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?