Friday, April 28, 2006


I'm not sure how many folks actually visit the links on the right side of the page, but I've added one that I find to be absolutely outstanding:

This guy is a career New York waiter who writes about his daily experiences, both good and bad, in most excellent fashion. I highly recommend reading him. Especially if you get bored reading my drivel.



The Royals finally ended their 11-game losing streak last weekend with another streak: Two in a row over Cleveland. This also temporarily put to rest my intestinal aching about how bad this team is.

Over the course of the streak, I kept asking myself (and others) the same question: Why I should continue to follow this team. I mean, isn't this like the kid who touches the hot pan on the stove yet, for some unknown reason, touches it again even after finding out it's painfully hot? And then keeps touching it repeatedly for the next 15 years? Why on Earth would someone continue to subject themselves to such an utterly hopeless pursuit?

Maybe we should start at the beginning.

My first memories of being a Royals fan go back to 1980. I was six years old but I remember that the town was on fire because of George Brett's amazing run at .400. That and the fact that the Royals were on their way to yet another Western Division title. My grandma had a "George Brett for President" bumper sticker and she took my brother and me out to get a t-shirt with Brett on it. Unfortunately for us, all the Brett shirts were sold out and we had to settle for Hal McRae. But my allegiance had been cemented: I would be a Royals fan from then on.

I had run-ins with kids about who was better, Brett or Mike Schmidt. I would simulate Royals games by myself with my Whiffle ball and bat, writing up the lineup for the Royals and their opponent for the series and then throwing the ball up, hitting it and deciding what play had happened by where the ball had landed. I would listen to games on my grandparents' front porch with them. I remember listening to an exruciating Royals/Tigers ALCS game in 1984 in the car with Dad on the way to soccer practice.

Then the Royals made it back to the World Series. Against the hated Cardinals. And they weren't supposed to come within a mile of beating St. Louis. But that didn't phase me. I watched every game and stuck with them even after they went down 3-1 in the Series. And they did the improbable. Until then, the nearly impossible. They came back and won the World Series. And I remember going to bed that night thinking that my life would never be the same.

The Royals stayed competitive throughout my youth, never making it to the playoffs again, but always managing to be within striking distance. Little did I know back then that they were fading gradually, just like the skills of an aging ballplayer. The difference between a .300 batting average and a .280 batting average is about two hits per month. You don't really notice it as it's happening, but at the end of the season you look back and realize that you just missed a few opportunities. That's how it was with the Royals after 1985. They didn't appear discernably worse. And as each year passed, those little differences continued to add up until they were just a shell of the organization they once were.

Finally, Ewing Kauffman realized that he wasn't going to be around forever and then started to make rash decisions concerning personnel, trying to capture that championship glory one last time before he passed. Those decisions began a downward spiral that the team has yet to pull itself out of.

For a while, my allegiances were split. Will Clark and the San Francisco Giants had captured my fancy in the playoffs of 1987 and 1989 and Clark had become my favorite player. I was rooting for the Giants because I wanted his team to do well. But I never stopped rooting for the Royals. As bad as they got, I still derived a great amount of pleasure from listening to them on the radio as a companion to whatever it happened to be that I was doing.

The last gasp of respectability was breathed in 1994 when the Royals had made an impressive run, only to be lost forever to the strike. From then on it was a steady stream of mediocre players, mediocre seasons and mediocre expectations. They cycled through guys like Jeff King, Greg Gagne, Gary Gaetti, Jay Bell and Dean Palmer.

But toward the end of the '90s and the beginning of the new century, some talent started to trickle through. They had Johnny Damon and Mike Sweeney; they had "Dos Carlos", Carlos Febles and Carlos Beltran; they traded for a young Jermaine Dye. They were starting to score runs in bunches. Unfortunately, they employed one of the worst bullpens in major league history. Lead after lead was blown. Prime seasons for young players were being wasted. And then began the exodus of talent.

Johnny Damon was not willing to take less money from the Royals than he could get on the free market. So that forced the Royals to trade Damon and try to get some value out of him before he left via free agency. In the deal, the Royals picked up Roberto Hernandez, a washed up closer and Angel Berroa, a young shortstop who turned out to be a Rookie of the Year. The Royals had the same situation arise with Jermaine Dye. The bounty? Neifi Perez, an overrated shortstop from Colorado, who will go down as one of the worst offensive regulars in modern baseball history.

Predictably, the exact circumstances of the previous talent dumps came together one more time. Carlos Beltran was quickly becoming an elite player. And there was no way the Royals could afford to keep him around. But this time, the situation played out a little differently. The Royals started out the 2003 with a 9-0 record and rode that momentum to their first winning record in nearly a decade. I hadn't had so much fun during a Royals season since I was 11 years old. I bought a partial season ticket package the next year, thinking that I might get first shot at playoff tickets the next season. And the season started out spectacularly. Opening Day, Beltran hit an extra-inning, walk-off homerun to win. My spirits couldn't have been higher.

But the roller coaster had begun it's terrifying descent. The Royals wouldn't come close to duplicating their magic 2003 and, in fact, would lose 100 games for the second time in three years. On their way to accomplishing that dubious feat, they had to try to get some value out of pending free agent Beltran. The return on that trade has been numbingly similar. Three fringe major league players all trying to prove they were worth the enormous price given up for them. And not doing nearly enough to justify their roster spots.

And so now the Royals have carved out a niche all their own in Major League baseball. They've now lost 100 or more games in three of the last four years and are an even bet to make it four-for-five. More mediocre, overpriced talent has come and gone. More hopeful young talent is trying to peck its way out of its minor league shell. The Royals' management is doing everything within its incredibly limited talents to extract the most out of this team.

But the question remains: Why do I continue to root for this team?

It certainly doesn't have anything to do with success. One winning season in the last 11 years is tough to swallow. It's not because of the young talent we've developed; they spend their peak years in someone else's uniforms. Speaking of uniforms, could that be the reason? Am I, like Jerry Seinfeld quipped, "rooting for laundry"? It sure seems that way considering the constant flow of players from team to team. Plus, it's hard to cheer for players you know won't perform.
But one day, while whining about the Royals most recent plight, a friend of mine gave me the answer:

"Keep rooting for the Royals. They need fans like you."

It was a simple yet profound statement. I had never thought of it that way before. Normally, I'm thinking about how the Royals can best satisfy my needs for sporting entertainment. But the simple fact of the matter is that the Royals (or any other professional sports franchise, for that matter) wouldn't exist without fans like me. People who stick with their team through thick and thin are the lifeblood of a sports franchise. They are the ones who continue to buy the tickets, watch the games on TV, listen to the games on the radio. Fans like me are directly responsible for paying player salaries, landing TV contracts and selling advertisements. Without fans like me, the Royals are literally nothing.

So, I suppose I could become a free agent myself and solicit the services of another team to follow. But what would be the point? A fan and his team build a relationship over time, something that can't be duplicated in a bandwagon's ride for the latest flash in the pan. All the history I've built up with this team MEANS something. I've been with them through the ultimate highs and the absolute dregs. Sure, my history doesn't compare to a New Englander who waited his entire life to see the Sox finally win a World Series, but the Sox also didn't lose 400 games in four years, either. And wasn't it all the sweeter for that guy when they did win and his loyalty had finally paid off?

But maybe that's the point, after all. Does winning a championship mean that my dedication has suddenly become justified? I suppose it does in the short-term. But I think it might be more along the lines of the journey being more special than the destination. Sure, it's great to win it all, but you still remember all the fun and sorrow and laughs and stomach punches that you went through to get there. You can't get that sort of satisfaction jumping from team to team, casting loyalty and history to the side. You've got to stick with it, continuing to hope for the payoff in the end, but also savoring the little payoffs along the way.

The Royals got hammered yesterday, 7-3. It was certainly disappointing but definitely not as bile-inducing as it could have been had I not come to this revelation: I need the Royals. And the Royals need me.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Spewing More Royals Invectives

Even the best part of being a baseball fan is getting ruined.

The truly great thing about following a baseball team is that on any given day your team can win a game. This means that even the lowly Royals can beat the vaunted Yankees or Red Sox or White Sox once in a series. Shoot, the Royals swept three games from the Yankees at home last year. That obviously has nothing to do with the actual skill level of either team; it just means that over the course of a 162-game season, even the losers have to win sometimes.

So, for a guy like me who continues to masochistically follow the Royals, every game is a clean slate. I can derive some amount of pleasure knowing that occasionally my guys will win a game. Sure, it won't happen often, but there is an inherent chance at the beginning of each fresh game.

That's why this season is already killing me.

It seems like time after time, whenever I tune into a game, the Royals are behind. Quickly. Like, in the first inning. So I decided to look it up and see if this was true. In the Royals 12 games this year, they have allowed their opponents to score first 10 times. The two times the Royals scored first? They ended up losing. They actually came from behind (somewhat miraculously) to win their only two games this year. In so doing, they've allowed the most runs in the American League. Oh, yeah; they've also scored the fewest runs in the American League, which means that's the chances of them staging some sort of comeback from an initial deficit are generally fairly poor.

And that's what stinks. These guys are so bad that my fresh slate looks like a teacher's chalkboard after a misbehaving child has done his after school penance. I usually don't even get the benefit of blind hope for more than one inning. The Royals have allowed themselves to get behind in the first inning six times.

So what do I have to hang on to with this team?

That's a question I continue to ask myself. And I haven't come up with a compelling answer yet.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Surely You Weren't Waiting For This

Okay, I'm skipping topics. The Royals have really cheesed me off. There has been an overflow of idiotic quotes from Royals players, managers and owners over the last couple of weeks.
Allow me to walk you through them, adding my own commentary.


Royals owner David Glass at the Welcome Home Luncheon April 4:

"It's hard to say how many games we'll win, but if character counts, we
win a lot."

Uh, Dave? The last time I checked, character doesn't win ballgames.
Good ballplayers win ballgames. Remember Babe Ruth? A big guy but not
a big character guy yet his teams won lots of championships. How about
Ty Cobb? The guy went into the stands to beat up fans. Oh yeah, his
teams also went to three World Series. Mickey Mantle? Liquor,
womanizing, victories. 1970's Oakland A's? Fights between teammates
in the clubhouse and three consecutive titles. The latest Yankee dynasty?
They may have been "character" guys but they were also All-Stars. So,
sure, character counts but unless it's accompanied by skill, it doesn't
win games.


During Spring Training, Royals Manager Buddy Bell insisted he put
little stock in those wins and losses:

"I pay attention to the way we play and this team was as good as any
ever been around," he said. "I think we're going to be a tough
team to play.
We have a lot of grinders on this team."

Now, I agree that Spring Training wins and losses don't indicate the
true skill level of a team. (For proof, check out the Royals' 17-10
record and Cactus League title this year.) But if Buddy Bell thinks
this team is as good as any he's ever seen, that means he's seen some
incredibly terrible teams. You can slap me silly and call me Shirley
if this team gets within 10 games of a .500 record this year.
At least he's bought in to the company line, though. At the risk of
sounding repetitive, GRINDERS DON'T WIN BALLGAMES. Just for fun, let's
make up an All-Grinder Team and see how it stacks up against a real
team. Craig Counsell, Joe McEwing, David Eckstein, Eric Byrnes, Emil
Brown, Brandon Inge, Doug Mientkiewicz, Neifi Perez, Kelly Stinnett,
Aaron Guiel, Jason Johnson, Mike Maroth, Todd Jones. Notice how many
of these players are either current or former Royals? I think this team
would lose 8 of 10 from last year's World Series winners, the Chicago
White Sox. But that's what we've been stockpiling here in Kansas City
for years. And this year isn't any different. How many
difference-makers/All-Stars do we have on this team? Mike Sweeney is
an All-Star caliber hitter--when healthy--and we all know how that's
turned out recently. Reggie Sanders is very good all-around player--when
healthy--and he's now 39 years old. David DeJesus is a good, young
player who could be an All-Star one day--if he's healthy. We can't
even keep the few impact players that we do have in the lineup day to day.
But, boy, these guys have character and can grind it out. They've been
grinding out 100-loss seasons like clockwork now.


Previously noted grinder and current Royals first baseman Doug
Mientkiewicz says:

“Look at this room now,” Mientkiewicz said. “They brought in character
… Buddy said it best in one of our meetings: ‘When did hustling
become an
option?’ ”

Well, Doug, apparently it's NOT an option after witnessing Emil Brown
falling down in the outfield trying to field his position, Angel Berroa
and Mark Grudzielanek getting caught off base and Runelvys Hernandez
going on the DL because he couldn't fit through the locker room door.


Check out this excerpt from a recent Kansas City Star article:

Independence resident Robert Briggs said he voted for both stadium measures
Tuesday, but he said some of his co-workers voted against the roof. They said
the ballot language left open that the use tax could be used for other stadium
work, including paying off the renovation bonds."They perceived it as a slush
fund," he said. "People got cold feet. There was a lack of trust."

In an ongoing pursuit to submarine any efforts at making Kansas City a real-life "Big City", the Jackson County voters greenlighted the worst available plan to refurbish/replace the Truman Sports complex. In all their wisdom, they okayed over $500 million in taxpayer dollars to renovate both Kauffman and Arrowhead Stadiums. At the same time, they voted down the plan to add a rolling roof that would have been used by each of the stadiums and also would have guaranteed the city a Super Bowl in the next 10 years. In my opinion, they should have voted them both down or voted them both in. I figure that if you're going to waste a half billion taxpayer dollars to subsidize millionaire owners, you may as well go for the gusto. From my point of view, they should have voted down both proposals and called for a more fiscally sound plan (at the very least) or (ideally) a plan that called for the construction of a downtown baseball stadium and renovations to Arrowhead. For the first time in my lifetime, Kansas City has actually made some progressive moves regarding its nearly abandoned downtown. They approved the construction of a brand new, state-of-the-art arena in the hear of downtown, piggy-backing on the redevelopment of nearby H&R Block Entertainment District. All of this has built upon the momentum generated by the increasing hipness of the Crossroads District, the renovated Union Station and the burgeoning loft space available downtown. A downtown ballpark would have been a mutually beneficial situation for the city, the Royals and the fans. Instead, we're stuck with a 25-year lease on a sports complex that was ahead of its time 25 years ago and nearly outdated now. If Missouri is the "Show Me State", then they continue to show me how ignorant and ill-informed they can be.


Multiple quotes regarding the fans booing the Royals and, more specifically, team captain and all-around good guy, Mike Sweeney twice in the first two games of the season:

Off-season acquisition/first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz:

"We probably deserved it. That was not very entertaining. But getting on your
own team sends a bad message around the league. And when you boo your
franchise player, a guy who cares so much about this city and tries so've got to cut him a little slack."

Off-season acquistion/starting pitcher Joe Mays:

"Everybody here needs to relax, including the fans," Mays said. "Booing Mike
Sweeney, that's poor. That guy does tons of things around here. I understand he
makes some money, but he's human and he's not going to bat 1.000. The fans need
to back off some."

Hey, fellas: you might want to hold off on the criticism of the fans until you've been here for more than two games. Not to mention, didn't you have a clue as to what you were signing on for? This team has lost 400 games in the last four years. Were you expecting cascades of cheers to pour out from the stands after paying $20 to see you get swept by the Tigers? You want a little slack? How about the fact that ANYONE pays to see this team in person after the performances of the last decade. We should relax? What, into a comatose state that doesn't allow us to react at all? Because the only legitimate reactions to this team are boos.

Ironically, possibly the most boo-worthy player on the team, shorstop Angel Berroa, brought some perspective in commenting about the boos he received following another one of his seemingly endless supply of baserunning blunders:

“You’ve got to take it,” he shrugged. “It was a mistake.”

Thanks for taking a little reponsibility for your performance, Angel. Now, how long are we going to have to "take it" until we field a major league caliber team around here?


The Royals managed to blow a 3-run lead in Yankee Stadium the other day when manager Buddy Bell decided that sticking to arbitrary "roles" was more important than doing whatever is needed to win a ballgame:

“It was set up the way we wanted it,” manager Buddy Bell sighed, “and it just
got messed up.” “You set roles for people,” Bell said, “and I believe
we’ve got people in the right roles. He proved he could do the job for us last
year. He’s got it in him. We’ve got to stay with him.”Right-hander Elmer
Dessens preceded Sisco with two perfect innings, but Bell dismissed the
suggestion that Dessens should have remained in the game. One reason: The
Yankees were starting the inning with two left-handed hitters, Jason Giambi and
Hideki Matsui.“Again, you put guys in roles,” Bell said. “And you can’t pitch
Elmer every inning.”

Elmer Dessens was acquired in the off-season to fill the long relief spot in the bullpen. As a swingman who could both start and relieve, one might think that he would be well-suited to pitch multiple innings. In fact, he had made only 19 pitches in retiring the six hitters in his two innings of work. But rather than stick with the guy who was efficiently mowing people down, ol' Buddy decided that he needed to bring in Andy Sisco and preserve the integrity of his "role". Well, Sisco went on to pitch poorly and the 3-run lead turned into a 2-run loss to the Yankees. Do you know how many times the Royals have won in Yankee Stadium in the last five years? Zero. Thanks for blowing our one shot, Buddy. By the way, the Royals went on to get swept, keeping the streak alive.


Captain Sweeney commenting on the aforementioned blown win:

“It seems we’ve seen this story here in Yankee Stadium before. We get a
lead after we fight and fight and fight. And somehow…we find a way to lose the

I think that sums it up nicely.

Friday, April 07, 2006

This Is NOT The Moment You've All Been Waiting For

Continuing from yesterday's list of events, on to topic #2: Another devastating end to a Jayhawk basketball season.

Actually, the end wasn't so bad, depending on where you start. KU shared the regular season conference title with Texas who was the consensus favorite to win the league from Day One. They won the Big XII Conference Tournament by impressively beating the Longhorns, a team who had humiliated the young Jayhawks just weeks before. Momentum and optimism were clearly on the Jayhawks' side.

Then came the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Kansas actually received a decent seed (#4) in what some viewed as the easiest bracket. Memphis received the #1 seed, but as a young, upstart team in a weak conference there was reason to doubt the validity of their seeding. The same could be said for UCLA, recipient of the #2 seed. The Pac-10 was nothing spectacular this year and they weren't flooding peoples' sleeper lists.

Kansas' first round matchup was against Bradley, a mid-major team who had a decent season but didn't strike fear into the hearts of men. It was thought that if KU got past Bradley (and few people doubted they would) the real test would be a potential second round game against Pittsburgh. Pitt was similar to Kansas in that they played tough and had a throttling defense.

But Kansas didn't come through on their end of the bargain. They played like freshman and sophomores (which they were) and tensed up at the most inopportune time. Bradley, having nothing to lose, played like they were capable of playing and took advantage of KU's shellshocked approach. Kansas, for the second year in a row, fell in the opening round of the tournament to a much lower seed.

While the hurt is similar, the circumstances were different. Last year, we had a senior-led team that, though at times had underachieved, had a good opportunity to make some noise in the tournament. But they turned the button to "On" a little too late and found themselves as the recipients of one of the worst upsets in KU history. This year's team, on the other hand, made people wonder if they would even qualify for the tournament after starting out so poorly. But, through good coaching, maturation and hard work, the team gelled toward the end of the season and looked primed to be a sleeper in the tourney. Some national analysts even made them their dark horse pick to make the Final Four.

One thing this year's team has that the previous team didn't, though, is time. Most likely, all key members of the team will be back next year. And while they ended last year on a particularly sour note, one of the attributes this team possesses and will rely on next year is its ability to rebound from a bad game.

Given the talent on this squad, that sounds like a good beginning.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

This Is The Moment You've All Been Waiting For

After a 50 day sabbatical from writing, I'm back. And, boy is there a
lot to talk about. Here's a laundry list of some of the things that
have happened since our last episode:

* Samantha's Birthday/ear piercings.

* The Jayhawks sharing the regular season league title, winning the
conference tournament and crushing the spirits of all who follow them
with another first round NCAA tourney loss.

* A trip to Boston/Portland, ME.

* Jackson County voters securing their place as some of the most uninformed voters in history.

* The Royals beginning their annual quest for 100 losses.

So, there's a little bit here for everyone. We can start from the

Allison and I decided that it would be alright for Samantha to get her
ears pierced for her 10th birthday. Sam didn't know this, though, when
I told her that I would take her to Oak Park Mall for lunch and her
present. When we got to the mall, she asked if she could guess where we
were going. I replied that it would be fine and she went on to guess
Build-A-Bear and a handful of other stores but she didn't guess
Claire's, which is where we were headed. As we passed through the
threshold (she later told me), she was going to ask if she could get
some clip-on earrings. But before she could get the words out of her
mouth, I told the girl working there that we were here to get Sam's ears

Samantha looked at me as if I had just pushed her over. Her amazement
soon manifested itself in short bursts of questions: "Are you serious?",
"Really?", "Does Mom know?" Soon thereafter, the amazement was coupled
with nervousness: "Is this going to hurt?" "Is it like a gun that
shoots through your ear?"

She picked out the earrings she wanted and cautiously climbed into the
chair to await her glorifying and terrifying moment. With eyes as large
as large as hoop earrings, she winced at the first piercing. A half
second later she realized that it didn't really hurt and eagerly turned
her head for the next puncture. Once the impalements were completed,
the paperwork was filled out and the cleaning materials were purchased,
she was a human bobblehead, jittery with elation.

"Dad, I'm so excited, I'm shaking!"

Happy Birthday, kiddo.


I'll pick up on the next topic tomorrow...