The end of the regular season

This past weekend saw the conclusion of the 2017 MLB regular season.  Today, there is no baseball.  Tomorrow, October 3rd, the Twins will be in New York to take on the Yankees for the American League Wild Card.  Then on Wednesday, October 4th, the Rockies are headed to Arizona to compete with the Diamondbacks for the National League Wild Card.

The postseason has begun.

For my team, the Kansas City Royals, there is no postseason this year.  And with the futures of players such as Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer now up in the air, things are definitely changing.

 

Hosmer Moose

Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas (Instagram: kcroyals)

Ned Yost has agreed to return for one more year, and mainstay Alex Gordon is signed for a few more years, but Royals fans are in agreement: we are at the end of an era.

I just hope we aren’t staring down the barrel of another 30-year stretch of “rebuilding.”

 

 


May the 4th be with you…

Happy Star Wars Day!  Geeks and nerds across the nation and in MLB stadiums everywhere will be dressing up like their favorite characters today.  Some teams even will have some cool Star Wars-themed giveaways, such as this Alex Gordon Jedi bobblehead the Royals gave out a couple years ago.

jedi-alex-gordon-bobblehead-kansas-city-royals

There will be no giveaway at the K tonight, though no doubt numerous fans will show up in their favorite Han Solo, Chewbacca, or other Star Wars character getups.  Many teams don’t keep their Star Wars-related giveaways exclusive to May 4th, but rather, you can find little giveaways here and there throughout the year.  I won’t be dressing up as Princess Leia or anything today, but hoping the Royals win tonight, I am.

yoda dodgers hat


Oracle of Baseball

Here’s a fun little tool available from Baseball-Reference.com.  The Oracle of Baseball is very much like the idea of Six Degrees of Separation (or Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, if you will), except it focuses on baseball players!  You can type in the names of two baseball players, and the site will spit back a chain of teammates that connect them to one another.  For example, one pair of players I tried out was Dizzy Dean and Sammy Sosa, and result came back as follows:

Dizzy Dean played with Phil Cavarretta for the 1938 Chicago Cubs
Phil Cavarretta played with Minnie Minoso for the 1954 Chicago White Sox
Minnie Minoso played with Richard Dotson for the 1980 Chicago White Sox
Richard Dotson played with Sammy Sosa for the 1989 Chicago White Sox

I’ve tried several pairs, and so far, the longest chain I’ve found was a mere two links longer than the one above (Fred Merkle and Alex Gordon).  It’s really quite stunning how interconnected the baseball world really is.

Here’s the link, if you wanna try it out yourself: http://www.baseball-reference.com/oracle/.  Have fun!


2015 World Series thoughts

For the World Series this year, I decided to do something I’ve never done, and I scribbled down some thoughts/notes about the games as they were being played.  Granted, I didn’t jot down every single thought that popped into my head as the Series went on — I’d have a small novel on my hands if I did — but rather, I focused on moments that seemed (relatively) big or interesting to me at the time.

I will mention a couple things about this note compilation, however: First, for anyone who isn’t already aware, I have been a Royals fan since I was ten years old, and that bias is all over these comments.  Honestly, I don’t think I could’ve been objective about this World Series if I tried.  You’ve been warned.

Second, one note that I nearly made over and over again, though I managed to restrain myself, was a thought about the broadcasters of the game.  More specifically, my wish that we could just cut out all commentary and keep it strictly to the play-by-play and statistics.  For example, how many times did we really need to question the decision to allow Harvey to return for the ninth inning in Game 5?  Mention it once, maybe twice, then move the hell on already.

*

GAME ONE
~ Escobar with the inside-the-park home run!  Awesome start to the Series.  Wish I knew what happened to those guys out in that outfield.
~ FOX with the technical difficulties.  WTF?
~ Granderson homer… ouch.  Mets up 2-1.
~ Some impressive defense in this game.  From both sides.
~ Zobrist doing a fun little tarantella out on the base paths against Harvey.
~ RBI Moooooose!  3-3 tie after six innings.
~ Volquez’s father passed away prior to the game?  Oh man, that’s tough.
~ Misplay by Hosmer.  Nooooooooooooo……. 4-3.
~ Gotta figure out that Clippard change up.
~ Glad we got replay back for that caught stealing.
~ Bottom of the 9th.  Time for a rally!
~ GORDO!!!!
~ Aaaand… into extra innings.  Wouldn’t be a Royals game if it didn’t get interesting late.
~ I have a feeling I won’t be getting much sleep throughout this Series.
~ Hos redeems himself!  What a game.  14 innings, 5-4 Royals!

GAME TWO
~ Sure hope the effective Cueto shows up tonight.
~ I think deGrom has more hair than I do.  Cueto definitely does.
~ Low strike zone tonight.  Will make things interesting.
~ What’s up with all the throwback photos in this WS?
~ Bats finally come alive in the 4th.
~ Rally!  Royals up 4-1 after five.
~ Cueto still looking good.  Thank goodness.
~ Another rally in the 8th!  7-1 Royals.
~ Complete game two-hitter!  Sure wish this version of Cueto would show up more consistently.

GAME THREE
~ Can’t say I’m surprised that Syndergaard would throw at Escobar’s head, but it’s still dirty as hell.
~ Blown coverage at first.  Early Royals lead!
~ And a homer by David Wright.  2-1, Mets on top.
~ Wow, Salvy broke two bats in that AB.
~ Holy smokes, Ventura has some wheels.
~ Royals back up 3-2 after two innings.
~ Homer by Granderson puts Mets up 4-3.  This game is crazy.
~ Raul Mondesi becomes the first player in history to make his Major League debut in the World Series.
~ Morales doesn’t know where to throw the ball — should’ve just gone to first if he didn’t know.
~ Ouch.  Mets up after 6 innings, 9-3.
~ And that’s the final score.  Mets dominate.

GAME FOUR
~ Mets score first in the bottom of the 3rd on a Conforto homer.
~ Rios forgetting how many outs there are.  No room for mental errors in the World Series…
~ Gordon RBI to put the Royals on the board.  2-1 in the middle of the fifth.
~ Score stands at 3-2 after seven innings.  Royals need a rally.
~ Error by Murphy!  Tie game!
~ RBI Mooooose!!
~ And Salvy follows up with an RBI of his own!  Royals up 5-3.
~ After a much-too-exciting ninth, Royals hang on!  Now leading the Series 3 games to 1.

GAME FIVE
~ Mets strike first with a Granderson homer.
~ Volquez gets a hit!  Nice.
~ Save for the homer, both pitchers are rockin’ it tonight.  Harvey looks especially sharp.
~ Still 1-0 after five.  What a game.
~ Volquez escapes a jam giving up only one run.  2-0, Mets, after six.
~ Royals tie it in the top of the ninth!!
~ And now into extra innings…
~ Dyson scores in the twelfth!  Royals up 3-2.
~ Royals now up 7-2 in the middle of the 12th inning…!!!
~ And that’s the game!!  ROYALS!!!!!!!  Fireworks already going off here in town.  There is no way I’m going to sleep tonight.

*

As a follow-up I managed to get about 3-4 hours of sleep before I had to get back up for work on Monday morning, but the lack of sleep didn’t really affect me.  Even now, I’m still running on the adrenal high of it all.  In my baseball literature class yesterday, we didn’t discuss literature at all — the conversation revolved completely around the Series and the playoffs as a whole.

The decision to name Salvador Pérez the Series MVP, I think, was a good one.  To be honest, had I been asked to make the decision, I don’t know whom I would have chosen.  The thing about the Royals is that they really don’t have a superstar, no single, go-to player in their lineup.  Several players made significant contributions to their success.  I do believe Salvy was an appropriate choice in the end due to his work with the pitchers especially.  Watching him work with the Kansas City pitchers is impressive to behold.  He clearly has a rapport with all of them, and serves as a calming influence when things start getting out of hand.  The fact that he’s bilingual allows him to do this with the entire staff.  Furthermore, I’m impressed by his ability to take a beating and yet continue to play well.  Multiple times throughout the month of October, I found myself worrying that the latest foul ball off his body would take him out of the lineup, and yet he persisted.

All in all, this note jotting exercise proved an interesting experience.  And reading back over my random scribbles, it feels like fast-forwarding through the games all over again.  I had considered keeping score throughout the Series, but decided I would become too excited to stick with it, and I think that was probably a good call.  The notes, however, were perfect.


Injuries and inside-the-parkers

It’s not every day that we see an inside-the-park home run, but Jarrod Dyson managed to pull one off a couple nights ago against the Tampa Bay Rays.  In some ways, it was kind of a bittersweet moment, because the reason Dyson entered the game in the first place was due to an injury to Alex Gordon that will keep Gordon out of the Royals lineup for the next two months.

You get kind of a funny pit in your stomach when you see such a great player go down like that.  It was one of those moments that had me feeling like this:

Of course, if you’re Dyson, this is an excellent time to do things to help solidify your position in the lineup, and an inside-the-park home run is a good way to make a statement.  It takes him all of fourteen seconds to round the bases in this awesome display of speed.

So congratulations to Dyson and the Royals as they continue to expand their lead in the AL Central!  Fingers crossed that it continues even after the All-Star break.


Reflections on the Royals’ 2014 season

The last few moments of the 2014 Royals season didn’t turn out the way that I hoped that they would.  Indeed, falling a mere ninety feet from tying up Game 7 of the World Series proved heartbreaking as a Royals fan, especially considering that, in the twenty years that I have rooted for this team, this is the first season in which they even achieved a playoff berth.  The last time they did so, I wasn’t old enough to even grasp the concept, much less to root for a team.

I didn’t make it to as many games as I would have liked this past summer, but each trip to the K remains as memorable as ever.  As the season progressed, and the Royals continued to hold their own, bouncing between first and second place in the division, I watched the crowd at Kauffman grow increasingly larger and more rambunctious.  I’m generally a pretty introverted person, but there is something about a stadium full of people cheering devotedly for its team that evokes a sense of solidarity in me.  I had the privilege of attending Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, and never before in my life had I seen so much blue in one place.  That, combined with the energy that emanated from the crowd, made me fall in love with the stadium and the Royals all over again.

As the regular season came to an end, I found myself checking the standings daily, sometimes more.  The Royals had a shot at winning the division, but if they didn’t, it was also a close race in the fight for a Wild Card spot.  When the Royals made the Wild Card, I cheered at the prospect of a “Blue October,” not realizing just how true this prediction would become.

My October flooded with late nights, which culminated in exhaustion as I no longer slept enough each night.  Many times, especially when games went into extra innings, my adrenaline would get pumping so hard that, even when the final out was made or the winning run was scored, I wouldn’t be able to sleep right away.  I exchanged numerous excited texts, phone calls, and emails with friends and family as the Royals not only won the Wild Card, but went on to sweet the Angels and the Orioles, en route to their first World Series in almost thirty years.

When the World Series won, I prayed that the Royals’ winning streak would continue, but was unsurprised when it did not.  Streaks, as we all know, are fickle, and they are always broken sooner or later.  The roller coaster of the series as a whole put me on the edge of my seat throughout.  When the Giants took a 3-2 lead, I found myself filled with a curious combination of dread and confidence.  When the Royals came back in Game 6 with a whopping 10-0 victory, I knew that Game 7, with the possibility of Madison Bumgarner making an appearance out of the bullpen, would be close.  I just hoped that Bumgarner would be too exhausted following his complete game performance in Game 5 to pitch more than an inning or two.

This is where I, and the Royals, fell short.  Once again, Bumgarner wowed the baseball world with a first-class performance, and the Royals simply could not figure out how to make anything happen offensively.  When Alex Gordon landed on third base with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, I started to shake with hope and anxiety.  Surely Salvador Perez could pull off the late-inning heroics just one more time, right?  But, alas, it was not to be, as Salvi popped out to end this amazing run of a season.

I turned off the television immediately following the final out of the game, having no desire to have the loss drilled in any deeper, but come Thursday morning, I was pleased to learn that fans in attendance at the K had broken out in a chant of, “Thank you, Royals!”  It truly was a season to remember, and while I have been a baseball fan for most of my life, my love for the game increased two-fold this year.  And, yes, I have the Kansas City Royals to thank for that.

Kauffman Stadium during the National Anthem, ALCS Game 3

Kauffman Stadium during the National Anthem, ALCS Game 3


Dressing up for a career day

Kansas City Royals

The Royals have had a roller coaster of a season thus far, comprising of a few sharp ups and a lot of downs.  They had just climbed their way back to .500 going into yesterday’s game, the finale of a four-game series against the Baltimore Orioles at Kauffman Stadium.  They could no longer win the series, having fallen behind 2-1, but I hoped at least for a 2-2 split and a return to a winning record.

The Royals had a couple promotions going on at the K: “Dressed to the Nines” to salute the 1920s, which encouraged fans to dress in their Sunday best at the ballpark; and a salute to the Negro Leagues, in which the Royals wore Kansas City Monarchs uniforms, and the Orioles dressed as the Baltimore Black Sox.  Fans arriving early received a fedora in celebration of both these tributes.  It felt like a costume party in some ways (and, really, I suppose it was), seeing the grounds crew in suspenders and fans in three-piece suits and sun dresses.

Monarchs fedora

The weather created a perfect day for baseball: warm sunlight and a cool breeze — perfect for dressing up or for the t-shirt and jeans combo worn by lazy folk like us.  When the air stilled, we could feel our skin grow hot under the sun, but when the breeze picked up, goosebumps emerged.  It never grew too hot nor too cool.  We picked up our Kansas City Monarchs fedoras at the gate and climbed on up to the cheap seats.  A mere crowd of 22,000 showed up at the K for the game, and those fans who had opted out in favor of other plans missed out on a spectacular show.

Leading the team to victory with two three-run home runs, Alex Gordon had what writers and commentators are calling a “career day.”  And why not?  In addition to his six RBIs, Gordon went 4-for-4 and made a spectacular defensive catch, crashing, once again, into the wall in left field.  He fully deserved the curtain call demanded by the crowd following his second homer.  The novelty of the moment struck me as well, for while I have seen deserving performances on television on multiple occasions, Gordon’s curtain call yesterday became the first I’ve ever witnessed in person.

Things became interesting in the top of the ninth, however.  With the Royals up 8-3, Aaron Crow took the mound to close out the game.  What should have been an easy nail in the coffin turned into a nail biter, as a walk and a single set the table for Adam Jones to hit a three-run home run of his own.  With the score now at 8-6, Crow was out, and the Royals brought in Greg Hollander, Royals capwho drew the final two outs for the save and the victory.

I’m generally not a superstitious individual, but I feel it worth a mention that the Royals have won the last four games that I have attended.  I attribute this success to my lucky black Royals cap, which I actually picked up at a game as a promotional giveaway more than ten years ago.  I have a couple other Royals caps that I could wear to games that I attend, but they say you should never mess with a winning streak.  The black cap will continue to go to games with me until this streak ends.

 


Analogies of baseball and life

The aroma of hot dogs and brats on the grill greeted my nose as my shoes hit the asphalt of the parking lot.  I arrived at the Truman Sports Complex after the hour-long trip from my home in eastern Kansas, parking in front of Arrowhead Stadium.  The red and white sign reading “CHIEFS” glared down at me, beckoning, but I had another destination.  I turned south and joined the streams of fans trickling towards neighboring Kauffman Stadium.

The Royals were in the midst of a hot streak with four straight wins.  It was a much-needed respite from the struggles of the early weeks of the season, through which many of Kansas City’s disgruntled fans had lost faith, once again, in this oh-so-promising-but-not-quite-there team.  On this Saturday, I finally made it in for my first game of the season, still hopeful — always hopeful — that the streak will not only continue, but will spark an exciting, playoff-bound season.

At the gate, friendly, but determined, staff members waited, armed with a barricade of tables and metal detector wands.  Standing in line, I recalled news reports about the incident in 2000, when someone fired three random shots into Kauffman Stadium during a game between the Royals and the Pirates, allegedly firing from I-70.  One shot hit an empty seat in the upper deck, and another shot hit the back of the scoreboard.

The third shot, however, hit a woman in the lower deck.  That woman sued the Royals for not ensuring that no guns made it into the stadium, in spite of the evidence that the shots came from without.  The Royals managed to settle with the woman.  However, the after-effects of this and other incidents throughout the country continue to show today in the form of these security checks.

Arriving at the front of the line, I set my ball cap, media guide, and the contents of my pockets on the table and followed the routine of holding my arms out to allow the staff member to pass the wand over both the front and back of my person.  As I collected my belongings and refilled my pockets, I was astonished to hear a bright, “Hi, Precious!”

Working the turnstiles stood one of my high school math teachers.  I recalled that, even when I was still in high school, she worked Royals games during the summers.  Honestly, it seems strange that I never bumped into her at the K before Saturday.  We caught up a bit — as much as seems appropriate when you haven’t seen someone for over a decade and a line of ticket-holders stands behind you — and I continued on into the stadium.

A swirl of people, food, voices, music, and paraphernalia bombarded my senses.  I found my seat, way up in the upper deck over left field.  Sitting down, I remembered why I love going to the ballpark so much.  I felt a sense of calm in my seat, especially with an hour  remaining to game time, but also a sense of anticipation.  Americans have a variety of different reasons for going out to watch a baseball game.  Some go out of a sense of duty to root for the home club.  Some go for the sake of entertainment or out of a sense of boredom.  Others go because their friends extended an invitation, and it is the “cool” or “in” thing to do at the moment.  And some go purely because they love baseball.  I like to think that I fall into this last category.

Pre-game batting practice at Kauffman Stadium

The game wasn’t a clean or pretty one.  After giving up two runs to the Minnesota Twins in the early innings, the Royals rallied to score five runs in the bottom of the fourth.  In the top of the fifth, they gave up two more, which put fans from both sides on edge for the rest of the game.  Alex Gordon continued his hot streak with three hits, and Billy Butler continued his climb out of a slow start by collecting two hits of his own.  Danny Duffy, meanwhile, continued his dominance coming out of the bullpen.  No more runs crossed the plate after the fifth inning, and the Royals won 5-4.

The radio talk show I listened to following the game pretty much nailed it: the Twins’ shoddy defense gave the Royals the victory.  From a missed catch in the outfield to an overthrown ball in an attempt to stop a double-steal, the Twins could not seem to find their stride with the leather.

Twins fans sat in the row in front of me as well as in the row behind me, which made for an interesting dynamic.  Depending on the events of the contest, one section of the stands grew quiet while the other cheered and clapped.  Several rows below me, a group of young men in the midst of a bachelor’s party became intermittently rowdy throughout the game.  And, of course, Kauffman Stadium provided all kinds of other entertainment, from food to music to hot dog races (I love rooting for Ketchup, and Ketchup won that day!) to all kinds of other contests and silly games.  While the purist in me wishes the focus would remain solely on baseball, even I can’t deny that the ballpark provides pretty catchy entertainment between innings.

The victory brought the Royals to a five-game winning streak and put them in a virtual tie for first place in the AL Central.  The high of it all proved short-lived, however, as they lost game three to the Twins on Sunday, 8-3, in a particularly brutal affair.  The same radio show that held my attention after Saturday’s game ranted about the fickleness of fans, and how baseball, like life, would always have its ups and downs.  Sure, there might be a bad game or a bad week, but ball clubs, just like people, don’t just throw in the towel because of that.  You keep fighting to improve.  And, who knows?  You just might look around one day and find yourself in first place, even if just for a little while.


On obtaining my first baseball

Gordo2

We interrupt our regular programming for this brief post of pure self-indulgence.

A friend and I attended the Mariners-Royals game in Kansas City two nights ago.  For the last run of Wednesday home games for the Royals, Kauffman Stadium has set aside a section of seats dubbed “GordoNation,” a fan section devoted to KC’s All-Star left fielder Alex Gordon. In addition to a seat right by Gordon’s defensive stomping grounds, fans in the section receive a GordoNation T-shirt, which, as you can see, is a pretty nifty piece of apparel. Last night, however, I received a bonus souvenir when, after his warm-up tosses prior to the top of one of the earlier innings, Gordon tossed his baseball into the crowd off to my right. The ball bounced from fan to fan, juggled amongst futile attempts to grab it. Before I even had a chance to fully grasp what was going on, I realized that the ball had started rolling slowly away from the crowd and right towards me.

Without hesitating, I scooped it up, and the flurry of excitement of the crowd to my right ended in a groan. My first Major League baseball. I was so pleased that I could feel myself grinning like a goofus as I ran my fingers over the laces of my latest souvenir. Unfortunately, the Royals lost 6-4 that night, as Aaron Crow gave up a two-run home run in the top of the ninth, breaking the 4-4 tie. But at least I didn’t walk away empty-handed!