Thursday, July 16, 2009

2003 Revisited, Part 2

Here’s part two of 2003 Revisited written by guest blogger Brian McGannon. I’ll post part three tomorrow. Check out McGannon’s new blog, Royals Kingdom.

by Brian McGannon

“Nosotros Creemos”

Words cannot describe what it was like to be a Royals fan in 2003. At least, not any English words. In the wake of the Ken Harvey homer, Kansas City had a rallying cry: “Nosotros creemos” (which, in Spanish means, “We believe.”) Footage of Tony Pena shouting those words were played over and over on TV, radio, and anything within 100 miles that could transmit sound. Soon shirts were made simply saying “Believe!” The players adopted the term, putting their own spin on it, saying “Creemos, man, creemos.”

The Royals finished the home stand with a 16-3 record, their best 19 game start in franchise history. At the end of April the Royals were 17-7, 4.5 games up on the Twins. Still, fans were leery of sinking themselves fully into the team. Some, on sports talk radio, were starting pools, guessing when the Royals would fall back to .500. May was not kind to the Boys in Blue as they went 10-16. The Royals sunk to 27-27 on June 1st after losing to Oakland. Their trip back down to .500 was short lived. The team only spent 10 days hovering around the mark. They rattled off four wins in a row and won 12 out of their next 15 games to reclaim first place. Going 15-12 in June put them at 42-38 going into the heat of July.

They Hint, They Wink, They Beckon

By the All-Star break, the Royals were leading the AL Central by 7.5 games. Fans were finally starting to believe. Deposits were being made on playoff tickets. Trade speculation was afoot. Royals fans were dreaming of hauling in that final piece of the puzzle that would put the team over the top.

Out on the east coast, the Yankees held a comfortable lead in the AL East. Dreams of a rivalry being renewed were potent. Everywhere you went in KC, you saw Royals gear. People weren’t even talking about 1985. The Royals were drawing in an entirely different demographic of fans—younger fans who weren’t even been alive in 1985. 

The Royals got busy at the trade deadline, acquiring set up man Curtis Leskanic from Milwaukee, OF/DH Rondell White from San Diego, and reliever Al Levine from Tampa Bay. All 3 contributed on large levels. Leskanic posted a 1.73 ERA and a 1.048 WHIP. Rondell White hit .347/.400/.613 with 4 HR and 21 RBI in just 22 games, but went down late in the year due to injury. Al Levine posted a 2.53 ERA.

Capitalizing on the momentum, the Royals staged their first ever “T-Shirt Tuesday,” giving away “We Believe” T-shirts before a game against the Red Sox. It turned out to be another thriller. The Royals won the game in the ninth inning when Nomar Garciaparra let a slow dribbler from Brent Mayne go through his legs. It seemed like the Royals could not be stopped and after enduring years of tumultuous baseball, Royals fans were grateful.

Lima Time

On June 4th, Royals history was changed forever. Kansas City had gone from Central Daylight Time, to Lima Time. The Royals purchased the contract of former 20-game winner Jose Lima from the Newark Bears of the independent Atlantic League. Lima went on to win his first eight decisions as a Royal.

Lima took the city by storm. He celebrated like a young boy playing in the backyard and he pulled pranks in the dugout. He sang the national anthem before a game, twice. He did appearances on local radio, guest DJ’ing for KC's largest pop station Mix 93.3 on an off day. But his off field antics did not compare to the excitement he brought to the field. After every strikeout, Lima would yell out "Woo!" and the crowd would echo his battle cry. Jose was not the best pitcher on the Royals staff, but the giant morale boost he brought to the club is credited by most as the catalyst that helped the team stay in the pennant race. In his 2003 stint with the Royals, Lima went 8-3 with a 4.91 ERA, 32 Ks, and 1.445 WHIP.

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