Back when the world was still young and innocent, the Kansas City Royals were an exciting baseball team. Always a winner. Talent up and down the roster. They were an easy team to love for kids growing up in the middle of the country, including kids in Wichita.
That's what happened to Rany Jazayerli.
The world has changed, and innocence has disappeared somewhere in the Internet. The Royals haven't been a good baseball team for almost 20 years. But for some of those Midwestern kids, the Royals are a love that's been impossible to shake.
Especially for Rany Jazayerli.
He's had plenty of reasons to move on. He lived overseas for a portion of his formative years. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Johns Hopkins. He received a medical degree from Michigan. He opened a dermatology practice in Chicago that has grown to three locations. He got married and had three daughters.
But he can't help himself.
"Even now," Jazayerli says, "as much as the team drives me up the wall sometimes, I could not imagine rooting for another team."
"My inner fan says that between the Royals Caravan and the FanFest, Greinke felt the love from Royals fans, and decided to reciprocate. (My inner analyst was about to respond, but my inner fan decked him before he could talk, then stomped on his glasses and pocket protector for good measure.)"
—From Rany on the Royals "Jonah and the Whale of a Contract" blog post, Jan. 27, 2009
The Jazayerli family moved from Michigan to Wichita in 1975 when Rany was "literally 10 days old." In the early '80s he attended Kos Harris Elementary School and spent a year in the gifted program at College Hill.
Though he was too young to remember the playoffs in 1980 and '81, the Royals were always a contender. Baseball was fun. What's not to love?
"I was a baseball nut for as far back as I can remember," Jazayerli says. "No doubt the statistics of the game appealed to me — I was doing complicated math in my head when I was 4 years old, and made my dad buy me the Baseball Encyclopedia — 2000+ pages of stats — when I was 6 years old.
"It was my most prized possession for many years."
A stat geek from the start.
But by the time the Royals won their first (only) World Series in 1985, Jazayerli was living in another country. His father took a job as the head of a cardiac center at a new hospital in Saudi Arabia in 1984.
Jazayerli watched the Series months later on VHS tapes recorded by family friends, already knowing the outcome and unable to experience the emotion that comes with rooting home a winner.
"I'm 34 years old," Jazayerli says "and I've never seen the Royals play a postseason — or even meaningful late-season — game live."
Though his family spent the school year in Saudi Arabia, they returned to Wichita each summer.
"It was a valuable experience living overseas, one I'm glad I went through," Jazayerli says, "but every school year I was just marking time until I came home for the summer."
Home to Wichita, and the chance to hear the Royals.
"I really fell in love with Royals through my radio," Jazayerli says — and 1989 was the year that made him a fan for life. "I can still remember the nine-game winning streak in August."
Saberhagen and Gubicza. Brett and Bo. A lot to love. A long time ago.
Jazayerli graduated from high school in 1991, from college in 1995. He says he returned to Wichita every summer until he was married in 1997. Finally his changing life pulled him away from Wichita, but not from the Royals.
"It was Voltaire who originally said, "The perfect is the enemy of the good." We could use a little Voltaire right now, and not just because he probably had a better slider than Roman Colon."
—From Rany on the Royals "Hillman and the Bullpen" blog post, April 22, 2010
Jazayerli is far from a passive baseball fan.
As a college student he frequented the newsgroup rec.sport.baseball on a precursor to the World Wide Web, exchanging baseball thoughts with like-minded, often statistics-obsessed baseball lovers. During his senior year he wrote an analysis of minor league pitchers... because graduating with honors from Johns Hopkins apparently wasn't enough to keep him busy.
During his first year of medical school, Jazayerli and a few friends he'd made at the newsgroup created the first edition of Baseball Prospectus, a team-by-team baseball outlook that has grown from the 1996 version that sold about 160 copies on paper stock (and inadvertently omitted the St. Louis Cardinals) to a book that makes the New York Times bestseller list. Baseball Prospectus also has a subscription-based website devoted to the sabermetric analysis of baseball.
As a fourth-year medical student in the summer of 1998 Jazayerli developed a system called Pitcher Abuse Points for Baseball Prospectus "after watching Jim Leyland grind down another young Marlins pitcher for 140-plus pitches in a start." His study was one of the events that helped spur baseball's re-examination of the way pitchers are used.
He leads a double life that's not exactly typical.
"The path that my life has taken is not something you plan out: Go to medical school and become a doctor, and on the side write about baseball and have a radio show," Jazayerli says.
"So this is what I've become. What started as a simple post about Tim Melville is already approaching 3000 words. It's not really about Melville at all at this point, but then, that's usually what happens when I start an article with one topic in mind and end up rambling about another. So rather than provide fodder for those of you who like to mock the lengths of my posts (that would be, um, all of you), I'm splitting this into two parts. Which of course means that I'm the guy who needed to split an article about Tim Freaking Melville into two parts. Whatever."
—From Rany on the Royals "Prospect Rundown, Part 5" blog post, March 22, 2010
The baseball man in Jazayerli is a Royals fan. A long-suffering Royals fan, but still passionate.
"Passion leads to strong negative emotions, too," Jazayerli says.
In the late 1990s he and ESPN's Rob Neyer decided to post their Royals-related frustrations on Neyer's Web site. The material was endless: The Royals were rudderless, hamstrung by an inability to spend money and snakebitten by dubious decisions. Jazayerli said their blog was "two guys arguing over the merits of a team that clearly didn't know what it was doing."
That's comedy gold, Jerry.
Their posts developed a faithful following of mostly fellow long-suffering Royals fans. Misery loves company.
Eventually Neyer surrendered. But Jazayerli carries on. He has a weekly Thursday radio show on Kansas City station WHB. His blog "Rany on the Royals," which he started in 2008, is one of several sites on the Web where Royals fans continue to vent... and to hope.
He expounds, often at great length, about what's right and wrong with the Royals. The Royals being the Royals, there's been more wrong to write about than right... which doesn't always please Jazayerli.
"The analyst side of me just wants to be accurate," Jazayerli says. "I want to say 'this is what will happen' and be right all the time."
But sometimes he wishes he was wrong more often. The moves that Kansas City has made at the big-league level in recent years have, for the most part, been less than sizzling... though for the most part the moves have turned out just as Jazayerli and other analysts predicted.
But for fans, there's always hope.
"I'm forever optimistic," Jazayerli says. "Every spring I come back with a little bit of optimism."
In recent years the Royals have begun investing in their farm system. Though the results haven't reached the big leagues... there's hope.
"What I've seen from the minor leagues the last six weeks — this is the most hopeful I've been since the days of Damon and Beltran," he says. "Now, you've got a bunch of talent in Double-A, but also have talent in A ball and more talent that they've just signed.
"I feel like by next year things could be interesting."
But even if things are disastrous for the Royals next year, Jazayerli will in all likelihood remain a fan. He can't help himself.