Tag Archives: baseball

Berroa and the Blue October

I’ve been a Royals fan for all 27 years of my life and until Friday sometimes it felt like all I had to show for it was this lousy t-shirt.

photo (1)

OK, it’s actually a jersey. I have a few other Royals t-shirts, too, ones of Mark Teahen, David DeJesus and Jeremy Affeldt that I got for free back during the “T-Shirt Tuesday” giveaways of 2006 and 2007. This jersey, however, didn’t come for free. I received it as a birthday gift in 2003. My parents got it personalized on Eastbay for me so I could walk around displaying my love of the Royals through my favorite player at the time: (gulp) Angel Berroa. Continue reading

Tagged , , , , ,

Buck O’Neil and Old Friends

Late last week, I spent a morning at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum at 18th and Vine in Kansas City.

I was there for work, but it didn’t feel like it. I was there to interview Bob Kendrick*, the president of the NLBM and an old friend of Buck O’Neil. And I knew this would be a morning about Buck and baseball and raw, authentic emotions.  Continue reading

Tagged , , , , ,

The real Lil’ Papi and the World Series

Two nights in a row, two games in the World Series, Lil’ Papi has earned an at-bat. And I chose that verb for a reason. He has earned it.

It’s strange with Lil’ Papi. He has the best nickname in the world – one that I obviously stole to make myself sound cooler – and no one really knows that he has it. I’m not entirely sure that anyone would know it if they hadn’t asked me for the origin of my Facebook name, or if they were hardcore fans of Joe Posnanski.

Lil’ Papi, the first Lil’ Papi, is Esteban German. Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , ,

One more play for the Royals’ lowlight reel

It’s getting to a point that someone could write a thesis about the Kansas City Royals and all their famous blunders and bloopers of the last 10 years. I’m not talking about writing of how the organization lost more games than anyone else in that time, how it drafted the No. 1 overall pick in 2006 without a general manager or how it lost 97 games with the Cy-Young winner pitching once every five days, or even how it paid a man who can’t play in the field, get on base, walk or hit for power $36 million.

I’m talking about the purely anecdotal evidence from players and managers. The lowlights. The hilariously awful moments. These could fill an easy 100 pages double-spaced.

To an extent, the Kansas City Star did this on Sunday. The Star, of course, featured a massive section, one you could consider a thesis, to preview opening day and this coming season that mainly detailed the Royals’ problems with fundamentals. One part of it highlighted these blunders I speak of.

It was brilliant. The Star reminded us of Kerry Robinson’s famous scaling of the outfield wall, only, upon reaching the apex of his jump, to find out that the ball bounced on the warning track in front of him. It reminded us of Ken Harvey getting hit in the back by his cut off throw, various sunglasses issues and others that you can read here.

Those are the chosen lowlights. Those are what we remember the Royals for in what is arguably the worst period of baseball imaginable. Those are what Joe Posnanski can reel off reflexively, along with moments like when the Royals promoted Eduardo Villacis to start at Yankee Stadium, when Tony Muser complained he had too many players who pounded milk and cookies instead of tequila, when Luke Hochevar let a runner advance to third base because he wasn’t looking, when a cat sprinted around the stadium and when manager Tony Pena showered in his uniform after that dreadful Villacis start and then told the press the Royals would win the division.

These are wonderfully terrible, hilarious moments. But everyone tends to overlook a certain lowlight when the discussing the Royals’ ineptitude.

Let’s go back to 2005. August. In the annals of bad baseball history, this would be Chapter One.

That month, Kansas City lost an otherworldly 19 games in a row. From July 28 to August 19, the Royals didn’t win once. One of the famous lowlights occurred during that stretch. In a game that the Royals had in the bag, Chip Ambres let a fly ball drop to the turf. His catch would have been the third out in the ninth. The other team went on to win the game.

So, yes, people will remember that August month for the losing streak and that game. Maybe that’s why this lowlight has largely been forgotten.

It happened on Aug. 27. The Royals led the Yankees, in the Bronx, 7-3 in the bottom of the ninth. Jeremy Affeldt, who had been a pretty reliable reliever, was pitching.

With one out and a runner on first base, he forced Jorge Posada into an 0-2 count. Then came the moment.

Posada hit an easy come-backer straight to the mound. Affeldt fielded it and had an easy throw to make for the game-ending double play. But these are the Royals, and easy often leads to a certain kind of remarkable that leaves you shaking your head for all the wrong reasons.

As he turned around to throw to Angel Berroa, who was covering second base, Affeldt tripped over the rosin bag. Let me write that one more time.

HE TRIPPED OVER THE ROSIN BAG.

The loss of balance caused him to poorly throw the ball, and both runners advanced safely. Of course, the Royals went on to blow their four run lead and lose 8-7.

So there it is, the forgotten piece of history. I guess it’s only natural that we forget or don’t emphasize certain parts of the past. Important details of the greatest civilizations have certainly been forgotten or lost. But our conscious keeps details of Tony Pena Jr.’s sunglasses, Robinson’s leap and so on. I say we add the rosin bag as well.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

The Book of Zack

“Not really. I’ve been playing this World of Warcraft game. I haven’t been thinking about baseball that much.”  — Zack Greinke, on whether he’d thought about the Cy Young since the end of the regular season.

These words are all you need to know about Zack Greinke. See these words above? Read them. Let them soak in.

 …And then think about this.

 Zack Greinke was completely serious. If you know Zack Greinke, if you’ve listened to Zack Greinke, if you’ve talked to Zack Greinke… You know this to be true.

 You see, Zack Greinke said these words with no trace of clever humor or irony or wit.

 Zack Greinke said these words in the same deliberate speech pattern with which he delivers all his words.

 It was around 2:45 on Tuesday afternoon. Hours earlier, Zack Greinke had just learned he’d won American League Cy Young Award. He’d just become the third Royals pitcher in history to win the award. And now he was on a conference call with reporters. He was only months away from completing the greatest professional season of his life. He was only months away from finishing what was – and is — arguably one of the Top 15 pitching seasons of all-time. And Zack Greinke will get married this Saturday.

 So Zack, have you though much about the Cy Young award since the end of the season?

 And here they come; those words are coming…

 “Not really. I’ve been playing this World of Warcraft game. I haven’t been thinking about baseball that much.”

*****

There is an image of David Ortiz. It’s burned somewhere deep in the brain.

It won’t go away. And hopefully, it never will.

There is David Ortiz. He is sitting at his locker in the visitors clubhouse at Kauffman Stadium. It’s September and the Red Sox are in a Pennant Race, a desperate attempt to catch the Yankees.

And on this night, the Red Sox have fallen to the lowly Kansas City Royals — a team that will lose 97 games.

Except on this night, the Royals weren’t  lowly or depressing miserable.

You see, on this night, the Royals were pitching the best pitcher in baseball.

There is David Ortiz. His facial hair is perfectly groomed. His hair is almost shining. And he’s wearing a gray undershirt — you know, the kind with the offensive name.

Reporters start to crowd around. And they all have questions.

How good was Greinke?

Is he the best pitcher you’ve seen this year?

What was he throwing tonight?

But really, there is only one question that matters.

And there is David Ortiz, leaning back in his chair and giving his typical round smile.

The question is a simple one, and Ortiz has a simple answer.

Should Zack Greinke be the American League Cy Young Award winner?

“Why not?” Ortiz said.

Greinke had just allowed two hits over his six innings of work. He had lowered his Major League-leading ERA to 2.08. He had struck out five more batters, giving him 229 for the season. 

“Why not?” Ortiz said, repeating himself. “He got good numbers for it. If I could vote for the Cy Young Award winner, [I] might give one vote to him.”

*****
There doesn’t seem to be much else to say about Zack Greinke these days.

 His story has been told.

 He was once the best pitching prospect in all of baseball. He would make his major league debut and be named Royals pitcher of the year in 2004. In 2006, He would battle social anxiety issues and depression and walk away from the game.

And you know the ending — or at least, the ending of that part of the Greinke story.

 So if you’d like a true Greinke education, this may not be the place.

 There are far better places.

 If you’re looking for a Ph.D in all things Zack, go here.

Professor Posnanski is one of the foremost Greinke scholars in the country.

Short on time? Well, The KC Star’s Sam Mellinger is offering a Masters’ degree here.

So, consider this more of a Greinke undergraduate degree.

You may learn something. But you may not. And it could potentially end up being a huge  waste of time. And at the end, you may end up feeling hungover and confused.

*****

There are so many stories about  Greinke.

We’ll start with this:

You see, my image of Greinke might be slightly different than yours. 

And when I say image, I don’t mean what I think of him or you think of him, or his reputation, or how he acts.

I mean my literal image — the image I see in my head when I think of Zack Greinke.

 Thing is, I spent the 2009 baseball season covering the Royals for MLB.com. I saw Greinke pitch at least 15 times. I saw him throw shutouts and I saw him strikc out 15 hitters and I saw him get thrown out of a game for protecting a rookie teammate.

But this image is different.

My image is of Greinke walking into the Royals clubhouse on Sunday mornings.

 He was always wearing the same pair of worn, grey New Balance shoes. He was always wearing long white socks, pushed down by his ankles. He was always wearing khaki shorts and a wrinkled polo. And he was always carrying a cup of Starbucks coffee.

He looked so unassuming — exactly like a laid-back college kid on a Sunday morning.

 And then, if it was his day to pitch, he’d go out and dominate. Throw 96 miles per hour with a buckling slider and an above-average curveball. And he’d walk off the mound, and you never forget his walk. His strut. Zack Greinke – the most laid-back, quiet, unassuming star in baseball – always seems to strut when he walks off the field.

*****

Here’s another story.

Greinke once received a blue and yellow Ron Jon surfboard in the mail from a fan. At least, I think it came through the mail*. The surfboard sat up against the wall by Greinke’s locker for the next two or three weeks.

 *Is is possible to send a surfboard through the mail?

 “So, Zack,” a reporter asked. “You surf?”

Zack: No.

Reporter: So, what’s with the board.

Zack: (Paraphrasing) Somebody sent it to me. And we started winning, so I thought I’d keep it.

Reporter: Really, cool.

Zack:  …

*****

You probably know that Zack Greinke doesn’t really like to talk to reporters.

This is not unusual. Most Major-League players aren’t wild about talking to the media.

And I’m sure there are various reasons for this.

 But Greinke is different. You see, it’s not that Greinke is worried about negative stories, or being misquoted or misunderstood.

 Greinke just doesn’t really like talking to anybody.

 And so, I often found myself in the visitors clubhouse after Greinke pitched. Sometimes, I would be covering the opposing team, and I would need to go to the visitors’ side.

And other times, I would go there to find out what the Angels or Red Sox or Twins or Tigers thought about Greinke.

 You know what? There seemed to running theme.

 “Flat-out nasty,”  — Minnesotat’s Joe Mauer.

 “He invents stuff. I’ve never seen a 95-mph cutter before.” — Detroit’s Brandon Inge.

 “It really was a clinic today. He was almost unhittable to me.” — Seattle manager Don Wakamatsu

 “He has everything,” — Boston manager Terry Francona

 “That’s about as good as I’ve seen any pitcher in my time here at this level.” — Cleveland manager Eric Wedge

“Kid’s got a lot of equipment,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland.

 “…the best pitcher in baseball.” — Texas manager Ron Washington

 “He’s the best in the league right now,” — White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen

 *****

Reporter: (interviewing Zack after he won the Cy Young) Hey, I know you’re not big into all this media stuff. You dealing with it OK?

Zack: Yea… Lotta stuff going on. I usually like doing nothing.

Reporter: So you excited for your wedding this weekend?

Zack: (Explains that his fiancé has been doing most of the wedding preparations) I just got to show up I guess. Hopefully it’ll be fun.

*****

You see, I guess all this isn’t really about Zack Greinke. It’s really more about what he represents. This is about what he represents to Kansas City. And this is about what he represents to a certain generation of Kansas City’s sports fans.

Zack Greinke is 26-years-old. And this is fitting.

The last 24 years have been tough on sports fans in Kansas City.

If you are under the age of 26, you never saw Len Dawson lead last-minute drives. You never saw George Brett in his prime, raking doubles into the gaps of then-Royals Stadium.

You never Frank White or Willy Wilson or Amos Otis. You never saw Bobby Bell or Buck Buchanan or Willie Lanier. You never even saw Bo Jackson with a real hip.

You have no memory of the last time the Royals won the World Series. And if you are exactly 25, you were nine the last time Chiefs won a playoff game.

 There is a generation which knows nothing about winning.

But we do know what its like to watch the Chiefs go 13-3 and then lose a playoff game at home.

 They’ve done that three times.

 We know what its like to watch the Royals develop young stars — and then watch as those stars bolt town.

 *It’s especially infuriating when one of those stars (Jermaine Dye – a future World Series MVP) gets traded for Neifi Perez – straight up. Seriously. It happened.

 We know what its like to watch the greatest pass catching tight end ever.

 But we also know what its like to watch the Chiefs lose 26 out of 28.

 But really, the real pain has come from baseball. The 100-loss seasons, first basemen getting hit with relay throws, outfielders scaling up the wall when the ball hits the warning track, first basemen getting swallowed by the tarp, Tony Pena Jr. playing shortstop. The list goes on and on and on.

 And this is where Zack Greinke comes in.

 He may not help the Royals back to the playoffs. He may never even play on a .500 team.

 But Greinke is arguably the greatest pitcher on the planet.

 …And he’s ours.

 And when you have the greatest pitcher on the planet, you also have hope.

 And as a wise man once said, hope… is a good thing.

Tagged , , , ,