What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Will the Royals cap their Cinderella story with a fairytale ending?

The Kansas City Royals’ meteoric rise from Midwestern underdog to American League champs has electrified its hometown. Tonight, before the faceoff with World Series veterans, the San Francisco Giants, Gwen Ifill speaks Mike Pesca of Slate and Hampton Stevens of The Atlantic about the state of play that allowed an unlikely team to rise through the ranks.

Read the Full Transcript

  • GWEN IFILL:

    The World Series gets under way tonight, a matchup of two wild card teams who have made it all the way, the first time that’s happened in more than a decade. Yet it features a perennial contender and a former champion against a team and a city that’s been waiting for a winner for decades.

  • MAN:

    And 29 years of frustration have ended. The Royals are going to the World Series.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    For Kansas City, it’s been a long hard road back since winning the World Series in 1985. The team hadn’t even made the playoffs since then. But in a time when baseball economics make it tougher for smaller market teams to compete, the Royals beat the odds with a mix of speed, timely pitching and stout defense, propelling the team back to Major League Baseball’s biggest stage.

  • NED YOST, Kansas City Royals:

    It’s been a wonderful experience I think not only for our players, but, you know, this is a fan base that has been longing for this for a long, long time.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    The Royals began their playoff run with a 12-inning victory over the Oakland A’s in the wild card game. Then they won seven more in a row, sweeping the Los Angeles Angels and Baltimore Orioles to capture the American League pennant.

    Tonight, Kansas City hosts San Francisco for game one of the World Series. The Giants also made the playoffs as a wild card, and are playing for their third title in five years.

    There’s nothing like a Cinderella story to capture even the most casual fan’s attention. And for Kansas City, tonight is a fairy tale. But is it good for baseball?

  • I’m joined by Mike Pesca, host of Slate’s daily news and discussion podcast “The Gist.”  He’s also a contributor to NPR. And Hampton Stevens, a Kansas City native and writer for “The Atlantic” and “ESPN:

    The Magazine.”

    This is a wonderful story for you, Hampton Stevens. Is it like Cinderella?

  • HAMPTON STEVENS, The Atlantic:

    It’s an absolutely fairy tale. It’s really been a complete dream and the city is just electric.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Tell us what the city is like.

  • HAMPTON STEVENS:

    Everyone is wearing blue. The city has gotten like crews from surrounding areas to make sure every median strip is trimmed, Christmas lights everywhere. People are driving crazy like. Just on the way here, you can feel the tension in the traffic. So, it’s pretty electric around here.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Well, it’s always good to be around a winner.

    But, Mike Pesca, let me ask you about this. As you step back a little bit from the excitement happening right there in Kansas City, is this good for baseball to have a small market team in the World Series?

  • MIKE PESCA, National Public Radio:

    Oh, yes, I think it is.

    And even if they are crashing the party, they’re not some creepy guy skulking in the corner. They’re grabbing all the shrimp with both hands. They’re high-fiving everyone. So, they’re both a party crasher and the life of the party. They’re so compelling. You really want to watch them.

    And I do think it draws in the casual fan. And not to take anything away from the Giants, like, we shouldn’t damn them for their excellence, making three World Series in five years, but when a team hasn’t shown up in all these years, in 29 years, even the person who only casually likes baseball could say, huh, how about that? Let’s give them a chance.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    But isn’t there a possibility, Hampton Stevens, that this may be a competition World Series, probably will be, but that maybe they’re mismatched? You got the big-time San Francisco Giants, won three times in five years, as Mike pointed out, going against someone who hasn’t been going for the big ball in a long time.

  • HAMPTON STEVENS:

    Well, I think they play similar styles of baseball. And I think that will help. It’s that small ball, the bunting, the speed, the defense.

    So, I would say that obviously the Giants have some veteran experience. And that’s going to help them. But it isn’t like the Royals have looked intimated in any of these playoff series. And the Angels certainly have some big boppers. So, I think we will be OK.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Hampton, I read today that the average price for a playoff ticket is well north of $600. Is this making money for Kansas City or just for the team?

  • HAMPTON STEVENS:

    I think it’s making money for everybody, not that that is the important thing, but this is the kind of exposure that you absolutely just can’t get anywhere else.

    It’s been truly phenomenal for the city, just the kind of recognition that we’re getting across the country. It’s pretty exciting. And people are starting to get clued into what is happening here. We have had a little bit of a renaissance, a cultural renaissance in this town for the last decade or so. And this feels like a culmination of it.

    So, it’s been a thrill.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Mike Pesca, if I’m airing these games and I’m trying to get eyeballs, I’m not as thrilled about the idea of the underdog in the finals. I kind of want New York. I want the big, big markets. Does that cost them?

  • MIKE PESCA:

    Yes.

    Well, you know, but then again, who aligns themselves and roots for the interests of the networks or Major League Baseball itself? I mean, the thing is, we say that, but — and when the Yankees are in the World Series or the Red Sox in the World Series, it usually draws, but not that great.

    The World Series used to just be so culturally transcendent, and it hasn’t been. And to fall back on, well, you need the big market teams, of course, San Francisco is a huge market. I just think it’s just better to have a team like the Royals, where I could what I out all these reasons why they really shouldn’t be there, and they have been winning all these one-run games, which really is luck.

    I mean, it’s the skill part of luck, but it’s luck. But you add that all up. If they get to a game seven, that’s what really draws ratings, a competitive series that goes long. If they get to game seven, I could really see them being compelling and captivating a lot of people.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Mike, let me follow up on that. How much does it matter that what we have here is good news at a time when so much of sports is tarnished?

  • MIKE PESCA:

    Well, I think that the people who propagate sports are always going to want to emphasize the good news story.

    And, you know, there are narratives that we could bake into things and that we could read into things and we can assign things. I mean, every team is supposed to be a plucky underdog. And, by the way, the Giants, even though they had the seventh highest payroll in baseball coming in, that doesn’t mean they’re bad people, right?

    Maybe they’re in their own ways plucky underdogs and individuals who have transcended whatever obstacles have been put in their ways. But, yes, it is definitely true, especially since the NFL has become so ascendant. And it just seems that the NFL, which I’m a fan of, is a little bit lifeless and a little bit robotic and definitely with an eye on the bottom line, and can be oppressive.

    Baseball is whimsical, and it can be magical. And as we see with these Kansas City Royals, it can be a little bit something special that’s not as exactly regimented as this great national sport the NFL is.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Hampton Stevens, how much of the Royals’ excellence is because frankly they were bad for so long and therefore got higher draft picks and were able to rebuild the team? And how much of it is just, it is their turn?

  • HAMPTON STEVENS:

    It’s not that the drastic so much as the decision the franchise made to build through — we can’t — build from within. We can’t really compete with those big market teams because of revenue sharing — or lack thereof — and a bunch of boring stuff like that.

    But what they did with Dayton Moore was really decide to rebuild from the farm system up. And that’s one of the gratifying things about this team is that they are — it’s a lot of locally produced — or the club produced the talent or traded for it.

    There’s not really a lot of free agents that we brought in. And so I think that’s exciting for people as well. Some of these players won a champion in A, AA and AAA together and now they’re up here in the big leagues.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    I’m going to ask you guys one final quick question.

    If your choice is that this is the Midwest vs. the West, urban vs. suburban, winner vs. loser, what is it that is driving any excitement that there is about this game tonight?

    Start with you, Hampton.

  • MIKE PESCA:

    Oh, sorry. I’m sorry.

  • HAMPTON STEVENS:

    That’s OK.

    Well, for me, it’s certainly Midwestern heartland values against the coastal people. I love San Francisco, of course. It’s a world-class city. But it’s our turn, I think, I hope. And we’re just really excited about the values, self-sacrifice, teamwork, giving up glory for the sake of your teammate, and the kind of things that we want this team to represent. It’s pretty exciting. It’s goodness against — and light…

    (LAUGHTER)

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Oh, careful.

    Mike.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • MIKE PESCA:

    Yes, beef vs. tofu.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • GWEN IFILL:

    OK. I get the — beef vs. tofu, OK. Well, we know which one you’re rooting for.

    Mike Pesca, Hampton Stevens, thank you both very much.

  • HAMPTON STEVENS:

    Thank you so much.

  • MIKE PESCA:

    You’re welcome.

Listen to this Segment

Latest News