Bugged about KC’s comeback?

Have you heard the hype that’s overtaken the Royals clubhouse? I’ll give you a hint: It involves a praying mantis.

The Royals suffered through a 7-19 July—I was lucky enough to visit The K to witness one of those wins—but then Kansas City began to turn its season around about the same time a praying mantis appeared in the dugout.

The original insect showed up during the Royals’ Aug. 6 outing against the Blue Jays. After trailing, 2-0, KC rallied to win, 4-2.

The Royals won again the next day, securing a series win over Toronto, then took two of three from the White Sox. Before long, Rally Mantis had become a serious topic of conversation, leaving journalists scratching their heads as to the type of news on which they were reporting.

With Billy Burns as official caretaker, the Royals took Rally Mantis with them on the road to Minnesota. However, tragedy struck on Friday, Aug. 12, when the insect died. Pitcher Danny Duffy even made a tribute video.

Amazingly, the following Monday in Detroit, a second praying mantis appeared atop the visitors’ dugout, and the Royals enlisted the help of a fan to capture it. The Royals went on to sweep the Tigers, and Rally Mantis Jr., as the insect was named, found a new home with the team. The insect was even given a nice new cage when the Royals returned to Kansas City.

The Royals continued their hot streak, winning seven series in a row since the original mantis showed up. They swept the Tigers and the Twins and posted a 20-9 record in the month of August to revitalize postseason hopes. As of Sunday, the Royals sat at 70-65, still four games back in the wild card race. It’s still a long shot. But there is hope.

These days, Rally Mantis Jr. is in the dugout on game days. I watched one game where Salvador Perez lovingly kissed the insect’s cage after hitting a home run.

The mantis excitement has really caught on, and fans can share in the fun, with stuffed praying mantis toys, T-shirts and even masks available for purchase.

I’m not superstitious, but I do think the Royals may be on to something.

Right now I’m reading the book “Mind Gym” by Gary Mack with David Cas­stevens. The general premise is that while an athlete must prepare physically for his or her sport, an even larger battle must be won in the mind to achieve optimal performance.

One topic the book touches on is a proper approach to failure. Sometimes we can get so hung up on past failures that we hinder our ability in the present.

Mack writes, “…the fear of failure, more than any single thing, keeps people in sports, and in all avenues of life, from realizing their full potential. Fear of failure prevents more of us from succeeding than any opponent. Fear creates the conditions that keep athletes from winning.”

And later: “One of the paradoxes of sports is that fear of failure actually makes failure more likely.”

If the Royals had remained focused on their abysmal July, August may have turned out the same way.

Instead of focusing on the past or worrying about the future, Mack encourages athletes to stay in the present. “When you are playing your game right on time, in the present, you perform at your best. Why? Because in the present, there is no pressure. Pressure is created by anxieties about the future and remembered failures from the past.”

I don’t claim to know what’s going on in the Royals dugout and I’m certainly not a team psychologist, but could it be that Rally Mantis Jr. has given the boys in blue not only a diversion to get their minds off the past, but also permission to relax, have a little fun and get back to their game?

I certainly do not want to discredit the hard work the Royals put in at practice. But if it takes a praying mantis to lighten the mood in the dugout, then I’m all for it. Here’s to an even better September.

Janae Rempel is the Free Press sport editor. You can reach her at janae@hillsborofreepress.com.