For much of the next 10 days, the center of the baseball universe will not be Boston or L.A. but Kansas City, where the scrappy, longshot Royals will be playing in the World Series for the first time in 29 years.
That's right, doubters: Kansas City. KCMO! Part Cowtown, part "Paris of the Plains," to cite just two of its nicknames.
To snooty coastal Americans, it's a flyover city, an indistinct heartland burg famous for ... well, nothing. But take a closer look and its humble Midwestern charms come into focus.
Like a yoga master, KC sits perfectly centered in America's midsection, surrounded on all sides by subtle prairie beauty. It straddles the Missouri River, and not one, but two states. Even its people are decent -- if New York is Donald Trump, Kansas City is Walter Cronkite, the trusted newsman who lived in the Missouri city as a boy and later started his journalism career there.
Here are just some of the reasons Kansas City is already a winner.
1. From last to first
Everyone loves an underdog, and KC is a big one. For the past three decades, while baseball's elite (Yankees, Cardinals, Red Sox) were racking up championships, the Royals toiled in the murky depths of the American League cellar. Over one horrific span of 18 years, they had one winning season. Each miserable spring, Royals' fans' hopes were dashed before the last snowfall melted.
But now, despite a roster of no-name players -- most Americans wouldn't know Lorenzo Cain from Lorenzo Lamas -- the Royals are good. Really good. They staged a wild comeback to top the A's, swept the star-studded Angels and have now won a record eight playoff games in a row. Derek Jeter who?
2. Three coins in the fountain(s)
Sure, we hear Rome is lovely. But folks in Kansas City will happily tell you they have more fountains, for one thing. Inspired by the grand cities of Europe, planners in the late 1800s filled Kansas City with parks, boulevards and public squares teeming with decorative water displays -- more than 200 in all. One of the first fountains even had basins for horses and dogs to drink from -- how cute is that?
Visitors to KC will find cascading fountains, waterspout fountains and fountains punctuated with statues. Even Kauffman Stadium, where the Royals play, has a fountain display beyond its right-field wall. Exuberant fans have been known to jump in them, which will get you thrown out of the ballpark. This year, it's hard to blame them.
3. Royals, meet 'Royals'
Yes, Lorde's smash hit "Royals" refers mostly to historical monarchs. But there's a surprising Kansas City tie, too. The young singer has said the tune's lyrics were also inspired by a 1976 National Geographic photo she saw of young Royals star George Brett signing baseballs.
"Baby I'll rule, I'll rule, I'll rule, I'll rule," she sings in the song. "Let me live that fantasy."
Yes, please, agree hopeful KC fans.
4. For the love of meat
This city knows its meat and more. With joints like Jack Stack and Oklahoma Joe's (an Anthony Bourdain favorite), KC's barbecue can go head-to-head with any of its Southern brethren and come out on top. (Arthur Bryant's is the classic must-mention: You decide if it's better than Bourdain's pick.) After all, it's home to the Kansas City Barbeque Society, the governing body of the competitive barbecue circuit. (Note to barbecue novices: Different spots spell the word differently.)
5. Polite people
People in Kansas City are nice. Heck, Walt Disney grew up there. And witness that likeable actor and KC native Paul Rudd, inviting fans back to his mom's for a celebratory kegger after Wednesday night's pennant win. He almost seemed to mean it. Even the KC cops seem like polite, reasonable fellows. After the ALCS-clinching win they tweeted, "We trust you'll channel your 29 years of pent-up excitement into a safe and classy celebration, #KC! See you at the World Series!"
6. All that jazz
New Orleans gets more music hype, but Kansas City was a hotbed of hard-swinging jazz in the early half of the 20th century. Legends like Count Basie, Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker and Lester Young all jammed frequently in clubs such as the Hi Hat and the Hey Hey, where players traded competitive solos deep into the night.
Robert Altman celebrated this scene in "Kansas City," his 1996 crime drama set against a backdrop of 1930s jazz, and the American Jazz Museum is located in -- you guessed it -- KC.
7. World's tallest water slide