Any Given Thursday

by Tyler Fisher and Austin Lim | 10/29/14 5:43pm

One of our favorite sportswriters is ESPN’s Bill Simmons, who loves to host guests on his podcasts. Since this is a great way to introduce new perspectives and keep things interesting, we’re following his lead and bringing in our first guest author, Tyler Fisher ’17. If this article turns out to be any good, he won’t be our last. We picked Tyler because a nickname of his is “Fish,” which we thought was a nice touch. He doesn’t get that joke, but we’re going to leave it in here anyway.

From Oct. 24, 1985 until Tuesday of last week, the Kansas City Royals were undefeated in the MLB postseason. In 1985, they won games five through seven of the World Series to secure their first franchise championship ever. After that, they failed to make a postseason appearance for 28 years. This year they snuck in as one of the American League Wild Cards, and in their first game narrowly edged out the Athletics in extra innings. From there, they hit their stride, sweeping the Angels in three games and the Orioles in four before colliding with the Giants in a great World Series. The Royals dropped Game 1, but have since fought back. Though the Royals lost Game 7 and the World Series Wednesday night, they came within a run of their first title since 1985 This is quite astonishing; as longtime baseball fans, we wouldn’t have believed you if you told us this would ever happen.

The Royals spent the last 19 seasons far from the playoffs, only accumulating a winning record twice in all those years. In fact, they finished dead last in the AL Central eight of those 19 seasons, and second-to-last another six. This year, a 10-game winning streak in mid-June gave fans October dreams. By July 21, though, the usual Royals were back. They were on a four-game slide, in the midst of a slump that cost them 18 of 27 games. On the brink of another unsuccessful season, the team seemed almost content with floundering for the rest of the year. Then, an unexpected hero’s strange observation saved the day.

First base coaches aren’t usually thought of as the sources of a team’s success. Based on what we can tell from watching them on TV, they essentially just stand in their little boxes, occasionally waving their arms at players. They sometimes touch their hats and random body parts, and they tend to yell the loudest during running plays. If we’re not mistaken, that is pretty much the complete job description of what must be one of the most relaxed positions in professional sports. The Royals’ first base coach, though, refused to fit this mold — he went above and beyond to end his team’s slump by coming up with a solution that can only be called pure genius. Our celebrated hero’s name is Rusty Kuntz.

During a team meeting on the last day of the Royals’ aforementioned slump, Kuntz noticed that many players had their heads buried in their iPads. You’d think they were likely studying game footage, or perhaps looking at their next opponents’ stats. You would, however, be mistaken. In fact, they were playing the addicting viral game “Clash of Clans.” Good ol’ Rusty had a hunch, and so he called the team together and implored the players to limit their playing time. You might assume that this would not affect the performance of a bunch of professional baseball players. Again, though, you’d be wrong. The Royals went on to win 25 of their next 34 games, rescuing their entire season. They finished second in their division, with a winning percentage of .549 standing out as their best record since 1994.Thanks to Kuntz, they came within a run of becoming champions.

One can only imagine that some combination of “Pokémon” and “Super Mario” is what kept the team from any success during the last two decades. Perhaps if the New York Jets or the Oakland Raiders put down their iPads, too, the NFL could end up with a surprising victor this year (just kidding, of course that won’t happen). The lesson is simple: in the future, if you find yourself wasting a lot of time playing “Clash of Clans,” delete the app. Then, grab a glove and a bat, and you just might find yourself with a World Series ring.