KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Kauffman Stadium will be full. Full of fun, full of screaming, and not only because Zack Greinke is pitching. This happens every year when the Cardinals come to town.
We don't get a lot of nights like this in Kansas City, home of so much baseball losing and hopelessness over the years that it's tempting to talk about 1985 and Bret Saberhagen and an I-70 rivalry.
It's a cute concept, and at the risk of ruining it, here are two facts deeply rooted in reality.
First: 1985 was a long, long time ago.
Second: the Royals just aren't good enough to have a rivalry with anything but a night at the movies.
These are hard realities to accept because Kansas City is a proud town with passionate fans whose memories of good Royals teams always feel much clearer than the grainy video required to see old George Brett games.
But the 25th anniversary of the Royals' only world championship seems like a good time to institute a statute of limitations on talking about a Royals-Cardinals rivalry in anything other than the past tense.
Twenty-five years is long enough.
"As far as a rivalry goes," Frank White says, "I just don't think we have one anymore."
White is one of the most qualified men on earth to speak about this, and he's exactly right. You probably know that he grew up in Kansas City and literally helped build Royals Stadium on a construction crew before an 18-year career good enough that his hometown team retired his number.
He drove in a team-high six runs in the 1985 World Series, and the memory of that championship is still strong enough that White felt those familiar competitive feelings during a recent softball game between the teams done for charity.
But the Royals are about halfway through their 15th losing season out of 16 and one of the consequences is at some point you are no longer anybody's rival. When Forbes magazine recently compiled a list of the 10 best rivalries in baseball, Royals-Cardinals didn't make it.
Actually, Royals-anybody didn't make it.
"You have to be a winner first," White says. "You have to win a lot of games, beat a lot of people, and beat them at the end of the season."
Since 1985, the Cardinals have won 285 more regular-season games than the Royals, 46 more playoff games, 10 more playoff series and one more world championship.
The good Royals teams of the 1970s and '80s were legitimate rivals with the Yankees. The bad Royals teams of the 1990s and 2000s are legitimate rivals with summer reruns.
In Kansas City, the Cardinals games stand out because they're the only guaranteed sellouts other than opening day. In St. Louis, they're thrilled that the Royals aren't coming to St. Louis this summer because it means three games against a better team.
The Cardinals' rival is the Cubs, which works because the Cubs' rival is the Cardinals. After that, Cardinals fans will talk about being rivals with the Brewers or Reds or Phillies or Dodgers. The Royals are more like the Diamondbacks or Pirates or some other team that carries no sentiment.
We used to have 1985 and Don Denkinger to talk about, but those jokes are stale by now, the bragging rights buried under the Cardinals' 2006 championship and Fort Osage High grad Albert Pujols making annual runs at the MVP award.
Whatever Royals fans feel about the Cardinals just isn't reciprocated. One-way infatuations don't make for love affairs as much as they make for restraining orders.
It's not them, it's us.
This is another sad marker to the Royals' place in baseball, like Mark Redman's All-Star selection four years ago or Zack Greinke's 2-8 record this season.
Cardinals fans will help fill Kauffman Stadium this weekend, but only because it's close and a nice place to watch a game.
It doesn't always have to be this way. Mike Moustakas is the face of a revolution of the Royals' minor-league system directed by Dayton Moore and funded by David Glass. It's a dance with the future that Royals fans are too familiar with.
But if this one sticks -- and there are encouraging signs -- then the Royals will no longer be baseball's doormat. They will no longer be so easy to ignore, especially not by the team on the other side of Missouri.
If Royals fans can accept where they stand now, it'll make it that much sweeter to see what might be in a few years.
And besides, Kansas City has more going for it than just a baseball team and a few good Italian restaurants.
So in the meantime, here's what we can be grateful for: baseball success won't change Royals fans into the annoying kind in St. Louis that root for themselves more than their team.
Plus, our food is much better.
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