There are very few certainties in this world.
And I suppose if you’re a relativist, you’d say there are no certainties. But that’s a conversation for – well, probably never.
Point is, when you find something that is certainly true — something that is absolutely concrete — you have to hold on tight.
You don’t have to be Dave Grohl* to know that Arcade Fire write beautiful songs. You don’t have to be Ollie Gates to know that ribs are good. And you don’t have to be Hemingway to know good prose.
*I once heard a story that Dave Grohl, the brilliant frontman for the Foo Fighters and former drummer for Nirvana, started each morning by listening to Arcade Fire’s song, “Keep the Car Running.” I don’t know for sure if this story is true. But it’s a great story, so I’m going to go ahead and believe it.
In the same way, you don’t have to be an athletic scholar to know that the state of professional sports in Kansas City is a depressing mix of suck-titude and despair.
The Royals haven’t won a World Series in 24 years. The Chiefs haven’t won a Super Bowl since Nixon was in the Oval office.
The Royals have had one full winning season in the last two decades. The Chiefs haven’t won a playoff game since 1993.
This evidence is, of course, true.
But I started thinking about it more this past weekend, when I saw a young kid wearing a Zack Greinke jersey.
The kid couldn’t have been more than 10-years-old. Though, I have to admit I’ve become pretty awful with ages.
The kid in the Greinke jersey stirred up a few emotions.
First I thought… well, good. Greinke’s getting a little love for his Cy Young season.
And then I thought about the nature of sports jerseys in general. After all, Christmas is coming up, and when you’re 10-years-old, there aren’t many better gifts than an authentic professional sports jersey.
I can still remember the feeling of receiving a Tamarick Vanover jersey from Santa in 1996. You know, it was never over until it was Vanover. That jersey was about a XXXXXL, and it probably still wouldn’t fit me today.*
*Somebody really needs to go back in time to the mid-90s and tell all the grade school boys that it’s really not that fashionable to wear your T-shirts seven sizes too big.
The Vanover jersey was cool because it was different. Other kids at school had Derrick Thomas jerseys. Some had Steve Bono’s. One kid had a Lake Dawson jersey. Kudos to that kid, too.
Yes, there was something special about that Vanover jersey. Even if he did end up serving time in prison for financing a drug trafficking ring with fellow Chief Bam Morris. It was the only Chiefs jersey I ever had. And it’ll probably be the last one, too.
So here’s the essential question. If you’re the parent of a 10-year-old kid in Kansas City, what jersey do you buy your kid for Christmas or Hanukkah* or Festivus**.
We all can agree that, right now, Greinke is the obvious choice. Cy Young. Best pitcher in baseball. Quirky, but…by all accounts a great kid. And so on.
But let’s forget about Greinke for a second. And for that matter, let’s also forget that – if things don’t go well for the Royals – Greinke could very well be pitching in the World Series for the Red Sox or Dodgers or Rays in 2014 (or – gasp! – even sooner.)
So who else?*
*And for our purposes, let’s forget about college sports for the moment. The easy answer is to go out and buy your kid a Kansas, K-State or Mizzou jersey. But we’re talking professional sports here.
This would be another obvious choice. He’s got the New England-pedigree. The leading-man looks. He’s also got the $60 million contract, so you’d think he be staying around for a while.
But then again. He’s also has a 72.3 passer rating and he’s quarterbacking a 3-9 football team. I still have confidence in Cassell – at least, confidence that if he can’t be Brady, he can at least be Pennington.
But I’m not so sure I’d want to invest in a Cassell jersey. Especially with Todd Haley around. Ask all those Cardinals fans if they’re happy that they bought Matt Leinart jerseys.
There are a few obvious candidates.
You might mention Billy Butler. And this would be OK. He did have a breakout season, 51 doubles, 21 homers, the .301 batting average. And he’s got the down-home country persona – a definite plus.
You might mention Joakim Soria. And he’s a definitely sleeper candidate. He’s one of the five best closers in baseball and he’s dependable – in addition to being arguably the nicest professional athlete in town.
But then again, both of those guys play for the Royals. And who knows if Soria will get traded or Butler will plateau. Butler will probably be around for a few more years at least, and then who knows?
The point is… there is a increasing shortage of popular and marketable athletes in Kansas City.
And why is that? Because there is also an increasing shortage of talented athletes in Kansas City.
I would imagine that the kid in the Greinke jersey is just finding this out.
That kid is only 10. And I’m sure he’s still operating under the assumption that the Royals actually have a chance to win the World Series next season. And that the Chiefs will have a puncher’s chance in the AFC West if they draft Eric Berry or Dez Bryant.
So, yes, it’s been pretty lousy in Kansas City for a lot of years.
And if you’re under the age of 25, you only know heartbreak and pain.
You know the pain of Lin Elliot in 1995. You know the pain of the 1994 baseball strike killing crippling the Royals’ future. You know the pain of a home playoff loss to John Elway and the Broncos in 1997. You know the pain of watching Carlos Beltran leave Kansas City. You know the pain of the Royals folding down the stretch in 2003. The pain doesn’t end there, but you get the idea…
But here’s the truth. Yes, it hurts to be a 20-year-old or 25-year-old sports fan in Kansas City. But imagine if you were 10?
Seriously. How much would that suck? At the very most, you probably only consciously remember the last five or six years of Kansas City sports. And your only sports memories come from this period.
Think about it. If you’re 10, you don’t know Derrick Thomas. You don’t know Neil Smith. You barely know Priest Holmes. You don’t remember Johnny Damon in Kansas City, or even Carlos Beltran. You might remember Mike Sweeney – but you just remember that he was the religious guy with the bad back.
Here’s what you do know.
You know the Royals have lost 100 games three times since 2004 – and they’ve lost 90 games in five of the last six years. You know the Chiefs are 9-35 in their last three seasons – and at one point had lost 28 of 30 games.
You know the Royals once had an outfielder who scaled the outfield wall to try to rob a homer when the ball hit on the warning track. You know the Royals once lost a game because the shortstop lost the ball in the Sun because his Sunglasses order hadn’t arrived yet.* And you know the Royals once lost a game because their first baseman got hit in the face with relay throw.
*He supposedly wore Sunglasses on the flight home to cover his black eye.
You know the Chiefs once decided that Brodie Croyle would be their quarterback of the future. You know the Chiefs once started a guy named Tyler Thigpen – a guy who got cut from the Vikings in 2006 because the Vikes knew they couldn’t do without Tarvaris Jackson, Drew Henson or Brooks Bollinger. Yes. Those were the three quarterbacks that the Vikings kept. And you only know Larry Johnson because he’s the reason your mom won’t let you log onto Twitter anymore.
And still. I think of the kid in the Greinke jersey. Poor kid.
He probably won’t be getting any more jerseys this December. That’s OK. He’s already got the only one that matters.