keep going in the postseason.

“Detroit’s out of the way,” he said, with a toothy smile. “They could never beat Detroit. That’s the way I look at.” His prediction for the American League Championship Series? “We’ll beat the Orioles four out of seven.”

The next stop was somewhat planned. Before I started my trip, I had consulted The New York Times’s map of fan allegiances. Red, of course, represented Cardinals rooters; blue, Royals fans. And Missouri was so predominantly red, it looked as if the blue parts were being shoved into Kansas. 

Concordia, less than 60 miles from Kansas City, was one of the easternmost towns that still seemed to bleed blue.
It was shortly before 2 p.m. Near the end of the shops downtown, a bar had a sign out front offering a special: a royal Reuben, potato “twisters” and a drink. Inside, Rhonda Rudy, the manager, said the sandwich had always been called the royal Reuben — but not, alas, for the Royals. The bar, it turned out, just has a thing for royalty. Its name, after all, is the Palace.

Rudy said the bar was usually closed on Sundays but that the management had discussed opening it this past Sunday for Game 3 of the Royals-Angels series — and would have, if the place weren’t so understaffed.

From here on,” she said, “we’ll probably be open on Sundays.” (Although maybe not this Sunday, because there will be no A.L.C.S. game that day.)

Back on 1-70, I approached Boonville. “Boonville has something to do with Lewis and Clark,” I remembered my colleague, Joe Drape, a Kansas City native and a Royals fan, saying over the phone that morning when I asked for some tips.

Just off the highway, I spotted signs for a historical marker and followed them past a water tower and some baseball fields until I got to a bluff overlooking the Missouri River. Lewis and Clark are believed to have traveled this way in early June 1804.

I was alone, except for a couple in a parked car. Patty Waterfield and her fiancé were chatting and enjoying the view. She said she had been born in Kansas City but had moved to Boonville as an infant. Her family used to be Royals fans, she said, but now rooted for the Cardinals. She, however, still pulled for the Royals.

And, she noted proudly, 1985 was the year she had graduated from high school.
Columbia is the midway point between Kansas City and St. Louis and is the home of the University of Missouri. On the Times map, it is Cardinals territory.

Sure enough, at Booches, a local pub, the bartender wore a Cardinals T-shirt. And while there some Cardinals pictures on the wall, there were none of the Royals. Down the street, the man behind the counter at Shakespeare’s Pizza wore a Cardinals hat, although he noted that he had “seen a lot of brand-new Royals hats lately.”

Around the corner, at the Tiger Hotel, the valet said he had grown up in Kansas City. His name was Hunter Schmitt, he was a sophomore, and he said most of his fraternity brothers were Cardinals fans but were also rooting for a 1985 World Series sequel, maybe because they assumed the Cardinals would stomp on the Royals this time.

In any case, he added, “we had 20 guys crammed into my room for the game last night.”

On the campus, a doctoral student and Kansas City native named John Kennedy was wearing a Royals shirt. He said he had been at Sunday night’s division clincher in Kansas City and planned to attend A.L.C.S. games next week. In the past, he said, Cardinals fans he knew had not lorded it over him, and in recent days, he said, they had been texting him, telling him how happy they were for him and his Royals. (Try that out, Mets and Yankees fans.)

And one more thing: “I was born 71 days after they won the ’85 World Series,” Kennedy said of his Royals. “I’ve been waiting for this moment.”

Moments later, a young woman in a Cardinals shirt walked by. Her name was Anna Hornberg, and she said she was a senior from St. Louis. She had been at the World Series-clinching games for the Cardinals in 2006 and 2011 and said that Royals fans were, well, harmless.

“We’ll see how they are when the games get competitive,” she added.
A while later, as the sun was setting around 6:30 p.m., I spotted a sign for Williamsburg, Mo. Not, for sure, to be confused with the hipster Brooklyn neighborhood. Still, the name beckoned.

I pulled onto a gravel road, drove past a row of houses and asked a man walking three dogs if I was in the right place. I was. Maybe 50 people lived here, he said, and no, he didn’t watch baseball.

I counted one stop sign, maybe two stores, a community center and a Presbyterian church, where a light was on. I knocked on the door, and a flustered man answered.

They were having a budget meeting, he said, and had no time to talk about baseball.

I can just tell you, I’m a Pirates fan, and I’m depressed, he said. Indeed, Pittsburgh had ended its own long postseason drought a season ago, but this time around it had been trounced in the wild-card game by the San Francisco Giants. So maybe he would be rooting for Kansas City as the postseason progressed.

By now, it was nearly 8 p.m., and Game 3 of the division series between the Cardinals and the Los Angeles Dodgers would soon be starting in St. Louis. But first, here was Wildwood, a St. Louis suburb where David Freese, a Cardinals World Series hero a few years back, and the slugger Ryan Howard were raised. At the Big Chief Roadhouse, I found Chris Wirkus with his feet on a chair, drinking beer with a friend, waiting for the game to start.

How did he like his Cardinals’ chances?

“My honest opinion?” Wirkus said. “I don’t care until the N.L.C.S. I enjoy watching the games, but if I had other plans tonight, I would be doing something else.”

With what some might consider a little smugness, he added: “We’ve been there so much. It’s about winning the World Series.”

For better or worse, Wirkus had the final words in my 250-mile journey, and maybe it was fitting that he did. As unscientific as my little survey was, you couldn’t help detecting the difference between Royals happiness, and gratitude, and Cardinals confidence.

By 9 p.m., I was inside Busch Stadium, where the crowd was definitely not as loud as it had been at Kauffman Stadium the night before. Still, when St. Louis took the lead for good, the fans roared, as they did again on Tuesday night when the Cardinals advanced to the N.L.C.S. Blue state, red state. 

With more to come."


"A version of this article appears in print on October 8, 2014, on page B12 of the New York edition with the headline: Same State, but Divergent Paths"

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