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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.

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

RoyalsMetsJS 10-28-2015 0080

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…

Some Things That Just Make No Sense

Head in Hands

Everybody sees some things that just make you scratch your head. As in, these things make absolutely, positively no sense.

A lot of them have to do with what we say. My daughter is getting a kick out of why we park on driveways and drive on parkways. Things like that. And no, I have no answer for that question.

Just in general, the English language is another good example. Why can’t we go good/gooder/goodest or its reverse, bad/badder/baddest, when we could go high/higher/highest? Insert your examples here.

Some other thoughts on our language, specifically when it comes to some unpaired words:

*Why do we never hear of the gruntled former employee? And what qualifies as gruntled, anyways?

*Is sheveled like being shoveled? And if people can be disheveled, how come you never hear of sidewalks being dishoveled?

*I told somebody I was “in whack” a few years ago. I think that person is still out of whack as a result.

*It’s easy to be couth and kempt, but you never hear of that.

*The next time I broadcast a baseball game, I’m going to say a pitcher who gave up a bunch of runs came out of the inning scathed. And I’ll monitor my social media to see how many people ask what the heck I was saying or what I meant by that.

*Speaking of work, I’m going cognito back home after my shift ends. Hard to go incognito anywhere with my job.

*If the Kansas City Royals win their first World Series in 30 years this fall, I would hope for some ruly celebrations. I’m guessing those won’t catch the headlines.

*Ungainly and unwieldy mean awkward, but they roll off the tongue much more smoothly than gainly and wieldy.

Have a gruntled and couth Labor Day…and an ept time with your grilling endeavors.

Trying to Make Sense of the WDBJ Shooting

WDBJ

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say domestic broadcast journalism lost its innocence or sense of invincibility Wednesday.

The live on-air murders of WDBJ reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward looked like something you could expect in the war-ravaged Middle East. But it happened on our soil. Before 7 am. In what apparently was a relatively safe, peaceful area.

What happened Wednesday near Roanoke, Va., was on one level about as incomprehensible an act as you can imagine. On another level, though, this is a thoroughly unnerving sign of our times, from the shooter’s live social media feed to the rambling manifesto claiming the perpetrator was really the victim to the suicide.

Being in news for almost 20 years and leading KVOE’s news department for almost five years now, this really has me shaken. The shooter was a disgruntled former employee. That statement alone should be enough for anybody in management to review his or her dealings with current or past employees to make sure those interactions were fair and honorable.

Besides that, though, we as journalists are out and about in our respective communities a lot. We cover everything, from murders and standoffs to zoning meetings and Chamber of Commerce features. We have our guard up when we go to certain events but we may not have it up with others like the features we do. This may force us as reporters, photographers, cameramen and others “in the field” to be on constant alert at all times.

And because we are coming to you in your cars, your cubicles or your showers, we aren’t off the job just because we are off the air. Talking about a story we wrote earlier in the day or what we said about our favorite sports teams last week with acquaintances or total strangers comes with the job. It’s a part of the job we accept, some of us willingly, others grudgingly.

Overseas journalists, especially those in the aforementioned “hot spots” on our globe, accept the personal safety risks that come with making sure people know what happened. They also know in general terms what subjects could put them in the crosshairs.

Honestly, I never thought I’d have to think those risks would be in place in America. They officially are, and to a degree they are more insidious because, as was blasted into our consciousness Wednesday, we have no idea who may be approaching us with bad intent, waiting like a predatory cat, gun in one hand, cell phone in the other.

#WeStandWithWDBJ

Sweet Bacon

There are a lot of signs of spring in the Samples household. I get more interested in cloud-watching, and not just because one looks like a dragon and another looks surprisingly like a beer can. Royals baseball games help to put the girls to bed. The pinball effect of late-night activity after late-night activity revs up.

And we have BLTs. Lots of BLTs.

When KVOE General Manager Ron Thomas and I began hailing the Joys of Bacon over a decade ago, little did I know my entire family would become bacon addicts…or, more likely, turn the latent bacon addict loose. And there’s no better way to do that than by frying up a pound (in our case, two) of double-smoked sliced pork bellies, let the smell tease for about 20 minutes and then have at it.

I know there are a lot of thoughts on the finished product. We like it crispy but not burned, and to get to that point I like to load up five or six strips in the pan and turn them several times before what turns into a rolling shift change in the pan. This means the bacon can eventually swim in the grease pool and speed up the cooking process.

If everything works (meaning: I’m paying attention), we have golden-brown, crispy bacon for about half an hour and four happy people afterward.

That’s all I have tonight. Nothing major to share (that’s coming later this week). Just a snapshot of a family’s love of bacon.

A New Venture

stickman

Since I became a father, I have wanted to write stories for my child(ren). And this week, I’m finally taking that step.

Actually, I should probably say I took that step. It was pretty easy to pound out a couple pages of story yesterday,, and to make matters better, the finished product was, shall I say, well received by the intended target.

I’m not going to say much about things now other than to say the lead character is a rather precocious first-grader with a doting family…and I definitely plan to use our home life for story fodder. Any other suggestions for story topics, illustrators, publishing and the like? Let me know.

The Fine and Noble Art of Walking a Dog

PinkCollarLeashSet

Nearly two years ago, we were blessed to pick up a young dog.

Bella needed a hypoallergenic pet, so we went with a miniature poodle. Holly is her name, and she’s crazy affectionate so she fits in well with us. She also has to be in the middle of everything, which again fits us well.

Where she has issues is taking care of business, if you will. Especially outside.

I honestly didn’t train her that much. She showed she could be plopped outside, take care of things and then run back. Now, though, she’s taking her sweet time to get her mission accomplished…and she’s not bothering to come back.

Hmm. Time for a change in approach, I do believe. The leash.

Holly loves to go out and walk, I reasoned. This should be a no-brainer.

And for the first few times, it was. Holly took care of business in short order and was ready to come inside.

Lately, though, it has taken a great deal more time for her to complete her task. I’ve taken to walking her some 10 minutes or more at a brisk trot before she is through. Great exercise for both of us. Not great for getting back to work.

Maybe I should just resign myself to the fact she will go when she has to. It might make it easier for both of us.

First Takes and Second Helpings…And, in Some Cases, Dessert

Envineering-Thanksgiving

It’s been a while since I had much time (or motivation) to blog something, and guess what: I have several thoughts to go through. Beforehand, these collections were called “Various and Sundry.” I think the new title fits better.

So here goes. And, as usual, these are in no particular order.

Recent weather

First take:  How crazy has the last month been in the Midwest? We went from pool weather to swimming in floodwaters, with some people in Kansas receiving 10 to 18 inches of rain in under three weeks.

Second helping: What was amazing, even though we have been in the grips of one of the most severe droughts in our nation’s history here in the Flint Hills, was the amount of rain it took to get to serious flooding. Places around Olpe, Kan., received seven to nine inches of rain in under 24 hours — and in some cases half of it came in two hours or less. Yet flooding issues were hardly reported simply because the ground was so dry, the cracks in fields and ponds were so big, that it took at least half that initial rainfall to get ponds to a point where they could fill. It took over a foot of rain before serious problems really started manifesting in earnest.

What was also interesting was, well, let’s be honest. There was some dumb activity that happened in Emporia during the flooding, namely people swimming in the water. I’m sorry, but swimming in water the color and possible consistency of my caramel frappacino (yes, I do enjoy one from time to time) with specks of something definitely not chocolatey in nature simply has no appeal to me. That was before I found out, through talking with a health official, that there are pesticides, herbicides, other chemicals and — quite possibly — raw sewage — in that impromptu pool. No thanks.

Dessert: Not everybody is saying it — yet — but we’re headed back to drought, if the last two weeks are any indication. Nineties for highs since last week and no rain in the picture. What a grim joke this is.

Miley Cyrus

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First take: What’s a twerk? Ohhhhhh. That’s what a twerk is.

Second helping (and in this case I hesitate to call it that): What the hell was that? And why? I know the MTV Video Music Awards are now where you go to shock people. It’s been that way for years. I remember my reaction when Britney Spears did her striptease deal in 2000, and it was pretty similar to my reaction when I saw Miley…was that really necessary? Of course not. And from a parent’s perspective, stuff like this just makes your blood boil. I’m anticipating my daughter will rebel. Good kids almost always do, and usually the better they are as kids the more serious the rebellion when they are teens and young adults. I get it. I’m getting ready for it. But if my daughter pulled that garbage, she would still catch hell from me, and it really wouldn’t matter if she was living at home or not. It may not do any good, but that’s just embarrassing for a parent to see. If it isn’t, you didn’t raise your kid right.

Dessert: Well, after the 2013 VMAs, nobody will accuse Miley Cyrus of being the good girl who wants to get a little nasty. No blurred lines about that performance. The good girl phase is long gone, with the bad girl liberated a while back as well. Hey Hey Hey. Enough already.

Kansas City Royals

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First take: The season’s over. Thanks for giving us something to talk about leading up to football season.

Second helping: How maddening is it for fans to see this team face up to the Orioles and Tigers and Red Sox and Rays, holding their own at the very worst, and then leaving streaks against the Marlins and White Sox? Losing at home, no less?

Dessert: I’m assuming Ned Yost gets canned at the end of the season, and I’m hoping like mad Dayton Moore goes as well. Considering some of the stupid, go-back-on-your-word answers from the Royals field manager that have been routine this season, I’m hoping one reporter pipes up during the last week of the season with something like this: “Ned, when you answer our questions, do you just blow smoke out your butt and expect us to believe it?”

Rush

rush kc

First take: Man, am I bummed I missed the Clockwork Angels tour finale in Kansas City.

Second helpings:  Just what do rock legends do after a world tour is done?

Dessert: I still got a sweet tour shirt out of the deal, thanks to First Congregational Pastor Andrew McHenry. And if I could wave my magic wand…I’d set everybody free. And I’ll make it to their next tour.

TwinkieTastic

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Why a Twinkie Festival?

Well, why not?

Emporia, Kan., celebrated the return of the Twinkie and most things Hostess (some products are coming this fall) and did so in style, using a limousine to transport Twinkies boxes, civic leaders and Hostess staffers to the party site. Those Twinkies were pampered with a silver platter (I was looking for plant manager Todd Crook to give the platter the Stanley Cup white glove treatment) and walked down a red carpet before the festivities truly began.

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Highlights? Where to start? At the beginning, I guess, as adults and kids got goofy with the filming of a Twinkie Shake…coming soon to YouTube, I gather. Twinkies or no, the good thing about a Shake dance is you can have some reeeeeallllly baaaaaad dance moves and fit right in.

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I’ll jump to the end next to touch base on the song and costume contests, which saw participation from young and old alike.

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As far as the music went, I was waiting for something along the lines of “Welcome Back Kotter,” which I think was the original intent. Instead, we had takeoffs of a Train song, “She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain” and a couple originals.

It’s hard to put yourself out in a costume if it isn’t on Halloween or on a stage to sing if karaoke (and, in a lot of cases, copious amounts of alcohol) isn’t involved. And people stepped forward.

It’s becoming easier to shove facefuls of food in your mouth, and several heats were needed to handle all the local competitive eaters who attended.

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If you were surprised a slender woman won instead of some hefty men at the table, you don’t pay attention to the International Federation of Competitive Eating. That’s all I’ll say about that.

What surprised me were the number of kids involved — and the success rate in keeping that cream-filled goodness contained, although there were quite a few tense moments.

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One teenager pumped in five Twinkies in 43 seconds. And looked like he could have shoveled in more. Impressive, Captain.

The thing I liked most about the Twinkie Festival was, well, a good time was had by all. Sure, it may have seemed a little goofy to some, but if other towns can celebrate other, less popular foods, why can’t we have some fun as the Twinkie returns to store shelves?

More importantly, though, why not celebrate what this means to the community? The Hostess liquidation last fall eliminated hundreds of jobs from the area. Employment numbers aren’t the same as they once were, and it’s unlikely they will return to the 500-plus workers at one point last year. However, Emporia is one of the lucky towns to have Hostess re-establish after new ownership took over, and there is no understating what a $10 million payroll can do to an area — especially in a town the size of Emporia.

My only regret? I was so busy I didn’t get a Twinkie. That’s for next year.

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