Recently I went to a book discussion at the Plaza branch of the Kansas City Library. The book, titled Just Let ‘Em Play, was written by former Royals great Jeff Montgomery, sport psychologist Dr. Andrew Jacobs, and former Olympic swim coach Peter Malone. The book is written for parents, coaches, and young athletes. (In full disclosure, I co-authored it.) During the discussion, the question was asked: what can young athletes learn from the 2015 Kansas City Royals.
As I’ve thought about that question, there are multiple lessons that all of us can take from this past season’s Royals, but there are three main ones to discuss with children.
- Never Give Up. The Jim Valvano speech about not giving up has stuck with most of us since he delivered it at ESPN’s ESPYs in 1993. And we hear so much in sports about not giving up. No disrespect to Valvano, but the Royals displayed incredible perseverance and resilience–the epitome of “never give up”–throughout the 2015 postseason. The Royals staged late comebacks, down by at least two runs, in seven out of 15 games during the 2015 postseason. None will stand out, perhaps, as much as their comeback in Game 4 of the ALDS against Houston. The Royals were down 6-2, with six outs remaining in their 2015 season. But then it happened. Mike Moustakas, who was batting .143 at the time in the postseason, came in the dugout before the eighth inning and reminded his teammates that it wasn’t over.The G-rated version: “It was just that we’re not losing this game. We’ve worked too hard and we’ve come too far,” Moustakas said.
It wasn’t exactly John Belushi’s Germans bombing Pearl Harbor speech from Animal House, but it worked. The first five batters in the inning—Alex Rios, Alcides Escobar, Ben Zobrist, Lorenzo Cain, and Eric Hosmer—singled, cutting Houston’s lead to 6–4, while the players kept saying to each other in the dugout, “Keep the line moving.”
With the bases loaded, the next batter, Kendrys Morales, chopped a ball up the middle against reliever Tony Sipp, but it went off the glove of rookie shortstop Carlos Correa for an error. Zobrist and Cain scored, tying the game at 6–6. After Moustakas struck out on a 3–2 pitch for the first out of the inning, catcher Drew Butera, who had replaced Salvador Perez defensively earlier, welcomed pitcher Luke Gregerson into the game by turning a 10-pitch at-bat into a walk. With the bases loaded once again, Alex Gordon grounded out to second baseman Jose Altuve, scoring Hosmer and giving the Royals an improbable 7–6 lead. In the ninth, Hosmer gave the Royals a 9-6 lead (the eventual final score) by launching a two-run home run.
- Together Everyone Achieves More (TEAM). Out of all the clichés about team (think: “There’s no I in team.”), my favorite might be the acrostic TEAM: Together Everyone Achieves More. Clichés aside, that is the best way to describe the 2014 and ’15 postseason runs by the Royals. Ask anyone close to the team, and they’ll say that the Royals’ improbable comeback against Oakland in the ’14 Wild Card game showed the young players that, although they’re each among the best baseball players currently in the world, their best chance for success was to lean on each other. In More Than a Season, Dayton Moore describes the evolution of a player: Fearful, Overcomer, and then Fearless. As Moore wrote in the book about the Fearless player, “He does whatever needs to be done to help the team win. He never lets a situation, a circumstance, or an event drive a wedge between him and what he loves to do. He especially doesn’t let the circumstance or situation affect the team. He understands that everyone’s success is tied together. He’s accountable; he doesn’t make excuses.” That’s a great way to describe the 2015 Royals: a team of “Fearless” players…a TEAM.
- Nice Guys Can Finish First. Who knows who uttered those words first, or when, but the idea has been around for decades, if not centuries. Or at least it feels that way to “nice guys.” Essentially, though, this team features a bunch of “nice guys.” We might also call them men of character. Going back to Dayton, having an organization of character individuals (not characters), has been his goal since the first organizational meetings in the offseason of 2006-07, about six months after he became GM. “We wanted an organization that we’d want our own sons and families to be a part of,” he says. Of course that starts with Dayton and the people around him in scouting and player development, but it filters down to the players–the players who are brought in and the way they’re taught throughout the organization. And, in 2015, that group of “nice guys,” and the idea started in the organization in the fall of 2006, finished first.
Again, there are plenty of lessons to be learned from the 2015 Kansas City Royals but the impact of these three lessons will always remain with me…and my three kids.