Tag Archives: kansas city

25.

Here is a story. A few months back, a few weeks before my 25th birthday, I went to go see the Arcade Fire at Starlight Theater.

The opening band went on at 7:30. We got their late. I had to finish up an assignment for work before I could finally be free. And after running around for almost two hours, making phone calls, finishing up interviews, running through a story outline in my head, I was finally ready.

Ready to start. Continue reading

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On running… and saying goodbye

I went for a run today.

I always hesitate to call myself a runner. To be honest, I don’t know anything about running. I don’t know anything about times, or paces, or strategy.

When I run six miles, I run close to a 9-minute mile pace. When I run two miles, I run around a 9-minute mile pace.

I don’t know anything about running, but I still run. Continue reading

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The Gary Gaetti Project*

So I guess I should say this first: 

 I had this great idea — an epic idea — to manufacture a 5,000-word post on the Kansas City Royals.

 You know, the baseball season does start in less than three weeks.*

 *It’s funny. This is an incomplete thought, but a lot of people always talk about the natural patterns during the course of a year that let you know something is coming up. For example, the leaves start to turn orange and yellow and brown – and you know it’s almost time for Halloween and high school football.

 Another example: People see snow – and automatically connect it to Christmas. And so on.

Perhaps this is just me, but most of the signs and signals that let me know what’s coming up are artificial and pop-culture related. For example, I just saw a commercial for The Masters – you know, the music and azaleas and Jim Nantz saying, “A tradition unlike any other”. The strange thing is that commercial doesn’t really make me think about The Masters. I see that commercial and all I can think about is the NCAA Tournament.

 Anyway, I had this idea. Really, it started with this thought: How did we get here? How did the Royals become the worst team in baseball — and a top-five laughingstock in all of American sports? Of course, I’m not the first to think about such things. And of course, there is no easy answer.

 But I wanted to try. Plus, I have some Royals stories stored up in the vault. Some telling, some funny, and some depressing.

 So I basically figured I could break it down into nine short stories, nine little narratives that could encapsulate 15 years of ineptitude, put a face on the hurt, and give us some sort of compass to find our way. 

But after some careful consideration, I decided that we better break this thing up into nine different posts.

But trust me, we got some good stuff coming. The first story includes John Buck and Lady Gaga and the worst stretch of baseball any Kansas City team has ever played.

For now, we’re calling it “The Gary Gaetti Project.” Why? Why not? 

So consider this the prologue. The Spring Training of our little adventure. Meantime, do me a solid, and read this short spring training story.

*****

They say spring training is when hope springs eternal. Or at least, I thought they used to say this.

Spring training for the Royals used to be the high-point of the season – for obvious reasons. The franchise would be on the heels of another season of 90-plus losses, and the whole gang would gather together at Spring Training (first in Baseball City, Fla., then in Surprise, Ariz.) in an attempt to exorcize the demons of the previous season.

You’d hear stories about veterans who’d never been in better shape. You hear stories about how the new players on the squad – generally, average veteran players from average teams. But somehow, someway, these average vets were bringing new life to the local nine, lifting the spirits and teaching the tenets of winning baseball.

You’d hear about young pitchers with dynamite stuff. And prospects with five tools. You’d hear about it all.

 And then, you’d read the annual column by Joe Posnanski – the most optimistic writer in America – in The Kansas City Star. And of course, Poz would write that the Royals were going to win the division.

 And then it happened. You couldn’t contain yourself. You were buying in*.

*Bartender, I’ll have what he’s having.

 You know what? These guys have a chance!

 But we know what would happen next. The rug would be ripped out from underneath and the sucker punch would come flying in from somewhere in the back.

Still, there was hope.

And perhaps that’s the difference this year. The Royals have the best pitcher in baseball. They have a 23-year-old first baseman who can mash. And they have an  All-Star closer.

And yet, for the first time in years and years and years, the hope seems to be gone.

Perhaps it’s because I spent last summer with a front-row seat to a devastatingly bad team.*

*More on this later.

 Or better yet. Maybe it’s this. I sat at work on Tuesday night. Reading the latest from The Star’s brilliant beat writer Bob Dutton. And I’ve never been more bummed out by spring baseball.

Dutton’s first dispatch was a short update on the Royals’ left-handed options for the bullpen.

The story started like this:

 “The left-handed options for the Royals’ bullpen now consist of three guys who worked primarily as starters as recently as last year and a veteran newcomer still under close observation while he recovers from a shoulder injury that forced him to miss all of last season.

Club officials believe that might not be as bad as it sounds.”

And you know what? Those words read like bright, shining optimism compared to what came next.

It was the game story from Tuesday’s 2-0 loss to Milwaukee.

In Dutton’s poetic prose:

“Perhaps the Royals fell victim Tuesday to the day-after effect from their first spring night game. Or maybe they were just overmatched by a relay of six Milwaukee pitchers.

Either way, they managed just eight hits in a 2-0 loss to the Brewers at Surprise Stadium. The offensive snooze followed a 17-hit attack Monday in a 9-1 victory over the White Sox.

“We were hitterish (Monday) night,” manager Trey Hillman said. “We could have made it easier on ourselves if we had executed. We’re going to start bunting a little more the last couple of weeks. We just didn’t execute.”

The main lack of execution came on successive bunt plays in the second inning. Kila Ka’aihue was at third with one out when Yuniesky Betancourt fouled off a squeeze bunt.

After Betancourt was hit by a pitch, Hillman called for a safety squeeze by Brian Anderson — and the result couldn’t have been worse. A poor bunt enabled the Brewers to trap Ka’aihue before completing a double play by foiling Anderson’s bid to reach second.

… Anderson’s slim roster chances weren’t helped by two head-shaking decisions. First, he put down a poor squeeze bunt with runners on first and third and one out in the second inning.

When the Brewers trapped Kila Ka’aihue between third and home, Anderson tried for second — and the result was a double play. Score it 1-2-5-3-3-8. That’s right, center fielder Carlos Gomez took the throw at second.

Anderson then threw to first from center field on Joe Inglett’s sacrifice fly with runners at first and third with one out in the Milwaukee fourth. The problem was the Royals had nobody at first. The ball rolled toward the Brewers’ dugout, which allowed the runner to take second.”

*****

Listen. I hate cynicism. There’s nothing worse, really. Of course, I love sarcasm. Show me a guy with a quick wit, and I’ll buy him drinks all night. But show me a cynic – and I’ll show you depressing room.

Still, I’m not sure if this is cynicism or sarcasm.

*In fact, I could probably do an entire post about on that subject. But anyway…

 But I could only think of one thing when I read this quote:

 “We could have made it easier on ourselves if we had executed,” Hillman said. “We’re going to start bunting a little more the last couple of weeks.”

 Yes. Yes. Yes! More bunting. By golly, they’ve  got it! That’s what they need. That’s the ticket. Bunting. Why didn’t I think of that?

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Going to Kansas City…

So here it is, the first week of March, the temperature has climbed into the 50s, the sun is shining, joggers have hit the pavement in T-shirts and shorts, and Kansas City… my hometown… is coming alive.

Kansas City, one of the greatest college basketball cities in the country, the site of more Final Fours than any other city, will become a national basketball capital for the next week.

Of course, you probably know that the Big 12 Tournament starts at the Sprint Center in Kansas City on Wednesday.

And you probably know that Kansas, the No. 1 team in the country, is coming to town. And you probably know that Texas, one of the most disappointing teams in the country, is coming. And you probably know that Kansas State, one of the most surprising teams in the country, is coming to town, too.

There will be NBA talent on the floor and million-dollar coaches on the sidelines. And downtown Kansas City will be hopping with parties and music and basketball junkies.

This is Kansas City’s week. And it’s always been one of my favorite weeks of the year. To me, this week will always remind me of the days in the mid-90s, when my dad would show up at my elementary school in the mid-morning, bust me out of class, and take my siblings and me down to Kemper Arena for four basketball games at the old Big Eight tournament.

In honor of this week – and those memories – we’re breaking out a list of eight short stories about Kansas City, basketball, and the Big Eight Tournament.

Chapter I: The Building

They called Kemper Arena so many names. Of course, Kemper Arena was the home of the old Big Eight Tournament for decade. There were so many stories about Kemper.

*For one, it looks like there’s an erector set on the roof.

It was built in the early 70s, a futuristic-looking arena rising up from Kansas City’s old stockyards.

So many memories. NBA Hall-of-Famer Tiny Archibald and the Kansas City Kings played there. Paul McCartney and Wings performed their. Gerald Ford was nominated for the presidency there, defeating Ronald Reagan at the 1976 Republican National Convention. And wrestler Owen Hart died there, falling from the rafters during a stunt gone wrong.

But at its core, Kemper was always a college basketball building. I used to be mesmerized by a banner that memorialized the 1988 Final Four. Wow, I thought, this is where Danny and the Miracles cut down the nets.

Still, they called the place names. Kansas City Star columnist Jason Whitlock used to call the place the “Dump with a Hump”. And he may have been right. In the mid-90s, when Kansas City wrongly figured that they needed a bigger building to keep the Big Eight (and later, the Big 12) Tournaments, they decided to expand the building by adding onto one side. As a result, the building became asymmetrical — and ugly. They later would add a large glass façade to improve the aesthetics of the exterior… but for one year, the building literally had a huge white bulge hanging off the top of one side of the building.

They also criticized the building’s charms. Or at least, its lack of anything resembling charm.

They criticized the location, too. The building was in the West Bottoms, a deserted area haunted by the ghosts of cowboys and livestock and cattle. And despite what some people say, most Kansas Citians despise the term “Cow-town”. It’s our history, but some just don’t want to remember. And the West Bottoms, in the shadows of downtown, are an old reminder of the past.

None of that mattered to me. Kansas City didn’t have an NBA team when I was growing up. So to me, Kemper was as close as you could get to a major-league arena. To me, it felt like a palace.

Chapter II: The Signs

I’m pretty sure every little kid dreams of being on television during a sporting event. This is just one of those axioms that seems universal. So how do you do it? How do you become one of the fortunate ones that the cameras focus on? Well, you can become lucky. This is one way. But to improve your chances, every little kid knows you must have a catchy sign. And in almost all cases, this sign must also reference the television network that is broadcasting the game.

*For some reason, in the early 90s, those signs that used the letters of ESPN seemed original. Maybe they weren’t. But for an eight-year-old kid, it sure seemed that way.

So one year, I decided that I must be one of those kids. Must make a sign. Must be on TV. It was meant to be.

And so, I talked it over with my brother and my dad. What should the sign say?

Well, it just so happened that Kansas was playing Kansas State in the first round of the tournament. And then, it hit me. The perfect sign.

Not
Backing
Cats

Yes. It was perfect. I was all set to be on television. This would be my moment.

I brought the sign to Kemper Arena. I held it above my head proudly. I received high-fives from drunk 30-year-old men. Yea. Little man, great sign.

Success.

Of course, I didn’t appear on television that day. I think I was sitting too high up for the cameras to see me. But there was one other problem.

I would find out later that the game was definitely not broadcast on NBC.

Chapter III: The End

In 1996, the Big Eight died. The cause of death? Progress.

In an effort to keep up with the Joneses of the college world — in this case, the Big Ten and the SEC — The Big Eight added four Texas schools — Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Baylor — to the conference.

In so many ways, it was a business move. And in so many ways, it was a move based on football.

Looking back, it’s easy to say it was the right move. Save for the Gorilla that is the SEC, the Big 12 is generally considered the second-best football conference in America. And why not? It’s a conference filled with traditional powers, big-name coaches and fertile recruiting grounds.

Of course, it’s easy to forget about the Big Eight — the little power conference on the Plains.

You see, Nebraska and Oklahoma ruled the Big Eight football scene. It just worked that way. But for the most part, Big Eight basketball lived a relatively egalitarian existence. Sure, Larry Brown showed up at Kansas in the early 80s, and Kansas started to dominate.

But before that, during the 1970s and 1980s, the Big Eight was one of the deepest basketball leagues in America.

Kansas was Kansas. Missouri played tough, gritty basketball under Norm Stewart. Jack Hartman and Lon Kruger took Kansas State to five Elite Eights during a 17-year span. Legendary coach Johnny Orr rebuilt the Iowa State program. Oklahoma State had tradition. And Oklahoma had Billy Tubbs.

Perhaps that was why there was such a sense of sadness when the Big Eight ceased to exist — at least, in the way people remembered it.

I remember being at the last Big Eight Tournament in March of 1996. There was a cavalcade of emotions flowing at Kemper Arena… Sadness and Grief and Anger.

And I still remember seeing a guy wearing a shirt with the Big Eight logo on the front. And on the back it said:

“Big Eight’s great. Big 12’s a snitch. We win the titles as the Texans get rich.”

Chapter IV: The Tragedy

If you were in Kemper Arena on that day in 1995, you can still remember the silence.

Colorado star Donnie Boyce was writhing on the ground in pain. He had crumpled to the ground with a gruesome leg injury, and he would never be the same.

Today, Boyce is just a tragic footnote in the history of Big Eight basketball. But if you saw him play, he was so much more.

First, he had an intriguing backstory. He had played at Proviso East High School — near Chicago — with future NBA players Michael Finley and Sherrell Ford. They had earned the nickname the “Three Amigos” — and some have called that Proviso East squad one of the top prep teams in the history of Chicago hoops.

They were destined for greatness and fame and NBA riches.

Ford, a 6-7 forward, was the most accomplished in high school. He would go on to play at Illinois and was the 26th pick in the first round of the 1995 NBA Draft. Finley, who would go on to play at Wisconsin, would become the success story. He was drafted 21st in the NBA Draft by the Dallas Mavericks. He would play in two All-Star games and win an NBA championship with the San Antonio Spurs.

Boyce was supposed to have all that, too. But his dream ended on the floor of Kemper Arena on March 10, 1995.

Boyce’s Colorado team was playing Oklahoma — led by Big Eight player of the year Ryan Minor (see below).

Colorado was outgunned, but with Boyce, Colorado’s all-time leading scorer, the Buffs had a shot.

And then it happened. In an instant, Boyce was on the floor and the crowd was hushed. After a long delay, he was carted off the floor on a stretcher with his broken leg stabilized. And just like that, his college career was over.

He would attempt a comeback — the Atlanta Hawks would even take a flier on him in the second round of the NBA Draft. But he would never be the same. He would gimp through two non-descript NBA seasons before floating out of our memories.

Chapter V: The Memories

If you were going to make a case for the one Big Eight program that always had the most entertaining players to watch, you could easily make a case for Oklahoma.

From the great Nate Erdmann to Eduardo Najera to Hollis Price, the Sooners always had somebody worth watching.

But my favorite Oklahoma player was always Ryan Minor, a sweet shooting swingman with freakish athleticism. He’d score more than 1,900 points at Oklahoma — and he was also dominant in the video game “College Slam” for Super Nintendo.

But here’s why Minor’s name will live forever.

On Sept. 20, 1998, Orioles Hall-of-Famer Cal Ripken Jr. ended his record-breaking streak. He had played in 2,632 straight games. On that night in Baltimore, a young rookie third baseman took Ripken’s spot in the lineup. His name? Ryan Minor.

Chapter VI: The Players

Let’s have some fun with lists…

The Top Eight Players I Ever Saw At The Big Eight Tournament

8. Tony Battie, Texas Tech
7. Tyronne Lue, Nebraska
6. Jacque Vaughn, Kansas
5. Dedric Willoughby, Iowa State
4. Raef LaFrentz, Kansas
3. Bryant Reeves, Oklahoma State
2. Chauncey Billups, Colorado
1. Paul Pierce, Kansas

The Top Four Most Underrated Players I Saw At The Big Eight Tournament

4. Manny Dies, Kansas State
3. Kenny Pratt, Iowa State
2. Cookie Belcher, Nebraska
1. Eric Piatkowski*, Nebraska

*I once saw Piatkowski score 42 points in a Big Eight tournament game in 1994.

Chapter VII: The Food

Talk to a Kansas Citian long enough, and the conversation inevitably leads to barbecue. You know, Kansas Citians are a funny people. In general, they possess typical Midwestern characteristics: They’re generally humble and self deprecating. They know Kansas City is special place. And they won’t be boastful, but they’ll be protective if somebody wants to slam their hometown. In simple terms, there just aren’t many reasons for Kansas Citians to be arrogant.

The Chiefs are mediocre, the Royals a laughingstock, and city officials have struggled for decades to implement a successful public transportation system.

But there is one reason for Kansas Citians to be arrogant: barbecue.

Did you know KC has the best barbecue in the world? You didn’t? Well, lemme tell you, KC has the best barbecue in the world.

You can go to Gates and hear, “Hi, may I help you?” You can go to Oklahoma Joe’s — named by Anthony Bourdain as one of the 13 restaurants you have to eat at before you die — and you can sit in a gas station and eat the juiciest ribs in the world. And you can go to Arthur Bryant’s and eat the same great meat that has charmed presidents*.

*In 1974, writer Calvin Trillin wrote in Playboy that Arthur Bryant’s in Kansas City was “…possibly the single best restaurant in the world.”

Of course, there’s more than just barbecue in this town.

Here’s eight other classic KC establishments to visit during this week’s Big 12 tournament:

1. Fritz’s, 250 N. 18th St, – OK, so it’s not in Kansas City proper, but trust us, you can’t skip this place, where the crumbling walls go unnoticed while you wolf down a greasy Poor Dan Sr. and a creamy chocolate shake. Order your food on a phone then wait until a train brings it right to your table. Remember to grab a cardboard engineer’s hat on your way out. Choo-Choo!

2. Granfalloon, 608 Ward Parkway – The ‘Falloon has 18 High Defintion TVs for great sports viewing and the place gets hopping around midnight. But watch out: the crowds might be a little intense this weekend, and you might have to throw some elbows to make room for yourself.

3. Minsky’s Pizza, 427 Main St.- It’s not flat and big like New York pizza, deep like Chicago’s crust or disgusting like St. Louis’s awkward, thin contraption. Minsky’s is just good, classic pizza.

4. Brooksider, 6330 Brookside Plaza – The ‘Sider is what it is: A classic neighborhood bar. Grab a drink, put a dollar in the jukebox, and if you get bored, you can always walk down the street to Charlie Hooper’s.

5. Town Topic, 2121 Broadway and 1900 Baltimore- The burgers are small, greasy and filled with tiny grilled onions. Order at least two, or maybe three if you’re really hungry, and saddle up on a stool in this old-fashioned diner.

6. Blonde, 1000 Ward Parkway – Girls, put the Prada bag over your shoulder. Guys, switch your Birkenstocks for the Gucci loafers. Seriously, this is high society at its finest or most obnoxious depending on how you look at it. If you can stomach the long lines and expensive beverages, you’ll be rewarded with the most upscale crowd in town. Word is that Christina Aguilera even once stopped in for a drink.

7. McFadden’s, 1330 Grand Blvd.- It’s right across the street from the Sprint Center. Even if the only drink they serve is Strawberry Nestle Quik, this place is still too convenient to pass up.

8. Kona Grill, 444 Ward Parkway – A Country Club Plaza staple. The food can be exotic and the atmosphere is relaxing. Plus, what’s KC without a walk on the Plaza.

But here’s the question: If you were going to live out the ultimate Kansas City food fantasy — three meals in a day, breakfast, lunch and dinner — what three joints would you choose?

Here’s mine:

For breakfast, I’m booking it to John’s Space Age Donuts in downtown Overland Park. Walk into this this classic hole-in-the–wall donut shop, and you’re transported to an earlier time. Grab a Caramel Long John, smell the batter sizzling in the back, and sip on a eight-ounce carton of milk. You can also sit on a stool and listen to old men sip black coffee and talk about better days.

For lunch, I’m driving to the Plaza and sliding into a booth at Winsteads — the iconic KC joint that’s been doing burgers right since 1940. There’s nothing better than a double-Winstead with a chocolate shake.

And lastly, for dinner, I’m either going Oklahoma Joes or Arthur Bryants. Yes, this is a cop-out, but here’s the deal. I just can’t choose. But I’ll say this. For ribs, it’s Joes. For the best barbecue sandwich you’ve ever had, it’s Bryants.

Chapter VIII: The City

Still not convinced that KC is the greatest basketball city in the world?

Listen to this song…

Or better yet, listen to this one…

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Tech, tech, tech, tech, nine, nine, nine

Everyone from the Kansas City area has a Tech N9ne story.

There was one time that he showed up in the parking lot at a Saint Thomas Aquinas football game.

He arrived in a massive van, decorated with a mural of his recent album, “Absolute Power.” The car was somewhat out of place. This was St. Thomas Aquinas for a Friday night football game. The parking lot was filled with mothers’ minivans, Leawood* students’ Lexus’s and the car jockeys’ Preludes and souped-up Civics.

*My bad, I mean Leahood.

Tech N9ne styled his hair in orange dreads that night, just like on the album cover/side of the touring van. He didn’t quite fit in.

No, the car, the hair, the fact that Tech N9ne was rumored to have worshipped Satan – it all didn’t quite feel right in a parking lot in a southern Johnson County Catholic school.

But no one seemed to care. A celebrity had come to Aquinas. This was automatically big news, no matter the person. Fran Drescher could have arrived, giving out free DVD’s of “The Nanny,” and we would have thrown a parade.

And here was Tech N9ne. Tech-FREAKING-N9ne at our high school. He was famous. Yeah, he must have been famous. He was Tech N9ne.

That mattered to us.

***

I write this blog now because I just noticed that Tech N9ne has a new CD. I saw it at Best Buy in Dallas on Sunday afternoon. It’s called K.O.D., an acronym for King of Darkness. I don’t expect many people down here will buy it.

They won’t understand it. They won’t understand Tech N9ne. They’re not from Kansas City.

To us, he’s the most famous rapper to ever come out of the city, probably the most famous musician of the last 10 to 15 years, assuming you don’t count David Cook (and I don’t).

When he released his “Killer” album in 2008, Kansas City Star music critic Timothy Finn called it a classic. Jason Whitlock called it the best rap album since Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic.”

It sold 36,000 copies in its first week. That’s certainly not bad, but something hailed as a classic in Kansas City carried little weight anywhere else.

And that makes total sense.

To everyone outside of Jackson, Johnson, Cass and Douglas Counties, Tech N9ne is nothing. He’s a guy who likely seems disturbed given his album covers and song titles. He’s a guy who hasn’t appeared on MTV, who has done few songs with other reputable musicians in this decade. He’s a guy who’s not…famous.

Those of us in Kansas City don’t quite understand that.

***

There was one time a friend of my brother’s hung out with the fast crowd at Shawnee Mission South during his freshman year.

One of the passengers on this night smoked what may or may not have been an illegal substance and didn’t quite fit in with the rest of the group.

He was Tech N9ne.

This story, along with mine from the beginning, should illustrate a bigger point. Think about it. Two times, at least, Tech N9ne was spotted hanging out among people I know in Johnson County.

That doesn’t exactly help out with street cred*. And if you’re interested in becoming a famous rapper, you need street cred, something that doesn’t come easy in hip-hop.

* Whenever people say “street cred,” it’s always “cred” never “credit.” What, does it show a lack of street cred to use the word credit?

You see, rap music is strange in that lame suburbanites such as myself buy the great majority of records. So to become famous and keep your street cred you have to make music that alternately pleases this suburban crowd, yet also alienates them so as to impress the urban crowd.

This can be done in multiple ways.

One, you can include words and messages that lame suburbanites don’t quite understand. An example of this would be the famous song by Lil’ Jon, “Get Low.” He repeated a highly explicit word in the chorus that I will not write because this is a family blog. No one who lived within 10 miles of a cul de sac knew what that word meant until Dave Chappelle hilariously brought this up on his TV show, sending suburbanites scrambling to urbandictionary.com.

Two, you can glorify crime and boast of a criminal background. 50 Cent does this as well as anyone. He talks about how he was shot several times before he got famous. Every once in a while he makes sure to get accused of a minor crime for which he will get acquitted, allowing him to skate off freely yet still put on the façade that he is a gangster/thug.

Three, you can start an imaginary feud with another rapper. Just mention some obscure line that doesn’t quite call someone out, but under the right circumstances could be interpreted that way. Then, six months later, declare that “the beef is on wax,” meaning it was all in good fun and won’t lead to any real fighting.

Tech N9ne didn’t pull this off. At the beginning of his career, he rapped about more standard topics such as repping his neighborhood and visiting far away hoods.

Then he dyed his hair orange. Then he wrote songs like “Slacker” and deeper, almost scary songs like “This Ring.” Then he started showing up in St. Thomas Aquinas parking lots and Shawnee Mission South social functions.

He didn’t hang around 56th and Highland too often.

He made moves that were innovative and bold, but in rap music, where clichés and catchy, formulaic hooks equal money, that’s not how you become famous.

***
Kansas City always wanted Tech N9ne to break through.

Maybe it was because of the way he uttered the name of our city in nearly every song, not to mention outlying places like Lawrence and Cameron, Mo. Maybe it was because he invented or at least popularized the drink, Caribou Lou*.

*That’s 151, Malibu Rum and pineapple juice. And if you are to listen to Tech, you can’t get the party started without it.

Maybe it was because no famous musicians (again, I’m not counting David Cook) have come from Kansas City since the Jazz age.
We knew we couldn’t compete with LA or New York, but other Midwest cities had their artists.

St. Louis had Nelly and even a one-hit wonder from J-Kwon. Omaha had 311. Chicago had Common and Kanye. Denver had India.Arie.

We knew Tech N9ne was our opportunity. So we built him up. We imagined that “I’m A Playa” would be a perfect club anthem, and that yes, the album “Killer” could be a classic.

In the ears of outsiders, the lyrics and beats didn’t sound the same. I remember asking people who lived at my dorm my freshman year in college about Tech N9ne. I would always get the same response. Yeah, he’s OK.

Tech N9ne is OK. That’s the prevailing opinion, not that he is too out there or that he doesn’t have enough street cred, and it leads into the final Tech N9ne story.

There was one time a reporter from Yahoo conducted a Q&A session with Aqib Talib during KU’s dream football season of 2007.
He asked him about the year, asked him about his daughter, asked him about coach Mangino and asked him about music and Tech N9ne.

“Yeah, he’s a Kansas City guy,” Talib said. “I haven’t gotten into him yet. I haven’t lived up here long enough.”

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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.

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