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Free Samples of a Sleep-Deprived Brain

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

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Life in General

Gotcha

gotcha day

This will be short and sweet.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year (plus a few days) since we officially adopted Hunter and Sofie into our family.

Talk about a day of joy. I can’t say anything for Ginny or the kids, but I can say I pretty well floated once we entered Judge Jeff Larson’s courtroom. And I think we floated over to Twin Rivers for the official celebration afterward.

From the moment Hunter became our first foster placement — really within hours of the ink drying on our license — and wandered straight into what would be his room, we knew we wanted him as our own. Don’t ask why. Don’t ask how. We just knew that if we were asked, we would gladly take him into our family. And as the first conversation introduced us to the possibility of caring for his yet-unborn sister, we looked at each other realizing (to a degree) the direction our family was taking.

It’s been a topsy-turvy roll over the past three years, but we have seen the youngsters overcome a lot of adversity with their neurofibromatosis diagnosis and make tremendous strides over the past year. We have also grown and adapted as a family, thanks to the support of Ginny’s family here, my family in Nebraska and a load of teachers and therapists. We have also been fortunate to get a tremendous amount of support from our friends and a host of people in the community, ranging from Judges Larson and Merlin Wheeler to St. Francis and Kansas Children’s Service League to our employers and a lengthy list of people that simply post their support to us on social media.

To everybody who helped make our first Gotcha Day possible last year, thank you. We’re working towards another Gotcha Day later this year, and we can’t wait to share the joy then as well.

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Piecing Together My Voice…And Other Stuff

with inwoodOver the past week, I’ve been dealing with some of the crud Ginny and the kids have had — although not to the same extent. At least, I didn’t think so until Friday night.

One of our broadcast stalwarts, Tim Miller, had come down with the flu (as has most of Emporia by this point), so I was asked to broadcast Friday’s Emporia High basketball doubleheader. We had plans for me to go to the Globetrotters game at White Auditorium, but with another world tour stop in Kansas coming this week, we made arrangements and I agreed.

My voice was somewhat scratchy going in. It was completely gone going out.

I’ve found out beforehand that I’m not one of those sportscasters that can dial down my call depending on my voice condition. And winter is typically a bad time for my voice anyways, but I figured I’d load up on cough drops and water and be OK.

Uh, no.

The girls game was, honestly, noncompetitive for the most point, so I didn’t really feel the need to put added stress on my call. On top of that, my partner, Steve Inwood, sensed things weren’t going well in the vocal department, so he extended a lot of his analysis into some play-by-play, which helped me as well.

And my voice was still hanging by a thread by the time the boys game started.

In my mind, I needed a second noncompetitive game. Honestly, I needed a change in mindset.

I’ve always approached sports play-by-play with two mental metrics:

  1. Am I accurately calling what’s happening in front of me?
  2. Am I capturing the rhythm, ebb and flow of the contest?

I’ve always prided myself as somebody who can do both reasonably well — because I believe both are critical components of a sports broadcast. You can call the action well, but you lose listeners if you can’t give people a sense of how a specific play fits into the overall flow of the action. On the flip side, you can capture the highlights of a given game — great catchphrases, raising your voice and the like — but if people can’t trust you’re actually telling them what’s happening on the court or the field, well, you’ve lost credibility and you won’t have much of a broadcast career. Unless you’re a conspiracy theorist…but that’s for another post.

Anyways, E-High promptly falls behind by almost double digits, and based on the first few minutes it looks like this will be a yawner. Before the first quarter, however, the Spartans get some things figured out, and just before halftime they take a brief lead, trailing by a point at the half. By this time, the decision to gear down my call has been thoroughly overridden by that two-pronged approach I’ve had in my head for a couple decades at least. I have a sense what’s coming in the second half — a game that comes down to the final four minutes — but I don’t expect eight lead changes in the third quarter followed by a brief burst at the end of the third quarter to give E-High a 4-point lead, followed by another pair of quick buckets to push the lead to eight early in the fourth period.

When you’re calling a run for the home team, especially in a tight game, the energy level goes up and the voice raises to match. In my case, it went from a reasonable facsimile of a voice to a series of nearly incomprehensible squawks as I’m trying to both capture the play and the emotion in the gym.

When the run reverses, the voice comes down but the intensity does not. And that’s what happened. Highland Park scored eight unanswered points in 90 seconds, including two deep three-pointers, to suck all the air out of the gym. They then added six of the next eight points, by my recollection, to take a four-point lead midway through the quarter.

And then the Spartans responded, although they missed a critical pair of free throws with about 2:20 left and another pair with under a minute to go. Upshot: Highland Park leads by four with 20 seconds left, Emporia High hits a pair of free throws and the visitors throw the ball out of bounds.

So you say there’s a chance…

If anybody could tell what I was saying by that point without a translator, congratulations. And with the remaining shreds of my voice, I try to fill in everybody about the last five seconds: missed shot, offensive rebound, forced shot offline, offensive rebound, buzzer. Ball game.

Good guys lose game. Broadcaster’s voice a lost cause a loooong time ago.

Postgame from my microphone is a mixture of a whisper and a croak, and to be honest I should have just let Steve take over — possibly for the entire back half of the doubleheader. As I write this Sunday, the voice is finally starting to come back, although its nowhere close to full strength.

And as I write this, I’ve noticed several things about what it’s like when you don’t have your voice — or, in my case, a critical component of my job:

  1. If your voice is scratchy and squawky when it normally isn’t, your kids will laugh at you. Repeatedly.
  2. I’ve found it’s harder to avoid singing than talking. And the kids have made it so I can’t avoid talking. Such is life.
  3. Whispering at kids to get their attention only goes so far. And in our house, it’s not very far.
  4. There are a host of remedies for a blown-up voice. Many involve tea…and/or ginger…and/or whiskey. Haven’t tried the whiskey-related remedies yet.
  5. Timing is everything. I’m grateful I’ve had the weekend to rest the voice, relatively speaking. Having to turn around and try newscasts the following morning would have been a broadcast disaster in the making.
  6. I’m eternally grateful Sean Thornton saved over the postgame interviews and not the full games from Friday. Although it would be interesting to go back and listen to those at some point waaaaaaaay down the road.

I’m not sure how well the voice will do Monday — or how long it will last before it starts shredding again. And with this being a mild, breezy week fraught with high fire danger, it could be at least the rest of the week before I sound like I normally do. Anyways, thanks for listening in general. And thanks for staying with the broadcast Friday night. Hopefully, we’ll all be back to normal for Substate this week.

I’m a Reporter

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The past several months have been an amazing and enlightening experience for me and my family. Six months of serving as Emporia Public Schools’ director of community relations have shown me a great deal of what’s involved in a school district, from board meetings to special events to initiatives like the Kansans CAN! vision and the importance of consistent attendance.

I have enjoyed my time and my duties with USD 253, and I love the people I have worked with on a daily basis. I have also loved having a regular work schedule and spending evenings and weekends with my wife and children.

But when I left KVOE in May, I figured I was done with radio — and aside from a basketball game here or there, I believed I was done with media altogether. I honestly thought I would be able to set the reporter in me aside and switch seamlessly into a community relations mindset.

It never happened.

So on Monday I rejoin KVOE. Reason being: I am a reporter.

965844_10201268741863257_404694615_oIt’s that simple. It’s how I’m wired.

Whether it’s the DNA (my mom can write amazing books on quilting, while my aunt spent years as an editor in Minneapolis and Washington, D.C.), whether it’s something about the street I grew up on as a kid (my best friend and next-door neighbor growing up is now the lead sports writer for the Oklahoma Associated Press — and has covered Olympics, Final Fours, Super Bowls and the like), it doesn’t matter.

I am a reporter.

For two decades, I froze when people said that. I’ve repeatedly said my main media interests were sports play-by-play (more recently talk shows) and severe spring weather. Being a reporter? Sure, I did all right in high school at Omaha’s Burke Beat and the North Star. Got a couple awards while at North for my efforts. And, yes, I have always taken pride in both a well-written story and a hard news article that scooped my competition. But me? A reporter? That has never been my focus in media.

Turns out that was my calling after all.

It took me six months out of the field to realize the things I enjoyed — the breaking news, severe weather, play-by-play — were just different parts of the overall reporter picture. And then, as I went along, I realized I liked reporting on community events and legislative matters.

Some reporters gravitate to one discipline — whether it be breaking news, government affairs, features, opinion, weather, community activities or sports. I didn’t. My interests apparently wouldn’t let me.

I’ve had a lot of people question how I came to this realization. I’m not focusing on that, at least not now. What matters to me is that I found my greenest grass — even though I had to leave it behind for a few months to make that discovery. You know the saying, “Life is too short to (fill in the blank here)?” Well, it’s cliched as all get out. But it’s true. Life is too short to discover your true niche in life and then ignore the signs in front of you.

For that, I have to thank God and my wife. God has ways of directing traffic, and after a while it became clear the exit I took was fruitful — but it wasn’t my final career destination. Ginny, meanwhile, realized I was struggling and suggested that I make the call to my former employer. She suffered a lot with my crazy radio schedule the past 14 years, but she said she wanted to see me happy. As fried as I was in mid-May, I was still more satisfied, gratified and fulfilled as a reporter than at any other job I have had. Ginny’s support has meant the world to me, even though it means the schedule craziness returns soon and may never leave us again. We’re working to reduce the crazy, which means I will have to slow myself down as much as anything.

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I also have to thank my former/new bosses at KVOE, who were more than willing to have me back on board. And I have to thank USD 253 for entrusting me with the community relations department this year, even though my department was far more self-sufficient than I could have dreamed and didn’t really need my help that often.

So it’s back to the dark and early, the Morning Show banter, the scanner app toning out potential stories, the hurry-up-and-wait of potential severe weather…the chronicling of life in Emporia, Kansas. I’m ready for it. And I’m grateful that so many people locally have welcomed me back to the airwaves. I hope I can build on the trust developed over the past 14 years and continue the strong tradition of KVOE News. Thank you for the opportunity to come back into your homes and report all the happenings of the Flint Hills.

 

Thanks

Well. Ready or not, it’s here. And it’s time.

After 14 years and almost seven months, my time at KVOE Radio in Emporia, Kan. — and in media in general — has come to an end.

Starting Monday, I become the community relations director for USD 253 Emporia. It’s a job that, honestly, is a natural extension of my career the past 20 years and a family link to education spanning several generations.

It’s a job that I’m excited to assume for a number of reasons. Having a normal schedule is something both I and my family are more than pleased to start. And it’s not just with the work schedule: the home schedule will change a lot next week, but I’m looking forward to the madness that is morning with kids.

The schedule is a key part of the excitement, but it’s only part of the picture. Family is the big reason for the change in careers.

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The past several years have seen an increase in overall news duties have increased along with, unfortunately, department turnover. That combination has meant a lot more time at the station or in the field than it had when I started. By extension, that meant less time at home. I’ve always wanted to be a full-time husband and father, and honestly I was serving in a part-time role in both capacities at a time when it was becoming more clear our two adoptive children have special needs relating to neurofibromatosis, a genetic condition leading to physical issues, sensory issues and delays for speech and motor skills. The further along I went, the more part-time I became.

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Station management thought outside the normal box, allowing me more flexibility to go to medical appointments and approving the addition of part-time news employees. In the end, though, it was clear I needed a 50-hour work week instead of a 70-hour week. I could cut back on the amount of news I generated, and eventually I did to a degree. However, I felt that cutting back any more than I did would be doing a disservice to the community.

Choosing a career path outside of radio was really a no-brainer. For years, I’ve had a mild interest in media relations, but recently I realized I had a few things going for me if I ever made the jump. I enjoy writing. I enjoy social media, which has become a major part of media as a whole. I adapt to different situations fairly quickly. I also realized my options were, frankly, limited because I still need at least two years of education to get my bachelor’s degree.

And as I’ve said to different media outlets and people around the area, the Emporia district has a lot going for it, so for me this is the perfect place to land as I change my career direction. There’s a reason the #EmporiaProud hashtag has taken off since Kevin Case became superintendent last year. Whether it’s student accomplishments, student-generated projects, teacher and staffer ventures and the like, KVOE’s Feel Good Friday segment could be populated several times a month with the good things coming from the district. I’ve been blessed to meet a lot of dedicated staffers at all levels in USD 253, so I consider myself very fortunate to go from the radio station to the district and utilize all the media skills I’ve developed over the past two decades.

My decision to pursue the community relations position was simultaneously easy and hard. Easy, because of the schedule, the ability to tell this district’s stories and the aforementioned ripple effect of the daily news grind.

Hard, because I never seriously considered any other career until relatively recently and realizing a switch likely ends two career dreams I’ve had for years: being the voice of a major college or professional baseball team and, more recently, owning a cluster of radio stations.

You may well have heard the story (a few times) before. Back in 1980, when i was 9, I was listening to my first Kansas City Royals radio broadcast. Before my second inning of listening, I knew sports play-by-play — particularly baseball — was what I wanted to do as a career. I already had an ear towards media as a potential career. My brother, Pete, and I constantly broke down larger cardboard boxes and turned them into news desks as young kids, and the Omaha tornado of 1975 had fostered a lifelong interest in severe weather. But above all, especially when I realized exactly how much math was in in meteorology, even with a dabble into music education as I transitioned from high school to higher education, I wanted to be involved in sports (and, no, I don’t have a pic of those days, so this earlier rendition will have to do).

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I got my chance at sports broadcasting at KLIN in Lincoln, Neb., but I had to earn it. First, I had the part-timer trial by fire (rather, trial by boredom) as the overnight board op. Once I proved relatively competent at that, I was shifted to days — and then several duties opened up in relatively rapid succession. I was allowed to fulfill my weather fix as a spotter/reporter, including reports on a small twister near Cortland. I was also allowed to be the station board operator on several sports, including Lincoln Stars junior hockey, and the network board operator for Pinnacle Sports coverage of several University of Nebraska sports, including Husker football. (Talk about a Saturday: pregame coverage — 4.5 hours, game coverage — 3.5 hours, postgame coverage — up to 5 hours…a predecessor of things to come). And I got my first taste of professional news.

News as a career was never a goal of mine. I repeat: never a goal. But apparently I had a nose for it. I should have known from my days at the Burke High Beat and North Star high school newspapers that I’d go into news at some point. And like my early days behind the markered-up cardboard box, I had a premonition of things to come from family. My aunt, Cheryl Butler, spent decades in print journalism, including lengthy stops at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and Washington Post. And my mom was starting to launch her own writing career — and cementing her status in the world of quilting as a result.

Starting as a cub reporter, I went from fires to school boards to the Upfront Story, our in-depth (as in-depth as you can get in 95 seconds) feature of the day several times a week. And then — something I didn’t appreciate fully at the time — I was put on Live at 5, KLIN’s afternoon drive-time news show at the time as a co-anchor. Jane Monnich, John Soukup and I worked to sculpt newscasts and snag guests for the hour-long program before Jane and I — along with Dan “The Weatherman” Staehr and Jim Rose — wrapped up the day’s local, regional and occasionally national events.

Mind you, this was all as a part-timer. It was the inability to gain full-time status that led me to a three-year stint in print journalism, first at the Wahoo Newspaper (yes, that is indeed the paper’s name) before two years at the Lincoln Journal Star. At the Wahoo Newspaper, I was again a multi-duty staffer, handling news, sports, photography and page design. At the Journal Star, I was strictly behind the desk, editing copy and designing pages.

But I couldn’t stay away from radio. And even though I couldn’t get a full-time position in sports (trust me — I tried), I could at least keep my foot in the sports door by taking a position at KVOE. So in October 2002, after a gentle nudge from former general manager Lee Schroeder, I packed up with the help of my dad and made the four-hour trip from Lincoln to Emporia. And on Oct. 14, 2002, I took the air in the Kansas Flint Hills for the first time.

The position was officially for a news anchor/reporter, which automatically involved severe weather. It also involved high school sports and remotes — so essentially exactly what I was doing at KLIN with a full-time paycheck to go with it. However, it was, admittedly, rocky at the start. I was so nervous and so eager to please that I sprinted through my newscasts like a chipmunk on meth (cheetah on crack…you get the picture) and then I stumbled through some casts like Wile E. Coyote chasing the Roadrunner…before he went cliffdiving (it happened every episode on TV and it almost happened every newscast). How I won a first-place newscast award from the Kansas Associated Press my second year was beyond me. Still is, honestly.

Quickly on awards, since I brought up that topic: I’ve been fortunate to win my share from the Kansas Association of Broadcasters for news, features, severe weather and sports. Maybe it’s wrong of me to say, but I’ve always considered awards as validation for what I’m doing, either individually or as part of a team, and just as importantly as enhancement of the station’s prestige. I’d like to say I’ve added to that prestige the past 14 years, but that’s not my place to judge.

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Much more than the awards, though, my focal points as a news reporter have been to be complete, be fair to all sides, to ask the necessary questions (realizing it may be quite some time before those questions get answered), to eliminate anything subjective in the on-air and online reports and to learn from all my interactions. The learning aspect is underrated among today’s new reporters, in my estimation. I’ve seen several incoming reporters who have a set idea about media, whether it’s in the broadcast persona, what should or shouldn’t be covered and even how to deal with their management or employers. Reporters with a split persona (one for the airwaves and one for everybody else) have a much better chance of a sustained career, in my opinion, although I’m not so sure that should be the case.

As a sports broadcaster, I’ve always felt my role has been to relay exactly what’s happening, both on and off the field of play. It was never enough to just report the on-field action; I also wanted to capture the emotional ebb and flow of the game I was covering. Leaving that out, to me, ignored a critical piece of the action for listeners and later viewers as our high school sports coverage went online.

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Speaking of online: There’s no doubt the advent of the Internet and social media has thoroughly transformed news outlets. It certainly transformed operations at KVOE. Starting with a series of Microsoft Word documents that served as a rudimentary website, KVOE’s online presence has transformed into an award-winning, content-rich website (emphasis on content-rich). Facebook and Twitter see several updates a day, and that’s leaving out the rapid-fire severe weather and breaking news alerts. My goal has been to drive people from the web and social media to the airwaves and back again, using one form of media to highlight and bring attention to the others.

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I’m grateful for the in-house relationships I’ve developed at KVOE, whether it be the Morning Show and ESU football crew of Ron Thomas and Greg Rahe, evenings and weekends with Sean Thornton, high school sports with Scott Hayes and the off-mike interactions with the sales staff, secretaries, part-time employees and station owner Steve Sauder. They mean more than you will realize.

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I’m also marveling at the sheer number of stories over the past 14-plus years, sometimes up to 12 a day, and the breadth of news:

I’ve covered destructive fires, whether it be homes or the Fourth Avenue Dining Company. I’ve seen people die just feet from me as I covered crashes and trauma calls. I’ve seen the pain of victims in murder and sexual abuse cases as their situations work through the court process.

I’ve seen massive shifts in legislative policy in Kansas, ranging from the so-called three-legged stool to the glide path to zero. I’ve also watched a decade-long fight over education funding.

I’ve watched Emporia develop a vibe and mojo — thanks to events like the Dirty Kanza and major disc golf tournaments as well as a concerted effort by local government leaders and education administrators to think outside the box towards that very end.

I’ve had the chance to broadcast state basketball championships, attend a Major League Baseball All-Star Game and fulfill my long-deferred goals of doing baseball and football play-by-play, even if only on a fill-in basis.

I’ve had a chance to interview a Heisman trophy winner, a local racing hero, baseball legends, world-known musicians and influential politicians — and a lot of people I only run into either downtown or at Emporia’s Walmart.

I’ve watched moderate risk severe weather days turn into absolute busts. And I’ve seen severe thunderstorm watch boxes turn into destructive tornadoes in Reading and Eureka.

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And I’ve been honored to balance the bad news with the good. The Feel Good, that is. KVOE’s weekly Friday feature has been an absolute joy, and not just because of the 2 minute, 5 seconds of finished product. I’ve had the good fortune of listening and learning to some wonderful stories and meeting some great people as a result. As far as I have been concerned the past few years, the report every Friday morning has been gravy at the end of the weekly process.

Yes, there have been lots of fun and interesting times as well. I’ve dressed up as an 1980s-era rock star to cover Boo in the Zoo (wearing far more hair than I’ve ever had naturally in my life). I’ve served as a pitchman for a weight loss drink. I’ve emceed bridal fairs, just weeks before I’ve dressed as a Smurf or a Flintstone to generate money for Special Olympics and had my head shaved to raise money for St. Baldricks.  (I’m still trying to forget my alter ego, “Anita Shaver”…)

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It’s been a great career, but it’s time to turn in my key card, delete my scanner app and launch forward.

Besides telling the positive stories for USD 253 Emporia, I’ll also be filling you in on any breaking and rapidly developing situations affecting schools and school kids. On top of that, I’ll be coordinating all things enrollment. I’ll also be attending all USD 253 Board of Education meetings and helping to facilitate projects like the Hopkins Awards, American Education Week cookie delivery and other special events. So my plate will be full, even though my schedule will be considered normal by most (totally different to me).

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I’ll also be taking over for a local legend, whether she likes the designation or not. Nancy Horst has held the community relations position for over two decades after a notable career at the Emporia Gazette, and she has been the embodiment of professionalism during my tenure at KVOE. She has also been more than generous with her time as I start peppering her with questions about my new job. I have two big shoes to fill coming Monday morning.

But I don’t forge ahead before saying thank you to my family. They helped me keep my sanity, even though they may well have been losing theirs with the number of short-notice schedule changes and lengthy times away.

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And I want to thank you for listening. Thanks for having me with you as you wake up…whether it’s at the breakfast table, in the shower, in bed or wherever. Thanks for hacking through 14-plus years of stumbling newscasts. Thanks for bearing with some admittedly inane, silly, occasionally stupid and sometimes totally off-target references to different topics. And thanks for trusting me as a reporter for the news happening around the world and here at home all these years.

Time to wrap it up and ice it down. Thanks, everybody. See you around town.

On the course for BBC


My GBLP is declining.

GBLP? What’s THAT?

Well, every year KVOE has our Brewers and Broadcasters Classic at the Emporia, Kan., Country Club. It’s a scramble-format tourney that uses a modified (maybe extra modified would be a better descriptor) Stableford scoring system.

It’s a two-day deal. It’s very popular, usually filling up a week or two before the tourney begins. And for us at the station, it’s all hands on deck.

ALL hands on deck.

We usually take a six-hour shift. For those of us who have a six-day week, we pick our day off. Which for means Sunday morning.

For the first few years, my job was to see which drives on a par-3 were closest to the pin. Closest got a prize. I’ve also spotted for closest approach shot for a separate prize.

The last several years, I’ve been on Hold No.5, spotting for balls leaving the fairway and heading into either “the deep spinach” or the row of trees currently behind me.


(Why spinach? Why not, oh, cabbage or Brussels sprouts or alfalfa? I digress. Actually, no, I don’t. We officially had to dig for a ball in the mushrooms today. The mushrooms!)


And here’s where GBLP comes into play.

It’s not an official statistic. At least, I don’t think it is for golf course workers. But GBLP is short, in my mind, for Golf Ball Location Percentage. And, as I said, mine is slipping fast.

Honestly, I have no idea why I’m on this assignment. My eyesight has never been good (some would say even with the thick or highly-adjusted lenses I’m currently using). Back when I used to live near a public 9-hole course in Omaha, my brother and I would return balls to golfers (and sell others left behind later). One of our unspoken contests, at least as I took it, was to see which one of us could find stray golf balls faster.  He won repeatedly. 

So, as you can see, I may not be cut out for this task.

As I write this, it’s 9:15 am. I’ve been spotting now for 90 minutes and I’m on my sixth (seventh?) group of the front nine. I have had my fourth close call (not quite a near-miss) from incoming missile attacks. And up until this sixsome approached, my GBLP went from 67 percent to 16 percent. I saw four of the six balls land with my first group and just one with my last group.

It seems like this happens every year. It’s normally a high sky, which doesn’t help, and today has minimal cloud cover. 

As mentioned before, I haven’t had the dump-out-of-the-Gator scramble to avoid incoming attacks yet. But it’s coming. 

Honestly, all of us volunteer spotters should eschew the orange vests and be outfitted with these T-shirts, courtesy of The Far Side:


And next year I’ll tell you about the GTVTR.

The Golf Tournament Volunteer Target Rate.  Which just went up…

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.

CSynWGaUsAAbOnR

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.

    unnamed

    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 

nyy tor

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.

royals lose

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.

orioles

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.

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