Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Various Thoughts

I can't snap my fingers.

My favorite color used to be red, but now it is blue.

Carrie Carlson is the only person who could call me by my first and middle names without leaving me annoyed.

I don't understand what is so great about classic literature, Bruce Springsteen or BBQ potato chips.

I've never pulled a muscle even though I never stretch before participating in athletic activities.

I have no desire to ever own a house.

During my lifetime, I've known seven different people named Jeff/Geoff.

Number of people I've known named Lyle: one.

I have physically set foot in 29 states.

Missouri hasn't shown me much.

The Union Pacific and Burlington Northern/Santa Fe railroads are monopolies that excel in providing grossly inadequate customer satisfation.

Baseball cards and cartoons aren't made for kids anymore.

Driving is fun.

Classes I would pay more attention in, if I had it to do all over: Social Studies, English, Spanish.

Classes I would probably still blow off: Science, Math.

I can juggle.

I can throw respectably with my left hand.

I'm nearly impossible to beat in Mario Kart.

I've been knocked out in a fight.

Every time I wrestle with David, I tell him he can't escape, and every time, he escapes.

It's rarely a good idea to order fish while dining in the Midwest.

It's difficult to beat the allure of a girl wearing a sundress.

I always give a second look to a girl with a pony tail.

My hair has never been longer in my entire life.

My ankles roll just a little too easily.

I made one mean batch of peanut butter cookies from scratch once, and haven't made any more since.

I really enjoy wind.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

She's Only Seventeen...

As a salve to help ease the pain of the Royals' 17-game losing streak (and a tribute to 80's hair band, Winger), I give you my top 17 favorite baseball moments. Hopefully, this will give a brief respite from the loads of negativity I've been pushing out here lately:

17. Watched David Letterman throw BP to Alex Rodriguez while Billy Crystal shagged flys.

I was visiting Jeff Peterson in Providence, Rhode Island and we decided to take a road trip down to New York City. We sat through the drizzle for five innings and watched the Mets plaster Mike Hampton and the Braves in the home opener. The entire crowd at Shea repeatedly chanted "HAAAAMPTOOOON! HAAAAMMPTOOOON!" until Hampton was relieved of duty. We decided to skip out and head downtown via the infamous Number 7 train. While wandering around looking for the Ed Sullivan Theater, we stumbled upon it. There was a small crowd gathered behind some temporary fencing along the side street next to the theater. We decided to hang around and see what might happen. After standing around in more drizzle for nearly and hour, out from the side doors steps Jorge Posada, David Letterman, Paul Schaeffer, Alex Rodriguez and Billy Crystal. Posada and ARod are both wearing suits, but Posada crouches behind the makeshift home plate and Rodriguez steps into the batters box. Letterman starts chucking an endless supply of baseballs at Posada and ARod fouls them up on over adjacent buildings unitl he finds a rhythm and starts knocking balls past Billy Crystal in the "outfield". It wasn't a "pure" baseball moment, but it sure was cool.

16. Saw Royals play Cubs at Wrigley and Brewers at old Milwaukee County Stadium in same weekend.

Another Jeff Peterson-induced roadie. I wanted to see a game at Wrigley Field and Jeff was doing medical school in Chicago. Didn't need much more reason that that to head north. My sister-in-law (at the time) and her boyfriend were both big baseball fans and wanted to do the same thing along with checking out a game in Milwaukee where her grandparents and uncle lived. So with three people pitching in gas money and two free places to stay, the trip was on. We bought bleacher seats from a scalper and enjoyed a mid-eighties, sun-drenched Royals victory at Wrigley. A perfect baseball afternoon. Milwaukee County Stadium was on it's last legs, Miller Park emerging from beyond centerfield. But it was quaint and serviceable. The sausage race was hysterical and Bernie Brewer sliding into a mug of "beer" after a homerun was perfectly un-P.C.. But my favorite part of the Milawukee game was the small-town feel. Lots of tailgaters grilling sausages before the game, a presentation on the field for the pitcher and player of the month with the players looking more "Aw, shucks" than "Who's your daddy?!" And the entire crowd sang every word of the National Anthem. I'd never heard that in Kansas City before and found it to be quite moving. Oh, and the Royals won that game, too.

15. Took the kids to St. Louis to see the Cardinals lose to Florida.

I took David and Samantha to their first game outside the friendly confines of Kauffman Stadium. We traveled the entired width of Missouri to see the (normally) hated Cardinals take on the defending World Champion Florida Marlins. I informed the kids that while we normally never, ever, EVER root for St. Louis, this game would be different. No need to stir up trouble in a foreign land and in a foreign ballpark. Luckily, our rooting made no difference, as the Marlins won anyway. But Jim Edmonds strengthened his case to be one of my all-time favorite players after hitting a homerun and making a signature over-the-shoulder running catch in centerfield. And the kids were happy to have received their bright-red Scott Rolen replica bats as the giveaway that day. And an interesting phenomenon had unknowingly just occurred...

14. David Ortiz hits walk-off homer in 11 innings to beat the Blue Jays at Fenway.

Yet another Jeff Peterson-inspired adventure. This was part of the same trip that gave us the Letterman/Rodriguez batting practice matchup. The day before our New York jaunt, I arrived in Boston and Jeff picked me up at the airport. From there, we immediately headed toward Fenway. We managed to get some very resonably priced scalped tickets that put us out in right field, as it happened, one row behind the red seat where Ted Williams hit a 500-foot homerun. It was a bit brisk, as it was April, but newly-acquired Curt Schillling was on the mound and the Toronto Blue Jays didn't seem to pose a formidable threat. But the game ended up going into extra innings and we continued to get colder. Thankfully, we were rewarded for our heartiness with a David Ortiz homerun over the Green Monster in the bottom of the 11th to win the game. It was early in the season in a seemingly meaningless game, but every person in that stadium was tuned into the game. And with the win, thus began the interesting phenomenon I mentioned in the previous blurb: I saw home games in person for both World Series participants, with Boston winning their game (and the Series) and St. Louis losing their game (and the Series). Coincidence? Yeah, probably.

13. Caught foul ball Ferris Bueller-style.

I wrote and entire article earlier this summer about this one, so I won't go in depth here. But I had only ever touched a foul ball once in my life before this incident, so it goes without saying that this was a great moment. Plus, I was playing hooky from work and I didn't get kicked out of my covertly-acquired seat. Lovely day.

12. Ken Harvey hits extra-inning, walk-off homerun to beat Detroit during 11 game win streak to start 2003 season.

Nick Nave and I decided to catch the excitement that was brewing as the Royals had won every game of their first road trip after winning their first home series. The walk-up crowd was the biggest I had ever seen and we didn't even enter the ballpark until the 3rd or 4th inning. Luckily, we got our money's worth when Ken Harvey hit a game winnning homerun in the extra frame and the Royals continued their amazing beginning to the only good season they've had in the last 10 years.

11. Carlos Beltran hits game-winning homerun Opening Day 2004.

After being fooled into thinking the Royals might actually contend for a playoff spot coming off a winning season in 2003, three friends and I purchased partial season ticket plans for 2004. Opening Day was turning into a bad omen until the bottom of the ninth when Mendy Lopez came to the plate. Doug Jones turned to me and said "I bet he hits a homerun," and I said something to the effect of "I'll bet you everything I own in this world that that lowly waste of a roster space does NOT hit a homerun." I don't think we shook on it and it was a good thing for me as Mendy hit a game-tying homerun. Hysterics ensued. Up came Carlos Beltran, he of the soon-to-be expiring contract. And hope was given that we would indeed make the playoffs as he hit a game-ending homerun. After listening to Ryan Thye moan about how bad we were before that inning began, it was hilarious listening to him extoll the virtues of our team after the two game-breaking homers. We went on to lose 104 games that year, but let's just stick with the good stuff.

10. Jermaine Dye hits a walk-off game-winning homerun to win the game on the day George Brett was inducted into the Hall of Fame.

My Aunt Vicki bought tickets for Allison, the kids and I in the middle deck for the game and post-game induction ceremony. The middle deck tickets were great seats, but also out of the blazing sun that day. The kids were little and not paying much attention and Allison wasn't terribly interested either, given the conditions. The prospect of extra innings did not bode well. But Jermaine Dye saved the day by hitting his game-winner and allowing us to watch George Brett's induction speech on the JumboTron. A hot, but satisfying day.

9. George Brett gets his 3,000th hit.

The culmination of a Hall of Fame career. He wasn't the same George Brett that he was in his prime, but you still believed that he would come through when you needed him to. The only Kansas City Royal currently in the Hall of Fame and will most likely be the last Royal in the Hall of Fame.

8. Pete Rose collects his 4,192 hit to pass Ty Cobb as the all-time hits leader.

He was playing AND managing at the time, which I found strangely cool. But this and Ripken's record are the two records I thought were the most impressive. It was my first real taste of the effect modern ballplayers would have on baseball history. Plus, my dad was impressed, so, naturally, I was impressed, too.

7. Cal Ripken, Jr. breaks Lou Gehrig'srecord for consecutive games played.

I had to run to the grocery store, but I heard it on the radio. It was one of only two goose-bump inducing baseball moments I've ever had (if you don't count all the times I've watched "The Natureal" and "Field of Dreams"). The announcers were quiet and allowed the sound of the roaring crowd to take center stage. With all the talk about steroids lately, this feat is all the more amazing considering the recuperative advantages steroids give people. And Ripken was able to do it without. As far as we know. God, I hope so.

6. Bo Jackson throws out a Mariner baserunner at home from 3oo-some feet away in Seattle.

I think I was in 7th or 8th grade and Bo Jackson was the biggest thing on the sports scene. The Royals were playing the Mariners in the Kingdome and it was a late game, probably a 9:00 start here in Kansas City. I had a TV in my room and my parents were long before asleep, but I always enjoyed staying up late and I was certainly glad I did this time. The Mariners' batter hit a ball into the left field corner and the runner who was on first at the time was speeding around the bases. Jackson races into the corner and disappears from sight of the camera. The ball comes flying out of the corner like a laser, blasting past third base and pummeling the catcher's mitt on the fly, no bounces, from over 300 feet away. The tag was applied and everyone was shocked: our catcher, the baserunner, the umpire, everyone in attendance, both teams. The announcers were tripping all over themselves finding the appropriate adjectives to describe what had just happened. It was one of the most unbelievable act of athletic skill I have ever seen.

5. David's first game.

My son was only about five or so and I don't really recall many of the details of the actual game, but the whole idea of being able to go to a game with my son was just off the charts. David was more interested in what was available to eat and drink than the outcome of the game. Come to think of it, that aspect hasn't changed dramatically. But we were able to get down close to the dugout in the late innings, which he found very fun. My picture of him sitting on top of the Royals dugout remains one of my favorite pictures of all time.

4. Will Clark dominates the 1989 NLCS.

Another moment I've previously written about, but a moment that forged much loyalty. I had found my favorite player (and, by default, my second favorite team) and my favorite sport. I had always liked baseball, but I had played a lot of soccer growing up. This was the beginning of an almost unhealthy addiction to baseball.

3. The Royals win the World Series in 1985.

The single greatest event in my sporting life. I remember going to bed after the our Game 7 pasting of the Cardinals and thinking that somehow my life would be different when I woke up in the morning. I was still excited when I woke up, but not much else had changed. A couple of days later, my mom and grandma took my brother and I out of school and went to watch the World Series parade and rally at Liberty Memorial. Things had certainly changed, as another piece of the foundation of my baseball fanaticism had just been poured.

2. George Brett's run at .400 and the Royals lose to the Phillies in the World Series in 1980.

These were some of my earliest memories of my childhood and my first memories of baseball. My grandma bought my brother and I Hal McRae t-shirts because all the George Brett shirts were sold out. She had (along with innumerable others) a "George Brett for President" bumper sticker. And the indelible image of Brett standing at second base with ".400!" flashing on the scoreboard behind him will always be etched in my brain. I also learned what it was like to defend your team after visiting my great-grandmother in Pennsylvania and having to stick up for my Royals over the neighbor girls' Phillies.

1. Kirk Gibson's game-winning homerun in Game One of the 1988 World Series.

This is the other goose-bump inducing moment. This World Series wasn't terribly enticing as I didn't have any sort of emotional investment in either team. But I loved baseball and I was certainly going to watch. Kirk Gibson was the MVP of the regular season, but his knees were killing him and he didn't start the game. The Dodgers were down in the bottom of the ninth and facing the most formidable reliever in the league, Dennis Eckersley. But Gibson managed to hobble to the plate as a pinch hitter and take a couple fo feeble hacks at the Eckersley offerings.
And then, the greatest moment I have ever seen took place: Gibson lunged and scooped a pitch low and outside into the right field seats at Dodger Stadium to win Game One of the 1988 World Series. Gibson pumped his fist in victory as he coaxed his pain-filled legs to circle the bases. And I tried to hide the tear that was running down my cheek so that my parents wouldn't see that I was crying over a baseball game. That's the kind of moment every kid dreams about having and Kirk Gibson just overcame everything and made it happen. Absolutely amazing.

I hope you had fun. As I post this, the Royals are well on their way to losing number 18. I guess I'll have to come up with another moment tomorrow...

Thursday, August 11, 2005

How Low Can You Go!?

"Good evening everybody and welcome to the nation's fastest growing quiz-sensation,"

How Low Can You Go!?

"I'm your host, Nick Blakeley, and I'm here to guide you to an answer to everyone's favorite question, "

"How Low Can You Go!?"

"Tonight's game starts in the dregs of the Major League Baseball community, Kansas City. We'll start off by asking our first contestant, Kansas City Royals General Manager Allard Baird,"

How Low Can You Go!?

Allard Baird: "Well, Nick, that's a good question. I'm going to start out with my brilliant off-season signings of Jose Lima, Eli Marrero and Chris Truby. I realized we were coming off a 100-loss season and building for the future, so I figured I would sign a pitcher with a noted history of giving up homeruns, an outfielder whose previous season was successful and completely out of line with the rest of his career and a third baseman that I scouted from the original 'Bad News Bears' movie. I really liked their 'approach'. Unfortunately, the only thing they seemed to be 'approaching' was historical levels of ineptitude."

Nick: "Excellent first offering, Allard! Now, lets see if our second contestant has an answer to our question,"

How Low Can You Go!?

"Tony Pena, former Royals manager, the question goes to you."

Tony Pena: "Well, Nick, I think I'll go with the time I soaped myself up in the shower while still in full uniform in order to motivate my team last year."

Nick: "I'm sorry, Tony, while that certainly is incredibly low, the rules state that it must be an example from this season."

Tony Pena: "Oh, oh; well, then, how about my masterful guidance of the club to a 13-37 record before I abruptly quit and left the country with sensational stories of infidelity and an impending divorce nipping at my heels?"

Nick: "Great work, Tony! You're now in the lead! Team captain Mike Sweeney,"

How Low Can You Go!?

Mike Sweeney: "Nick, I'm afraid I can't go any lower; I would most certainly re-injure my back."

Nick: "Wise decision, Mike. In that case, let's go to new manager Buddy Bell!"

Buddy Bell: "Hmm...there have been so many lows, starting with my hiring, that it's hard to pick just one."

Nick: "Don't be shy, Buddy. Give us what you've got."

Buddy Bell: "Let's see...there's the four game sweep at the hands of the perennially hapless Tampa Bay Devil Rays..."

Nick: "Yes!"

Buddy Bell: "...oh, and we gave away leads to the defending World Series champion Red Sox in every game of our series in Boston..."

Nick: "Excellent!"

Buddy Bell: "...closely followed by the two games that the Oakland A's drubbed us by a combined score of 27-1..."

Nick: "Right-O!"

Buddy Bell: ", there was the other night when we coughed up a 7-2 lead in the ninth versus Cleveland and went on to lose 13-7..."

Royals closer, Mike MacDougall: "Aw, man; I was gonna use that Cleveland game! I gave up five runs all on my own!"

Newly-acquired bust prospect, Chip Ambres: "Hey! I was going to use that game, too! I dropped a perfectly catchable fly ball that could have ended that game and the 10-game losing streak we were on!"

Nick: " seems a bit early for the 'Lightning Round', but let's go with it. Jose Lima: you can stop clicking your buzzer and give an answer."

Jose Lima: "Halfway through the season, I had an ERA over 8.00 and less wins that Zack Greinke."

Pitcher Zack Greinke: "Dude, that's low."

Nick: "That's the name of the game!"

Zack Greinke: "No, I mean why'd you have to drag me into this? At least I had some quality starts, even though they were wasted by a lack of run support."

Scrap heap pick-up, outfielder Emil Brown: "What are you tryin' to say, kid? My .200 batting average, total lack of power and atrocious fielding during the first two months weren't good enough for you? Mr. Baird said I'd be the next Raul Ibanez!"

Zack Greinke: "Color me unimpressed."

Allard Baird: "Gentlemen, gentlemen. No need to get testy. I take full responsibility for how low this team has sunk. After all, I failed to trade Ken Harvey last year when his totally empty batting average garnered him a spot on the All-Star team. And I'm the one who decided to ship Calvin Pickering back to Omaha after receiving less than 100 at-bats to prove himself. I'm the one who decided to rush one of our best pitching prospects, Denny Bautista, to the majors without stopping in Omaha when Mike Wood would have been perfectly adequate as our fifth starter. Meanwhile, Bautista hurt his arm and has been on the DL the majority of the season. And speaking of rushing, how about the rest of the list of guys I've rushed to the majors, completely by-passing triple-A on their way up: pitcher J.P. Howell; pitcher Ambiorix Burgos; pitcher Leo Nunez; second baseman Ruben Gotay; second baseman Donny Murphy. All this while expecting Runelvys Hernandez to be a work-horse, an innings-eater, even though he just returned from a year-and-a-half layoff to rehabilitate following surgery on his arm. Did I also mention that I brought in Terrence Long to play the majority of games in left field?"

Buddy Bell: "Whoa there, big shooter! That's impressive and all, but I'm making history right before your very eyes! Under my command, we're currently on a twelve game losing streak, equaling the longest in franchise history. In fact, no Royals manager has ever lost this many consecutive games because the last time they lost twelve in a row, luminaries Bob Boone and Tony Muser split the managerial chores. Booney racked up seven straight before he got the boot and "Gunnery Sergeant" Muser followed up with five of his own, for good measure. But they can't hold my jock strap as I go for lucky number 13 tonight out The 'K'."

Wal-Mart head honcho and current Royals owner, David Glass: "Boys, I appreciate the effort you all have put in to try to go lower and lower, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to put you to shame. You see, after years of penny-pinching, I tried to bilk the tax payers of the Kansas City metropolitan area out of hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for renovations and improvements to Kauffman Stadium. Now, I wasn't nearly as arrogant and pushy as my colleague, Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt, but the message I sent was still very clear: I don't want to invest my own money into my own product. To make it worse, included in the proposal were funds that were to be distributed to various projects concerning the arts in Kansas City. Ironically, the signature project would have been the construction of a world-class performing arts center that had been spearheaded by none other than the daughter of former Royals owners Ewing and Muriel Kauffman. The people of Kansas City were stuck with the choice of voting funds to a worthy cause (the arts plan) but also subsidizing the terribly inefficient plan we submitted to improve the sports complex. Or, they could vote down our lousy plan and shoot down the arts along with it. Unfortunately for the arts, they saw through our stupidity and greed. Interestingly, I also could have piggy-backed the public sentiment to improve downtown generated by the tax payer-approved Sprint Center by coming up with a plan that would have used about the same amount of money and built a brand new facility next to Union Station. Of course, that would have been too beneficial for all parties involved, so I soundly crushed all hopes of that ever happening."

Nick: "Well, I hate to say it, but we're all out of time. Today, you're all winners! Congratulations to the entire Kansas City Royals organization for bottoming out on the nation's fastest-growing quiz sensation,"

How Low Can You Go!?

"Join us again next week when our contestants will include the NHL Players Association, Mike Tyson and the kid who jumped 40 feet from the upper deck of Yankee Stadium into the netting behind home plate. Good night, everybody!"