KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Chad Carroll is putting his fanny on the line. Literally.
"If by some miracle they win the (World) Series, I will tattoo ‘The Royals have proven me wrong’ on my backside," Carroll tells FOXSportsKansasCity.com when asked about the Kansas City Royals, one of the estranged sporting loves of his life. "Or something like that — my friends already have some ideas in mind.
"I have a feeling that my backside is pretty safe, though."
Like they say: Once a hopeful skeptic, always a hopeful skeptic.
A long time ago — well, not that long, but it was 2006, before Instagram — Carroll was a part of Royals lore, and not in a particularly good way. He’d grown up listening to the sounds of Denny Mathews and Fred White crackling over the radio in tiny Le Mars, Iowa, bonding with his father over the heroics of George Brett, Willie Wilson and Dan Quisenberry during those salad years when the Royals were either feared, respected, or both.
But as the 21st century loomed and the losses mounted, Carroll and his friends got together and decided they’d had enough and were going to have some fun with their Royal blues. They auctioned off a lifetime of Chad’s sports loyalty. On eBay.
"I did stay a (Royals) fan," admits Carroll, who eight years ago was living in Maryland as a technician with the Air Force. "Loyalty is definitely something that I don’t take for granted. But I was absolutely ready to walk away. I had had enough and didn’t feel that my dedication was being reciprocated."
You can’t buy friends but, it turns out, your friends can buy your "loyalty." His military pals pooled their resources and wound up winning the auction for a whopping $278.47.
"Their plan all along was to win," Chad says now, "then ‘force’ me to stay a Royals fan, since the winner chose my team. They felt that was the worst punishment."
Chad Carroll (right) still cheers for the Royals despite auctioning off his ‘loyalty’ on eBay eight years ago.
Oh, but how times have changed.
The Boys in Blue head into Arlington for a weekend series at Texas leading the American League Central by 1 1/2 games; that’s the latest the franchise has held a division lead, alone, this late in August since 1985 — the last year the Royals reached the postseason. They’re 15-4 in August and 22-10 since the All-Star break.
"I’m happy, it is exciting," says the 42-year-old Carroll, currently retired and living in Texas. "But I am — as all Royals fans are — cautiously optimistic. (We) still have a long season ahead. The Royals could be eight games ahead with 10 to play and I doubt many fans would be lining up to buy playoff tickets just yet."
Old, practiced habits, practiced doubts, die hard. Carroll says he’s "definitely not the rabid fan" he used to be. He says manager Ned Yost has frustrated him, at times, and that the manager’s past narratives scare him during a pennant race.
Carroll defines success for the Royals as not just making the playoffs for the first time in 29 seasons, but figuring out a way to contend consistently. He’s in the camp that dislikes the James Shields-Wil Myers swap from the Kansas City end — still — but does concede that the veteran ace is a big reason this club, as of Friday morning, was pegged with a 68.3 percent chance to reach the postseason by FanGraphs.com. And why 2006 — 62-100, the days of Esteban German and Mark Teahen — feels like a very, very, very long time ago.
"Believe it or not, (I got) a mixed reaction," Carroll says of Royals fans who responded to his auction. "Half were negative; the other half, supportive. Lots of fans (were) questioning ‘wavering loyalty … how could any true fan do that?’
"At some point, it needed to be about mutual respect between the fans and the organization that depends on those very fans to operate. We are incredibly emotionally and financially committed to an entity that doesn’t even know your name."
They knew his name after that. Heck, so did everybody else.
"It was intended to be a private joke between friends," Carroll says. "(That’s) not quite how it ended up, though. And that’s because I wasn’t the only one that felt that way."
Carroll said he never heard from the Royals proper — he never really expected to — but that a staffer from the St. Louis Cardinals reached out to say that his story "was quite ‘popular’ in their dugout for some time, though."
And yet, isn’t it funny how the worm turns? The Royals took three out of four this summer from their storied neighbors from eastern Missouri, and currently hold a better record overall (70-56 to the Cards’ 69-57).
"I am happy," Carroll says. "There are no fans on Earth that deserve it more. The Royals have the longest playoff drought of any (North American) franchise in any major sport. How can you not be a little bit happy for fans whose team is usually mathematically eliminated from the playoffs by June?"