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…or what happens when family meets work meets severe weather meets baseball…

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I Have Seen…The Baseball Promised Land

Kansas City Royals catcher Drew Butera and Wade Davis celebrate after Game 5 of the Major League Baseball World Series against the New York Mets Monday, Nov. 2, 2015, in New York. The Royals won 7-2 to win the series. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Royals catcher Drew Butera and Wade Davis celebrate after Game 5 of the Major League Baseball World Series against the New York Mets Monday, Nov. 2, 2015, in New York. The Royals won 7-2 to win the series. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Eleven years ago, my wife Ginny and I had our first formal date as a couple. I asked her to a Kansas City Royals game against Cleveland and I was pleasantly surprised when she accepted.

The Royals were bad that year, miserable bad, sweat-on-sunburn-painful bad. Bad enough where outfielders looked at each other during a fly ball, jogged in for the third out and had the ball land behind them. Bad enough where a first baseman got eaten up by a tarp…not really, but you get the picture. Bad enough where fireworks were touched off when a batter walked. (OK, they didn’t all happen that year, but after a while the cumulative effect just rolls together into one mind-numbing nightmare lowlight). Bad enough where our attention wasn’t on the game but on developing the Ballad of Coco Crisp. I forget how that goes.

Last night, shortly before midnight, we cuddled up on a couch and watched Wade Davis close out the New York Mets for a World Series crown.

And what a crown. And what a team.

The never-say-die attitude of the Royals was discussed at length, especially as the comebacks started to mount. The reasons behind the comebacks were also given a lot of air time as the World Series continued and eventually culminated. One of the reasons I haven’t heard mentioned, especially about the Royals hitters, was what can best be described a lack of baseball ego. Think about it. The Royals sometimes had some pretty poor at-bats early in playoff games this year, but go back and follow the ABs in pivotal situations. There were very few wasted plate appearances, very few wasted swings, even if they weren’t all productive.

Dale Sveum’s “keep the line moving approach” demands that hitters make contact as often as possible. But it dictates an unselfishness among batters, urging them to put their individual wishes aside for “the big hit” — namely home runs — for the greater good of a hit, a baserunner, an increase in pressure on the defending team.

Under that pressure, Royals opponents cracked, buckled and eventually caved.

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Look at the Mets as a classic example. Look at how the deciding rallies started in Games 1, 4 and 5 to prove the point. Rushing on defense led to critical errors, setting the table for possible victories — but the Royals also took advantage, which is the big thing (and what had a lot of us worrying about the team’s postseason fate back in September when KC wasn’t finishing off teams).

The Royals weren’t clean by any means in this World Series — two potentially costly errors by Gold Glover Eric Hosmer and a fielding brain fart by pitcher Franklin Morales that locked up the Mets’ only win. Doesn’t matter. Not with this team.

As an aside, I have to credit the Fox broadcast team for their Game 5 coverage. As unabashedly biased as Game 1’s play-by-play went, the crew of Joe Buck, Harold Reynolds and Tom Verducci changed their tune by Game 5 and were about as fair and balanced as you can get. Kudos there.

Back to the team that matters.

This was a team that has been labeled as destined to win, and not just because of what outfielder Alex Gordon called a cockroach-like inability to go away. It was a team brought together by the heartbreak of losing the World Series last year and fused by the unfortunate passing of Mike Moustakas’ mother and Chris Young’s and Edinson Volquez’s fathers. The word team often blends into the word family when it comes to championship-level sports. The Royals embody that blend perhaps better than any time I have followed for a long time, in part due to the losses that matter on the scoreboard and the losses that matter in life.

Speaking of the on-field losses, it was less than three years ago that Royals fans had enough of the team’s current direction. Myself included. And honestly, it was hard to blame us. Starting in 1995, the Royals dove into one of the most inept stretches of baseball, losing 90 or more games almost every season, looking bad on the field and lost off it. Starting the 2013 season, the Royals had to use a second-half shove to get into the playoff picture and give fans some hope General Manager Dayton Moore’s “Process” and Manager Ned Yost’s crustiness were worth supporting. Both were just about the door if the Royals had another lifeless summer.

If you want to look back, that walkoff grand slam hit by Justin Maxwell against Texas — one of the best non-playoff baseball moments I’ve ever seen, in person or on TV — was a feelgood moment to essentially end the 2013 season. But it also served as a precursor to what we saw this year.

If you want to look back, the 2014 Wild Card game was yet another prelude.

And now there’s no need to look back.

I was 14 when the Kansas City Royals slid past St. Louis in the 1985 World Series. Say what you want about the Don Denkinger call in Game 6 that year, but the Cardinals flat melted down in that inning and throughout Game 7. The Royals’ core from that team didn’t completely end its useful baseball life for several years, so I thought at least one more playoff push was in the cards. It wasn’t. Not for a loooong time. The team then got so bad and the front office so clueless I thought I would never see another title.

This must have been what the Israelites felt some 3,000 years ago criscrossing the Palestinian desert and then being told The Promised Land was in sight. It wasn’t 40 years in the desert, but three decades of mainly rudderless direction is plenty long enough.

There are a ton of questions about the 2016 Royals. Can KC re-sign Gordon to a deal and get Ben Zobrist on board for another year or two? How will the Royals handle Danny Duffy and replace Johnny Cueto? Can the Royals reclaim their magic from this year?

Right now, it doesn’t matter. I and millions of Royals fans have finally seen the baseball promised land.

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Royals Keep Steamrolling to a Title (First Takes and Second Helpings: Oct. 29, 2015)

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Various and sundry thoughts while mulling the end of a vacation week…

  1. The Kansas City Royals are primed to win the World Series. That’s something I didn’t expect at the start of the regular season, and it’s certainly something I didn’t expect after the Royals dug themselves a massive hole in the American League Division Series Game 4 against Houston. One thing that has highlighted this season is an ability to get big at-bats at big times, and that trend has been in full evidence against the New York Mets in the first two World Series games. The Mets rotation is designed to miss bats. The Royals hitters are now designed not to miss pitches, especially those in the strike zone. Mets pitchers are losing this battle in a big way. The other thing in the Royals’ favor has been underrated starting pitching. Edinson Volquez was every bit the equal of Matt Harvey in Game 1, and Johnny Cueto (and I can’t believe I’m typing this) simply outpitched Jacob deGrom in Game 2.It just has to be the nails.

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    After the All-Star break, while Ginny and Bella were getting their nails painted, my foster son asked whether I’d get my nails done. I said I’d get mine painted blue if the Royals got back to the World Series. Lo and behold, they did. And I had to remind the ladies of the home about this. Typically, I’m the one having to field the reminder on just about everything. Anyways, Bella was pretty giddy about getting to paint Daddy’s nails. As far as the on-field results, so far, so good. Just waiting to see what happens when I chip a nail.

  2. If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything. Therefore, this will be the only mention of Joe Buck’s broadcasting, um, style, excellence, high-priced waste of air space in this blog post. I gladly utilized the six to eight seconds of delay between KVOE’s feed of the ESPN Radio coverage and the Fox TV picture for Game 2. It hurts the brain somewhat with that approach, but it sure eases the mind when you know you have an unbiased broadcast at the national level.joe

    I just love how, according to Mr. Buck, Harvey was the perfect pitcher for the Mets to start the World Series…and then how deGrom was the perfect guy to get a win for the Mets in Game 2 after they lost in crushing fashion in Game 1. Well, obviously they weren’t because the Mets are down 2-0 for the aforementioned reasons. There weren’t any perfect Royals starters to be part of the World Series, the way it appears. Funny how that works out. And it’s funny how the backhanded compliments — “and those Royals, nobody knows how they do it” — just enhance the fact that they, not the other team are doing it in emphatic fashion.

  3. Man, does Emporia State football have a big one coming up. And not against Northwest Missouri on Nov. 7. Archrival Washburn comes calling — on Halloween Day, mind you.10895870235_452fc42ba9_b

    If you wanted an example of inconsistency, the Ichabods would be about as good an example as you could get this season. Defeat Pittsburg State, ranked in the top 15 at the time, lose to bottom-dweller Lindenwood. Defeat Missouri Western, a longtime powerhouse in the conference before quarterback injuries hamstrung the offense over the past four weeks, lose to Central Oklahoma, a team finding its way after being the pleasant surprise in the MIAA last year. A ton is at stake for the Hornets, who at 7-1 can still get into the playoffs with two losses — and just about everybody expects ESU to lose at Northwest Missouri. Losing to Washburn and to NWMSU, though, and it’s just about curtains for any postseason hopes.

    It’s your archrival. Weird things happen against your archrival, especially in games where you should win — as Emporia State should on Saturday. It’s Halloween Day, the day of weird things. Hopefully the Hornets take all the strangeness out of the game early on, take care of business and move to 8-1 before a national broadcast in Maryville.

  4. Mike Riley isn’t in trouble, but the Huskers are. Let me rephrase that: Mike Riley isn’t in trouble yet. There’s a big difference, but regardless, there’s no way NU should lose to Northwestern at home. It shouldn’t have lost to BYU, Wisconsin or Illinois, either. And there’s no business losing the way they have this season, whether through bad defensive positioning or shoddy play-calling or bad communication or, apparently against Northwestern, just a poor effort. For a team allegedly hungry to prove it can win two straight, it sure sounded full of itself until it was way too late.Oct 24, 2015; Lincoln, NE, USA; The Northwestern Wildcats sign their fight song after a win against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Memorial Stadium. Northwestern defeated Nebraska 30-28. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

    What does this mean? Well, on the field it means this team had better cinch up the fundamentals and at least play solid football. Win or lose. That’s now the best we can expect as fans for this season. Which isn’t nearly enough for this program or its fans. We have come to expect more because we have seen it’s possible. And we were told solid football would be the basic common denominator of this program. So far, it hasn’t been.

    Going into Riley Stardate 2.0, it should mean a purge of all the players who are demonstrating any unwillingness to buy into what Riley and his coaching staff are selling. If you’re not on board, find some place where you’re comfortable. It’s as simple as that.

    Off the field, it means this can’t continue or else Riley’s seat will get extremely hot extremely quickly. So will the seat under his coaches, especially defensive coordinator Mark Banker. And so will the seat underneath Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst. The Riley regime didn’t have the talent of other Big Ten teams to start, so struggles were anticipated. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong’s skill set didn’t fit what Riley and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf had in mind, and at times they have melded the separate approaches into something quite nice. Injuries haven’t helped. But the sheer sloppiness of things…it’s unacceptable. In all phases of football. And that should have been communicated to the coaching staff from somebody — Eichorst, football god Tom Osborne, an outgoing chancellor, anybody — well before now. Even after the mess of the Bo Pelini era, NU football has taken a significant step backward in the first year of the Mike Riley regime. It’s a step backward I didn’t expect. And it’s a step backward that I hope doesn’t mean leads to backing into the mud of mediocrity. If the program isn’t already there.

  5. You can make a buffet out of anything. Ginny made the point abundantly clear this morning when I asked her what’s for supper tonight and she said, “We’re gonna have a leftover buffet.” Now that’s craziness. An all-you-can-eat buffet? Awesome. A pie buffet? Heavenly. But a leftover buffet?Now that you mention it, that pot roast from Tuesday night does sound pretty tasty.

Until the next plate of mental goulash…

Signs of Change 

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Less than a week is left in the 2015 MLB regular season, and as the season steams to a close I noticed a couple things about my own baseball preferences which, quite honestly, disturbed me.

First off, and I can’t believe I’m saying this…I have been rooting for the New York Yankees here as the season ends. The fricking Yankees. The only team on the planet I despise more than anything associated with the University of Texas.

Yes. I have been rooting for them.

“Hello, I’m Chuck and I’m apparently a seasonal Yankees fan.” “Hi, Chuck…”

It hasn’t helped, at least for the most part. The Yankees, who led the AL East for much of the season, got passed by Toronto a few weeks ago and are now 5.5 games back with five games left. So they won’t win the division, although they do have a 3-game lead in the wild card race. Doesn’t sound that bad, except when you consider who the Kansas City Royals could face in the playoffs, either in the Divisional Series or the League Championship Series.

Put simply, the Royals match up much better against the Yankees.

The Blue Jays are the team nobody wants in this year’s playoffs. At any level. They mash the ball. Their pitching has improved. And say what you want about some of the whining antics or manufactured outrage coming from a Jose Bautista or Josh Donaldson…but the Jays play for each other very well.

One other thing you may have noticed since the trade deadline: if the Jays are involved in a close game, something now almost invariably happens to tilt the scoreboard in their favor.

Like I said: nobody — and this includes the Royals — wants any part of Toronto starting next week.

My rooting for the Yankees goes against everything in my baseball being. (Apparently this is more deeply-rooted than even I knew. Last year, my dad told me he wouldn’t have known what to do with me if I had become a Yankees fan growing up.) So that’s unnerving all by itself. But when the Royals went to Baltimore earlier this month, I had no rooting interest for the Orioles. And I’ve been rooting for them since 1975. The Orioles are the team I latched onto when I started learning about baseball — and now it’s just, well, meh.

Have the Royals finally become my favorite team? Initially, I’d say yes. However, the Orioles did next to nothing last offseason after the Kansas City sweep job in the ALCS. They hardly did anything near the trading deadline to improve the club and bolster a playoff push, even though they still were pretty much in the thick of things at the season’s midway point.

It’s almost as if upper management didn’t care. That spoke volumes to Orioles fans like me.

The Royals, meanwhile, did what they could — leading the division for most of the season and also adding pieces (Ben Zobrist, Johnny Cueto) designed to bring the trophy home. That hasn’t worked recently as the Royals have had a month-long slide, but it’s a push we Royals fans have never seen before — or least not in the past 30 years. That says a lot to baseball. And it says a lot to your fan base.

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I’m still calling myself an Orioles fan, but I’m not sure my heart is in that statement. Ask me again when the Royals and O’s do battle next year.

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Qualms About Cueto

It’s a pretty good thing the Kansas City Royals are steaming towards the American League Central title. Otherwise, there would be a lot more worry about the Royals’ pitching staff.

The concerns have been mumbled about Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy all season. Other grumblings have been focused on which Royal woul claim the No. 5 starter position — Jeremy Guthrie, Chris Young and lately Kris Medlen — almost by default.

But the biggest concerns are now revolving around one of a handful of players who are supposed to lead the franchise back to the World Series this fall.

Johnny Cueto had his fourth straight ghastly outing today: 3 IP, 5 earned runs allowed, 7 hits. It’s his shortest outing in a Royals’ uniform, but the three prior starts weren’t much better:

6 IP, 13 hits, 6 ER

5 IP, 8 hits, 6 ER

6 IP, 9 hits, 4 ER

What gives?

If you listen to the Royals’ coaches, it’s nothing more than the pitching equivalent of a hitter’s slump. I get that. But if that’s the case, you would look for different results. Hitters go from getting under fastballs and popping them up to trying unsuccessfully to pull breaking pitches away to being ahead to being late — all in a 20-at-bat slide.

Cueto’s problem has been consistent. He has missed up and out over the plate. Seriously, if you look at where his pitches have been hammered the hardest, Cueto did better teeing up his offerings than he could have done with an actual tee.

The Royals may be unpleasantly surprised this offseason by their rotation and the resulting impact on their bullpen. It would be unfortunate if the team’s signature acquisition for this stretch drive would be be one of the disappointing reasons the Royals fail to reach the World Series.

First Takes and Second Helpings: Aug. 24, 2015

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Filling your plate with an unhealthy diet of my thought processes. Not exactly spanning the globe to bring you a variety of sports…

Austin Willis snapped up by the Buffalo Bills. That didn’t take long, although I didn’t think it would. Released by Oakland on Aug. 18, Willis signed with Buffalo over the weekend. What was surprising — pleasantly so — was the series of reports indicating several teams wanted Willis. That says volumes about Willis’ speed, athleticism and also his work ethic. Congratulations to Willis. Here’s hoping the Bills’ revolving door at quarterback doesn’t hurt Willis’ chances to make the team.

Emporia State upgrades its football experience. Hornet fans should have a blast once the Dennis Shogren Videoboard is totally up and running. The new scoreboard should be among Division II’s best. Now we’ll see how the Hornets upgrade after a forgettable 4-7 season. As mentioned last week, the Hornets don’t have to get back to the playoffs to reclaim the momentum seen in 2012 and 2013. Finishing above .500 with their schedule would do, although seven wins or better would certainly help.

New blood in Lincoln. Can’t wait to see how Mike Riley does as Nebraska’s head coach this season. I like the Riley hire, maybe because he reminds me more than any other D-1 coach of Tom Osborne — a happier, more media-understanding version of Osborne, I should say. I believe prior coach Bo Pelini fostered a toxic atmosphere in Lincoln and did nothing to stop the festering before he was booted out, and that more than anything was what led to his dismissal. I know he’s the Pelini antitype. Now it’s time to see if he’s the Pelini antidote and can move the Huskers to the next level.

Royals-Orioles. The rematch of the 2014 ALCS really doesn’t have that much buzz going into Game 1 tonight, in large part because the Orioles have been scuffling to stay above water all season long while the Royals continue to blister most of their opponents. As an O’s fan, it would have been nice to see the team with more significant upgrades last offseason and again before this year’s trading deadline. Buck Showalter is an amazing manager, but it would have been nice if he had been given more to work with this season. By the way, Mike Moustakas looks like he’s refinding his stroke, but even though his average has shed points like I need to lose pounds over the past six weeks, he has still had some of the Royals’ best at-bats of the season. Long live #OppoMoose.

Bowyer bounceback. After being set free by Michael Waltrip Racing (granted, at the end of the 2015 season), Clint Bowyer did extremely well at Bristol, finishing fifth. There are two more Chase for the Cup races before the field is set. Two more Top-5 finishes would go a long way towards solidifying a spot in the Chase, or if nothing else building momentum as Bowyer gets ready to make his next move.

The sobering side of racing. The racing community is praying for IRL driver Justin Wilson, who was severely hurt when Sage Karam crashed and a big piece of debris hit Wilson in the head at speed. If you remember, Dan Wheldon was killed during an IRL race when his car sailed over a football field worth of distance in the air before his head smashed into a pole at nearly 200 mph. Believe it or not, these kinds of accidents don’t happen all that often for open-wheel racers. The question now is what IRL, Formula 1 and other open-wheel series will do to protect their drivers so this doesn’t happen again.

#HappyCuetoDay? Uh, Maybe Not

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Even before the Kansas City Royals traded for ace pitcher Johnny Cueto, folks both inside the Royals organization and outside it knew there was little chance they would have his services beyond the end of this season. Now it looks like that chance is zero — and it also appears Cueto knows one likely place to sign once everything is done for 2015.

Quoting interview excerpts from WEEI, NESN says Cueto is very interested in signing with the Red Sox, the team that actually handled Cueto a few days ago and just concluded a four-game split with KC.

“It depends,” Cueto said before Thursday’s game. “Because I’m a free agent, and I’m just going to pick the best choice to go. The main thing — I would like to come here because it’s a championship-caliber team.”

And the Royals aren’t?

I’m scratching my head over this one because, well, Kansas City is a better team now than the Red Sox are. Sometimes the standings can lie or not tell the whole story. In this case, they don’t: Kansas City with a 12.5 game lead on Minnesota, the biggest division lead in baseball by far this season; Boston 13 back of Toronto and in last place in the AL East. Even if Cueto signs with Boston this upcoming offseason, I believe the Royals have fewer holes on their roster than Boston does.

If you’re looking strictly at the short-term championship window, as the Cueto quote references, Kansas City is your choice, not Boston. At least for now, it’s no question.

There are likely other factors involved. Boston media say Cueto would love to follow in the footsteps of Pedro Martinez. And we’d be smoking something if we thought the Royals could match the contract offer Boston could put in front of Cueto.

What’s interesting is Cueto’s comments to Boston reporters came on the same day Ben Zobrist, Kansas City’s other notable trade deadline acquisition, told 610 Sports in KC he would be willing to sign a deal to stay with the Royals just based on his short stay with the team.

As much as we would like to, we can’t fault Cueto for looking ahead and being willing to talk openly about what he’s thinking. He’s a free agent at the end of the year and he’s in line to make more money in a year than I could hope to make for the rest of my natural born life. He has to do what he believes is right and best for him and his family.

The problem for Cueto in this case is twofold. First, he has probably alienated a good chunk of the Royals clubhouse, even though he’s speaking honestly — and even though it’s unlikely any of the Boys in Blue will say much about it. It’s something you just don’t say during the season, especially when you are in the driver’s seat to get into the playoffs and maybe make a run all the way to the World Series trophy.

Second, though, is the reaction from the fan base. Remember how Cueto was welcomed like a rock star, a conquering hero, a demigod even before he threw a complete-game four-hitter Aug. 10? He pitches Wednesday at home against Baltimore, and it would not surprise me if we heard a fair amount of boos directed Cueto’s way. No fan base wants to hear it will come in second to another team, especially from someone anointed to be the guy to bring the title home. It doesn’t matter if you last won a championship in 2014 or in 1985.

Cueto has some explaining to do, whether he really wants to admit it or not. And it looks like we may not be seeing many #HappyCuetoDays in the short term until he can get things resolved with his teammates and Royals fans.

Of Yordano Ventura, Johnny Cueto and Long-Lasting Brilliance

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It appears the Johnny Cueto acquisition has paid off for the Kansas City Royals in more ways than one.

Cueto has been his traditional self: solid to outstanding on the hill with flair, giving the Royals a chance to win each of his starts. His home debut was a sight to behold, not just for Cueto’s brilliance — a four-hit shutout with eight strikeouts — but for the welcome he received from Royals fans. It was a welcome founded on hope, the hope Cueto would become this franchise’s Moses, leading the Royals to the promised land for the first time after 30 years in the baseball desert.

Stretching analogies a bit. Sorry. But it’s true. That hope was foisted upon James Shields the prior two years, and for all the talk of Shields being “Big Game” and for all Shields did to grind his way to victories, he just wasn’t quite the ace he was billed as when General Manager Dayton Moore traded for him. Close, but not quite, and the fact he wasn’t the team’s true ace hurt KC in the World Series.

(I’m not about to call Shields the Royals’ golden calf. He just didn’t quite live up to expectations).

So Royals fans now are both expectant and hopeful Cueto can be the guy to take the club all the way home.

Which brings us to Yordano Ventura.

Ventura was a revelation last year, when he won 14 games with an ERA of 3.2 and struck out almost 160 batters. The 2015 season has been revealing, but not for all the right (or feel-good) reasons. The lack of control, both with his pitches and his emotions, has been the big story. And the big question has been whether Ventura can channel his edge, hone his delivery and thus reach his massive potential. If you watched the ESPN broadcast Sunday night, it was one of the maybe five storylines they mentioned the entire game — at least until Salvador Perez got ejected, the Angels took the lead and the Royals rallied to win in extras.

Ventura has had pockets of brilliance, though, and the last two games would qualify. Six innings, two hits, eight strikeouts on Aug. 11 (yes, I’m trying desperately to ignore the six free passes). And seven innings, five hits, two runs, seven strikeouts Sunday.

Both games came after Cueto has gotten settled into the Royals clubhouse. In some ways, the Cueto influence has been obvious. Ventura has started quick-pitching like Cueto does occasionally. But Ventura has shown a steeliness the past two starts that has been lacking ever since Shields went to the West Coast. His past two starts have not been clean (six walks would scream that at you). But instead of hanging his head and losing control as he had earlier this year, Ventura locked in and got himself out of trouble.

Does that come from long talks with one of the best pitchers in baseball? Possibly. Does it come just from observation? Maybe.

Why hadn’t that come about with Edinson Volquez, an accomplished pitcher in his own right, having a fine season and establishing himself as the Kansas City ace before the Cueto trade? Who knows?

What I do know is there is very little chance the Royals keep Cueto after the season ends, World Series trophy or not. That makes the 2015 offseason pivotal for Ventura. Besides the questions about his delivery and his swagger, he must also show he can take the lessons provided by one of the game’s best pitchers and apply them the next year. Whatever influence Shields had on the young hurler was apparently temporary, so now Ventura has to demonstrate he can take lessons to heart, build upon them, add his own experience and come out a better pitcher in the end — perhaps supplanting Cueto as one of MLB’s premier pitchers in a few years.

This also becomes a critical offseason for the Royals for a slew of reasons. Ventura’s career path, along with Danny Duffy’s, could mark the trajectory of this franchise for the next several years. As mentioned, Cueto is likely gone. Jeremy Guthrie, a stalwart at the back of the rotation the past several years, may not be back with the club next year and Volquez may depart at the end of next year. Several position players are near the end of their contracts. If things go well for the Royals this offseason, their window for winning championships gets extended another three or four years. If not, 2015 could be the best chance we see a victory parade in KC for a long time.

First Takes and Second Helpings: April 2015

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As you can see, this post will cover a gamut of topics…some serious, some not.

The serious first: Baltimore blew up the past two days after the death and subsequent funeral of Freddie Gray.

This tears me up because Baltimore has been a city I’ve wanted to explore more since I was a child. We didn’t travel much to Baltimore during our two years living in Bel Air, Md., about 35 miles northeast of downtown Baltimore, and when we did we never made it to an Orioles game (something that still eats at me). But what I saw as a five-year-old I liked. I have no idea whether the Baltimore of 2015 mirrors the Baltimore of 1975. All I know is people are destroying anything they can get their hands on.

I understand the anguish and anger over alleged police issues, but there’s no excuse for what we’re seeing. It’s humanity at its worst. It’s now happening with less provocation. I’m not sure which of those last two sentences is scarier.

To the silly: Weird work-related things.

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News is not always hard-core, and I’m grateful we’re not always talking about riots or shootings or fatal accidents or fires or budget shortfalls. Thankfully, we started our Feel Good Friday segment a few years ago to balance out all the nasty or the mundane we report on daily. And sometimes, that balance is totally unintentional or unexpected. Couple cases in point:

Earlier this month, I’m searching through district court documents to see what court cases of note are coming up. I didn’t see anything pertaining to my newscasts, but I did see this:

weird

That’s right. Officially, the state of Kansas is in trial proceedings against a car (a luxury car, mind you, although the status of rich Corinthian leather is to be debated). Not sure if this is a regular occurrence. Also not sure how John Stewart hasn’t picked up on this yet.

Yesterday, I’m typing up a story on court proceedings stemming from a combination battery and shooting incident early in April. Instead of typing “aggravated battery,” I punch up “aggravated batter.” Talk of deep-fried food crimes and misdemeanors follows. Insert your own joke here.

Now to the sad:

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Broadcasters outside the state of Nebraska may not have known Adrian Fiala, and that’s a shame.

Fiala passed away recently after a lengthy respiratory illness. He was a legend in Nebraska sports as a football and baseball player, and he then made his mark as a color commentator for several Big Red sports.

He was well-respected, even revered, for several reasons. Being a player, he brought a locker-room perspective to his broadcasts, and he did so realizing most of his audience weren’t former players so he educated without being pushy or overbearing. He was thoroughly prepared for his assignments and studied game trends. And, what I found most important, he was himself behind the mike.

I first met Adrian Fiala as a rather fresh part-timer assigned to run the board for SportsNightly, the Pinnacle Sports Network’s signature weekday talk show. He gave me a warm smile and a firm (very firm) handshake. Just that made me feel like I was part of the team — no small amount of welcome and assurance for somebody struggling to prove I belonged with some very polished broadcasters. On top of that, though, Fiala never — and I mean never — big-timed anybody on his broadcasts, either on or off mike.

This is a business filled with massive egos and a tendency for those egos to get loose, trampling anybody and everybody either lower on the totem pole or outside the field, treating those individuals as if they are less important or not important at all because they don’t have a four- or five-hour air shift to spew opinions couched as facts.

Adrian Fiala was a rare individual in this field. I’d like to be part of his broadcast crew at that next level.

And finishing up with the superlative.

Alex Gordon, Play of the Year candidate. Do I need to say anything else?

Kansas City Royals 2015: Hell is Coming With Them

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Following the Royals’ simmering 4-2 win over Oakland on Sunday, I tweeted the Royals seem to play rather well when angry (omitting, for the sake of argument, the peaceful slumber offensively Saturday). I also said KC will have to get used to playing mad a lot this season.

Oakland may have lost two of three games to the Royals this past weekend, but it definitely shed light on the psyche of the Boys in Blue. It also established a pattern for every other team in Major League Baseball to deal with KC this season (and possibly beyond):

1. Get under the team’s collective skin. Hit batters, hard slides on the bases and the like definitely qualify.

2. Watch Royals fall all over themselves to retaliate.

3. Whine when retaliation eventually happens.

4. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Last year, the Royals charged to their first playoff berth in 29 years and rapidly became playoff darlings — and not just because of the backstory. The Royals were a young team that played the game the way it should be played — hard but joyous and also respectful of both the other team and the litany of unwritten rules that dictates play as much as the penned rulebook.

The Royals still play hard, and in fact they could well be playing more effectively at the start of this season than they did at the end of last year. All that good feeling about KC, though, is changing this year.

royalsFace it. The Royals are taking a beating at the plate and no longer reacting well to that. Fifteen hundred hit batters (sorry, it just feels like that many) in two weeks tends to get a team a tad grumpy.

Unfortunately, this coincides with the team’s good injury fortunes from last year coming to a screeching halt — and it all started when new Royal Alex Rios was injured (HBP, wouldn’t you know). In rapid succession, the Royals also lost super closer Greg Holland (pectoral strain, pitching) and their starting middle infield in Alcides Escobar (ankle sprain, questionable slide tactics) and Omar Infante (groin pull, running bases).

If the Rios injury turned up the heat for the stove, Brett Lawrie’s ill-advised (intent to be determined but it looked suspicious) slide into Escobar and the sight of KC’s star shortstop being carried off threw a lot of well-marbled meat right into the pan. Once that happened, everybody who remotely follows the sport knew what was coming. Retribution was obvious, albeit late in coming when pitcher Yordano Ventura waited until Lawrie’s second at-bat (and a home run by Josh Reddick immediately beforehand) to plunk Lawrie.

Sounds like everything has policed itself under baseball’s unwritten rules policy? Uh, no. Read the not-so-fine print again.

The A’s were torqued Ventura went after Lawrie a second time. Yes, ICYMI, Ventura zinged a fastball up and in during Lawrie’s first crack at things Saturday. The anger, I think, was justified. Short of drilling somebody in the ribs, little else sends a message to an opposing batter quite like a 100 mph fastball in the selfie zone of that batter’s brain.

Regardless, though, it appeared things would be tense but settled Sunday. Until Scott Kazmir hit Lorenzo Cain on the foot. In the first inning.

There has been a lot of talk about whether the Kazmir pitch was intentional, especially given Kazmir’s near-pinpoint control the rest of the game, but I think the Royals’ renewed anger that spilled over for the rest of the game essentially boiled down to three words: We’ve had it.

Enough of us being your pitching pincushion.

If you’re going to keep doing that, hitting our guys, it won’t matter if it’s intentional. Consequences are coming.

And they did Sunday at an inexplicable time. In a 2-1 game, A’s leading, in the eighth inning, Kelvin Herrera jackknifed Lawrie with a fastball and followed it with harder stuff behind Lawrie’s shoulders. Herrera’s rationale of a wet baseball rings hollow, even for this Royals fan, and…well…at least KC won. And at least KC doesn’t play Oakland again for a couple months.

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Sometimes, baseball resembles the Wild West — and in this case, there is every possibility we are headed to the baseball equivalent of the Gunfight at the OK Corral when these teams meet up again June 26-28.

This weekend’s doings reminded me of just that — the story of the Earps and the Cowboys in Tombstone, Ariz., “back in the day.” The Earps had just cleaned the Cowboys’ clocks at the gunfight, only to have Virgil wounded and Morgan Earp killed in subsequent ambushes. Which sets up this scene:

Stretching the analogy, we aren’t at the point of Earp’s Vendetta Ride yet. Not yet.

Not stretching the analogy (that far, anyway): The Royals are perilously close to choosing the black hat and wearing it for years, not just this season. Look at how long the Detroit Pistons carried the Bad Boys title in the NBA well after Bill Laimbeer, Dennis Rodman and Vinnie Johnson went their separate ways. I digress.

I never thought I’d ever consider Kansas City as the bad boys of baseball, but that’s what is coming if things don’t settle down. Cooler heads on this team need to prevail, to turn the heat down, to really talk some baseball common sense in the clubhouse. How many of the HBPs were intentional? Two, maybe three. Those deserve retaliation — once, mind you, not repeatedly. The rest? Hey — you get a free baserunner. Get your revenge by cashing that in. Put some pressure on your opponent, celebrate when you win and continue maddening other teams with that joy for the game you thrived upon last season.

Everybody needs to grit their teeth, take the high road, whatever cliche you want to insert. And I mean everybody has to be on board with this approach. Exact your revenge with the scoreboard, not with beanbrawls.

Having said that, though, remember that aforementioned A’s model for handling the Royals? You know everyone else is going to try to rile the Royals, easily the most expressive and emotional team in the sport. But those teams had better think good and hard about whether they want to follow suit. Because now you know, good, bad or ugly (and quite possibly some boiling mixture of the three), that hell is coming with KC at some point if this continues.

Borrowing from another part of the Tombstone script, I really don’t think you want the 2015 Kansas City Royals as your huckleberry.

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