On six months at The Athletic, the Royals, Bird Scooters, and the future

Let’s start here: On March 5, I started a new job covering the Kansas City Royals for The Athletic.com. It was a good and exciting change for a number of reasons; the Athletic is expanding, rapidly; the site is filled with terrific editors and great writers and smart people. Yet the best part was something simple: My new employers offered a straightforward demand: Write good stories that people want to read.

OK, there was more to it than that. But that was essentially the deal. There was no need to produce filler content. There was zero focus on page views, so need to trick somebody into clicking on something mediocre. The only goal was to build an audience through stories that were meaningful and worthwhile. 

So, on Monday morning, I found myself sitting inside a coffee shop in Kansas City. It was Labor Day. Some people rode by on Bird scooters. That seems to happen a lot these days. As I sat there, I looked at my phone. I realized it had been nearly six months to the day since I wrote my first story for the Athletic.

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Kansas football, Urban Meyer and doing the right thing in college sports

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For people who wonder how Urban Meyer, Mark Dantonio and many more college football coaches who have exhibited disturbing behavior continue stalking the sidelines, look no further than Kansas football. The Jayhawks, who just lost to Nicholls State Saturday night, who have won 15 games since 2010, who probably won’t win a game this season, who attract under 20,000 fans to home games, are an example — albeit an extreme example — of what can happen when a university acts according to societal morals and rids itself of a talented but problematic coach. Continue reading

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The forgotten brilliance and influence of ‘Little Big League’

Maybe we should start with the most amazing thing about the most overlooked baseball movie of our time: It could have been the Royals.

Billy Heywood, dressed in a youth-medium uniform, could have been peddling his sabermetric ways inside Kauffman Stadium. Lou Collins, the veteran first baseman-cum-leading man, could have been smashing home runs into the right-field fountains. And Ken Griffey Jr. — yes, freaking Ken Griffey Jr. — could have been scaling the center-field wall in Kansas City in the dramatic final scene.

It would not be the Royals, of course. We know that now. In the summer of 1994, as the family film “Little Big League” hit theaters across America, the plot would focus on the Minnesota Twins and the most absurd of baseball ideas — even for a kid’s movie of the era.

A middle-schooler named Billy Heywood would inherit the Minnesota Twins. He would name himself the manager. And the team, a collection of goofy characters and familiar baseball tropes — the wise corner infielder, the brainy reliever, the athletic rookie second baseman, the jerky ace — would race up the standings and learn how to have fun again.

It was a plot directly from kid fantasyland, wholesome and innocent. But if the narrative was slightly fantastic, the end product was even more absurd: “Little Big League” just might be the best baseball movie of the last 30 years.And we’re not sure if many people realize this.

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The Coaching Tree: A college newspaper story

The article in the University Daily Kansan ran on Sept. 11, 2008, just a few months before the United States elected Barack Obama to be its president, and a full semester before I graduated from college. But the story behind The Coaching Tree, the worst graphic illustration in the history of college newspapers, actually dates back another four months.

The story is one of ineptitude and laziness and a marvelous serendipity that would only take place on a college campus. It is also pretty hilarious. In nearly 12 years of working at newspapers, both in college and after, I’ve never stumbled upon a funnier story. I’ve witnessed a helpless intern compile a wire roundup (a small batch of notes) where she surmised that former NBA guard Sergio Rodriguez was going to go play soccer for Real Madrid. (Spoiler: He wasn’t; he had signed with the Real Madrid basketball team). I watched a college reporter show up to a Bill Self press conference after a victory over a non-conference team in November and inexplicably open the questioning with an inquiry into the talents of Baylor. I have seen many mistakes, both humorous and not so much, and many errors, and yet I have never seen something quite like The Coaching Tree.

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The Job.

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Sometimes people ask me about my job. This conversation happens maybe once a week. Sometimes it’s more. It’s something I’m used to now, but it can still feel strange.

They usually start by asking if I fly with the team. I do not. I fly commercial. Southwest points and all. Sometimes they ask what I do during the offseason. The answer is I work, though, yes, not as much.

The truth, of course, is that everybody has these conversations. And nobody really knows what anybody does. People understand job titles. They understand the conceptual idea of what it must mean to be a lawyer or an accountant or a teacher to work in logistics or insurance or whatever. But nobody really knows what people do each day.

I assume there are emails and meetings and all of that. But does anybody really know what anybody does?

I think about this conversation a lot, because it happens a lot. Especially over the holidays. When people know you write about Major League Baseball for a living, they just want to know stuff. Sometimes people specifically want to ask about baseball. Will the Royals sign another pitcher this offseason? What exactly are they doing? Can they go back to the playoffs next year? But just as often, people are curious about the logistics of it all, like they’re still a little skeptical that somebody pays you to go to baseball games and write about sports.

I must admit: I share their skepticism. On some days, I’m as baffled as anybody. I’m not exactly sure how I ended up here.

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The top 25 songs of 2016

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One reason I know this was a good year for music: My Spotify playlists. I saved dozens of new albums and made several mixes, probably at least twice as many as I have the last two years (and I make A LOT of mixes). There was so much diversity, too: As good of indie-pop as I can remember since 2013, insanely catchy rap songs by young, green artists, star power courtesy especially of Beyonce and Rihanna and, sorry not sorry to the numerous critics who hate the Chainsmokers, the Chainsmokers.

So here they are, the top 25 songs. Spotify playlist here and embedded at the bottom. Continue reading

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My friend Mark.

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My friend Mark liked Nebraska football. I remember that. He always wore this red Nebraska sweatshirt. It was hooded with white letters and a pocket in the front. I think it was a family connection or something like that, but I can’t be be sure.

My friend Mark had brown hair that he would often wear in this poofy bowl cut. I remember that, too. This was the mid 90s, of course, and most every boy at Nall Hills Elementary had a similar haircut, so I don’t think Mark would mind me bringing this up. This one year, he grew it really long, and buzzed the sides. I remember he called it an “undercut”, and I remember I wanted one, too.

I remember other things, too. I remember the way Mark would crack a smile and break into this cheesy fake laugh, just to draw a smile out of you. I remember how he would do this little funny gesture thing with his arms, like a little dance to make somebody else feel good. Mark was always laughing.

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“50-inch screen, money-green leather sofa”: A middle class person could now live Biggie’s “Juicy” lifestyle

“Juicy” by the Notorious B.I.G. is perhaps my favorite rap song of all time. It’s a Puffy-produced, nostalgic ride through the early-to-mid 90s, the history of New York hip-hop and a brief autobiography of Big, how he goes from “a common thief to up close and personal with Robin Leach.”

It also came to my attention recently while listening to the song that the lavish lifestyle he brags about isn’t really all that lavish — certainly not anymore, given our advancements in technology. The life he live is more middle class to upper middle class than the Gilded Age boasted by Kanye and Jay-Z in “Watch The Throne.”

Because this is The Brewhouse and we tend to do awesome, pointless things I decided to see what it would actually cost to live like Big. Here’s a financial breakdown of the “Juicy” lifestyle. Continue reading

On Jason Isbell and Sportswriter Music

Screenshot 2015-08-07 17.48.40 As a white male who writes about sports for a living, it is required by law that I listen to Jason Isbell. It’s a bizarre edict, I know, but it’s true. Look it up.

Two years ago, Isbell released Southeastern, a collection of introspective songs about the songwriter’s tangles with substance abuse, love and loss and all that other hard life shit. The result was a critically acclaimed album and a resurgent career — Isbell had written a deeply confessional work that sounded good, sold well and, yes, became a mainstay on the playlists of sportswriters across America.

At the time, Isbell was not necessarily a newcomer to this specific genre; in his early days, he was a trusted member of Drive-By Truckers, a young musical savant who wrote the song “Outfit”, a fantastic southern rock track about fathers, sons and the slow, painful emasculation of work. But Southeastern was something different, a master work on storytelling and blue-collar themes, thrusting Isbell into the space generally reserved for BRUCE!, and perhaps to a lesser extent, Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam.

Jason Isbell is Sportswriter Music.

I am not sure why white, 30-something sportswriters are so attracted to Isbell’s music, just as I’m not sure why every white, middle-aged portswriter loves BRUCE! I mean, sure, I have some theories. But it remains a curious phenomenon, in part because the answer seems obvious, in part because I think it says something about the way sportswriters see themselves.

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They built a Topgolf in my childhood neighborhood and this is really weird

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This is a story about Topgolf, an old neighborhood and why suburban sprawl kind of sucks. So yes, consider this a warning of sorts.

Last week, a Topgolf, one of those shimmering golf palaces of suburbia, opened in the neighborhood where I grew up. This sucks for a number of reasons, and not totally because Topgolf sucks — it sort of does, but sort of doesn’t — and I will explain all this in a moment. But first, let’s start at the beginning.

If you are not familiar with Topgolf, it’s this (relatively) new suburban golf craze in which people huck down tons of cash to hit golf balls and/or drink beer in a climate-controlled environment. It’s sort of like golf meets bowling, but not really. It’s more like a driving range had a three-way with a Buffalo Wild Wings and a Dick’s Sporting Goods, and it produced some monstrous thing to plant somewhere in the land of big-box stores. Again, this is not to disparage Topgolf. I’ve heard great things.

Topgolf centers, though, define suburban sprawl in a way few things can, in part because they take up a lot of fucking space, and in part because they are ridiculously garish.

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