By Rob Ficiur
Why do fans cheer for under dog teams? Realistically, history tells us that Cinderella comebacks rarely work. Cinderella teams that do make one comeback usually revert to their ordinary status and fizzle in the next round. In the end the favored team beats the surprising up and comer. We know all that – and yet (no matter what the sport) when an underdog team takes off in the playoffs, fans jump on the bandwagon of a team they barely knew a month earlier. Here are some reasons why we do it:
1. Give Another Team a Turn to be Champion – If the San Francisco Giants win the 2014 World Series, it will be their third title in the last five years. That is as close to a dynasty as we have seen modern sports. If the Kansas City Royals win the World Series, it will be their first championship title since 1985. Unless you are a die-hard San Francisco fan, it seems only fair that the Royals win this time.
In sports the league officials don’t take turns picking the winners at a board meeting. The champions are chosen on the field. Yet, somehow we think, we cheer in a way that the same team does not win it all the time. It may not be logical – but who said sports fans were logical?
2. New Heroes Could Emerge – The Royals starting pitching staff does not have a superstar. James Shields, their game one starter, won a career high fourteen games this year. (The long ago eliminated Toronto Blue Jays had two pitchers with 14 wins). The Royals bull pen has been unhittable and hence unbeatable. Rarely do relievers become heroes – but rarely – no never has a team won eight straight games to get to the World Series. In the hitting department the Royals top two hitters so far this post season have been Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain. (Baseball fan be honest, did you even know these the Kansas City Royals’ stars a month ago? I did not). If any one of these players excels in the World Series, he will be a hero for life.
3. Dramatic wins – The Royals were down 7-3 in their one game sudden death Wild Card playoff game against Oakland. Somehow they managed to tie the game up in the ninth inning. The Royals were almost eliminated when the A’s got one run in the 12th to win the best single baseball game I watched all year. In Game #1 against Baltimore the Royals blew a 4-0 lead and were tied going into the 10th inning. Clearly the Orioles had all the momentum. The Royals had had the bases loaded in the top of the ninth with none out and did not score a run. With all that momentum gone the Royals came out in the tenth inning and three runs to take the first game. They scored the winning runs in Game 2 in the top of the ninth inning. They won games three and four by one run. Each heart stopping win endears the Royals to their new fans. Nothing has come easy for them, which adds to the drama of the post season (so far).
4. Closet fans come out – There are more Kansas City Royals fans now than a month ago. Even if you were once a Royals fan, the last 29 years of under achieving baseball gave you little opportunity (or desire) to announce your loyalty to a team that was going nowhere. Now that they are winning, they have fans again.
5. Maybe Your team can be the Underdog Cinderella Team next year – The Toronto Blue Jays had six fewer wins than Kansas City (and five fewer than San Fransisco). When we see the Royals make this big come back – we cheer them on hoping that the magic of the Royals can hit our team next year.
6. Losing Tastes Bad when you are so Close – In 2004 the Calgary Flames made a similar Cinderella run in the Stanley Cup playoffs. After six years out of the NHL playoffs, the Flames beat three top teams in the west to get to the finals. Ten years later fans remember losing to the final – they don’t remember the magical run that went before. Royals’ fans (and long time sports fans) know that only if Kansas City wins will this remarkable eight game winning streak be remembered with awe. Lose and most fans will forget who the Royals were (until they do it again either next year or twenty nine years from now).
With nearly a week between the League Championship series and the World Series, this year’s Fall Classic begins with more hype and fan interest than we have seen in years. Play Ball – fans want to see if the magic can continue.