Saturday, February 19, 2005

Team Effort

Everybody contributed today. The vaunted senior class. The supposedly NBA-bound sophomore sharpshooter. The conspicuously unimproved freshmen. Even the upwardly mobile head coach did his share. It was easy to spread the blame today in KU's overtime loss to the suddenly chic Iowa State Cyclones.

Coming off a hard-fought double-overtime loss at Texas Tech, the Jayhawks came home to face the red-hot Cyclones. One might figure Kansas, ranked #2 nationally, would be motivated to take control of the remainder of the Big XII schedule, with three of their final five regular season games taking place at Allen Fieldhouse. KU was seriously challenged by ISU in Ames earlier this year and was taken into overtime last season by the Cyclones in Allen Fieldhouse. There is no way they should have been taking this team lightly. Instead, they came out with the same lack of intensity that signified their play leading up to the debacle at Villanova last month.

Iowa State head coach Wayne Morgan smartly employed a zone defense versus the Jayhawks, noting that Kansas has been notoriously poor at handling such a defense. And Kansas played right into Morgan's hands. Did KU get the ball into Wayne Simien's hands in the first half? Hardly. The guards were content to swing the ball around the perimeter and, when the absolutely perfect entry pass didn't materialize, they put up a three-pointer. Time and time again. Few attempts were made at penetrating the zone via the dribble to multiply the offensive options available: penetrate and score; penetrate and draw the foul; penetrate and kick out to the open man; penetrate, pull up, and take the mid-range jumpshot. The Kansas guards seemed content to be patient and "let the game come to them". Championship teams know the appropriate times to employ this strategy. This team seemingly does not.

Coaching and senior leadership were found to be greatly lacking in this game. Senior guards Aaron Miles and Keith Langford made little effort to attack the zone with the dribble. Coach Self, noted last year for his high/low offense, has apparently abandoned it this year. Self never adjusted today, running the same inept offensive system until all hope of victory had vanished. Adding to the pressure being put on the offense was the fact that Aaron Miles was absolutely torched on defense by Curtis Stinson. Miles gave up 29 points to Stinson, leaving his reputation as one of the nation's top defensive guards at the top of the key along with his jock. Miles' long-time sidekick Michael Lee had an equally inept game, making one of four shots and fouling out in only 18 minutes of play. This senior class has been to two Final Fours and was one overtime away from another. Yet they play as if their mere presence on the basketball court will ensure victory. Even the seemingly infallible Wayne Simien has not improved his defensive game one iota in four years. Is this the sort of leadership we want rubbing off on the freshman class?

This leads to another double point: these freshman have been wildly inconsistent. In all fairness, injury has played a part. But can anyone say honestly that any of these freshman is any better now than they were in November? I can't. And I think the majority of that blame goes to Bill Self. The first three months of the season were spent experimenting with the lineup, trying to figure out who would play well enough to fill out the nine-man rotation. Again, injury made this process more difficult, but just last week Self said that he had finally figured out who those nine players were. In today's game, 11 players saw the floor. The freshman big men were shuffled in and out of the lineup like hockey players in the first half. How are young players supposed to find any consitency or rhythm in a situation like that?

And does sophomore J.R. Giddens get a freebie because he's no longer a freshman? Whenever a freshman makes a mistake during the game, Self seems quick to pull that player out. Giddens, on the other hand, seems to be able to throw away countless possesions via turnover, bad shot or just plain cold shooting without receiving the hook. Giddens shot 3-for-16 from the floor, 1-for-11 from behind the arc. I'm all for letting a guy shoot his way out of a slump, but when the season is getting late and the games have more meaning, you have to find someone who can put the ball in the hoop.

What it comes down to in the end, though, is intensity. Urgency. The take-no-prisoners attitude that should be rampant on a team with four battle-tested seniors. Keith Langford likes to shoot off his mouth, but he'd be better served using that energy to turn his switch to "On" at the beginning of the game rather than in the last two minutes. Wayne Simien needs to demand the ball. Aaron Miles needs set an example of intensity and toughness by taking the ball to the hole. And Bill Self needs to realize that if these things don't start happening, a chance at the national championship will have slipped away.

Friday, February 18, 2005

2005 Royals Promotions I'd Like to See

What brings the "casual" fan to the ballpark? Free stuff, of course! After perusing the Royals promotion schedule for the upcoming season, I came up with a handful of promotions that might be interesting:

Firearms Fridays
"Conceal and Carry" advocates get an opportunity to show their pride every Friday night at Kauffman Stadium.

"Kids Clean the Stadium" Sundays
In conjunction with "Kids Eat Free" Sundays, kids 14 and under get a free ticket to an upcoming home game if they collect 10 lbs of trash from the Kauffman Stadium stands. Since many kids like to collect hundreds of used plastic souvenir cups anyway, this should be a rousing success.

Saturday, April 16
Calvin Pickering Jersey/Tent Night
The first 20,000 fans will receive a "Big Pick" replica jersey that can also be converted into a 3-room tent.

Wednesday, June 15
Dodge-A-Dodge Night, sponsored by Dodge
Three lucky fans will be selected to use their agility and speed in dodging a 2005 Dodge Viper in the Kauffman Stadium outfield. Those that escape serious injury will be rewarded with a 2005 Dodge Neon.

Saturday, August 6
Military Appreciation Night
Camouflage baseballs will be used creating fielding hijinks not seen since the early 1900's. Add in randomly placed landmines in the outfield and hilarity ensues. (This could also help expedite the removal of some of the Royals' unskilled corner outfielders.)

Friday, September 9
20th Anniversary of the 1985 World Series Championship:
Don Denkinger Bobblehead Giveaway
The first 20,000 fans receive a bobblehead of the central figure in the Royals' World Series success: Umpire Don Denkinger, whose blown call helped keep the Royals alive.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Favorite Songs from My 25 Favorite Bands

John Hiller recently mentioned an interesting project to me. He and some other folks were talking about making a CD consisting of the one favorite song of their top 25 favorite bands. I've been thinking about this off and on for a couple of weeks and I finally came up with a list. My list is in no particular order. Feel free to share your own list or comment on mine. Or both. It's really up to you. That's the miracle we call the "World Wide Web".

1. U2 - Where the Streets Have No Name
2. Coldplay - Clocks
3. The Police - Message In A Bottle
4. Beck - Nobody's Fault But My Own
5. Alannis Morrisette - Still
6. Sheryl Crow - Riverwide
7. The Beatles - Daytripper
8. The Doors - Break On Through
9. Bob Marley and the Wailers - Could You Be Loved
10. Simon & Garfunkel - The Boxer
11. Jim Croce - Rapid Roy the Stock Car Boy
12. R.E.M. - Orange Crush
13. Elvis Presley - Suspicious Minds
14. Michael Jackson - Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough
15. Van Morrison - Moondance
16. Stevie Wonder - Higher Ground
17. The Eagles - Already Gone
18. Billy Joel - Travelin' Prayer
19. Neil Young - Old Man
20. Elton John - I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues
21. The Mamas and the Papas - Creeque Alley
22. Aerosmith - What It Takes
23. Willie Nelson - Pancho & Lefty
24. Frank Sinatra - Summer Wind
25. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - Runnin' Down a Dream

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Downtown Stadium Blues

I've read endless numbers of columns and commentaries the last few days regarding the public rejection of a downtown ballpark by David Glass and the Royals. But the one that really struck a chord was Joe Posnanski's column Tuesday in the Star. His theory was that Kansas City is the exact opposite of every other city who has been taken hostage by a whining billionaire sports team owner. Our town cries out for a new stadium, backed by tax dollars and Glass says that the Royals are content to ride out the lease and stay put. Posnanski's point was that to get a new stadium, the current one needs to be a "dump". I certainly understand, as that's how we managed to get the ball rolling on the Sprint Center after watching Kemper decompose for the last 10 years. Plus, Kauffman Stadium in and of itself is hardly in need of a replacement.

But I don't think the point of building a new ballpark downtown has to do with whether the current stadium is adequate or not. It has to do with continuing the momentum of the revitalization of downtown Kansas City. The H&R Block/Kansas City Live District is what started to get citizens and business leaders thinking more progressively about what realistic (and necessary) improvements could be made to the core of downtown. That spurred on the mayor to back the concept of the Sprint Center. Finally, after as many years as I can remember, Kansas City is starting to creep out of the ultra-conservative, risk-averse shell it has been in. A downtown ballpark would build on this momentum.

The benefits to the city would seem to be obvious. If the ballpark was built near Union Station (as has been speculated), it would give a much needed boost to what has become a totally mismanaged mess. The Union Station idea was sound, in theory, but it lacked the support of a lively neighborhood. Crown Center is near, but there needs to be more. A ballpark would bring tens of thousands of people to the area for 81 dates per year. People will come early to eat and shop, watch the game and stay late to drink a beer and analyze the game. Existing businesses will benefit. New businesses will want to locate themselves in a vibrant area. Does any of that happen at the Truman Sports Complex? Absolutely not. Unless your idea of post-game fun is hanging out at the Taco Bell.

I think one of the main (supposed) drawbacks is parking. The Royals point out that their fans would have a more difficult time finding a place to park. And that they would have to walk further to get to the park. I've parked at Kauffman stadium. A four block walk through that parking lot is not uncommon. It just seems like less because you can see the stadium in front of you. And I don't buy the "ease" argument, either. Coming down I-70 before a game and following the flow of traffic into the stadium is irritating and time consuming. And that's before you pay NINE STINKING DOLLARS to park your car. And that's where the real issue comes into play. The Royals make good money on parking. Pure profit. I'm sure they don't want to give that up.

The Royals and the city need to work something out. The time for progress is now. After making the fans of the Royals suffer through losing seasons in all but one year of the past decade, it seems to me the Royals owe it to the town to make an effort. I loved this quote from Detroit Tigers owner Mike Ilitch: "After our disastrous season [43-119 in 2003], I made up my mind, we've got to build a championship team. The farm system still isn't developed, but I can't wait around. The city doesn't want to wait around, either. I've got to do everything in my power -- I have to extend myself, and keep extending myself." The difference is that the Royals have a young core of players that, with time and a little luck, will hopefully bring us back to respectability sooner rather than later. It would be nice if our owner would make that extra commitment to the fans and the city.

High Doses of Bob Davis Can Increase Anxiety

Basketball is the toughest sport to listen to on the radio.

I came to that conclusion last night after listening to Kansas lose in double-overtime to Texas Tech. There are differences in the major sports that make basketball an anxiety-ridden roller coaster ride. And I think the main culprit that makes baseball a walk in the park compared to basketball is time. Long, comprehensive, eloquent descriptions are the foundation of a baseball game broadcast on radio. There is time between each pitch, each batter, each ball that rolls to the outfield wall, to describe exactly what is happening and allow the listener to complete a thorough mental picture. Even football has time between plays to convey what has just happened. But basketball (particularly the college game) moves quickly from play to play, giving the announcer only fractions of a second to take in what is happening and give an accurate description. The ball moves rapidly from player to player and there is rarely an opportunity to describe what is affecting that player to make him pass, shoot or inexplicably throw the ball to the opposing team.

A number of other elements congregate to make college baskeball listening a draining experience. Such as your hometown play-by-play man. Not all announcers contribute to the emotion-sapping experience of listening to a game, but KU's Bob Davis sure does. From the opening tip, he sounds as if he's calling the national championship game. Even if Kansas is up by thirty points, each made shot is reason to exclaim. Don't get me wrong; I like listening to Davis and he does a good job. But he sets you on edge from the start. Another factor is the crowd. A boisterous road crowd heightens the tension, especially when your team is down. Sometimes a loud crowd will drown out the announcer, leaving the listener in limbo for a moment or two, wondering what is taking place. And then, there is the split-second delay between when the announcer lets you know a shot has been taken and when he (or the crowd) lets you know whether or not it's been made. When your team is up 2 with time running out and the opposition throws up a desperation 3, there couldn't be a longer span of time than having to wait until you hear the agonizing result.

"Tech hits a three! The game's over!"

Ugh. Somebody pass me the Rolaids.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Testing, one two

Well, here goes. This is the beginning of either a very successful interactive journal or a good intention left by the roadside. Hopefully, it will be the former.