With Royals a mess, one fan bids farewell

May 14, 2006|By RICK MAESE

How do you say goodbye to a first love?

It's something I've often thought about because loyalty is so intricately constructed with several layers of complexity. I don't care what Dr. Phil says, you can delve through politics, religion and relationships and you'll never match the loyalty of a sports fan.

But more and more, throughout arenas, stadiums and ball fields, loyalty has evolved into a one-sided concept. That's why I was in the upper deck at Camden Yards on Friday night, Section 338, watching three baseball fans in Row BB and wondering how Chad Carroll was going to say goodbye to a first love.

Three weeks earlier, Carroll, 34, had posted an online auction, selling one of his most prized possessions: "My loyalty to the Kansas City Royals [jersey included]."

In the early weeks of the 2006 season, Carroll decided he had finally had enough, realizing that his lifelong love affair with the Royals had turned into an abusive relationship. He was being taken for granted, his hopes and devotion ignored. Carroll had been faithful to a professional sports franchise that showed little loyalty in return.

"It's their ownership and they're never going away," says Carroll, a computer technician who lives outside Baltimore. "They all seem to forget that fans own baseball, and every year fans have less and less of a voice. It's not right. The game is being taken away from the fans."

How do you say goodbye to a first love? You make sure your son is sitting to your left. You have your brother fly in from Iowa to sit at your right. You order some nachos and reminisce about the good times.

Carroll had ordered his tickets as soon as they went on sale several months ago. Back then, he had no idea that his cumulative frustrations would take him to the computer, severing ties through a series of mouse clicks.

He created the eBay auction as a joke to buddies he had met in the military. Over the years, these were the guys who had razzed Carroll daily about his team of choice. Had anyone loved a team like Carroll loved the Royals? Maybe we all have. Maybe none of us have.

Carroll grew up in Le Mars, Iowa, and his dad ran an auto shop. He was a busy man and much of the free time he had, he spent on the porch with his sons, listening to the Royals on the radio.

Back then, the Royals weren't just a link to Dad, they helped mold a young fan's identity, they gave a kid something to look forward to each day. It's because of the Royals that Carroll enrolled in Little League and insisted on batting on the left side of the plate. "Like George Brett," he says.

Carroll had managed to get autographs from seven of the nine members of the Royals' starting lineup from 1985, the last time the team went to the World Series. The prized collection had become a lifetime pursuit, but it was worth it.

Being a Royals fan used to be fun. The past several years haven't been near as easy. The Royals have lost at least 100 games in three of the past four seasons and currently have the worst record in the American League.

Carroll has taken his frustration to military bases in five countries and all across this one. He has wasted money on jerseys featuring the names of Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltran and Jermaine Dye - all former Royals who found success in other cities for other teams pleasing other fans.

For the past decade, he has worn a Royals jersey with no name on the back. Carroll settled on the generic jersey when it became apparent to him that the Royals were feeding their top prospects to the rest of the league. For a one last time, he slipped on that blank-backed jersey to pay his final respects at Camden Yards.

Sitting in the upper deck, Carroll, his son and his brother watched the Royals build a 5-3 lead in the sixth inning. That's when most fans would get excited about their team.

"Well, it's that time," Carroll said to his brother. "How do you think they'll blow it?"

The Orioles tied the game with two in the bottom of the sixth and then scored the go-ahead run in the in the eighth. In the ninth inning, Orioles closer Chris Ray struck out pinch hitter Doug Mientkiewicz to end the game.

Up in Section 338, Carroll looked stunned, slowly shaking his head from side to side. He pulled his 7-year-old son, Joey, onto his lap and the two sat in silence for several seconds. "Did you have fun?" Carroll finally asked, and the young boy nodded.

"That's what this is all about - my son," Carroll says. "I want him to grow up enjoying baseball, enjoying the players and the owners, guys who are truly genuine to the fans. He deserves a team that will treat him right."

The eBay auction lasted several days and gained plenty of attention. Carroll was flooded with e-mails from thousands of fans. "A lot of people empathized, especially Orioles, Cubs and Royals fans," he said.

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