KANSAS CITY -- It's a good thing for Kansas City Royals management that their team colors are the same as the Cubs', because if they weren't, Friday night's crowd at Kauffman Stadium would have been mostly Cubs blue. Instead, at a glance at a distance, you couldn't necessarily tell which fans were wearing Cubs blue and who was wearing Royals blue.
Hearing the crowd, though, was a different story. Loud cheers erupted from all over the K whenever the Cubs did something good, including most of the crowd standing in the ninth inning when Carlos Marmol nailed down his 16th save in a 6-4 Cubs victory. The crowd was probably 60% Cubs fans, perhaps even a bit more.
This, in a year when the Cubs entered the series with a worse record than the Royals by half a game.
Before Friday night's game, the Royals were averaging 18,711 per date over 44 home dates -- only the Rays and Marlins have lower averages. The announced attendance of 32,921 for Friday's game raised that average by 1.6% to 19,027 -- not insignificant when 56% of Kansas City's home dates are already in the books for this year. It was only the sixth crowd all season at the K of 30,000 or more and a sellout of over 40,000, the first since Opening Day, is expected Saturday night; it will include, as it did last night, this writer and many other Cubs fans.
This is an object lesson for Cubs owner Tom Ricketts and team management. The Royals certainly weren't the attraction Friday night, although the two teams hadn't met in Kansas City in 11 years and that brought many fans out for the rare matchup. KC, the Midwest's version of the Pirates, has had only one winning season since 1994 and is heading for another losing season this year, possibly the franchise's eighth 90+ loss season in the last ten.
It can't be because the Cubs are contenders, because they aren't. Still ten games out of first place after Friday night's poorly-played 6-4 win over the Royals, the Cubs still await their first three-game winning streak of the 2011 season.
No, this is a tribute to the national fanbase the Cubs have developed over the years. While there were many like me who drove or flew from Chicago for this series, there are also thousands of Cubs fans who live in the Kansas City area and were excited to see their team in their town, and others who made the shorter drive from Iowa, where the Cubs' Triple-A team has been located for 30 years and where the Cubs fanbase is nearly as strong as it is in Chicago.
For Tom Ricketts and Cubs management, the lesson is: "don't screw it up". Cubs fans are extremely loyal, through thick and thin, and except for a few near-misses in the postseason since 1984, it's been mostly thin for decades. Cubs management can keep this going with the promise of a better future -- and ticket prices that don't pretend that the Cubs are already a perennial contender, because prices for the series at the K are about half what they'd be for comparable games at Wrigley Field.
Cubs management surely knows that they've got the most patient fans in all of sports. But if they continue to price their product too high, even that patience might be tested in the future, if the team doesn't return to contention.