Tag Archives: Royals

On Al Borland singing God Bless America at the Royals’ home opener

I wrote about this on Facebook the other day. But that just didn’t seem sufficient.

On Friday afternoon, the Royals played the Cleveland Indians at Kauffman Stadium in their 2012 home opener. There was a flyover, and pageantry, and one of those big, damn American flags. The Royals — as they are wont to do — got blitzed 8-3.

But here’s the moment, the scene that sparked the Facebook post (the scene that is tempting me to write a 25,000 word screenplay): Al Borland showed up at Kauffman Stadium to sing “God Bless America.”

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The Bar

You take a sip from a small glass and look at the television set in the corner of the bar.

It is small and black, one of those models that used to be in everybody’s living room in 1994, and it shows you Eric Hosmer’s nearly flawless swing.

Across the room, past the rough wooden floor, a 20-something musician stands at a microphone and says: This is a song about “Saturn.”

You take another sip, and stretch your legs out, feeling your hamstrings extend like an according. It is just past 11 p.m., a Monday night in Kansas City, and the music is just beginning. Continue reading

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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.

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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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Jersey bores in Kansas City

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.

For example…

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**.

*Have a happy, happy, happy, happy, Hanukkah!

**And a Festivus for the rest of us…

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.

Matt Cassell?

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.

Poor kid.

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.

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