Optimism in America’s Heartland

Living in Kansas City, I have been able to experience some great moments in sports in the last 6 months and watch firsthand as people here have celebrated the success of college sports in the area. After watching the Chiefs and the Royals perform miserably for another season, the Kansas City area finally has something to be excited about, and it might be getting a little out of control.

As I mentioned previously, Monday night’s KU victory in the Men’s NCAA Basketball Championship was crazy. Fans flooded Mass St. in Lawrence while fans in Kansas City lit off fireworks and flew their Jayhawk flags even higher, partying like it was 1988. My inside source at UPS said that they were sending trucks full of merchandise into Lawrence all day Wednesday since everyone had ordered their Championship gear on Monday night. Needless to say, the whole town is rather relieved that they aren’t losing another beloved coach to his Alma Mater. KU fans everywhere are riding pretty high right now…or coming down with a major hangover.

And then there is Kansas State, who beat KU in Manhattan for the first time in 25 years. Kansas State went on to win its first NCAA tournament game in 20 years, beating USC with the help of their star Michael Beasley, who arguably should have been named NCAA player of the year for carrying his team on his back for an entire season. While all signs point to Beasley declaring for the NBA draft, KSU fans everywhere are crossing their fingers hoping Monday’s news conference will give them another year of greatness.

And then it was only a few months ago that KU and Missouri football were making their presence felt as they both came out of nowhere to face off as the #2 and 4 teams in the nation. Missouri won the civil war, but KU got the last laugh when they got to play in the Orange Bowl and won their first BCS game in school history. Mark Mangino is now a hero, and I won’t be surprised if I hear of fans forming a weight-loss support group to insure that Mangino stays around for a long time.

And in the midst of all this winning and happiness, someone forgot to remind the Kansas City Royals that they lost 93 games last season and don’t stand a chance to make the playoffs with teams like Detroit and Cleveland in their division. But I guess that’s the danger of optimism, because the Royals have rocketed out of the gates to a strong 6-3, sweeping the Tigers in Detroit and taking 2 of 3 against the Yankees at Kauffman. That’s right, the Royals are in first place in the AL Central. It’s as if the Royals watched all this winning that was going on around them and said, “Hey, that looks like a lot of fun. Why not us?”

And the optimism is even worse on the local sports talk radio here in town. Before the season started, they were simply saying this team was going to be better than last year, which isn’t very hard to do when you only won 69 games last year. But now that the “Boys in Powder Blue” are playing good baseball, these guys are just feeding the fire, talking about how all the great prospects in the Royals organization can stay in the minors and continue to develop since the team is doing so well. In fact, I heard the term “deep” used in relation to their roster, something that hasn’t been said about the Royals since 1989.

While I don’t really believe in my head that the 6 and 3 Royals are the real deal, I have to admit that it’s hard not to get excited about these guys when all of Kansas City is buzzing about them. The Royals have a great opportunity for the next two weeks to continue to build up that confidence too, as they play the Twins at home starting tonight, and go on to face the Mariners, Angels, and A’s away next week. The important thing for them is that when they come home in two weeks to play the Indians they have at least shown they can contend this year. Otherwise, that Tuesday home game is going to feel a lot like last season when about 8,000 fans show up armed with war-drums and foam tomahawks.

Until then, optimism reigns in the heartland of America, and if they aren’t careful, the Chiefs might get some crazy ideas this offseason.

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