Tuesday, May 24, 2005


Fanatical adj. - Possessed with or motivated by excessive, irrational zeal.

I think "irrational" is probably the key word in the definition, but I would agree that "fanatical" is an adequate description of me in relation to my home town Kansas City Royals. I suppose "insane" would also be fitting, especially if you were to define it as "a state of mind wherein a person does something repeatedly, though expecting different results." I continue to watch, listen to, and follow the Royals expecting them to win to no avail. The following excerpt from The Baseball Analysts gives clarity to why I continue to place my hope and faith in this team that has provided me with very little in return in the way of success:

"It seems a battle has developed for the minors third spot in the hot corner rankings between Billy Butler and Andy LaRoche. Butler, the Royals first rounder last season, is currently hitting over .350, has 10 home runs, and now 27 walks. LaRoche now has six home runs in his last four games, bringing his season total to 17 in the FSL, in addition to his .361 average. The edge still goes to Butler because of his youth and patience, but LaRoche is definitely making me look good for putting him on my breakout prospect list.

Both players also face the problem of organizational depth at their position. Butler is in Kansas City where the team currently is sporting Gold Glove-caliber Mark Teahen, and will likely draft Nebraska third baseman Alex Gordon in a couple weeks. LaRoche is currently in high-A, and the Dodgers have Willy Aybar and Joel Guzman ahead of him. For Butler the move should be across the diamond to first, as they keep Teahen at third, put Gordon in left and Justin Huber at DH."

I realize dreaming about the potential of a couple of farm hands and one yet-to-be-drafted player sounds pretty pathetic, but when the major league club employs the likes of Emil Brown, Joe McEwing and Ken Harvey, you can cut a guy some slack for drooling at the potential offensive output of the guys riding buses. Baseball Prospectus forecasted a combined OPS (On-base + Slugging percentage) of .754 for Butler and Huber if they were playing in the majors this year rather than in Single-A and Double-A, respectively. Compare that with the combined actual OPS of .691 for Brown, McEwing and Harvey and you can see why I get eager about discussing the future fortunes of the club.

Combine those prospects with the current Kiddy Corral on the major league roster already, and you come up with this possible roster in 2007 or 2008:

C - John Buck
1B - Billy Butler
2B - Ruben Gotay
3B - Mark Teahen
SS - Angel Berroa
LF - Alex Gordon
CF - David DeJesus
RF - ???
DH - Justin Huber

#1 Starter - Zack Greinke
#2 Starter - Denny Bautista
#3 Starter - Andy Sisco
#4 Starter - Runelvys Hernandez/Mike Wood
#5 Starter - Leo Nunez

Obviously, this lineup may not pan out. But the important thing to observe here is this: these are all young, inexpensive and mostly home-grown players that are providing the core of what will hopefully be a competitive team in the next 2-3 years. This is the only way a team with the financial constraints of the Royals can compete. The Cleveland Indians of the 90's utilized this model and dominated the Central division and even made it to a World Series. The Minnesota Twins have utilized this model and dominated the Central division. The Oakland A's have utilized this model and consistently bucked conventional wisdom while winning every year. If the Royals can strategically sign some of these players to long term contracts before their arbitration and free agency years, they can overcome some of their financial limitations and not have to trade away young, talented players (like Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye and Carlos Beltran) without enjoying the production of their peak years.

On the other hand, these guys could get injured; they may not want to sign with a team that has such a lousy recent history; they could hire another inexperienced manager that likes to soap himself up in the shower; General Manager Allard Baird might not be able to supplement the youngsters with actual productive veterans; Owner David Glass could sell the team and watch as it relocates to Oregon. Who knows? Despite all those things, I'll continue to live and die with my team, however irrational that may be.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Quick Hits

This has been one of the more hectic months I've had in some time, resulting in a poorly populated blog. So I thought I'd give an idea of what's been going on and cover a few items in a "Quick Hit" format.

* April 21-25

My aunt and I traveled to Florida to meet my parents, my niece, brother, sister-in-law and her family for my brother's anniversary/wedding ceremony and my niece's baby naming ceremony. It was an absolutely delightful time. My new "extended" family couldn't have been more gracious, hospitable or personable. I look forward to a time when I can visit again. In fact, I might be most excited about visiting Kira's brother Seth in New York to catch a Yankee game and get an "insider's" view of the city.

* May 14

Samantha had her final drama class/performance and we got to see her utilize
the skills she's learned during her acting classes this summer. She really enjoys it and it's good to see her confidence level grow the more she participates.

*May 14 (cont.)

The "young folks" reception was held for Jeremy Mai's wedding. It was enjoyable to talking to folks I haven't seen in a while, doing a little dancing and sipping on a gin and tonic. I'm glad I didn't hit the sauce as hard as most had, given that the wedding was the next day. Jeff and Sarah were in town, which always makes for a great time.

*May 15

Jeremy and Amanda's wedding was held outdoors on a nearly perfect day. The "old folks" reception was nearly as enjoyable as I ate more food and got to talk to Carrie Carlson for the first time in a couple of years. Hanging out at Ty and Kimberly's just extended the good times. Doug, J.J. and I played a male-centric game of "Stand Still and See If You Get Hit By a Thrown Football From 20 Yards Away". Good stuff.

*May 17

Ryan Thye and I took full advantage of my status as a F.O.K.er (Friend Of Kenny, the morning DJ on the radio station I listen to) and watched the Royals blow a huge lead to the Orioles. The good part was that we got free tickets (for being a F.O.K.er), free Chipotle burritos, free Sprite and the Royals got 12 hits which means we can turn in our ticket stubs for a free dozen Krispy Kreme glazed doughnuts. If the team's not going to win anyway, may as well horde all the free stuff you can!

*May 19

Thursday Night at the Hiller's included nice weather, grilled chicken and great conversation. A couple of things I learned: Shea saw two U2 shows in Chicago the weekend previous and had picture from inside the circular-shaped stage. Lance shared with me the practice of trading "weather futures" in the energy market, which I found to be rather interesting and somewhat related to the commodities industry I work in.

*May 21

My friends the Atkinsons held their annual "Norway or the Highway" party, celebrating Norwegian independence day. While it's mostly just an excuse to get outside and eat bbq and drink beer, this year was the 100th year of independence, marked by t-shirts reading: "Norwegian Independence Day 2005. 100 Years Swede-Free." For those of you keeping score at home, Rich Barr won the lutefisk eating contest.

Somewhere in all this chaos, my favorite teams had bits of news to keep up on. The Jayhawks starting shooting guard J.R. Giddens was stabbed in a bar fight and will not be able to play any basketball during the summer months. With the crop of youngsters coming in and the chance for Bill Self to mold this team into his image, this latest lapse of judgement by J.R. could very well derail his NBA hopes. When he got caught burglarizing Wal-Mart in high school, you could say that he was in an awkward position given that his uncle was the ringleader. But this one's all on him. It's sad to see such great potential wasted because of a total lack of guidance.

The Royals managed to do a little addition by subtraction when Tony Pena up and quit. He was obviously not cut out for a managerial spot in the big leagues, though I think he would make a great bench coach or instructor, especially for young latin players. Now the search is on for a new manager. My first thought was that I'd like Larry Dierker, but recent interviews make that seem like a long shot at best. Bobby Valentine would be another intriguing choice, but he's currently under contract in Japan and guiding a winning team. I have the greatest admiration for Frank White as a player and person, but if he is hired as our manager, I just might find another team to root for. He has only two years of managerial experience and that is at the Double-A level. Good guy, bad choice for Royals manager. At least the boys in blue have started scoring a few runs since Pena's departure. Interim manager Bob Schaefer has coaxed them to a 5-6 record while actually outscoring their opponents 67-66 over that span. Schaefer is one of those old-school guys who I think would be a lousy fit in the long term, but I'll take what I can get in this (unfortunately) unforgettable season.

So, I've had my hands full for a while now. I hope to start putting up some more articles soon, especially now that I've completed my marathon viewing of the first season of "24" at John Hiller's recommendation. So stay tuned for more good stuff to come!

Monday, May 02, 2005

Foul Ball

After a long delay and a busy month, I offer you my latest selection:

There haven't been many high points in this increasingly morbid baseball season. But I managed to steal a couple of great ones recently. I've attended five Royals games this year and have the distinction of witnessing both of their home wins (against 12 losses). The second of these wins is where this story begins.

It was Tuesday the 19th and the Cleveland Indians were in town. It was a "Business Man's Special", a 1:10 start. Luckily, I was able to ditch out of the office at noon and head to the ballpark. The forecast left the afternoon as a small window in which there would be the least possibility of rain. Thankfully, that prediction held up.

So I bought my cheap, upper-deck ticket, and, having plagiarized the "Ryan Thye System of Seat Upgrades", headed for the lower deck. The RTSSU calls for subtlety when choosing your improved viewing station. This means resisting the temptation to head directly for the front row, all the while looking nervously over your shoulder for the impending doom of the stadium usher. No, the key is to stay in the upper half of the lower deck where ushers never tread. Sure, the seats aren't as good, but you get to sit there instead of being humiliated and kicked out to some less desirable seats. This being a weekday afternoon game and the crowd being far from numerous, I did not have to resort to using an accompanying technique: pulling out my ticket and pretending to look at it and then at the row numbers until having "found" my seat.

As I sat there waiting for the game to start, though, I noticed that there did not appear to be an usher in sight. A few people who obviously lacked the tickets for the lower section meandered past me (all the while, looking nervously over their shoulders) and took up their places in the primo seats. And the game began with still no sign of ushers. "Wouldn't that be cool if I could actually get down there," I thought. "I'll give it a couple of innings though, and see if those rascally ushers are just lying in wait, ready to bust the whole section, en masse."

An inning passed. The Indians couldn't touch the fastball of young Denny Bautista. And still no ushers. "Okay, I'm going down there. If they kick me out, they'll have to kick the whole lot of us out and I can accept that." So at the beginning of the second inning, I made my way down to the fourth row from the field, halfway between first base and the right field foul pole. I sat behind a couple a little older than myself and a couple who I assumed to be the wife's older parents. There were a few people in the section to my left and a couple of young guys two rows in front of me to my right. It was overcast, but the temperature was pleasant. I was going to thoroughly enjoy not being in the office this afternoon.

The bottom of the second inning arrived and up to bat came backup catcher Alberto Castillo. One of the bad things about weekday afternoon games is that you often get a lineup full of backups (irregulars?) to give the regulars a rest after a night game. To be honest, I don't recall the pitch sequence that preceded what I'm about to tell you, because I was most likely still in a dreamy state given my fantastic seats, lovely weather, and the fact that our light-hitting backup catcher was at the plate. But I was awoken quickly when Castillo hit a hard and slicing foul ball in our direction. "Whoa," my brain registered. "This ball is coming right at us." The couple and their parents stood up in front of me and I stood up too. This wasn't a pop-up that we were waiting to fall relatively gently from the sky. No, this was an instance when quick action was going to be required. As dumbfounded awe transformed to impending reality, the man in front of me shielded his wife from the incoming projectile. Her elderly-looking father nobly reached his hand out to catch the ball as it sailed over his daughter's head. But he didn't manage to get even a fingernail on it and I instinctively stuck out my bare right hand only to have it struck instantly, sending the ball directly to the ground two feet to my right. I immediately bent over and picked up my new-found trophy and held it up for all to behold. Applause went up from the crowd as I sat down to inspect my souvenir and cherry-red palm.

Both couples in front of me were inspecting themselves and one another, taking inventory of body parts and making sure their party still consisted of four living persons. The two guys in front of them looked back with expressions of envy and incredulity. Thankfully for me, there were no children in the vicinity that would have forced me to give up the only foul ball I had ever "caught". (In fact, the only other time I had even gotten a finger on a foul ball came last season at a weekday afternoon game. Nick Nave, Ryan Thye, Dan Swanson and I had all utilized the aforementioned RTSSU and were sitting along the third base side. Angel Berroa ripped an absolute bullet right in our direction. Nick ducked (with good reason), but I leaned over him and put my hands together like a wide receiver trying to catch a pass. The ball ripped right through my fingers and landed several rows behind us and ended up in someone else's clutches. My finger tip was numb for the better part of the next 24 hours.)

As I spun the ball in my hand, a horrible realization struck me: they always send ushers to make sure foul ball catchers aren't injured. I'm going to get booted from this great seat just moments after recording the most memorable personal moment I had ever experienced at the ballpark. And just as I was thinking this, who saunters up behind me but a young lady wearing the uniform of an usher.

"Are you okay, sir?"

"Oh, yeah. I'm fine. Thanks."

She smiled and apparently went back to the secret "Usher's Lounge" where they had all been hiding during this game. "Whew," I thought. "My perfect afternoon will continue unspoiled. Except, of course, for when the Royals find some heart-wrenching way to blow this game."
Then I turn around to see some guy who appears to be the "Head Usher" behind me. He asks if I'm alright and I again reply that I am. He then goes on to say that if I need an icepack or anything else I should just go see him. I thanked him and he, too, returned to the "Usher's Lounge".

Denny Bautista alternated dominating innings with shaky innings and the Royals batters actually scored some runs, leaving the score tied 5-5 with two out in the bottom of the ninth. And who should come up? None other than the man from whose bat I received my new treasure, Alberto Castillo. Unfortunately, I wasn't thrilled to see him at this point. For some idiotic reason, Manager Tony Pena refused to call on John Buck to pinch hit, even though his power was exactly what was needed in this situation.

But wait. That just sounded like a solid crack of the bat. And the ball is sailing toward the left field bullpen. Woo hoo! The guy who provided me with a story that I can tell for the rest of my life just delivered a walk-off, game-winning homerun!

And I had salvaged two memorable moments from an already foul season.