Yes, the Kansas City Royals just won the World Series. Last year they came within 90 feet of winning, and I wrote this to process my disappointment. “Rooting for something is good for the soul,” I urged, and among North American sports fan bases over the past three decades, few can claim better conditioned souls than Royals fans.
But today faces us with a new question: what does it do for your soul when the thing you’ve rooted for actually comes to pass? What is a spirituality of winning? I don’t have an answer for that; rooting for losers is a kind of my thing, and not only in sports (friends will recall my impassioned advocacy of Joe Biden for President in 2008).
The closest thing I have to an answer is a confidence that the slow, incremental manner in which the Royals became winners begs to be understood as an endorsement of a certain kind of longevity of purpose that has spiritual analogues.
The General Manager who constructed this championship roster was hired in the middle of the 2006 season, a season in which KC would lose 100 games and win only 62, and during Dayton Moore’s first two seasons the team improved. They won 69 games in 2007 and 75 games in 2008.
Then they regressed. The 2009 Royals won 10 fewer games than the year before. Those were dark nights of the Royals fan’s soul for sure, and if Moore had been fired by ownership after that season, few fans would have objected. His signature line–“Trust the process”–was firmly established as an empty platitude, just another way losers justify their losing.
But 2010 saw the beginning of a slow, steady march to the top, beginning with a meager two game improvement in 2010 (67 wins). Then this:
2014-89 wins, Wild Card Winner, American League Champs
2015-95 wins, Division Winner, American League Champs, World Series Champs
For six consecutive seasons, the Royals have won more games than the year before. The most dramatic improvement came in 2013, when the team improved its record by 14 games and nearly made the playoffs. But since then the improvement has been modest. Three more wins in 2014; six more wins in 2015.
It’s not a worst-to-first story, is what I’m saying. There are no Cinderallas in Kansas City. And I’m taking a lesson from that.
What is the small improvement I can make today? This week? This year?
And to what end? Sports have an enviably easy-to-assess goal: win the championship. But in the world of jobs, kids, faith, neighbors, school, and relatives, rarely is the objective so obvious. Defining it is important.
Then we can work and live and love in a way that measures “success” not by other peoples’ standards and expectations but by our own sense of improvement. Are we getting better? Are we experiencing sustained transformation?
Maybe growth doesn’t happen by leaps and bounds, but by deliberate, measured improvement over time.