Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Grab Bag

Just like the grab bags my parents used to sell at their baseball card shop, you never know what you're going to get. And so goes today's entry:

**Sunday was the last Royals home game of the year and I was given a primo seat for the contest. I always like going to the last home game of the year, but I always come away with a bittersweet taste in my mouth. I'm happy to see the last game, but I'm always sad that I won't see another live baseball game for six months. And so it went with this game. I was hoping against hope that the Royals might actually pull a win away from the surging Cleveland Indians, but after the first inning, my optimism was squelched. Mark Teahen booted what would have been a possible double-play or at least one out at the minimum. This opened the doors for one of Zack Greinke's oft-thrown lollipops that escaped the surly bonds of Kauffman Stadium with ease for a first inning 3-run homer at the hands of Indians catcher Victor Martinez. Thankfully, young Zack settled down and pitched quite effectively for six more innings. During that time, though, the inimitable Terrence Long managed to add to the circus-like antics of his fielding resume, falling down while dropping a routine fly ball that he misplaced in the sun. One might think that Terrence, buoyed by the vote of confidence from manager Buddy Bell, would have learned how to play left field in Kauffman Stadium after being run out there time and again in lieu of youth movement members Chip Ambres or Matt Diaz. Greinke, though, managed to avoid turning Long's moment of foreshadowing into any additional runs. And Long actually managed to make up for his gaffe two-fold by singling in a run and immediately leaving the game due to tightness in his knee. Follow that up with an Emil Brown two-run rip over the left-field wall (at the behest of my mental pleading) and the game was knotted at 3. And though we managed to benefit from the misfortune of Indians pitcher Cliff Lee and take the lead on his wild pitch, another typical Royals scenario played out when "closer" Mike MacDougal allowed the tying run to score in the top of the ninth. Lest we think we've received an undue share of misery and bad luck, the Gremlins of Misfortune came out to play with the Indians again in the bottom of the ninth when Paul Phillips' line drive to center was also lost in the sun by centerfielder Grady Sizemore allowing the Royals to win in "walk-off" fashion and give the 11,453 faithful one last reason to believe that there's always next year.


**From the semi-sweet sentiments of Sunday to the manic moments of Monday...

The latest "Debacle in Denver" really got my juices flowing. I follow and root for the Chiefs, if only because we both reside in the same municipality. But I'm not passionate about them in the same way I am about the Royals or the Jayhawks. That being said, I was livid with their performance on Monday Night Football.

First and foremost, the fact that we were embarrassed YET AGAIN on multiple bootleg plays is totally unacceptable. How many times over how many years do we need to be exposed to this play before someone on our coaching staff draws up a defense to combat it? We finally bring in some speedy linebackers who can pursue the ball from sideline to sideline and we waste them with Gunther Cunningham's overly-aggressive play-calling. Is no one required to keep "contain" on plays like this? I cannot come up with any reasonable explanation for why our coaching staff and players refuse to adjust to this strategy.

(Conspiracy Theory #1: When Denver had the ball within K.C.'s 10-yard line and Greg Wesley made a truly remarkable open-field tackle to stop Mike Anderson on the 1-yard line on second down, I think that little rat-face Shanahan decided to rub it in our faces. I'm convinced he told Anderson to trip before reaching the goal line on third down so that they could run Plummer's naked bootleg for another humiliating touchdown on fourth down.)

The next point is this: Jordan Black, Kevin Sampson and Chris Bober are not the future of our once-dominant offensive line. When John Tait left via free agency a couple of years ago, we didn't really miss a beat. With Willie Roaf out due to injury, our line was suddenly reduced to a laughing stock that not even Pro Bowlers Will Shields and Brian Waters could salvage. Included in the 13 total penalties the Chiefs racked up were four holding penalties. They made Denver defensive lineman Trevor Pryce looked like vintage Warren Sapp. In addition, there were two more holding penalties on kick returns.

(Conspiracy Theory #2: After Dante Hall humiliated the Broncos a couple of years ago on a kick return that featured an obviously blown holding call by Kansas City, the officials are determined to never let it happen again, hence the two holding calls on returns.)

Back to coaching deficiencies, when Larry Johnson fumbled deep in our own territory, Vermeil challenged the play. It was admittedly a desperation challenge, knowing full well that Johnson had coughed it up but hoping that by some miracle the refs would overturn the call. I don't necessarily have a problem with this specific challenge but what piqued my interest was the graphic displayed showing that Vermeil has been successful in less than 20% of his challenges in his career. Now, I don't know the situation of every challenge, but something seems inherently wrong here. Either Vermeil and his coaches have no concept of the challenge rule or their team is constantly in a desperate position where only a bogus overturned call could turn things around. Very sketchy, in my opinion.

Speaking of poor coaching and Larry Johnson, can anyone explain to me why Vermeil stuck to his arbitrary running back rotation when we had 1st and Goal on the Denver 4-yard line? Why is inexperienced, upright-running, speed merchant Larry Johnson getting goal line carries when we have one of the most prolific short-yardage, touchdown scoring backs in the history of the league standing on the sidelines? Johnson is going to be a very good running back in this league, but when you're down 20-0 with time running out before half you need to score a touchdown. This was an absolutely awful decision by the coaching staff.

That's an awful lot of ranting for a team that I'm supposedly not passionate about, but it needed to be said. This team still has problems that need to be addressed before any mention of "playoffs" can be uttered again seriously.


**The next topic is a bit more tricky. Surely, many folks have encountered a situation like the one I'm about to describe. I find this situation to be both challenging and perplexing.

The problem: The guy that sits across from me at work is almost unbearably annoying.

I don't say this to be mean. He's one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet. Which makes it that much tougher. It's a lot easier to dislike and write off someone who behaves like a complete jerk. But nearly everything he does gets on my nerves, much like having your knuckles run over a cheese grater.

First, he *loves* to chit chat in the morning. I'm not a morning person. I certainly don't expect everyone to bow down to my wishes, but I think a spirit of compromise would definitely be in order. My co-worker, who sits to his left, shares my general lack of enthusiasm for the hours preceding lunch. We started out by being quiet, nodding and grunting and trying not to encourage his behavior. Didn't work. Eventually, my co-worker came right out and said, "It would probably be best if you didn't talk to me until 10:00." Didn't work. I've resorted to avoiding eye contact at all costs for at least the first hour I'm at work.

Second, the stuff he loves to chit chat about is terribly mundane. "Well, I tried to mow my lawn really fast last night before it rained. It started to thunder and lightning and I just barely got it done. My wife wanted me to get inside before I was struck dead." Uh, how am I supposed to respond to that? "Great work, man! I really hope your well-manicured lawn was worth the possibility of leaving your wife a widow with four children." Another excerpt: "Oh, man; I'm tired." This is generally repeated until a response is offered. After two or three tries, I generally give in with the only response that seems appropriate: "Oh, yeah?" He then goes on to repeat how he didn't get any sleep the night before due to the fact that his wife just gave birth to their fourth child. The first time or two this was mentioned, I expressed sympathy since I have two children of my own and remember the choppy sleep patterns bestowed upon parents of a newborn. But how many times am I required to offer sympathy? I almost feel manipulated in a passive-aggressive way to pump him up. If it was a young, attractive single mom sitting across from me I'm sure I could come up with the stamina to keep doling out sympathetic phrases. Unfortunately, I'm not that noble.

On the subject of passive-aggressive behavior, whenever he screws something up (perfectly acceptable considering he's the new guy) he apologizes profusely until you tell him that he's just fine. Again, it feels very manipulative, like "Poor me, I'm an idiot, I'll never figure this stuff out, I'm always messing up," until I give in and say, "Don't worry about it, everybody makes mistakes at first, you're picking it up, it's OK." Again, I didn't mind the first couple of times, but after a while it just felt phony so I stopped.

Along those same lines, he's always whining about one thing or another. To me, it always feels like another disingenuous attempt to score some sympathy points or an ego boost. In fact, it never seems like a guy-to-guy, "I'll offer up my problem and you offer me a solution" kind of thing. It seems like a more female-oriented "I don't really want you to fix my problem; I just want you to listen." If I've got a girlfriend or wife, I'm more than happy to lend a sympathetic ear. If you're my male co-worker, it just seems out-of-place and I don't want to hear it. Maybe that's harsh, but I've always thought of myself as a good listener (and been told the same by others), but there's just something wrong with this exchange.

On top of that, he's in insufferable suck-up. Not only to our boss but to me and my co-worker. It's a case of the guy who wants to be liked so much that he tries *way* too hard. When my boss asks his opinion on something, it's always, "Well so-and-so and such-and-such, but only if that sounds alright to you." Again, as a new guy, some of that is perfectly acceptable. But it's been six months. Surely, he's got a solid idea by now.

And everything is hilarious to him, particularly his own jokes. Maybe I'm a comedy snob, but I never want to laugh at a joke that's already been laughed at by its creator. And I honestly don't ever feel obligated to laugh at a joke or comment that I don't find funny. Which seems weird in context, because I'm always making jokes or laughing at the jokes of others. So it seems really out of character when I sit there stone-silent after another tepid witticism. I just feel like it's my responsibility not to encourage humorless humor. It probably comes off as elitist, but I don't want to be fake.

In a similar vein, he'll include my name in a supposedly witty remark made to someone on the phone, expecting me to laugh or grin as if I always have my ears perked up to his phone conversations. Unless it has to do with the work at hand, I couldn't care less about anyone's phone conversations and find it intrusive and rude for anyone to eavesdrop on another person's conversations.

Anyway, what it comes down to is this: I feel conflicted because my heart and faith are telling me that I should be more compassionate towards this guy. But my brain is telling me that I'm getting boondoggled. Obviously, the guy is in need of friends and I understand that. But after trying to be a friend, he still behaves this way. I've dealt with people like this before and the last two times I've been in this situation something has changed and I've become friends with, or at least cordial with, each person. Not that I'm not cordial with him. Outwardly, anyway. But after each corny quip, whiny plea or over-dramatized apology, I just get myself in a mental tizzy. I've been praying about it and will continue to do so, but this doesn't seem to be something that will resolve itself any time soon.


**Finally, I'm very excited! My brother, sister (I'm not going to use the term sister-in-law because it just seems so annoying), and niece are coming into town this weekend. I have only seen my niece once since she was born in December and she was still quite small and inactive. But now she is almost 10 months old and is developing not only a more distinct personality, but also the ability to move around and create havoc. This excites me, being a first-time uncle. I can only hope that my niece becomes as fond of me as I am as fond of my aunt. It will be more difficult given the geographical distance between us, but I'm willing log the miles it takes to make an impact in her life.

Plus, it's fun to be able to see my brother in the role of "Dad". He's doing a fine job already (and so is Kira), but it's still strange to see my kid brother pushing 30 with his own little one in tow. As Bob Dylan sang, the times they are a changin'.