The Mariners’ speedy left fielder helped bring downtrodden Royals fans to life in a 2014 wild-card game with his steal of third base and helped one in particular appreciate his hometown of Kansas City.
Mariners outfielder Jarrod Dyson wants to turn the page, but with the most famous steal of his career queued up, he indulges me. On the screen, it’s the ninth inning again, Royals vs. A’s, Sept. 30, 2014. In other words, having grown up as a Royals fan in Kansas City, it’s the game I’ll remember forever.
I asked Dyson to watch a single play from that game, a 10-second clip that captures Dyson and makes me nostalgic no matter how many times I watch it. A bit reluctantly, Dyson agreed. We walked to the video room inside Safeco Field, and there, waiting for us, was the play in question: Dyson’s steal of third, with one out, down one, in the ninth inning of the American League wild-card game — the night, The Kansas City Star declared, that “Kansas City baseball came back to life.”
“It brings back a lot of memories watching it now,” Dyson said.
By 2014, Dyson was a cult hero in Kansas City. He’d coined the slogan, “That’s what speed do,” to efficiently summarize his effectiveness on the bases. He once requested to go by the nickname Mr. Zoombiya because, as he explained to the K.C. Star, “Hey, that’s what I do. I zoom by you.” He was an underdog, a 50th-round draft pick who kept forcing his way onto the roster, a fourth outfielder and base-stealing assassin.
The Mariners acquired Dyson in a trade because a) they wanted to get faster and b) because of his attitude, his confidence, his swagger.
“I have pushed him, specifically in the last few days, to let that edge come out a little more,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said recently. “Because he has some swag about him with the nicknames and different phrases for things, which is great. I like the personality of guys to come out, and we actually need more of that.
“I don’t think we’ve seen the entire package that Jarrod Dyson brings to the clubhouse. But it’s starting to come.”
There’s no better representation of what Dyson can be — what he is at his best — than his steal of third in the wild-card game. “That’s probably the most important bag I ever had to take,” Dyson said.
That steal also happens to be my favorite sports moment. Not just because Dyson scored the tying run in one of the most exhilarating wins in Royals history, but because of what he did right after he stole third, right after Oakland catcher Derek Norris looked blankly toward his dugout, like he’d run out of answers: Dyson did the Yung Joc.
I should pause to explain what, exactly, the Yung Joc is and why it’s significant. In 2006, Yung Joc, an Atlanta rapper, released a song called “It’s Goin’ Down” in which he rapped about the places where it was going down: the mall, the club. Anywhere you met him, he said, it was guaranteed to go down. The music video showed Joc dancing in front of cars, driving around in cars, getting in and out of cars. During the chorus, however, the video showed Joc pretending to rev a motorcycle to the beat — hence the Yung Joc or, according to Wikipedia, “Joc-in” or, more practically still, “The Motorcycle.”
That might not seem like much, but to a bunch of dorky high-school kids in Kansas City, that dance, the revving of the motorcycle, became a Thing. We did it any time we heard “It’s Goin’ Down.” To this day, I get nostalgic whenever I hear that song.
When Dyson stole third, the cameras showed the umpire calling Dyson safe, then Norris, then cut back to Dyson, who proceeded to do the Yung Joc.
“I be zooming on the bags,” Dyson explained. “You’ll get that out of me.”
By that time, I was recovering from what had been a dark meltdown after the Royals fell behind. I spent the day walking around Seattle in my Yordano Ventura jersey. I drove to West Seattle to buy Boulevard beer and cooked a sorry rack of ribs in my oven just to feel like I was home.
I had always been a Royals fan, but when I moved to Seattle, in the summer of 2012, I appreciated the Royals in a way I never had before. They weren’t just a sports team in my hometown; they WERE my hometown. Moving away from Kansas City was thrilling, terrifying and rewarding — but it was also lonely. My first night in Seattle, with my dad in the other room, I cried because I had no idea if I could make it on my own.
By 2014, I’d met a girl, found footing at work and had come to call Seattle my new home. But I still missed Kansas City. I missed my dad, the ease of old friendships, the ribs at Gates and the beef sandwiches at Bryant’s. Before I left, I never thought about where I was from, never really took pride in it. Only after I was gone did I feel a connection with the place where I grew up.
The Royals offered a vessel to connect with Kansas City and particularly with my dad. Text threads dominated game nights, and every morning or every afternoon, I called my dad to talk about the latest win or loss, what was wrong or what was right. I loved those calls. They made 2,000 miles feel small.
Then I watched the Royals fall behind 7-3 in their only playoff appearance of my lifetime. I had long since broken an Alex Gordon bobble head by throwing it down the hall and fired off profanity-laced texts (Printable sample: “Guys, I haven’t been this mad about a game in a long, long time”). Sports had done it to me: They had made me embarrassingly and indefensibly irrational.
Dyson’s steal and dance was not just hope, not just 90 feet closer to a comeback. It was a moment of brashness for a franchise that had had nothing to be brash about in a long, long time. The Royals were down a run, in the ninth inning of an elimination game, and here was a role player off the bench dancing.
Sometimes, Dyson said, he’ll watch highlights of himself. He calls them “taste me” plays because they give him a taste of what he was and help him reset. The steal against Oakland is one of those plays, the kind of moment Dyson can create with little more than his legs and guts.
“Just looking at this video, it do bring back memories,” he said. “I tear up in the offseason at times watching the playoffs.”
Every once in a while, I watch that steal but for different reasons. I like to think about my family and friends who I texted or called that night, the pride I felt in my hometown, the place I left to start somewhere new, and I’m sort of embarrassed to admit that sometimes I tear up when I watch it, too.