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Yesterday, my Royals, against pretty overwhelming odds, made it to the World Series. A team that hasn't made the playoffs in 29 years made the World Series. A team that seemed to ignore every advancement in baseball knowledge and statistics, somehow, made it to the World Series.
It's a Cinderella story. It's a movie in the making. It's every kid's (or blogger's) dream. It's every sports cliche ever uttered -- and I'm loving it. And it's also a great lesson in perseverance and hope for every lawyer and law graduate out there who is struggling with unrealized potential and unfulfilled dreams.
Here are a few thoughts, and way too many baseball references:
5. Even After 29 Years of Suck, Don't Give Up.
In 1985, the Kansas City Royals won the World Series. I was one month old.
They haven't made the playoffs since. Until this year, they had the longest playoff drought in U.S. professional sports history. Yet, even in the darkest days (back-to-back-to-back 100-loss seasons), the team had loyal fans who kept watching, kept going to games, and kept obsessing over third-tier players who didn't even belong in the majors.
This is the payoff. This is the moment that makes you think, maybe, no matter how bad life gets, at some point, faith is rewarded.
4. Conventional and Popular Wisdom Are Crap.
You've probably heard of "Moneyball": Brad Pitt has a way of bringing the nation's attention to things as obscure as sabermetrics, the unconventional then-new way of looking at baseball using advanced statistics.
The Royals have been many things, including terrible, over the past few decades. Sabermetrics was not in their vocabulary. And while the stats guys (myself included -- I'm far too analytical to believe in "grit" or "hustle") praise walks and home runs, the Royals finished dead last in both categories. Crucially, they also finished last in strikeouts.
They saw what everyone else was emphasizing and instead built a team on speed and defense. A team that finished middle-of-the-pack in runs scored, thanks to a strategy of putting the ball in play, running like hell, and hoping for the best possible outcome.
Folks might tell you that your plan won't work: Going to law school nowadays is a bad idea, starting your own firm straight out of school is professional suicide, that case is way too complicated for someone so young ... whatever. The conventional or popular wisdom isn't always wrong -- most of the time, it really isn't.
But sometimes, it is.
3. One Minute You're The Goat (#Yosted). The Next? GOAT.
Royals Manager Ned Yost made so many ridiculous mistakes in September that he spawned a hashtag: #Yosted. He'd leave pitchers in too long, he'd bring in a right-hander to face a guy who crushes right-handers, he'd do so many things that aggravated the fan base. Just last week, The Wall Street Journal called him "The Dunce." And don't even get us started on his love of the sacrifice bunt. (Oh wait, that actually works?)
In fact, the last time he managed a playoff-bound team, he was fired with only a few weeks left in the season because of his tactical errors.
Now? According to ESPN, he's the first manager to win his first eight playoff games. His harshest critics are praising his management (at least over the last few games). And he's trending again, this time inspiring hastags like #Yostseason or tweets like "Bunt for Ned October."
Nobody is going to call Ned Yost the Greatest of All Time (GOAT). But at least for the last couple of weeks, the experts have stopped calling him an "ugly goat." That's progress, and it's come because he hasn't repeated the mistakes of yore in the playoffs.
Ned Yost: "I get criticized all the time. I'm 'the dumbest manager in baseball.' I'm OK with that. I know who I am."-- Andy McCullough (@McCulloughStar) October 16, 2014
You can learn from your mistakes too. And while on some days you'll completely screw things up and wonder how you were ever entrusted with a law license, keep at it -- you might just turn things around.
2. Trust Your Long-Term Plan.
Dayton Moore and his "process." How many times, over the last 10 years or so, has the Royals' general manager said to "trust the process." It was a running joke amongst the hardcore fans -- the Royals lost their 100th game? The. Process.
Some will say that one winning season, one run to the World Series, even a possible World Series victory, doesn't make up for the last 10 years of shoestring payrolls, teams of has-beens and never-was-es, and loss after loss after loss.
But Moore stuck to his plan: Draft well, step up the international scouting, and build the prospect system. Last year, in a much criticized trade, he sent two of the team's best prospects, including a guy who could be a perennial All-Star, to Tampa Bay for an ace on a two-year contract and a failed starting pitcher. James Shields' contract ends after the World Series. He's been exactly as promised. And that failed starter? He just put up one of the best relief pitching seasons in Major League history.
Along the way, people, maybe even experts, are going to criticize your plan. All that matters is the end game.
1. It's OK to Believe in Magic, Miracles, and Intangible Things.
That, right there, is a man flying. It's magic. And it's a miracle that the Royals are in the World Series -- at mid-season, they barely had a winning record. But there has been something magical about this entire run: Lee Sung-woo, the four straight extra inning playoff victories, the team with a middling offense somehow coming back to win against one of the best pitchers in baseball in the Wild Card game. And the Nori Aoki closed-eyes catch. That catch.
Everyone, especially the analytical types (that's us, fellow lawyers!) likes to believe in tangible, controllable things. If we do (a), then we get (b). But sometimes, minor miracles and other lucky breaks happen. It sounds naïve. It might be. But it might also, once in a while, be OK to believe.