I thought I’d say a few words about the power of sports

When I heard about the passing of Yordano Ventura, at first I wasn’t sure the headline I saw was accurate or true.  A quick Google search proved that it was, and my emotions ran from disbelief to shock, then quickly to sadness.  Obviously, I didn’t know Ventura personally, never met him in person, and had he opted to do something with his life other than play baseball, would likely never have heard of him.  Even knowing all this, upon reading the news of his death, I couldn’t help but feel a genuine sense of loss.  After all, I had watched this young man pitch through some of the best seasons I’ve had the privilege to watch as a Royals fan.  In spite of his temper (or maybe because of it), he was a fan favorite in Kansas City, and many of his fans continue to grieve as the week goes on.

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It’s one of those events that gets me thinking about baseball, about sports in general, and its role in our world.  When the Chicago Cubs visited the White House last week, Barack Obama commented, “Throughout our history, sports has had this power to bring us together even when the country is divided.”  The fact that baseball’s popularity grew exponentially following the American Civil War is a testament to this.  During both World War I and World War II, baseball became a form of entertainment that provided Americans a much-needed escape from the realities of being a nation at war.  Jackie Robinson’s journey into the history books shows that baseball can even impact the social climate of our country.

For me, personally, the world of sports continues to provide a sense of balance and purpose to my day-to-day life.  I am a notoriously active person, which helps to offset the forty-plus hours a week I spend sitting at a desk at work.  I love the competition of running road races, the challenge of tackling obstacle course races, and the feeling of accomplishment when I have become strong enough to need to go out and buy a new set of dumbbells.  In the past, I’ve slid into bases, played tackle football in the backyard with my brothers, and had my ass kicked in martial arts studios.  The benefits to my physical and mental health are too numerous to list here (though that might be a worthwhile topic for a future post? We’ll see…).  Then, when the workday is done and the chores are finished and the day’s workout is completed, there’s the escape of turning on a Royals game or a Packers game and getting lost in watching others compete while I unwind.

For kids and adults alike, there are organized recreational teams to encourage a sense of community as well as to promote our overall well-being.  And, again, we also find community in the teams we root for (or against), and in the time we can spend in watching those teams and players compete.  We become so engrossed with these games that we become emotionally involved in them.  We sometimes become obsessed.  We track our favorite players, we feel anxiety or elation over the performances of our teams, we buy their jerseys and wear caps bearing their logos and we do so with pride.  Hell, the Super Bowl has become such a big deal that we throw house parties, complete with booze and a junk food feast, sometimes just so we can watch the commercials.

The death of Yordano Ventura revealed the incredible sense of community among Royals fans.  The way my Facebook feed exploded with shock and grief revealed just how profound an impact this one man playing for this one team really had.  The tributes in memory of Ventura made at Kauffman Stadium are overflowing onto the parking lot.  Baseball, and sports in general, they mean something to us, and they impact us on a deeper level than we oftentimes acknowledge.  In a time of tremendous political and social turmoil in our country, maybe it is time for sports, whether it is baseball or football or hockey or whatever, to exercise its power of healing yet again.


RIP Yordano Ventura

I have no words…

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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.

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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.

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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.


Lawrie versus the Royals

In case you missed it, things certainly got interesting between the Royals and the Athletics over the weekend.  It all started with a high slide into second base by A’s third baseman Brett Lawrie, which sprained the knee of Alcides Escobar.  There has been much speculation as to whether or not Lawrie was deliberately trying to take out Escobar.  Watching Sunday afternoon’s game on television, the consensus by Royals broadcasters seems to be that a slide like that can only be intentional.  Lawrie, of course, insists that he was just playing the game:

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We may never know the true story behind the incident, but whatever his intentions were, Lawrie’s slide sparked a firestorm of animosity between the two teams.  I had the pleasure of attending Saturday night’s game and experiencing first-hand the overwhelming disdain of the crowd for Lawrie.  Any time his name was mentioned, every trip to the plate, every defensive play that he made received a booing that makes Kim Jong Un look popular.  Then, in the midst of a disastrous top of the fourth, Yordano Ventura beaned Lawrie, and the benches cleared as the crowd roared its approval:

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No punches were thrown, but being in the crowd as this all transpired proved to be an eye-opening experience.  I’ve experienced the vindictiveness of Kansas City fans at Chiefs games, but when it comes to Royals games, I had never seen the crowd act so maliciously.  Then again, up until last year, every Royals game I had ever attended featured a sparse crowd, and certainly not this level of drama.  Even after he was plunked once, the folks around me were screaming for another beaning in Lawrie’s next plate appearance.  As harsh as it seems, it’s not hard to understand the feelings of the fans or the Royals.  Escobar is a fan favorite in Kansas City, and nobody wants to see a beloved player removed from the lineup under such suspicious circumstances.

Unfortunately, the Royals never recovered from that disastrous inning and lost Saturday’s game in an embarrassingly uninteresting fashion.  It was the drama and receipt of the replica AL Champions trophy that kept the trip from being a bust:

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Sunday afternoon’s game proved no less interesting where the drama was concerned.  Lorenzo Cain was hit by a pitch in the bottom of the first, and Kelvin Herrera threw a pitch behind Lawrie in retaliation during the eighth inning.  By the time the game was through, Royals manager Ned Yost, pitching coach Dave Eiland, bench coach Don Wakamatsu, Alcides Escobar, and Kelvin Herrera had all been ejected from the game.  On the plus side, the Royals rallied in the bottom of the eighth inning to break a 2-2 tie and win the game and, thus, the series.

The Royals and the A’s next play each other on June 26th in Oakland.  It will be interesting to see whether this all carries over.