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Tag Archive: Missouri

Oct 19

A look back at my columns about the Kansas City Royals: Part 2 — Ode to Opening Day when any team can win the Pennant (Go Royal Sox!) First published April 9, 2009, in The Examiner, an Eastern Jackson County, Mo., daily newspaper.

Ode to Opening Day when any team can win the Pennant (Go Royal Sox!) 

“You always get a special kick on Opening day, no matter how many you go through. You look forward to it like a birthday party when you’re a kid. You think something wonderful is going to happen.” – Joe DiMaggio.

Brimming with optimism as I drove along the interstate, I tuned the dial to sports radio hoping to find a pleasurable experience listening to the Kansas City Royals on Opening Day 2009.

And truthfully, I found one, even though the “boys in blue” lost their season opener away at the Chicago White Sox.

Yes, each spring, baseball makes us believe all over again that all things are possible, for a few weeks at least.

Any team can win the Pennant on opening day, maybe even the World Series.

The worst team in the league can be at 500 in mere days. The coaches have winning records, and the pitchers have great stats. Every batter can be Babe Ruth, every fielder Jackie Robinson, on opening day.

“There is no sports event like Opening Day of baseball, the sense of beating back the forces of darkness,” author George Vecsey writes in A Year in the Sun (1989).

Thus, beating back my own disappointing memories, I decided to believe, really believe, in the home team despite its heart-breaking precedent and its past mediocrity.

The ghosts of failure would not haunt me this season, I vowed.

After all, it was Opening Day. They might win!

They did not.

However, these guys are pretty good, or so they say in Chicago.

The son who moved to the Chicago area called to say the local media there were highly respectful of the Royals and that they have some real talent on board this year. “The Sox won,” he reported.

The son who moved to Boston sent an iPhone photo from Opening Day at Fenway where the Boston Red Sox were playing Tampa Bay. “The Sox won,” the lucky duck texted.

So, should we rename our team Sox, I pondered? How about the Kansas City Royal Sox? Has a nice ring to it.

Not discouraged yet, I called the son who lives in Kansas City to tell him how great the Royals were in defeat. He quickly reminded me that I say this every Opening Day.

Baseball-almanac.com agrees, “Regardless of the outcome, Opening Day still remains as the number one date in the hearts, minds (and on the calendars) of baseball fans everywhere. The official countdown begins after the last pitch of the World Series when we can’t wait to hear those two magic words again, Play Ball!”

And if you will, those magic words, “We won!”

The late Jack Buck, St. Louis Cardinals sportscaster, summed up best our Opening Day dreams with his original on-air radio poem, titled “365”:

“When someone asks you your favorite sport
And you answer Baseball in a blink
There are certain qualities you must possess
And you’re more attached than you think.

In the frozen grip of winter
I’m sure you’ll agree with me
Not a day goes by without someone
Talking baseball to some degree. ?
The calendar flips on New Year’s Day
The Super Bowl comes and it goes
Get the other sports out of the way
The green grass and the fever grows. ?
It’s time to pack a bag and take a trip
To Arizona or the Sunshine State
Perhaps you can’t go, but there’s the radio
So you listen-you root-you wait.

They start the campaign, pomp and pageantry reign
You claim the Pennant on Opening Day.”

Oct 19

A look back at my columns about the Kansas City Royals: Part 7 — Baseball and the Royals, a hope that springs eternal. First published April 7, 2011, in The Examiner, an Eastern Jackson County, Mo., daily newspaper.

Baseball and the Royals, a hope that springs eternal.

Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True.
And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona.?– George F. Will

I might just burst with excitement if I don’t say this before I start waxing poetic about baseball. How about those Royals!

I feel better. Now, on to my story.

Baseball fever is here, and many of us have the bug. It happens every spring.

More than flowers or sunshine or April showers, it is baseball that is our true April love. It has been that way as long as most of us can remember.

After all, baseball is America’s game. Granted it may have gone global, but we invented it, and we love it.

In fact, we love it so much, that when opening day of baseball season finally arrives, folks take off work often braving bitter temperatures and cold rain just to watch. You know the drill.

Some of us have to be there. Period.

Others of us prefer the coziness of our homes or offices on opening day, but make no mistake, we are paying attention just the same.

Each spring, baseball makes us believe all over again that all things are possible (i.e. how about those Royals), for a few weeks at least.

Any team can win the Pennant on opening day, maybe even the World Series. The worst team in the league can be at 500 in mere days. The coaches have winning records, and the pitchers have great stats. Every batter can be Babe Ruth, every fielder Jackie Robinson, on opening day.

If they can be all things, then so can we. At least that is our hope each and every spring.

To be on the safe side, we throw up a silent prayer along with our hopes, “Please do not break our hearts this season!” How well we remember last year when our home team had an indescribably miserable and embarrassing record, we lament.

Let’s face it. Some years, it is nearly impossible to be a fan. We pray it will not be such a year. We pray hard.

“No more 3 to 2 losses in the ninth, please,” we beg.

“No more pitchers losing their groove.”

“No more batting slumps by our star hitter.”

Ernest Lawrence Thayer understood our baseball psyche, our worries, and desperate baseball prayers such as these as long ago as 1888. That is when he wrote “Casey at the Bat”, the single most famous baseball poem ever written. “Casey at the Bat” was first published June 3, 1888, in the San Francisco Examiner.

Another writer Albert Spalding once wrote of it, “Love has its sonnets galore. War has its epics in heroic verse. Tragedy, its somber story in measured lines. Baseball has Casey at the Bat.”

In his legendary poem, Thayer describes a baseball hero, the mighty Casey who is advancing to the bat just in time to save the day for Mudville’s home team.

It is fun to remember some of the poem’s perfectly written verses. Here are some excerpts:
“The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day.
The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play…
A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game
A straggling few got up to go in deep despair.
The rest clung to the hope that springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought, if only Casey could get but a whack at that,
We’d put up even money, now, with Casey at the bat…
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped,
‘That ain’t my style,’ said Casey. ‘Strike one,’ the umpire said…
He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew;
But Casey still ignored it and the umpire said, ‘Strike two’…”

Thus the legendary story goes, but let us pretend we don’t know how badly the game ended.

After all, it is April. Baseball season has just begun and all things are possible once again.

Case in point. I have the fever and cannot for the life of me resist saying one more time “How about those Royals.”

Oct 19

A look back at my columns about the Kansas City Royals: Part 10 — It’s the statistics, why I love baseball. First published March 1, 2012, in The Examiner, an Eastern Jackson County, Mo., daily newspaper.

It’s the statistics, why I love baseball

A baseball fan has the digestive apparatus of a billy goat. He can, and does, devour any set of diamond statistics with insatiable appetite and then nuzzles hungrily for more. 

–Arthur Daley (1904-1974) N.Y. Times sportswriter?

“You are going to Surprise for spring baseball training, again? Do you really love baseball that much,” asked my young friend who was clearly incredulous.

 

There was only one answer I could honestly give her, yes. But I added this disclaimer, I am blaming my lasting love of baseball on my Great-Aunt Ida who lived, incidentally, to the age of 98 and spent the last summer of her life watching baseball and spouting stats like she had every summer since the early 70s.

 

It rubbed off, I guess.

 

Aunt Ida was an unabashed lover of all things baseball from the first moment the Kansas City Royals became a team in 1969. She liked the Kansas City Athletics just fine, but when the Royals emerged on the scene, she was smitten.

 

My great-aunt lived in Denver where the Kansas City Royals were considered the home team and the favorite of most people who lived between Kansas City and California. This was long before anybody had conceptualized the Colorado Rockies.

 

My family visited her every summer, but if the Royals were playing when we arrived, we kids knew to sit quietly and watch the game with her. That was not the time to suggest going out to dinner or to make small talk. She recited baseball stats as well as Jack Buck, Harry Carey or Bob Uecker and her prowess left us speechless.

 

Not being a math aficionado myself, it is strange to me how I picked up Aunt Ida’s love of baseball statistics.  However, I learned over the years that the brain handles statistics a little differently than it processes those pesky eighth-grade math word problems that never made any logical sense to me anyway.

 

Statistics, now that is another matter.

 

Curious about this weird trait I have of loving baseball stats and hating math, I wandered around the web and found a blog written in 2009 on this very subject titled “Why I Love Baseball: Statistics”.  It is written by a blogger who calls himself Sixty Feet, Six Inches (in baseball ‘stat speak’ that is the exact distance between the pitcher and the batter).

 

Sixty Feet, Six Inches says it better than I can:

 

“I’m horrible with numbers. In fact, I can’t do basic math without at least having a few minutes to figure out the answer. Yet, there’s something different about baseball statistics that allows my brain to completely utilize its potential and come to a quick answer… Statistics describe baseball; they are the language of the game. Stats let us know who is a great hitter (.300) and who is below average (.200)…Statistics add to the dramatic story that is a baseball game. If each game were a movie, then the player’s stats would be the character development. When the bases are loaded in the bottom of the ninth people want the hero who is batting .315 with thirty home runs to step up and save the team, yet without stats, most of us would not know who that person is. While we all love seeing the improbable happen with a walk off blast from a career .168 hitter, we would not fully understand the rarity of that underdog moment without stats.”

So off I will go to Surprise, Arizona, one day this spring to take in the sunshine, watch the Kansas City Royals in spring training and pay attention to the stats, which you know by now that I love.

Fair warning. Last spring, I wrote three columns about spring ball, so I can’t make any promises how wordy I will get this spring.

After all, baseball is, as writer-cartoonist Saul Steinberg once noted, “an allegorical play about America, a poetic, complex and subtle play of courage, fear, good luck, mistakes, patience about fate, and sober self-esteem.”

And I might add, about statistics.

Play ball!

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