Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Stroll of Consciousness

I left my apartment at a little past 5:00pm. I had my iPod Shuffle on and I was ready to go. The following is a stream of consciousness tale of my 3-mile walk today:

"Stepping Stone" by the Monkees. Sweet. I love this song. Definitely a good song to start out on.

I should walk on the left side of the parking lot so that I can see cars coming at me. I don't want one of the maniacs that comes blazing through my lot to drill me.

There aren't any cars at Chacko's. I sort of know the folks that own that place. They go to Jacob's Well. I hope they're doing well.

Rush hour traffic on Johnson Drive. I'll let this first wave pass and then cross. One of these days I'm going to get killed in my one-man effort to remind drivers that pedestrians in crosswalks have the right of way.

I don't see the kid I went to grade school with at Hickory Grove working in Mack Hardware. I still can't remember his name. I wonder if he recognizes me whenever I walk past the hardware store. I wonder how often people come by and steal bags of peat moss that they display on the sidewalk. It'd be pretty tough to catch someone. Maybe they have cameras.

The USA Today paper machine is empty. That's unusual. Maybe I should stop by Town Topic on my way back and get some dinner.

There are two women up ahead leaving the veterinarian. I wonder if I'll catch up to them before they get into their cars. Nope. One gets in her car. The other is still up ahead, though. I might catch up to her by the time I reach Mr. Goodcents. Wait; she's gone. She was walking fast. I wonder if she was creeped out by me following behind her. Or maybe she just turned onto Horton. Oh; there she goes on Horton. I'm glad I didn't catch up to her. It may have been awkward.

One of these days I'm going to get nailed by the door at Mr. Goodcents. Someone's going to pop out with their sandwich in hand and drill me as I walk past. No such luck today. No one sitting on the little patio, either. Must be too hot.

I take a look at the line of cars waiting at the red light on Lamar. Some look at me. Some don't. I wonder what they're thinking.

There are a couple of kids up ahead. I wonder if I'll catch up to them. One kid's carrying a wooden stake. He just dropped it in someone's driveway. People wonder how weird crap ends up in their yard; this would explain one such incident.

Ooh; just caught a whiff of R. J.'s Bob-B-Que. Yummy.

One kid turned onto 58th Street. The other kid realized the first had turned and quickly followed. I didn't catch up to them. I'm glad.

I wonder if people driving by see me tapping my leg to the beat of a song or move my hand as if I was strumming a guitar and think I'm a lunatic. Tough; I can't help myself.

Here comes a women toward me with a dog, no, make that two dogs. I'll get over into the lawn to give them room. Oh, man; there's a sprinkler going in that lawn. I wonder if I'll make it past the sprinkler lawn before I meet the dog woman. Yep, just made it past. I nod and say hello to the woman and pet the dog nearest me on the head when it makes a move to sniff me. Nothing like warm dog smell on your hand for the next 2.5 miles.

My shin splints are kicking in pretty good. This is a good time to learn how to deal pain. It's certainly not debilitating, so the more I get used to it, the easier it will be to tolerate in the future. Hiller said he could walk forever. I think I could, too, if I had the right size shoes on. These shin splints will be less painful once I get past 53rd Street.

Here comes a dude jogging. He's wearing a royal blue Royals shirt. You have to respect that. I nod and he nods in return.

I haven't been in the best mood today. I wonder if people who see my face think I look pissed off. I should probably try not to look like a jerk.

I'm walking past 56th Street. I wonder if I'll see Nave. I wonder if he'll call to see if I want to watch the late Royals game tonight.

They're still working on the new driveway at the house across the street from where I grew up. They tore down the basketball goal that I learned to shoot on as a kid. That kind of sucks. Life moves on, I guess. Just look at the crappy sea green vinyl siding on my parents' old house. At least our neighbor's yard looks nice.

That car is coming up fast to the red light at Lamar and 55th. One of these days I'm going to get nailed by someone not paying attention when I cross the street.

There are a couple of kids trying to do skateboard tricks in their driveway. There's an older guy going inside from his front porch next door to them. I wonder if the guy has any concern for the kids as a strange dude (me) walks past them. Apparently not, as he hasn't reappeared from his house.

There are no cars parked in the driveway that leads up to the curve in the sidewalk that goes around the tree. That's unusual.

There's Chad's old house.

I wonder if I'll see Foster or his parents coming down Lamar. Probably not; they usually don't have a reason to come south on Lamar. I wonder if I'll see Jeff's truck at my aunt's old house once I walk past it. I'll stop in and give a hand if he's there.

I'm looking forward to 53rd Street and heading down hill for a bit.

There's a rabbit in someone's lawn.

I'm at 53rd Street and in no immediate danger of being run over. The buzz of the street light relatively loud. It's downhill from here. I better look back over my shoulder to make sure no one is running or biking behind me. One time I had to walk up a steep hill in someone's lawn to give a girl on a bike some space. She actually thanked me verbally. I thought that was cool. Doesn't look like I'll need to worry about it this time, though.

Here's the street that Rushton Elementary is on. That wooden fence reminds me of the one I used to kick boards out of as a kid. Cars parked on the street means there must be little kid baseball practice at the school. One car has an MU license plate on it. Loser. There's only one team practicing today and they're pretty young. The dads aren't even using gloves to play catch with them. I'm always amazed at the skills we can teach little kids. I enjoyed helping coach David's baseball team. I hope an errant throw doesn't nail me in the back of the head as I walk past.

There's that yard where the guy was using an electric trimmer on Saturday morning at 7:30am. How freaking inconsiderate. Doesn't he realize that Saturday morning may be the one morning someone gets to sleep in? This couldn't have waited a couple hours? If I was living in this neighborhood I'd be seriously pissed.

I'm cutting across the circle drive of Rushton. I hope I don't get nailed by a car inexplicably pulling through this lot at 5:30 in the evening. I made it across safely. There's a school janitor leaving for the day. There's another car pulling in to the back parking lot. I wonder what she's doing here?

Can I cut across the 90 degree angle in the street here? Nope; a car is coming. I'll cut it, but not by so much.

I hope all this traffic clears before I have to cross to the other side of 51st Street. I don't like having to stop once I get a decent pace going. Good; no stopping.

There's the house that Eric who worked at my parent's baseball card and comic shop grew up in. I should tell Chad about him for his summer project. And I should make an effort to see if Duane Cunningham's business is still up and running.

That guy in that car looked kind of like Kenny Carpenter. I wonder if it was him. He was a Marine, I think. I remember enjoying keeping tabs on him when his Guard unit was deployed to Iraq a year or so ago. I wonder how Aaron is doing over there right now. He's an Army guy. I just finished reading about a first hand account from a Marine in Viet Nam. Those guys went through some unbelievable stuff.

There's a Saturn. It's blue, not maroon. Janna's Saturn is maroon. I wonder if I'll see her on my walk today. I'm fairly surprised I haven't ever seen her on any of the numerous walks I've taken past her neighborhood.

Will I be able to cut the intersection at 51st and Nall catty corner? Traffic is pulling up to the four-way stop. I'll have to slow my pace if I want to cut across. No dice; too slow. I'll start crossing Nall and then cut across 51st. Whoops! I better let that car go first.

Jeff's not at his place (gotta remember it's not my aunt's house anymore).

There's a guy up ahead walking his dog. I wonder if I'll catch up to him. He stopped and his dog is sitting obediently at his side. That's odd. What's he waiting for? Oh; he was waiting for traffic to pass so he could cross the street and pick up a pamphlet about that house that's for sale. Good; I didn't want to have to pass him. Now he's crossing back to my side of the street right behind me. I hope my pace is quicker than his. I don't want someone tailing me for blocks on end.

Ugh. I can hear him beside me, but I can't see him out of my peripheral vision. He must be keeping a decent pace. How annoying.

I wonder if I'll see Matt when I pass his house. That was odd that I finally saw him this weekend on the one walk I took at 7:30 in the morning. I doubt I'll see him this time.

That guy is still behind me. I hope he turns soon. There's that house with the two dogs. I wonder if they'll bark at the guy with the dog behind me. It looks like they're not outside right now.

There's always some sort of liquid draining from that house's driveway. It's not even making it a hundred yards down the street before it's evaporating. That seems like an awful lot of water to evaporate that quickly.

That guy's gone. He and his dog must have turned at 53rd Street. Good. I don't have to concern myself with him anymore.

There's a girl up ahead. Which way will she turn? Oh; she's heading south on Nall. Wait; now she's heading west on 55th Street. She's got a dog, too. I wonder if I'll catch up to her. I'm pretty sure I will.

Matt's car isn't in front of his house. He's probably not home from work yet. I didn't figure I'd run into him again so soon.

There's another person up ahead. I can't tell if it's a boy or girl as they come around the fence and shrubbery. Hey! It's Janna! She points at me in a state of surprise. I return the double point.

She says,

"Hey! What are you doing on my sidewalk?"

Buh duh, buh duh, buh duh, think of something witty to say, dumbass.

"Just getting a little exercise."

Nice work, bonehead.

She says,

"Man, what happened to that nice weather we had yesterday?"

"Yeah, I don't know." She was just walking. I wonder if she normally walks or runs? She's in good shape. I wonder if she walks or runs right after work? "It's a little warmer today."

"Yeah, and I think it's supposed to get pretty hot this week."

I say,

"Yeah, I was just thinking the other day about how hot it was every week when we played ultimate last summer. It was probably good once I got used to it. It'll shed a few pounds of this flab I'm carrying."

"Yeah, you'll end up losing five pounds of water weight alone."

"Yeah, it's kind of like wrestling."

Brilliant observation and even more brilliant turn of phrase. I'm a smart guy; why am I totally going blank in this conversation? Don't I have anything interesting to talk about besides the weather? She caught me by surprise; that's why I don't have anything interesting to say. I wonder if she's thinking the same thing?

She says,

"Well, I'm gonna keep going. Have a good week! I'll see you this weekend!"

"Yeah, you too! See you later!"

Wow. I'm a doofus. I should have asked her if she wanted to grab something to eat or something. Oh well; it was nice to see her. I wonder if I can catch up to that girl with the dog now? Not likely. She's got a couple of blocks head start now.

The sun is right in my eyes. Should I have worn a hat? Nah, it would have been hot on my head. Plus, I'm a tough guy; I can still look ahead without squinting that much. Look at me, Dude In The Passing Car; I'm looking in the direction of the sun and I'm not even really squinting!

Alright; I'm picking up the pace now. My legs feel good after that little pause to converse like a kid who just met Shaquille O'Neal or Derek Jeter. With these legs, I might catch up to that girl by the time she gets to St. Pius.

Who's that guy over on Maple? That's the guy with the dog who was tailing me before. Hah, hah, sucker; I'm blazing past you now. You'll never catch me.

Looks like the girl turned south on Woodson at St. Pius. No question I'll catch up to her now. Assuming she doesn't turn off somewhere.

No cars to worry about at Woodson and 55th Street. Good; I can cut over to the St. Pius sidewalk.

There she is in the field with her dog. She's walking back toward my direction now. I knew I'd catch up to her. I remember her now; I saw her a while back in nearly the same spot. She walked clear over toward the church rather than on the sidewalk. Now she's doing it again. Her dog sees me and is looking at me. I'm looking at the dog from a distance. I'll switch my glance from the dog to her and back again so as to appear friendly, but not stalker-ish. She passes and I say hello. She mouths something I can't hear over my iPod.

St. Pius's field still has a jumping pit after all these years. I'm amazed that it has lasted this long. How often does it get used? Is St. Pius some sort of long jumping haven? Is this the only event kids can participate in during Field Day?

I'm going downhill again. My legs feel good. The Doors are playing "Light My Fire".
There are two kids down the way playing on the sidewalk. They see me coming, yet they continue to dart on and off the sidewalk. Are they brave or just curious? Are their parents watching them to make sure some maniac doesn't walk along and steal them? This situation always makes me a little nervous. I want to be friendly to the kids but I don't want to seem overly interested in them should the parents be watching. What a jacked up world we live in. I can't even smile and say hello to some neighborhood kids without fearing the possibility of looking like a perv. No parents around. I say an emphatic "Hi!" to the little girl. She just stares. Before I can look at the little boy, he says hi. I turn and say "Hello!" and keep going.

I'm now entering the WT portion of Woodson. There always seems to be someone who enjoys the Blue Collar Comedy Team a little TOO much hanging around outside, drinking a can of beer and leering at the passersby. I intentionally look at everything but that guy.

It's amazing how infrequently your eyes focus in on any one thing when you're walking. If I think about it hard enough, I could probably make myself motion sick. And I never get motion sick.

There's a car approaching the stop sign at 58th Street. I don't have to worry about the timing of our intersecting paths as she just rolls through the stop sign. That's nice that I don't have to worry about that. It's kind of annoying that she just ran the stop sign, though. Well, how about that! She's pulling into the apartment complex parking lot that I'm about to cross. I wonder if she knows the person who lives in that second floor apartment that has all the junk on the balcony? I wonder if SHE'S the person who lives in that apartment? I don't think so; that balcony has looked pretty much the same for as long as I can remember.

The person pulling out of this next parking lot looks like they might not make the U-turn they're attempting and hit the sidewalk next to the building. Nope, they made it and now they're heading straight for me. I wonder if they see me? Even if they hit me, it won't be very hard; they aren't going very fast.

Will I make the light at Johnson Drive? Nope. This is usually the only place that I have to stop for any extended period of time on my walks. The light turns green for me and stops a bunch of traffic on Johnson Drive. I'm guessing a number of those people are ticked that they have to wait at this light just for me to cross. Sorry, suckers; there's not a button to push for pedestrians here. It's just your bad luck and bad timing arriving at this light at this particular time. One of these days, I'm going to be crossing Johnson Drive and someone is going to nail me from the farthest right lane because they didn't see me behind the car in the left lane and they're in too much of a hurry to stop at the brick crosswalk.

Looks like that eBay business is for sale. Who starts a bricks-and-mortar business based off eBay? That's counterintuitive.

The Keyhole smells like cheap beer and 30-year old beer-stained carpet, furniture and people. I need to get a beer there sometime.

The little used book store appears to be going out of business already. That's too bad. There's a book in the window by Garrison Keillor and one by Phil Keoghan. Weird.

I'm back in my apartment building's parking lot. Should I roll up the windows on my car? Yeah, I don't think I'll be going out later. Looks like the guy who lives below me is home. Man, I'm hot and sweaty. The young couple with the little boy has their screen door wide open and I can hear music. They're a sweet little family. I'm looking forward to cooling off and writing this strange look into my head. I think I'll watch a little TV first...

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Speculative Hope

Hope has been restored to fans of the Kansas City Royals baseball organization.

Sort of.

Three events have occurred in the past week that have given the gluttons-for-punishment faithful a reason to open their sports page in the morning:

* General Manager Allard Baird was fired and replaced by Dayton Moore, formerly the Assistant GM to John Schuerholz in Atlanta.

* Zack Greinke makes his first rehab start for Double-A Wichita.

* The Royals draft Luke Hochevar #1 overall in the 2006 MLB Draft.

First, and most importantly, the Allard Baird Era has finally come to an end. His tenure may go down as one of the worst GM stints in history. His legacy is one of botched trades, misguided free agent signings and bungled drafts. As George Costanza would say, "I've got it all!"

But that's not the whole story. In the days and weeks leading up to the dismissal of Baird, more and more stories were leaked about how owner David Glass and his son, team president Dan Glass, entangled themselves in some of the baseball decisions. Tales of trades vetoed and draft picks scuttled due to money issues are just some of the ways in which Baird was supposedly (read: likely) handcuffed by ownership.

So, Baird being gone definitely feels like a step in the right direction, but is it really? Not if the Glass family continues to harass their general manager. But this is where things are starting to look up. According to new GM Dayton Moore, he was given every assurance that he would have full autonomy over baseball decisions. Now, we can only wait and see if this holds true, but it certainly sounds like the Glasses have come to the realization that running a Major League Baseball team is better left to folks who have experience in running Major League Baseball teams.

If things go according to plan, the Royals organization might end up following in the footsteps of two other teams who had similar situations. Everyone remembers what a nightmare it was to be an executive in the Yankees' front office back when George Steinbrenner thought he was Branch Rickey. Of course, once George realized that he was better off letting the qualified people he'd hired run the show, the Yankees reeled off a string of World Series wins and playoff appearances that left every other team salivating. And you can make a similar parallel to the Braves, circa Ted Turner Era. The Braves were nearly as bad in the 80's as the Royals are now, with some of the responsibility falling on Turner's over-inflated ego. Then he hired John Schuerholz away from the Royals and the Braves proceeded to win their division every year since. The Royals can only hope that the GM merry-go-round comes full circle with the hiring of Schuerholz's prodigy Moore.

The second event that should have got the blood flowing in Royals fans' veins was the recent rehab start for one-time phenom Zack Greinke. Greinke had missed the first 2+ months of the season with psychological problems. Those issues have apparently been ironed out and Zack made a solid, if not dominating, start for the Wichita Wranglers. This is good news as Greinke was supposed to be the anchor of this year's pitching staff (although, "anchor" in this case sounds more like a weight intended to keep something immobile rather than a stabilizing force). Not too long ago, one baseball analyst exclaimed, "I have seen the future of pitching and his name is Zack Greinke." When you have that sort of potential and the track record to back it up, it comes as a major blow when your team finds out that you may not be pitching for the next couple of months, or possibly, ever again. With Greinke back in the fold, that's one less rotation spot the Royals will have to fill with the likes of Joe Mays and his ilk. Of course, we can only hope that Greinke comes back as strong or stronger than his impressive performance in his rookie year.

Finally, the Royals bucked conventional wisdom and selected Luke Hochevar as the number one overall pick in the 2006 MLB Draft. While most (including myself) were touting left-hander Andrew Miller as the obvious first choice, word spread that Miller's contract demands would be problematic. And while it looks like another pick on the cheap by the Royals, four other teams felt the same way and let Miller slide to #6 overall.

I think this is still a decent pick by the Royals. If you'll indulge me, allow me to pretend for a moment. Hochevar was considered a top five talent in last year's draft, a draft that was considered longer on talent than this year's. Let's pretend that instead of picking Alex Gordon (a junior at the University of Nebraska) with the #2 pick last year (when he had #1 talent), we picked Hochevar and Gordon stayed in school. Hochevar wouldn't have been thought of as a reach and the Royals would have been assured the best talent in the draft the next year. I realize that it's sort of convoluted logic, but the main idea is the same: we got the best possible player available last year and a player that last year was considered to be more talented than anyone in this year's draft.

The only concern one might have about selecting Hochevar would be in having to deal with his agent, the notorious Scott Boras. But the Royals certainly had the framework for a contract worked out before they drafted Hochevar or else they would have drafted someone else. Combine that with the fact that Hochevar might be a head-case (considering his hold-out and agent shuffling last year) and you have some real reasons to be concerned. But during his press conference and subsequent interviews, the phrases he kept repeating were, "I just want to pitch my tail off for the Kansas City Royals" and "I'm ready to put my nose to the grindstone" and "I'll work harder than anyone on the team."

Now, new GM Dayton Moore was not allowed to participate in either the Royals draft or the Braves due to conflict of interest. But you can bet your bottom dollar that he wasn't sitting on his front porch in Atlanta sipping mint juleps either. Word is that Moore didn't have Miller #1 on his draft board. Which implies that Moore at the very least sent some sort of telepathic signals to the Royals scouting department before the draft. This draft will be the first measurable data point in the Kansas City career of Dayton Moore. We can only hope that Luke Hochevar pans out and proves Moore right.

This is why the title of this column is "Speculative Hope". There are no assurances that any of these moves will pan out. If we look back at Allard Baird's career, we can find a number of transactions that looked reasonable at the time but ended up blowing up in his face. So while hope has been restored to Royals fans, there's still reason to be leery. It's like being a dog who has been abused by his owner. You get walloped enough times and you're going to cringe and scamper the next time he makes a move. And even if the owner has a miraculous turnaround and starts treating you nicely, it will still take a little time before you trust him enough to let him pet you. And Royals fans are due for a little petting.