KANSAS CITY — The signs went up all over Kansas City during spring training. T-shirts were printed and doled out to fans. Radio and television spots all blared the same theme.
That was the slogan chosen by the marketing gurus for the Royals this season, a simple two-word phrase meant to signify that the future is now — that after years of suffering, decades of playoff droughts, Kansas City and its bright young prospects were ready for a breakthrough.
Instead, the Royals endured a 12-game losing streak, including every game of a 10-game home stand. And when things started to turn around, they finished the first half by losing three of four at lowly Minnesota, splitting with Toronto and getting swept by Detroit.
They are 37-47, nearly 10 games back in the AL Central.
In short, they're just about where they have been each of the past 20 years.
"There are people that are going to want it now," Royals manager Ned Yost admitted. "They have to learn the league, they have to learn the opposition, and it's tough, but once you start to get a history against these guys, that's when you'll see them start to take off."
There have been signs of that taking place, of course.
First baseman Eric Hosmer and third baseman Mike Moustakas are firmly entrenched with the big league club. Young catcher Salvador Perez is back from a knee injury that sidelined him most of the first half of the season. Outfielder Lorenzo Cain is poised to return from his own injury woes.
Shortstop Alcides Escobar had an All-Star-caliber first half, and designated hitter Billy Butler was chosen to his first Midsummer Classic — the game played at Kauffman Stadium, no less — a fitting reward for an excellent stretch by one of the game's best pure hitters.
The problem is that every achievement has been tempered by disappointment.
Star closer Joakim Soria needed Tommy John surgery in spring training, and promising left-hander Danny Duffy joined him early in the season. Luke Hochevar has only managed to tease fans with solid starts on a maddeningly irregular basis, and Jonathan Sanchez has been a flop since Royals general manager Dayton Moore traded Melky Cabrera to the Giants for him.
To make that one hurt all the more, Cabrera has put together easily the best season of his career, and even homered while winning the All-Star game MVP award Tuesday night. Carlos Beltran of the St. Louis Cardinals and Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays are two more superstars who once wore the crisp white and brilliant blue of the Royal.
All those signs touting "Our Time?" They came down in a hurry this summer. The radio and TV spots came to an end, and some fans began using markers to print "NOT" on all those T-shirts.
"There will be a time where we're going to be a force in the American League," Butler vowed, "and where you're going to have to talk about us a lot more. We have too much talent."
There appears to be more on the way, too.
Slugging outfielder Wil Myers has been tearing up the minors, and gave Royals fans a taste of the future by going 2 for 4 and driving in three runs during the All-Star Futures Game on Sunday.
He's been playing at Triple-A Omaha with starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi, who was chosen to start for the victorious U.S. team. Yordano Ventura got the start for the World team, and pitched so well that the Royals rewarded him with a promotion to Double-A Northwest Arkansas.
"I really have no idea when I'll get here," Myers said. "It's up to the Royals front office. Whatever they want me to do, I'll do. I have confidence in them to make the right decisions."
Hall of Famer George Brett, whose opinion is still taken as gospel in Kansas City, lavished praise on the next wave of Royals prospects. Brett managed the U.S. team in the Futures Game, and made it clear that he wanted to give Odorizzi and Myers an opportunity to shine.
"Hosmer and Moustakas came with a lot of fanfare," Brett said, "and I think the same thing is going to happen with Wil Myers. They've been bragging about the minor league system for the last three or four years, and deservedly so. ... Dayton used to say, 'This is the first wave. Wil Myers is the start of the second wave.' Hopefully there's a third wave.'"
"Hope" is a dangerous word in Kansas City, though. It's been thrown around far too often for far too long, and fans have grown weary of the waiting.
Ultimately, the Royals are asking fans to be patient just one more time.
"I don't want anybody to break my records, but I want somebody to step up to the plate and play their whole career here," Brett said. "We're about 15 years from knowing how good these guys are going to be. I think we have the people in line to take over, and that's exciting to see."