Perfect Champions

“Being perfect is not about that scoreboard out there. It’s not about winning. It’s about you and your relationship with yourself, your family and your friends. Being perfect is about being able to look your friends in the eye and know that you didn’t let them down because you told them the truth. And that truth is you did everything you could. There wasn’t one more thing you could’ve done. Can you live in that moment as best you can, with clear eyes, and love in your heart, with joy in your heart? If you can do that, gentlemen, then you’re perfect.”

-Coach Gary Gaines, ‘Friday Night Lights’

Winning is, in fact, everything. However, winning every single time is not the everything. There’s beauty in the struggle. Losses happen. That was no more apparent than when Matt Harvey took the mound for the ninth inning of Game 5 of the 2015 World Series Sunday night in Queens, with the Kansas City Royals on the ropes.

Harvey had dominated KC through eight innings. But still, the Royals had earned every last scrap of benefit of the doubt. That’s when everything clicked. The moment FOX showed footage of Matt Harvey huffing and puffing around the Mets dugout, shouting “Not coming out” at his pitching coach and his manager. In that moment, I knew the Royals were going to win that game. Sure enough, Harvey walks Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer doubles and then ends up tying the game on a “this is me daring you to win the game for your team, pussy” dash to home plate. Five runs in the 12th, it was over. From the worst team I have ever seen play, to champions of the world. In 10 years. Harvey couldn’t control his emotions nor his pride and it cost his team a championship.

So how did the Royals do it?

On the surface, it was unrelenting contact hitting, lights out bullpen, mistake-free defense and good enough starting pitching. But it just seemed like there was more to it. Teams like the Royals don’t just go wire-to-wire, dominate an entire league and march their way to a title. They’re not supposed to. I always figured they’d piece it together for a nice 3-5 year run where they made the playoffs two or three times and always came up short to a bigger, badder, richer team like Boston, New York or Anaheim. That would have been enough. Trust me. It would have been. Show me an ALCS win in my lifetime and I’ll show you a happy Brian who would have been fine spending the rest of his days replaying old YouTube clips of said ALCS until I was dead and buried.

That wasn’t enough for Dayton Moore. The stories are seeping out of every corner of the internet. He originally didn’t even want the Royals GM job because the upper management of the team was such a disaster. But he took the job on the stipulation that the Glass family acknowledge they had no idea what in God’s name they were doing. So he hired people he trusted. He drafted kids who LOVED baseball and weren’t malcontent Little League burnouts with the mission of turning Kansas City into a Midwestern winner factory that only churned out champions and gave every kid from Lenexa to Lee’s Summit the hope that they too could one day be great. He hired people with values and conviction with the mission of firebombing the myth that Kansas City is a shitty cowtown with bad food and worse sports teams. He hired some gosh darn champions with the mission of eradicating Kansas City of every last memory of wasted springs and summers.

I’m not one for revisionist history, so let me acknowledge that Dayton Moore was in fact one of the worst GMs in sports from 2006-2012. He missed on free agents, he never put together a complete team, he likened finishing with 86 wins to winning the World Series. But he never wavered from the plan. He never panicked.

While Dayton Moore was doing this, I was steadily developing a knack for snark and cynicism. It is, after all, easy to go through life thinking everything and everyone sucks and should be fired from their job. I could not begin to tell you how many times I said Dayton Moore should have been fired. It’s probably over 50. While I was bitching and moaning, Dayton was building. He was watching his kingdom be built from the foundation up. Patience, he preached.

Then they almost did it. Then they actually did it.

If anyone knows me, I love theatrics for the sake of theatrics, but I’m not one for being dramatic (there’s a difference), but I would be lying to you if I didn’t say that the 2015 Kansas City Royals have changed my outlook on life. Sure, the lessons of “never give up!” and “it ain’t over til it’s over!” are the most prevalent, but the off-the-field lessons are the ones that will truly stick with me forever. Get everyone on the same page, believe in the mission, embrace the struggle, actually give a damn.

Dayton Moore knew he wouldn’t be able to hire the smartest, the most talented or the most experienced staff. What he did know was that in order to become champions, everyone had to be on the same page. Everyone had to be rowing the boat in the same direction. Everyone had to believe in the mission.

10 years later, Dayton’s vision and his plan came true. He remained steadfast and unflinching in his commitment to a complete turnaround of a franchise that was so irreparably broken when he took over. It’s stunning, really.

In a word, it was perfect.

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