A friend asked me why I stick with my Royals yesterday. Actually he pointed at my Royals hat and scoffed, “Why would anyone waste money on that?”
I thought about that a lot.

He’s a New York buy-whatever-it-takes-to-win-the-pennant Yankees fan. He’s not even from New York. He grew up in Iowa and Texas. What’s the fun in rooting for a team when you already know in Spring Training what will happen in October?

It’s been 17 years since the Royals won anything. It’s been 8 years since they had any prospects of winning anything. It doesn’t seem that long ago. Besides, Cubs fans have been suffering for 57 years! What’s 17?

Rooting for them doesn’t cost me much. I check the scores. I watch them on TV or listen to them on radio when I can. If I’m ever in the same town they’re playing in, I go see them. It’s been six years since we were in the same town. It seems like a hundred.

Yeah, the Royals have problems. They’ve made a lot of dumb mistakes. So has every other team. The Royals never recovered from the tragic death of their brilliant manager, Dick Howser, in 1987. Today, the game’s different. The Yankees go spend $7 million on a .228-hitting outfielder (Raul Mondesi) and call it playoff insurance. The Royals look at the $2.25 million they’re spending on a .228-hitting outfielder (Michael Tucker) and call it a colossal mistake. The Yankees’ $7 million mistake is chump change. The Royals’ $2.25 million mistake might mean they can’t keep a player they need.

The Royals’ biggest problems aren’t their fault. It’s hard to hold it against them.

When I think of this season, I don’t think of the losing record. Good stuff has happened. They swept a doubleheader Monday, with their best player hurt. Mike Sweeney’s in the hunt for the batting title. Raul Ibanez just tied a team record for the most RBIs over a 3-game span.

Loyalty to the Royals costs me a lot less emotionally than loyalty to a friend. The Royals can’t do me any harm.

I tried becoming a Red Sox fan. I tried becoming an Oakland fan. You know how it felt? Slutty. So I came back. After all, I never took down my 1978-vintage George Brett poster. You can’t have a 24-year-old 7up George Brett poster hanging in your office and root for another team.

So let’s see. The Royals’ glory years were 17 years ago, but it feels like 17 months. I haven’t seen a game in person in 6 years and it feels like 100. I recognize the problems beyond their control as being beyond their control. I look at a bad situation and can’t help but see the qualities in it. I halfheartedly leave, and come running back.

And when the Yankees finally go where they belong–fifth place–I’m sure my friend will find another team to root for.

That doesn’t mean he’s the kind of guy who’d walk out on his wife 15 years from now because she didn’t meet his expectations and times got rough. Baseball isn’t life, though I often have to be reminded of that.

But you know what? I want to meet a girl who has the same kind of blind, dumb, senseless devotion to something. Even if it’s something I have no interest in. Even if–grumble grumble–it’s the New York Yankees. As long as she was rooting for them in 1991 when they were stinking up the American League East and the only player they had who was worth having was Steve Farr.

I figure anyone who can be blindly and senselessly loyal to something minor will also be loyal to the things–and people–who matter.