10/7/14, "Same State, but Divergent Paths
," NY Times, Tim Rohan
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
— and for much of that time have been lost souls. The Cardinals,
meanwhile, in their distinctive red, have become the Yankees of the
, 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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.”
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
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.
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.
here on,” she said, “we’ll probably be open on Sundays.”
maybe not this Sunday, because there will be no A.L.C.S. game that day.)
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.)
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
can just tell you, I’m a Pirates fan, and I’m depressed,”
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.
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?
With what some might consider a little smugness, he added: “We’ve been there so much. It’s about winning the World Series.”
better or worse, Wirkus had the final words in my 250-mile journey, and
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.
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,
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"