KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Ever since George Brett retired, not much has gotten Kansas City Royals fans excited. But they united in a common cause Monday night: Dislike for the New York Yankees, the big city team with all the championship banners. Fans expressed their displeasure by booing the presence of Robinson Cano, and then cheering his failure at the Home Run Derby. The lustful booing came because Cano, the AL team's captain, didn't pick hometown slugger Billy Butler for the Derby squad. The excitable cheering was naked schadenfreude, pure joy at Cano failing to hit even one ball over the fence at Kauffman Stadium in defense of his 2011 Derby title.
So much for Midwestern kindness. These K.C. Royals fans were getting into Cano's head during ... a home run hitting contest. The positive feedback Prince Fielder got for winning the Derby for the second time was barely measurable by comparison. Royals fan Ryan Howell and his father, Bob Howell, sat in their second-row seats in left-center field, tucked between the outfield pasture and Kauffman's famous fountains and waterfalls. Amid the constant hissing of the water, the Howells cheered Cano's every pop-up, foul ball and near miss. That might have been the highlight of their night, except for one thing — when Toronto's Jose Bautista launched a gold ball toward the Howells.
"I kind of had to fight off my dad," Ryan Howell said. "There was another one Bautista hit that landed like a seat over on the swing before. I was like, 'I'm probably going to have to shoulder you out of the way a little bit' for this one. He was like, 'Yeah, go ahead and do what you have to do.' So I elbowed him out of the way a little bit. I was not going to let that one go. He was OK with it."
These Royals fans are tough! Kind of edgy. And they're not used to success. Ryan Howell is old enough, 32, to remember the 1985 World Series championship season. That seems much longer ago than 27 years.
"The Royals, they're looking better," said Ryan Howell, whose favorite all-time player remains Brett. "We always have a lot of talent, but it never seems to work out. It's been hard to be a Royals fan, but I'm still excited about the team."
Even if they had to hate on an opposing player in order to do it, Royals fans were feeling a little cocky at the ballpark for once. For the first time since — aw, heck — the 1980 ALCS, or maybe Brett's Pine Tar Game, the Royals really had, kind of, gotten one over on the Yankees.
Butler didn't gloat, and Cano said all of the right things, about how he didn't mind the booing and he wasn't thinking about the fans as he came up empty swing after swing. But the Home Run Derby, while usually competitive, is starting to get a little serious. A similar thing happened a season ago after Prince Fielder omitted Arizona's Justin Upton from the NL Derby team for the event at Chase Field. Fans there booed Fielder at the All-Star game itself. He won the MVP anyway. Cano wasn't so fortunate at the Derby, and that's how most folks in the stands will remember the night. Unless you happened to catch a home run hit by someone else.
The Howells had Royals season tickets in years past and lapsed, but got them again when they learned the All-Star game was coming. Kauffman's also undergone a major-league transformation over the past few seasons. The setting for the Howells' seats in section 101 has to be among the best in the league. Good for home run hunting.
"We're on the aisle, usually," Ryan Howell said, pointing to his season tickets. "It's good that they moved us a little bit for the Derby. But with Bautista being a righty, and us being kind of close to center, it was hard to say if we were in a good place. But it kind of worked out. And it was a gold ball too."
He'd like to get Bautista to sign it.
"This is worth it. That made my day," Ryan Howell said. "My year, probably."
He's a Royals fan. They'll take it when they can get it.