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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.

Game preview: Emporia State at Missouri Southern

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Game 1: Emporia State at Missouri Southern
Time: 7 pm Thursday, Fred G. Hughes Stadium
Coverage: 6 pm, Mix 104.9 FM and Mix 104.9-TV on KVOE.com

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s go time. Time for football season, and another pivotal season for the Emporia State Hornets.

The 2015 season begins with a battle of the known versus the unknown as ESU travels to Joplin, Mo., to take on Missouri Southern. Emporia State has the stability in the coaching staff and quarterback, while Missouri Southern is all new. New head coach, new staff, new quarterback, new schemes both offensively and defensively.

There are some knowns for the Lions. Head coach Denver Johnson had decent success at FCS schools Illinois State and Murray State before a dismal 2-10 record and spiraling attendance at the end of the 2014 campaign spelled the end of the Johnson era at Tulsa. Defensive coordinator Kenny Evans, who had decent success at Northeastern State as a head coach, may have done better as Southern’s defensive coordinator from 1989 to 1997.

The questions for the Lions, though, are legion, including how the coaching staff melds together, how the offense adjusts to a spread formation with a former quarterback-turned-running back as quarterback and how the defense does with a 4-2-5 setup.

Things to listen to Thursday night:

Can the Emporia State offensive line keep Brent Wilson upright? Wilson got through most of the magical playoff run in 2013 clean before suffering a broken collarbone. No offense to Wilson’s replacement, but the Hornets’ playoff chances died on the spot. The Hornets were already scuffling when Wilson’s collarbone snapped again during the Northeastern State victory last year, and the team looked lost, disillusioned and frankly uncaring afterward. ESU should have a dynamic offense with a stacked receiver corps and a solid stable of running backs, but none of that matters if No. 15 is flat repeatedly or on the shelf again. If, however, Wilson has time to survey the field, look out. Kavaski Ervin, Mitchell Foote and Justin Brown should all have really good years, and one of them should have a big game Thursday night if Wilson is kept clean.

Does Emporia State’s glass jaw from 2014 extend to 2015? Last year, if the Hornets got hit in the mouth or had a case of the dropsies, you could guarantee a snowball effect. Guarantee it. And if it happened in the first half, there was no hope of a comeback. The only exception was the Nebraska-Kearney season closer, when the Hornets roared back from a 28-point deficit and overcame several miscues to lose by two (no second-half miscues, no loss, but that’s beside the point here). The hope is that loss to the Lopers, which saw the emotional emergence of Eddie Vinson as a team leader, reestablished the fight the Hornets have been known for the prior two seasons.

Can ESU’s defense harass Missouri Southern’s new quarterback? ESU fared poorly defensively last year, and that’s one of the bigger understatements of MIAA football from 2014: last in total defense, 10th in scoring defense, last in pass defense, 10th in third-down conversions against and dead last in sacks (32 behind No. 11 on the list). In general, the Hornets have to get after the quarterback better this year, and there’s no time like the present. Southern QB Ty’Quan Hayes has a feel for the offense, according to Johnson, but he was a reserve running back and return man last year — throwing all of one pass in the process. Hayes was an accomplished quarterback in high school, but rust can be expected. With the right attack, the Hornets should take advantage of this.

Final score: ESU 31, Missouri Southern 21

D-2’s Toughest Conference Keeps Getting Tougher

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Thanks to the ongoing playoff successes of Northwest Missouri and Pittsburg State, coupled with strong showings year in and year out from teams like Central Missouri and Missouri Western, the MIAA has long been considered among the toughest — if not the toughest — Division II conference around for football. This year should be no exception as teams added last year continue to acclimate.

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14: Lincoln Blue Tigers. The Mike Jones era hasn’t gone as promised in Jefferson City, and despite some returning experience this year doesn’t look to be any better. So expect a lot more gesticulating and strange substitution patterns. Last year’s Blue Tigers didn’t have much to hang their helmets on. There has been a concerted effort this year to bolster the offensive line and kicking aspects.

13. Southwest Baptist Bearcats. Another year, another year of change at SBU with Craig Schuler taking the reins. Schuler was the architect of Lindenwood’s offense last year, which should definitely benefit the Bearcats — as in putting some pulse in a team that was dead last in total offense, scoring offense and rushing offense. Schuler was also Lindenwood’s recruiting coordinator. Watch this team…just not this season.

12. Central Oklahoma Bronchos. Aside from the return of running back Joshua Birmingham, there’s not much in the cupboard for head coach Nick Bobeck. He’s hoping a more physical defense will help compensate for issues at quarterback and a continued young roster.

11. Northeastern State Riverhawks. NSU returns nine starters on defense, but that’s not necessarily a good thing with the RIverhawks finishing 13th in scoring defense, 11th in total defense and 10th in rushing defense. Joel Rockmore’s presence at running back could help stabilize the offense, which needs a quarterback to step up.

10. Fort Hays State Tigers. Season-ending injuries to Andre Smith and Edward Smith hampered the Tigers’ chances of a better finish. Both return, but this team is woefully thin on returning depth, and it doesn’t matter where you look on the roster.

9. Nebraska-Kearney Lopers. I don’t remember a team that had a season undid by injuries as rapidly and as completely as the Lopers’ 2012 season. If they can avoid injuries — and if they forget last year’s attitude of thinking they could just come in and own the league by showing up — this team could wreck a lot of dreams for the teams projected ahead of it.

8. Missouri Southern Lions. MSSU’s second-year coach Daryl Daye is hoping an influx of youngsters and junior college transfers will spark the Lions into the upper half of the conference, but that move backfires as often as not. Opponents are relieved lineman Brandon Williams graduated, Southern fans may not be.

7. Washburn Ichabods. How to replace QB Dane Simoneau…Defense should be stout, so that should help.

6. Emporia State Hornets. ESU brings back a lot of talent, especially at wideout and linebacker, but they have to replace record-setting QB Tyler Eckenrode. Team may not have the record this year that it did last year, but coaching staff continues to improve the recruiting classes each year. Like SBU, another team to watch for the future — just with a better talent pool already in place.

5. Pittsburg State Gorillas. Tim Beck’s Gorillas return Nate Dreiling at linebacker and John Brown as returner. That alone could put quivers in some opposing coaches throughout the season. Losses to Missouri Western, a 63-14 stompfest at that, and Lindenwood — both at home — should serve as motivators for another playoff run.

4. Central Missouri Mules. Central took a significant step back according to Mule standards last year with a 6-5 mark overall. First month of the schedule, with games against Missouri Western, Northwest Missouri and Lindenwood right off the bat, could mean a playoff run or a Nebraska-Kearney-style season.

3. Lindenwood Lions. Lindenwood didn’t shock a lot of coaches around the MIAA with their first season in the conference, but their 8-4 overall record and a Mineral Water Bowl berth sure perked up a lot of casual fans. There is yet another quarterback battle which could decide the season, and the Lions are hoping newcomers will make the defense a force to be reckoned with.

2. Northwest Missouri Bearcats. Adam Dorrel leads another Bearcat team with high expectations. No surprise there. NWMSU has had weapons at running back and wideout in years past, but this year the running game looks to be more solid going into the season. Defense looks solid, but the loss of Travis Chappelear on the line could hurt.

1. Missouri Western Griffons. Mo West returns quarterback Travis Partridge, so barring injury the Griffons will once again be in the hunt for a conference title. Main issues? Depth at offensive line and reshuffled defensive line.

Let the Playoffs Begin

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Welcome back, Kansas City Royals fans, to the playoffs.

Yes. The playoffs.

I know full well we have another seven weeks and 50 games before the regular season ends. But thanks to perhaps the franchise’s best 20-game stretch in over a generation, your playoffs are officially underway as of now.

Your Royals start Friday’s play 4.5 games out of a wild-card berth and 3 games out of the second at-large playoff slot. Following a 16-4 stretch right out of the All-Star Break, the Royals are one of the three hottest teams in the major leagues.

Face it. The Royals needed that particular stretch to counter an abysmal May, when they only won five games. That stretch erased a solid first month to 2013, but more importantly reinforced these Royals were the same old Royals.

You know, the ones who:

1. Haven’t been to the playoffs since the World Series year of 1985.
2. Haven’t been above .500 this late in the year for a decade.
3. Are playing their sixth series since 1990 where both the Royals and their opponents had a winning record this late in the season. Since 1990.
4. Gave us Bob Hamelin and Ken Harvey, Jeremy Affeldt and Hiram Davies, Allard Baird and the up-to-now defunct Process.
5. Provided us with quality television moments like the aforementioned Harvey getting hit by a relay throw (while playing defense)…or Chip Ambres and Terrence Long converging on a fly ball, looking at each other and jogging in to the dugout. While the ball lands between and behind them by 15 feet.
6. Offered such insightful planning as keeping Dan Reichert as a starter when he lost his gas after the first time through the batting order or bringing up unknown pitcher Eduardo Villacis to pitch his very first game in Yankee Stadium. Villacis went into witness protection afterward (and Baird into witless protection).
7. Yielded such managerial prowess as that provided by Buddy Bell, Tony Muser, Trey Hillman and (again, up until the past month) Ned Yost.

It has been brutal, watching the Royals. Witnessing other small-market teams like the Marlins get exploded, come back to challenge for the playoffs or win the World Series, get the C4 treatment again and come back again.  Or the Rays, who seem to have cultivated the homegrown pitcher tree. Or the Twins, for seemingly decades the model small-market franchise. And watching the Royals spin their wheels over and over and over again, much akin to a high-centered SUV in a snowbank, trying to back up constantly without getting out to move some snow…

It has been until now.

Suddenly it’s as if the players, especially the position players, get it. Somehow, this young squad has developed a go-for-broke, almost devil-may-care attitude that exclaims, “We’re gonna do what we can. The rest will take care of itself.”

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It’s a surprisingly mature attitude for such a young team, especially one which hasn’t jelled as anticipated since the ballyhooed Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas were called up. Call it the influence of James Shields, Miguel Tejada — heck, George Brett, if you want — but this team has refused to let the weight of this year’s horrific May bend it. So far, it has also refused to let the weight of hopes, dreams, anticipations and expectations from nearly 30 years of failure define this season as it has every year since 1985.

Good thing, too, because the 16-4 record the past 20 games has to level out. Has to. The pitching has to break down eventually. The Royals have made managing easy during this stretch, but the specter of a tinkering FrankenYost (“It’s alive! Now how soon can it learn to bunt?”) should be enough to send shudders down any Royals fan spine. Just ask the fine folks in Milwaukee.

Which is why it’s so hard for many of us, myself included, to jump on the bandwagon and ride this thing until it crosses the finish line or all four wheels fall off. These are the Royals, right? They will find a way to let us down in the most painful, soul-searching, allegiance-trying method possible, right?

Maybe. Maybe not.

Welcome back to the playoffs, Royals fans. Yes, this is the extended version. Four-and-a-half games back, 50 to go. Which just means more gut-wrenching, edge-of-your-seat, leaning-forward-into-every-pitch, I-don’t-care-if-I-spilled-my-beer-because-holy-cow-did-you-see-that moments than other teams get to enjoy.

Anyone else here forget what that felt like?

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Time is On My Side (For Now), Yes It Is

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Glad to see George Brett as a visible face for the Royals, and glad to see him in a new capacity to help the drowning franchise.

But I’m verry cynical as to what this actually does for the Royals.

Let’s bounce off some ideas as to what this actually does for Brett, the Royals team and company management (specifically GM Dayton Moore and Manager Ned Yost):

1. This puts a struggling lineup on notice. There will be no excuses for players who don’t take the time to watch film (Moustakas) or can’t take walks (most of the lineup) or can’t work a count or take productive outs when needed (again, most of the lineup). There will also be no excuses for hitters who show signs of not listening to Brett’s tutelage.

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2. Brett’s hiring should automatically clarify how the Royals attack opposing pitchers. It’s still unclear whether there was a huge chasm between what Yost said in December about the Royals’ power potential and now erstwhile hitting coach Jack Maloof stated earlier this week or whether Maloof was trying to take the heat off Yost or whether Maloof was diving off the ship. And now it doesn’t matter. In a way, this should totally torpedo what Yost said between seasons. This team is built for occasional power and a whole lot of doubles, much like it was when Brett played, so I anticipate he will preach hitters play to their strengths instead of forcing power (hear that, Chris Getz? Frenchy?)

2A. In a way, this could undermine Yost — if Yost hasn’t already done enough damage on that front himself. Brett has cast an enormous shadow over this franchise since his retirement, and it will be hard for Yost to tell No. 5 to go in a direction other than where No. 5 wants to go.

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3. This should (should) automatically increase the energy level. If there isn’t anybody either with the makeup or the results to give this team the necessary kick in the pants, Brett is now officially the go-to guy. And nobody should argue if he looks at them like, well, he did during the Pine Tar Game.

4. Brett’s hire totally buys more time and, Royals brass hopes, more patience for a team which is virtually out of goodwill from its fan base.

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4A. The move buys more time as well for the DaytoNed failure of the past several years, but not much. Moore is removed off the front burner for constructing a roster with next to no position-by-position depth and, aside from Luis Mendoza (yes, I’m counting Mendoza) and Danny Duffy, no homegrown pitching talent that’s anywhere close to big-league ready. Pretty big failures, if you ask me, especially with seven years of handcrafting a Process and selecting the talent to plug into said Process.  Yost, meanwhile, receives a reprieve for his managing miscues, both on the field and with regional media. All of that, though, is a short-term sigh of relief if the talent on hand can’t practice what Brett preaches. Then more attention goes to NeDayton, and none of it will be good.

5. I don’t think does much to tarnish Brett’s legacy, unless he has the success levels enjoyed by Maloof and Andre David. And unless the Royals throw him under the bus if the offense sputters the rest of the season, which, honestly, I anticipate. With this bunch of (ahem) management, don’t you dare count that out if the season continues to head around the toilet and leave streaks.

In short, this is an interesting move for the Royals on the field. It may help, but I’m with a lot of other people. The Royals have waaaay too many holes for Brett to fix. Those holes should have been filled by YoMoore a loooooooong time ago. This was a move by two people who realized their time with the Kansas City Royals was running out.

I Was Misquoted (Translated: A Franchise, Again, In Free Fall)

Hey, they said it.

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“What are you asking me to do? Take my belt off and spank them? Yell at them? Scream at them? What do you want?”
— Ned Yost, May 28, after being asked how Kansas City Royals were holding struggling players accountable during an 18 loss-in-22 game stretch.

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“You know how people panic?” he asked. “We’re not going to panic. We’re not panicking. We are not panicking. I’m not going to make excuses for young players. I’m just not. I’ve seen a lot of them come up and do well. But we do have a lot of them in the lineup … We’ll be all right.”
–Royals General Manager Dayton Moore, May 22. Royals are 16th in hits but 21st in errors, 22nd in RBIs, 23rd in runs scored, 26th in team slugging and 28th in walks received.

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“When you are trying to build a team,” he says, “you have to strike a balance between what’s good for the team NOW and what’s good for the team in the FUTURE. Every GM has to take those things into consideration. Well, we’re done with that balance. We’re trying to win now. Everything we do from here on in will be to win now. I mean, we are obviously going to try and be smart about it. But, as you know, the Royals have not won for a long time. And, as you know, Major League Baseball players have a small window of opportunity. Our young nucleus of players, we have them under control for the next three to seven years. We have to give them a chance to win every one of those years.”
–Moore, December 2012, after trading Wil Myers, Jake Odirizzi and others for Rays pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis. Royals sit 21-28 despite a 3.79 team ERA.

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“I want to start pulling the ball a little bit more. I don’t care about … I don’t want a ton of strikeouts, but I would rather strike out than hit the ball deep to the right-center field wall and have it caught — unless there’s a man on third base. Or a man on second base.”
— Yost, December 2012. Royals as a team through May 29 have 28 home runs, one more than last-place Miami.

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“There is just no reward here (for us) to try and hit home runs,” Maloof said. “We try to stay down on the ball, be more line-drive oriented, and do more situational hitting at least through the first two or three rounds (at home) here. That’s why I’m not overly concerned because I think we’ll lead the league in fewest home runs again this year. We don’t have a 40-homer guy in the middle of the lineup…Other teams come in here from Anaheim or wherever and they have their swing already down. This park doesn’t even enter into their minds when they hit here. They have their swings, the same swings, because it pays dividends for them at home.”
–Royals hitting coach Jack Maloof. Cubs pitchers have more home runs than Royals hitters in May. 

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“I know what the fans want. They want it, and they want it now. Instant gratification just doesn’t work (in baseball).”
–Yost, May 18. Royals have one winning season since the mid-1990s.

Bearers of Stupidity

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Being a Royals fan and seeing a pair of related (and unfortunate) incidents/trends this week, and being Catholic and remembering Lucifer means “light bearer” in Latin, I did some quick research to see what “bearer of stupidity” translated to in the venerable language.

“Aquilifero stultitiae” doesn’t really lend to any nicknames. It doesn’t even lend to an easy pronunciation.

I was hoping it would at least be fodder for a good nickname.

OK. Here’s the setup. The Royals have sucked for the better part of a generation. Twenty-five years of baseball misery. Every effort made to compete with the Yankees and Braves and Red Sox of the MLB world has faltered badly, if not blown up in their faces like a 1920s gag cigar. Royals fans have been subjected to old-fart free agents and fresh-faced, overmatched youngsters. We’ve had stars like Mike Sweeney and Jermaine Dye and Carlos Beltran alongside malcontents such as Neifi Perez and Mike Aviles and Jose Guillen. We’ve had pitchers ranging in age and skill levels from Tim Belcher to Jose Lima to Jose Rosado to Dan Reichert to Mike MacDougald to to Hiram “Kyle” Davies to Eduardo Villacis. Don’t remember Villacis? He’s the guy who was called up for one start against the Yankees when other arms were available from Omaha, gave up like a billion runs in two innings and went deep into the International Witness Protection Program (more like the Witless Protection Program with this franchise). Managing magicians like Tony Muser (no prior MLB managing experience), Buddy Bell (losing record before KC enhanced markedly upon his exit) and Trey Hillman (no prior MLB managing experience and it showed) have patrolled the benches as well.

We’ve had excuses after excuses fungoed towards us. We don’t have enough money. These guys aren’t that old. Yes, they have been problems elsewhere, but they will work here. Believe in what we’re telling you. We don’t have enough money. This is the right direction for the franchise. It’s somebody else’s fault who has more money.

The latest incarnation of a plan has been Dayton Moore’s “Process” of building from within and sprinkling the developing lineup with seasoned character-laden veterans. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Especially considering the Royals payroll, at one point among the highest in the game, has for years been scraping at the bottom of the barrel along with the Rays and (occasionally) Marlins. Especially considering the total scatter-shot direction so expertly planned by prior GM Allard Baird.

The Process hasn’t done squat at the KC level, mainly because the kids weren’t ready yet, but for several years it was doing swimmingly in the minor leagues. Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and others flat-out tore up lower-level pitching. More to the point, a pitching staff which has been woefully short on talent and promise developed a lot of both, with Danny Duffy, Mike Montgomery and Jake Odorizzi leading the way.

Praise was heaped upon the Royals. At long last, Kansas City was moving from their shack on the wrong side of the baseball tracks to the working middle-class neighborhood of Relevance.

Well, a funny thing started happening last year. Montgomery couldn’t find the strike zone, either at Triple-A Omaha or AA Northwest Arkansas. Hosmer was completely lost at the plate. Moustakas roared to life during the middle of the season, but a late knee injury totally took the starch out of his finish. Duffy blew out his elbow. Suddenly, the greatest minor league compilation of talent Major League Baseball had allegedly seen in years started to resemble a lot of Royals teams from the past 25 years — occasionally long on promise, abysmally short on wins.

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It was like somebody overcharged the credit cards and took away the 26-foot U-Haul (and a whole bunch of full boxes) in mid-move.

Which leads to this past offseason. Moore parked the lumbering The Process to hitchhike with Win Now, By Gum. Wil Myers and Odorizzi exited stage left to make room for Rays pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis. Good move by most accounts, but with Shields’ track record and with the disparity in contract control between Shields and Myers, there was no mistaking the Royals direction. Win Now. Summary of early news conferences from Manager Ned Yost: We’re taking off the training wheels because we can Win Now. Spring training results, when it didn’t count, mind you: the Royals won.

Which leads to the past two weeks. The Royals, after a great start, are no longer Winning Now. They are Losing Now. They have lost something like eight of 10 and done so in mainly pitiful fashion. In fact, they resemble the Royals of the past 20-plus years. Can’t hit. Can’t field. Can pitch — some — but with meltdowns at key times.

Which leads to earlier this week, when Yost said Royals fans are upset because they want “instant gratification” — and, apparently, they shouldn’t be. For whatever reason, we fans should back off our long-festering desire to Win Now. We should return to the perpetual sunrise days of The Process until the team actually Wins Now.

Excuse me?

All indications from you, Mr. Yost, and Mr. Moore were the Royals were geared to push for the first playoff berth the franchise has seen in nearly 30 years. That was supposed to be this year. Supposed to be. Suddenly, this team looks like it could just as easily have a hard time pushing the 70-win plateau which has been the company standard for oh, let’s see, the last 20 years. No progress from the supposed stars of the future (regressions by SS Alcides Escobar and Moustakas plus the suddenly powerless Hosmer). An abhorrent backup in defensive acumen and execution (Escobar, Moustakas, Jeff Francouer). A lineup that has, aside from Alex Gordon, seen its collective batting approach get worse instead of better with new hitting coaches on staff.

New expectations, fostered by none other than yourself.

Same old Royals. Fostered by misfortune, missed opportunities and misplanning. By none other than yourself.

So, instead of holding you accountable for the expectations you laid down on this season, instead of holding you accountable for the absolute chasm between said expectations and visible on-field results (again), we’re supposed to ignore that. Just push that aside. We’re supposed to suffer through another year which would be substandard for just about every other franchise in Major League Baseball. We’re supposed to let The Win Now Process revert to The Win At Some Undetermined Point Down The Road When We Catch Lightning In A Bottle Twice Process. And we’re supposed to sit there in our $20 to $75 seats, pay our $30 for T-shirts, buy our $8 beers and hot dogs, watch a brutal, increasingly clueless product (again, for the roughly 25th straight year) and take it.

Seventy wins. 70-92. Good enough to continue The Process.

Not in my world. Not after seven years of this regime, and not after a generation of unfulfilled hype and hope.

Ned Yost et Dayton Moore. Aquilifero stultitiae.

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Fred White Retires, Passes Away

empty mic

Updated May 15, 2013

“You go through a lifetime of being around sports. If you ever question whether or not it’s worth it, all you need to do is sit and look down at the scene at Royals Stadium and see the joy this game has brought to the fans in Royals Stadium. Yes, there are more important things on this earth than sports I guess, but I dare say tonight, nothing can bring more joy to Kansas City than a little single into right field to get this thing to game seven. This improbable little team, doing improbable little things, now has pushed this thing to the brink.” — Fred White following Royals’ 2-1 win of St. Louis in the 1985 World Series Game 6

Sad news coming out of Kansas City, when longtime broadcaster and Royals media liaison Fred White retired Tuesday and died Wednesday due to complications of melanoma.

I’ve said numerous times the reason I wanted to get into broadcasting (make that sports broadcasting) as a career was one inning of listening to White and Hall of Fame broadcaster Denny Matthews back when i was 9 years old. At first, it was simple fascination with baseball that drew me to the field, and it didn’t hurt that KC was playing my beloved Orioles on a hot August night. Later on, it was the narrative, the capture of baseball’s ebb and flow, the staccato bursts and legato, luxurious meanderings of each individual game and season that captivated me and drew me closer to what has turned out to be a significant part of my current career.

I have no idea why I gravitated to the Matthews-White partnership as quickly as I did, but I think (aside from the fact they were the only game in town, in a manner of speaking) it was because they brought complementary views and approaches to the broadcast. Matthews had the largely journalistic, almost newslike delivery. White was less shy about rooting for the Royals, perhaps less inclined to painting a verbal picture than Matthews, but he never overdid it like a lot of broadcasters have done throughout time. They didn’t interact as much as some crews — each set of innings seemed like it belonged to Matthews or White as their handiwork — but when they did talk amongst themselves, it struck of two friends talking to each other. Nothing forced.

fred and denny
Royals broadcasters Denny Matthews (left) and Fred White captured the franchise’s heyday in the 1970s and ’80s. teamleaks.com photo.

For sports, broadcasters are the soundtracks for rabid and casual fans alike. They set the tone for what’s happening on the field of play. That soundtrack can be histrionic, hyper, bloated, unintelligible…and regardless of the style, somebody will say that’s the best way games should be called. Both individually and together, White and Matthews brought an understated approach to their craft. In essence, they let the game dictate how they emphasized the game’s peaks and valley without ego or hype.

Between listening to White and Matthews and following Nebraska football through the voicings of Lyell Bremser, I quickly developed my broadcast philosophy (although I never truly thought of it until my current job): let the game’s moments or the ebb and flow dictate how to punctuate. Don’t hype. Catchphrases are OK, if used in moderation. Criticize judiciously, balancing that criticism with an understanding of the situation and thus adding possible mitigating factors.

That’s not to say I follow my philosophy consistently, but that’s how I feel about the profession.

Anyway, those lessons were supported by other broadcasters. Frank Adkisson did a wonderful job calling Omaha Royals and Lancers games in the 1980s and early 1990s, basically because he used that exact philosophy. Nationally, the voices of Dave Barnett, Al Michaels, Keith Jackson and the now-silenced vocal cords of Pat Summerall and Jim Durham could all capture the moment in their own ways without going diving into the cesspool of hype and blather.

And regionally, it was Denny and Fred. Not Harry Caray. Not Mike Shannon or John Rooney or Hawk Harrelson.

I only met White a couple times, back when KVOE was a regular attendee at the Royals’ special daylong festivities for the Kansas Association of Broadcasters. I can tell you that what you heard for over two decades on the air was what I found to be true in person: a down-to-earth, unpretentious, smart, funny, inquisitive man who had time for everybody — even if he really didn’t have time for anybody because of his schedule — and was more than willing to lend his advice and experienced ear to broadcasters like me seeking advice.

It was maddening when the Royals replaced White, and Ryan Lefebvre didn’t get a fair shake for years from fans like me simply because he was Fred’s replacement even though he was worthy of the job. It was sobering to hear health issues forced White away, this time from life itself. Frankly, it was depressing. You know days like this are coming, the days when your childhood idols have to go on, but it doesn’t make things any easier.

For Royals fans, White’s death is eerily similar to the passing of fellow broadcaster (and White’s longtime college TV basketball partner) Paul Splittorff in that they both ultimately succumbed to cancer, although this was seemingly a much more sudden transition from life to death. Splittorff’s status was in limbo for several months before his diagnosis was revealed two years ago, but by that time he didn’t have long to live.

White was a broadcaster who has the respect and admiration of a lot of sportscasters across the Midwest. Based on how he was behind the microphone and how he was away from it, he earned it. Broadcasting needs more Fred Whites. In this day and age, it’s unlikely we will see that happen.

Rest in peace, Fred. I know you have a good starting lineup to talk about — and from what I hear, the bench is pretty good, too.

Travel Plans

Kansas City Rolays shortstop Alcides Escobar channels his inner Rick Dempsey during a recent snow delay against Tampa Bay. Kansas City Star photo.
Kansas City Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar channels his inner Rick Dempsey during a recent snow delay against Tampa Bay. The game was eventually postponed. Kansas City Star photo.

Also posted on IndySportsLegends.com.

I have already said this has been a messed-up spring when it comes to the weather. But a snow-out in early May is a little much.

That was the story Thursday as the Royals and Rays tried to end their three-game set at Kauffman Stadium. Believe me, they tried because Tampa Bay isn’t scheduled to come back to KC. So they swung — and missed. Mother Nature threw the teams a cold, wet fastball for the first couple innings before changing speeds with snow…and lots of it…before, after better than a two-hour delay, officials just gave up and postponed the game.

To make matters worse, the Royals were victimized by a second straight postponement with the forecast of cold, wet weather Friday as the White Sox rolled into town. (The Royals have had no luck gaining any sort of rhythm this season, largely due to the weather, but that’s not the purpose of this column.)

What the Royals, Rays and White Sox experienced over the past few days is notable, but only because it’s affecting the MLB season later than normal. However, perhaps this points up the need for baseball to change its scheduling priorities.

For whatever reason, baseball at the professional level has been bound and determined to start in either early April or late March. It’s tradition for longer than I can remember. However, put baseball up against the weather in March and April, and you run the risk of losing a significant amount of games because of rain and/or snow. And this isn’t just limited to the Upper Midwest. From Denver through Kansas City and Chicago east across Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York and Massachusetts, the risk of snow-outs is a legitimate concern for the first three or four weeks of the season.

And, if you look at it, this impacts some of America’s biggest media markets.

I understand it may be advisable to keep the April games. From a monetary standpoint, you could well get 1.5 to two full games worth of advertising in (I’m just speculating because that’s not my field of expertise), plus you definitely could receive up to two games worth of attendance, concessions and merchandise for the original and makeup date.

From the fan’s standpoint, though, it’s horrible. Only the hardy or the stupid — or the media — would sit through a game like what transpired Thursday in Kansas City. Judging from the visual attendance estimate, less than 4,000 people fit any of those categories at the K.

The most sensible option — which is probably why it hasn’t happened yet — is to minimize the number of Frost Belt games until May 1. Every team needs to have an opening series in April. I will grant you that. But minimize the number of series until the risk of wintry weather is, 2013 aside, just about gone. Then return the favor in September.

College teams from the Four Corners area to the Cumberland Gap and Shenandoah Valley have to make adjustments for the early third of every year, and mainly because the season in Sun Belt states opens in February. For a Nebraska or a Creighton or an Indiana or a Maine  to compete with Arizona or Texas or LSU or Florida, you have to get the early games in. And because of the weather, you have to go south to do that. At least until games start in April and end in Omaha in August.

This would not be ideal from a marketing vantage point. But it would be more enjoyable for fans and, more important for team officials, safer for their biggest investments — their players.

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