Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 4/28/12
MINNEAPOLIS Before the 2012 baseball season, the Kansas City Royals adopted the promotional slogan "Our Time," the supposed harbinger of a team that saw itself threatening the Tigers in the AL Central and laying waste to a years-long losing tradition. Twenty games in, "Our Time" has yielded six wins and fourteen losses. "Our Time" has seen the Royals fall to being tied for the majors' second-worst record. "Our Time" proved premature, at best. Sound familiar? In early March, the Timberwolves launched their season-ticket renewal program to the slogan of "Everyone's talking about the Wolves," and on the night when Ricky Rubio tore his ACL, the Target Center's seats were draped with white T-shirts bearing that very slogan. Sport, at times, can be a cruel mistress, rendering the most well intentioned claims a farce with as little as the turn of a knee and the snap of a fragile tendon. And from that point on, everyone was certainly talking but mostly about the team's 5-21 record to end the season, about injuries and letdowns. Slogans like the Royals' and the Timberwolves' don't cause breakdowns. Fervent believers in the Cubs' Curse of the Billy Goat and football's Madden Curse might dispute that claim, but those clever phrases were nothing more than signs of a premature pressure borne of infant dreams. It's hard to know when to capitalize on potential, when a team has proven it's past its development stage and ready for the big time, and both the Royals' and the Timberwolves' experiences this year have shown just how misleading and fragile that notion can be. At face value, the Royals' slogan made a shred of sense they're young, coming off a season in which Baseball Prospectus ranked their farm system the best in the majors and placed 10 Royals among its top 101 prospects. At the time, the magazine wrote that Kansas City's minor-league system was the richest of any in the past 22 years, rating their prospects' value at 245 million. If that isn't potential, then what is? As much as potential links them, the case of the Royals is far different from the Timberwolves, for reasons beyond just the leagues' different fundamental rules. The Timberwolves of late February and early March had indeed proven they could win and contend; the Royals of 2011 finished 20 games under .500 and 24 out in the AL Central better only than the Twins. That alone suggests a slogan something more along the lines of "Needs Time," but promise and youth can do a lot to skew perspectives.In basketball, change can be almost instant. Draft a good player, and he's on the court with your team in four months, potentially a game-changer. In baseball, select the top prospect, and he's still holed away in Double-A Podunk Village for a few years, no matter how good he might be. That involves a measure of patience, the ability for a team to sit back and wait, for fans to suffer through a smattering of 71-91 seasons before the pieces are in place.In Kansas City, maybe the waiting got to be too much, and it's hard to blame them. On paper, this looks great: Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas headlining a starting lineup that on Friday boasted five players who'd made their MLB debuts with the Royals. It's homegrown talent, a farm system paying its dues. Even better, these guys should be familiar with each other after coming up through the minor league system together. This should be good, really good.But somehow, it's not. That's not to say it will always be that way, but it's easy to forget about things like age, experience and even the fickle notion of luck. The average age of that Friday night lineup was 26.6. Hosmer is 22, Moustakas 23, and four of the nine in the batting order that night weren't even born the last time the Royals won a World Series, in 1985. The picture is pretty, but the numbers are daunting, and youth is a wild card in sports. It can mean athleticism and prowess, but it's just as often an obstacle riddled with immaturity and adjustments. Potential and youth go hand-in-hand, one as fleeting as the other, and the hardest thing of all might be to remember that potential still exists amidst the wreckage of a disastrous month.Denard Span debuted with the Twins in 2008 at age 24. He was a key part of Minnesota's 2009 lineup, which boasted six players who'd made their major league debuts with the team. He knows what it's like to win in the way the Royals someday hope to, and he also knows the stresses that loaded dreams of potential can yield."It depends on what type of pressure you put on yourself, if you feed into the media, feed into all the hype of being a number one prospect and a young phenom," Span said. "Flip side, I think if you just go out there, for them being young, and realize that you have nothing to lose, you're young, playing with seasoned veterans in the big leagues you'll be good before you know it."So much of the pressure teams like the Royals and Timberwolves face is generated from outside, and the players it most toys with are young and unsure of how media and hype function. There's a lot more to sports than just the game, and only when players realize that can they achieve a measure of calm when things go exactly how everyone said they shouldn't."You just stay calm," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "You know that they've never dealt with that kind of pressure, that type of expectation, and it's hard You've got to understand what it feels like when you get into it, and you've got to understand what it feels like to get out of it."Yost's team is still mired in that first phase, on the heels of a 12-game losing streak and a long way from .500. They received the dubious honor of becoming the first team to lose its first 10 games at home since 1913, and contending has taken a backseat to somehow getting back close to a winning record. Getting out might take weeks or even a whole season, but it's the bookend to the Royals' situation right now and a concrete part of Yost's plan.All that losing obscures potential, but in no way is it erased. Losing proves that expectations were put on fast-forward, that the team needs to slow down and ease into what it hopes to one day be. Perhaps this homegrown potential needs an outside spark plenty of teams made up largely of players who've come up through their own systems have been unsuccessful but it might just need some breathing room. Yes, the players are aging, but 24 or 25 is hardly ancient, and with every year and measure of experience that players like Hosmer and Moustakas age, the team will be that much closer to its next round of phenoms, Bubba Starling and Wil Myers. There comes a point at which potential runs out, when a team becomes either a contender or a bust. But between those first hints of promise and that turning point, there can be months or years in which a team can mature and gel, even trade and sign to meet its needs. In the thick of it all, that can be hard to see, but it explains so much. It explains Rick Adelman's jokes and Yost's calm demeanor, coaches' assurances about character and work ethic amidst mounting losses. Potential warrants a larger scope of thinking.The Royals could still be a bust. Yet another generation of kids could grow up without a World Series title in Kansas City, and the Timberwolves might never make it to the playoffs under Adelman. But the odds suggest otherwise at least the odds that coaches and players can control. Until then, potential rules. It will tease and it will deliver, and as long as it's not hurried, distant promises can grow into something that's rewarding in the moment.Follow Joan Niesen on Twitter.
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