The Florida-Lake Erie Tour

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It’s the grand finale.  The home stretch. It’s the final countdown.

This six-game stretch marks the final six games of Ballpark Tour 2014. I can’t believe this crazy experience is almost over. This has been one of the most insane experiences of my life, and I’m really excited to take these posts, stories and experiences and compile them into a book to share with you all!

First up are the two Florida teams – the Rays and Marlins – on Wednesday and Thursday night.

Then the following Sunday, I’m flying up to Pittsburgh, renting a car and circumventing Lake Erie over the next four days. Pirates, Blue Jays, Tigers and Indians. Here are the projected matchups…

  • 9/17 – New York Yankees @ Tampa Bay (McCarthy vs Karns/Cobb)
  • 9/18 – Washington @ Miami (Fister vs Hand)
  • 9/21 – Milwaukee @ Pittsburgh (Peralta vs Worley)
  • 9/22 – Seattle @ Toronto (Paxton vs Happ)
  • 9/23 – Chicago White Sox @ Detroit (??? vs Price)
  • 9/24 – Kansas City @ Cleveland (Guthrie vs Salazar)

September baseball is awesome, and it’s going to be so cool to be in these ballparks in the midst of some intense playoff races. The Florida games aren’t nearly as thrilling as the games up north – The Yankees are a fringe Wild Card team, but barring a giant push they’re basically out of it, and the Rays (my preseason pick to win the division) are toast. I was most excited to get to see Giancarlo Stanton in Miami, but he got hit in the face with a fastball on Friday night in Milwaukee and is done for the season. He was a legitimate MVP candidate on a team that had a lot of hope moving into next year. Hopefully it doesn’t effect him long term – absolutely devastating to see happen.

But the Lake Erie games – oh man. While the Cardinals seem to have the NL Central all locked up, the Pirates and Brewers are both in the hunt for Wild Card spots so that Pittsburgh game will be intense – the Peralta/Worley matchup is a good one too. Toronto is a fringe Wild Card team too but they’ve been on a tear lately. They’re playing Seattle who is right in the thick of the race along with the Royals, Tigers and Athletics. (As a Royals fan, it should be real easy to root for the Jays to beat the M’s.)

Less easy to do: root for the Tigers in any capacity. This might be the first time I blatantly root against the home team when my favorite teams aren’t the visitors. Who knows? Maybe the Royals will sweep the Tigers over the weekend and completely change the narrative. Anything can happen in a week in this game.

Kind of a strange pitcher carousel happening: during the offseason the Tigers traded Doug Fister to the Nationals whom I’ll see pitch against the Marlins on Thursday. The Nationals traded Nate Karns to the Rays during the offseason, who I’ll see Wednesday (although they may throw Cobb instead). Then this season at the trade deadline the Tigers traded for David Price from the Rays, and I’ll see him pitch on Tuesday in Detroit.

To recap: Fister DET to DC; Karns DC to TB; Price TB to DET.

I end my tour in Cleveland, where I get to see my Royals one more time! I’m hoping the Royals will adjust the pitching rotation which would make Vargas start instead of Guthrie, but regardless, this is going to be a blast. In a perfect world, the Royals would clench a playoff spot while we’re in Cleveland and we can celebrate there. I’ll be the one hoisting Lorenzo Cain up on my shoulders after he steals home to win the game. Probably dreaming. It’s looking like it’ll come down to the final series in Chicago instead. Phooey.

Then I drive the two hours back to Pittsburgh and fly back to KC. Tour over.

Keep an eye out for post game blogs next weekend. It’s going to be near impossible to balance the Tour with the Royals season. Thankfuily, it all collides for Game 30 in Cleveland. Oh man it’s going to be nuts.

Thanks for following along everyone. Stay tuned for writing updates over the offseason! Aaaahhhh!!

-apc.

Photo cred: Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail.

The Royals are 80-66. Thoughts from second place.

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Unfortunately, things are playing out exactly as I predicted in my worst-case scenario to make the playoffs post from last week. The Royals were 79-62, and they’ve since gone 1-4 in three games against the Tigers and two games against the Red Sox. I thought they’d take 1 of 3 in Detroit, which they did, and I was very uncomfortable entering this weekend. But I never expected them to look this bad. With the exception of James Shields’ start on Wednesday, this team seems to have lost their identity entirely.

Yesterday was tough. Not only did the Royals lose, but the Tigers and Mariners both won too which toppled us out of the AL Central lead and into a tie with Seattle for the final playoff spot. And Seattle won the season series against us, so we’d have to go there to play a one game playoff to see who got to go play Oakland in the WC matchup…assuming the A’s don’t continue their own miserable collapse.

All that to say, the Royals fell 0.5 game behind the Tigers yesterday (1 full game if we assume we’re going to lose the game we’re already losing 4-2 that we finish in Cleveland next week). We’re in second place for the first time in 31 days. It’s been a month since we were chasing the Tigers. We’ve caught them twice already – once in June and once in August – and we’re going to have to catch them a third time if we want to avoid the miserable One Game Wild Card Experience.

Lately – actually, the entire season – I’ve found myself playing the role of a stabilizer in conversations I’ve had with other Royals fans in person and on social media. This fan base is so negative, and for good reason. We are fully prepared to have our hearts broken again. I’ve found myself being the one to say things like, “It’s a long long season, and there is so much time to improve,” and, “I still believe this team can win 85-90 games again this year,” and, “It’s amazing to think that the best is yet to come.” You can say that I’ve been overly positive to this point, and that’s possible, but ultimately my goal has been to insert reality into an emotionally scarred and emotionally driven set of fans. And those are all realistic statements, I think.

But last night, for really first time this season, the reality has me very nervous.

The season isn’t long anymore. There are only 16 games left and the magic number is 17. And this team will surely win 85-90 games, but will that be good enough to beat out Oakland and Seattle? And I’m suddenly uncertain as to whether the best is not yet to come. Could it’s already be behind us?

So that’s where I’m coming from this morning. That said, here are a few quick thoughts on the 80-66 Kansas City Royals.

The next 16 games will go 1 of 2 ways.

Last night felt like one giant exhale. This team has been fighting to maintain their spot in first place and has slowly been getting tense. They don’t look comfortable. They look stiff at the plate and they’re playing uncharacteristically awful defense.

After the final pitch last night, it felt like that tenseness left them. Alex Gordon looked relaxed – albeit frustrated – in his post game interview. Yost mentioned that he may need to adjust the lineup, perhaps allowing a bit of flexibility into his managing. In my mind, this team was able to exhale in a way they haven’t been able to before. They’re not holding tightly to first place anymore. They’re in a different place – specifically, second.

In my mind, that exhaling has two possible outcomes over the next 16 games. That exhale may have meant they’ve given up. They fell out of first and they’re done. A couple days ago, Hosmer mentioned, “We can’t fold. We’ve come too far to fold.” Fans responded, “Well, that is exactly what a folder would say.” It’s possible that the movement from first to second place means they’ve admitted the gig is up and they’re going to fold.

Or, the exhale allows them to loosen up and play the game the way they’ve played it for 146 (and a half) games to this point. Have they been too fearful of staying ahead of Detroit that they’ve been a detriment to themselves? Maybe they’ll be able to make some adjustments – mental adjustments and lineup adjustments – that can propel them forward over the last 16 (or more) games.

I get the feeling that it will be the latter. The question will be whether they tighten back up again once they regain the lead and potentially make the playoffs. Don’t play like you have a lead. Play your style of baseball one game at a time. Loosen up, boys.

Yost might adjust the lineup.

I’m so tired of Lorenzo Cain batting at the bottom of the lineup. Sure, he’s my favorite player on this team. We should probably all know this by now. If not, there you have it.

But it’s just insanity. LoCain has led the team in batting average all season. He has the second highest OPS behind Alex Gordon. On the other hand, Omar Infante is dead last among the 9 daily position players in OPS. As I posted to Twitter yesterday, why would you want a guy batting .254/.290/.344 in the 2 slot while there’s a guy batting .299/.335/.410 in the 8 slot? Beyond that, Infante will get around 100 more at bats than Cain over this whole season – why wouldn’t you want the better of the two hitters (and better base stealer) to get the most ABs?

So at minimum, Lorenzo needs to move up and Infante need to move down. If it were me, I’d just swap their spots in the lineup.

The other thing that I wouldn’t mind seeing is Billy Butler back at first base for a game or two. File that under “Things I Never Thought I’d Say in My Lifetime.” Some people have blasted Hosmer’s defense lately and have begged Yost to put Billy back out there because they think he’s the better defender. That’s absurd. Billy wouldn’t have made those near-diving stops that Hosmer couldn’t quite make either.

I’d like to get Billy back out on defense because – as odd as it seems – something was unlocked in him when he started playing both sides of the ball. Billy Butler the First Baseman batted .284/.344/.468 between July 21 and August 31 while Hosmer was injured. Before he moved to 1B, he batted .269/.320/.348, and since Hosmer has returned, Billy has hit .059/.059/.118. Something happens in Billy Butler offensively when he enters the game on both sides of the ball.

So I wonder…can we either let Hosmer DH or have him come in off the bench late in the game as a pinch hitter and for defensive purposes? Even though he jacked one last night, it’s not like he’s a must-have in the lineup at this point. Especially considering how well the Royals played without him in July/August.

If I was making a lineup, this is what it would look like…

Aoki RF*
Cain CF
Gordon LF*
Butler 1B
Hosmer DH*/Willingham DH
Perez C
Moustakas 3B*
Infante 2B
Escobar SS

The * denotes a left-handed batter. It maintains the L-R-L-R lineup, and puts them in a better position overall.

The question mark here is how Josh Willingham fits into the picture. If he’s healthy, which apparently he’s not 100% right now, I’d start him in the DH spot over Hosmer and maybe flip flop a couple guys to maintain the L-R-L-R. Maybe Billy jumps back to DH occasionally, but he’s proven to be a much better hitter as a first baseman.

It’s complicated and layered and obviously dependent on pitching matchups and health, but I’d love to see this used as a base lineup.

Finnegan, Frasor and Holland.

If there’s a brightside to the game from last night, it’s that Greg Holland threw an inning and struck out the side. His velocity was down a few MPH – hovering around 93-95 rather than 95-97 – but his slider was gorgeous. I get the vibe that the training staff didn’t want him to fully uncork his fastball. At least I hope that’s what the deal was.

Regardless, it was great to see Dirty Greg in the game.

Another positive development over this not-so-great stretch of games is that two of the “other” half of the bullpen – the non-Trifecta guys – have emerged as being able to hold things down in a close game: Jason Frasor and Brandon Finnegan.

Finnegan has now pitched to 8 batters and has retired all of them. Three of them strikeouts. He made his debut against the Yankees in the Bronx and was stellar. Some of the names he has faced and retired: Derek Jeter, Carlos Beltran, David Ortiz, Yoenis Cespedes, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mark Texiera, and Martin Prado. Also John Ryan Murphy. (Who?) Finnegan can suddenly be a very valuable lefty in this bullpen.

Jason Frasor has established himself as a better-than-Crow option. Especially with Holland’s lingering shoulder issues, moving back Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis to the 8th and 9th innings and slotting in Frasor in the 7th feels very comfortable to me.

A few weeks ago, I was getting really nervous about the rest of the bullpen. Today, not so much. Bueno is good enough. Crow is good enough. As long as we don’t see Scott Downs, I’m feeling good about things.

Please, please, please, can we have some plate discipline?

This team’s lack of plate discipline is infuriating. I understand that we are putting the ball in play, which is better than striking out, but the Royals are dead last in the MLB in walks and it’s not even close: 335 in 5474 plate appearances. That’s 6.1%. Compare that to the Athletics’ 9.2%. It’s just maddening how this team can’t be patient at the plate.

Gordon leads the team with 58 walks, but even that is sort a skewed figure because teams are pitching around Gordon to pitch to the rest of the team. Gordon has 13 walks since August 24. Why? Because Billy Butler (or Salvy) is coming up next and he’s batting .156 over that same stretch. Why pitch to Gordon when Butler is an automatic out?

Next on the list: Nori Aoki (39) and Billy (38) which ranks them 105th and 112th in the league in walks. Then Moustakas (31). The rest of the everyday players haven’t cracked 30. Which simply isn’t acceptable.

Surprisingly, Salvador Perez is the worst of the bunch. He swings at everything. Everything. A few days ago, he saw 12 total pitches for the whole game. That in itself is startling. But he swung at 10 of them, and only 1 of them was a ball.

But it’s a team wide issue. Last night, the Royals 1 through 6 hitters saw a total of 15 pitches between the 5th and 6th innings. Allen Webster (who?), on his third trip through the lineup, only had to throw 15 pitches against Aoki, Infante, Gordon, Butler, Hosmer and Perez. They only saw 50 pitches between the 5th and 9th innings! That’s over half the game!

Somehow, there needs to be a way for them to balance their put-the-ball-in-play-and-don’t-strikeout philosophy with a be-patient-up-there-for-a-change philosophy. They’re making it too easy on opposing pitchers, especially ones like Allen Webster who we should absolutely light up. Also, considering our bullpen advantage, wouldn’t we want to get the games to the bullpen faster for both teams? No wonder Detroit’s bullpen has found success against the Royals. We haven’t had to face them as much and when we do, they don’t have to throw as many pitches to get out of the innings.

All that to say. Take some pitches. I’m looking at you, Sal.

Skipping Guthrie’s next start? Yes, please.

I was looking ahead at our remaining schedule last night after the game. We have one off day on September 18. Conveniently, the 19th would be Jeremy Guthrie’s next start following tonight. At this point, he is without a question our worst starter (assuming Duffy returns on Tuesday), so I propose that the Royals skip his next start and move right on to Vargas on the 19th instead.

The second benefit of doing this is that it would line up Vargas and Shields to throw in a tiebreaker or Wild Card matchup if necessary. If the Royals don’t skip Guthrie, then he would be lined up for Game 163 if necessary. Which is absolutely not okay. If the royals season comes down to one game, Guthrie is not who we want on the mound.

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That’s all I’ve got for today. Let’s go get some runs for Guthrie tonight and turn this slump around.

-apc.

Photo cred: Peter G. Aiken, USA TODAY Sports

The Royals are 79-64: Stop Blaming Ned Yost.

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What’s with y’all hating on Ned Yost?

It’s as if some of us aren’t even aware there’s a 40-man roster full of options available to be the object of our blame. It’s all #Yosted, all the time.

Maybe somewhere in the Tony-Tony- Buddy-Trey era, we all grew accustomed to miserable managers in Kansas City. Maybe my Royals fandom has blinded me to reality. Or maybe I’m just a dummy when it comes to managing in baseball.

But from where I’m sitting, the Royals are in first place, and Ned Yost is doing a fine job managing this team.

The more I interact with fans in person and online – both locally and across the nation – the more I realize there are certain “fans” out there who – no matter the year, the record, or the men in the dugout – will always, always, hate the manager.

If you aren’t tracking with the type of “fan” I’m talking about, you might want to check the mirror.

Reminds me of that brilliant Michael Caine line from Dark Knight after he tells the ominous story involving Burma, a bandit and a ruby the size of a tangerine:

“Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

When Jeremy Guthrie got lit up for I-forget-how-many runs in 2.2 innings on Monday, there was a segment of fans who immediately jumped on Twitter to blame Ned Yost for leaving him in too long. They ignore the errors by Hosmer and the lazy throw by Infante and the unfortunate BABIP* luck the Tigers had rolling that game and they hunt for something to blame the manager about. And I’m sorry, too long!? Since when is 8 outs too long? Besides, if Hosmer and Infante make those plays, it’s possible the Royals were out of the third with no damage. Why is it far fetched to believe that Guthrie could still work his way out of it?

* – BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) measures the percentage of in-play balls are hits vs outs. It’s partially a “how lucky did they get with their contact” metric.

No. The blame is on Guthrie and Hosmer and kind of Infante. Not Ned Yost.

Also, God forbid we give credit to the Tigers when it is due.

Then last night, when Jarrod Dyson got picked off second base for the 2nd out in the 9th, that same segment of the fanbase decided to hop right back on the #Yosted Express. Which I flat out don’t understand based on the inning I saw.*

* – I should mention that the 9th was the only inning I saw. I know nothing of the Rajai Davis HR or the J.D. Martinez HR. I don’t even know how we got the two runs we did. We had our youth ministry kickoff event yesterday so I was busy having a shaving cream fight with a bunch of teenagers. Sometimes life serving Jesus really isn’t as difficult as we make it out to be.

The score was Tigers 4, Royals 2. With no outs, Nori Aoki and Infante had nearly identical hits off Tigers closer Joe Nathan: slappers to the shortstop that they both beat out for infield singles. Infante, representing the tying run, was pulled for speedster Terrance Gore with Alex Gordon coming to the plate. A smart move from Yost.

Alex got up 2-0, then hit an ultra high foul ball a country mile barely out of play. It was the best pitch Alex saw probably. The next pitch, Nathan missed his spot – catcher was lined up low and inside, but his pitch was 18 inches to the right, accidentally painting the outside corner instead. Alex took it for a called strike. Then, since he had accidentally thrown the perfect set up pitch, he went back to what he was trying to do originally and threw a nasty breaking ball down and inside. Gordon struck out.

Which meant Salvador Perez was coming up with 1 out. Suddenly the double play is possible, but Yost still likes Salvy’s odds to hit in two runs. But Salvy – who has embarrassingly bad plate discipline these days – chased a breaking ball low and outside. Take a pitch for a change, Perez.

That’s when Yost decided it might be best to get some speed on second instead of Aoki, so he sends Dyson out there to run for him.

I love this move for three reasons:

  1. If the Royals do manage to score, it’s better to have Dyson in the outfield over Aoki for defense. Any good manager would make that switch anyway, why not benefit from Dyson’s wheels in the short term too?
  2. If Dyson and Gore can steal or start a hit-and-run, it eliminates the double play and keeps the game alive.
  3. Joe Nathan is already a complete train wreck out there mentally. Adding Dyson to the mix can only jack with his head more. A closer should never care about baserunners. His job is to mow down hitters, but Nathan was clearly wetting his pants out there worrying about Dyson. Besides, Yost is all about getting in guys’ domes.

Nathan was clearly worried about Dyson. I’m not sure he paid any attention to Salvy at all, which is an added bonus for him at the plate. If Nathan stays worried about Dyson taking third base, then Salvy can just sit back and wait on a fastball. Any breaking ball would only add to Dyson’s chances to steal. I wonder if he had thrown home if Salvy would’ve had the green light when Dyson and Gore took off. A rattled pitcher is not an effective one, and Nathan was noticeably so.

It’s a situation where the entire ballpark knows two things: he’s going, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. All it takes is the right jump and Jarrod’s speed will take him the rest of the way, no problem.

Then the unbelievable happened: Dyson bailed him out. Nathan pulled a slow inside move and Dyson bit on it, breaking for third, immediately realizing his mistake.

In baseball circles, we call that a TOOTBLAN: Thrown-Out-On-The-Bases-Like-A-Nincompoop.

In a 4-2 game with the tying run on first and winning run at the plate, Jarrod Dyson got picked off of second base, and I wish I could say he hasn’t become somewhat of a liability on the bases, but he has. He’s a weapon, for sure, and I love it when they pull the trigger on him – he just doesn’t seem to come with a safety.

You can argue that Yost shouldn’t trust Dyson with such a task based on his recent history, and in retrospect it’s really easy to make that declaration. If you want to rip a managerial decision, fine. But don’t wait until after it fails to point the finger.

How about this nugget: in the last 8 years, 46 baserunners have tried to steal on Joe Nathan, and only 2 of them were caught stealing. No pickoffs either. (Thanks, Rany.) That’s a 95.6% success rate. Suddenly it seems like a no brainer to run, and if Salvy grounds into a double play there to end the game or if Gore goes first to third on a single and can’t score, and we lose 4-3, we’ll all be throwing around the flip side of this convo wondering why Yost didn’t steal against Nathan when it’s so common!

As I tweeted the moment Dyson got picked off, no one ought to be blaming Ned Yost for that pickoff. The fault is Dyson’s alone. From my perspective, Ned played it exactly right in the 9th, and Dyson crapped the bed.

Sal struck out on another ball a foot low and outside to end the game. Just like that the threat was over.

And wouldn’t you know it, but the world is all over Ned Yost again for getting cute trying to do more than was necessary to get runs across.

To which I have to ask…have you seen the 2014 Royals?! Their offense is atrocious, yet they are one of the most efficient teams in baseball when it comes to getting baserunners across. It’s different every game – sometimes it’s a stolen base, or a hit-and-run, infield hits galore or a sacrifice – but somehow they have managed to manufacture runs when they’re needed.

The Royals are where they are right now because of moved exactly like the one last night.

The manager can only do so much. It’s up to the players to execute, and Jarrod Dyson failed to execute his role last night.

Has Ned Yost made mistakes? Absolutely. He’s fortunate to have the Triforce at his disposal because I don’t think he knows what he’s doing with anyone not named Herrera, Davis or Holland. Crow instead of Frazor. Scott Downs over anybody with at least one functional arm. There are times when he starts Raul Ibanez over Billy Butler and Josh Willlingham in the DH spot.

When he makes a legitimately bonehead move, I’m happy to pounce on him with the rest of you. I’m not above dropping a #Yosted when the situation calls for it. He makes mistakes; all managers do.

But when the Royals make the playoffs and Ned Yost wins AL Manager of the Year (which he will if they do), I don’t want to hear people saying he doesn’t deserve it. If you’re in that camp, I feel sorry for you.

Maybe a trip to the playoffs is just what we all need to remind us that it’s entirely possible for a Royals manager to be capable of leading this team to success.

And if that happens, I’m sure there will still be some ready to burn Kauffman to the ground at the next hiccup – when we lose in the ALDS/ALCS, likely – because these are “fans” who are more in love with hating the manager than in love with the Royals themselves.

Blame Ned all you want, but he deserves much better. And so do the 2014 Kansas City Royals.

-apc.

Photo came from the fellas over at Kings of Kauffman. Couldn’t find the original source, but I’m betting it’s The Star.

The Royals are 79-62. So let’s talk completely in hypotheticals about the final 3 weeks of the season.

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The Royals’ Magic Number is 19.

The Royals went into New York this weekend and made it very clear who the better team is without the offense doing anything to help out. The pitching was lights out – as usual* – it was the defense that was the difference in both wins. Yankees made 4 errors over the weekend and all three Royals runs in their two wins were unearned.

Over three games NY outscored them 6-5, yet KC won the series.

* – Side note: I’m becoming aware of the fact that I’m taking the Royals defense and pitching for granted. Whenever I watch another team play, it’s startling and embarrassing to watch at times. Most Royals fans haven’t experienced that feeling…ever.

On Friday, Big Game James Shields was absolutely dominant going 8.1 innings of shut out ball, with only 3 hits against him. He struck out 6. Michael Pineda was impressive himself even without any pine tar on his neck.

The only run in the game came in the 3rd when Alcides Escobar took second base on a Chase Headley fielding error. Nori Aoki singled him in on the next at bat. Wade Davis got his first career save with an ailing Greg Holland. Royals win 1-0.

As I said in my last Royals-related post, I think Danny Duffy is the ace of the future for this team (okay, along with Yordano Ventura), so it hurts to see him go down with shoulder soreness. He threw one pitch and that was it. He never looked comfortable warming up – he kept shaking out his arm after every toss – and Salvador Perez knew immediately that he wasn’t good to go.

Let’s hope Duffman only misses 1 start. I don’t want to see Guthrie pitching in the playoffs. Shields, Vargas, Duffy and Yordano is the rotation we want.

Liam Hendriks came in and pitched…just not well enough. He went 4 innings and gave up 4 runs (3 earned) on 7 hits. Casey Coleman gave up two more runs. The Yankees won 6-2 on what turned into a throw away game after Duffy left.

The bright side from Saturday: rookie Brandon Finnegan looked terrific in his MLB debut. Six batters up, six batters down. We haven’t seen the end of him.

Then Sunday, Yordano Ventura looked as good as ever: 6 innings, 0 runs, 3 hits. He continues to have short lapses of focus and will occasionally walk some guys. It’s strange – he’ll look totally dominant, and then throw 4 straight balls that aren’t even close. Probably just a product of being young.

The Royals’ offense continued to do next to nothing, 2 runs on 7 hits, but with this pitching staff/bullpen it was all they needed. Crow and Herrera both threw scoreless innings and Davis got his second career save.

They also spoiled Derek Jeter Day at Yankee Stadium, which no one really feels bad about, right?

Which makes the Royals 79-62. The Tigers won Sunday night, so the lead in the AL Central is 2 games. Royals are a .5 game behind Oakland for the top Wild Card spot, and 1.5 games up on the Mariners in the second WC spot.

ESPN has the Royals playoff odds at 83.4%. Fangraphs has them at 76.1%.

So let’s quickly project out the final 3 weeks of the season – 6 series – and see what we need to do. I’m going to lean heavily on the “but what if we stink” side of the convo. Our remaining schedule…

Sept 8-10: @DET
Sept 11-14: BOS
Sept 15-17: CWS
Sept 19-21: DET
Sept 22-24: @CLE
Sept 25-28: @CWS

The two series against the Tigers are the most important. In my mind, if we take 4 of those 6 games, the rest of them hardly matter. That would put us 3.5 games up. But for the sake of this, let’s say we go 2-4 in those games.

Sept 8-10: @DET (1-2)
Sept 11-14: BOS
Sept 15-17: CWS
Sept 19-21: DET (1-2)
Sept 22-24: @CLE
Sept 25-28: @CWS

Now let’s look at the two CWS series. Assuming we hit Chris Sale in both series (9/15 and 9/26 by my count), the only other pitcher our guys could struggle with is Jose Quintana, who we’ll face twice too. Let’s say we lose both Sale games, one against Quintana, and one randomly against Danks/Carroll/Noesi.

Sept 8-10: @DET (1-2)
Sept 11-14: BOS
Sept 15-17: CWS (1-2)
Sept 19-21: DET (1-2)
Sept 22-24: @CLE
Sept 25-28: @CWS (2-2)

The Red Sox series actually worries me. I don’t want any reminders of that Fenway series after the All-Star Break. In that series, we faced Buchholz, De La Rosa and Lester; thankfully, Lester plays for the Athletics now so that offsets the fact that we had to face him twice with Oakland at least somewhat. By my count, we’ll face the other two next weekend in KC. Plus we apparently stink at home in sold out games, which those will be. Let’s say we lose both of those and win one of the other two against “TBA”…

Sept 8-10: @DET (1-2)
Sept 11-14: BOS (1-3)
Sept 15-17: CWS (1-2)
Sept 19-21: DET (1-2)
Sept 22-24: @CLE
Sept 25-28: @CWS (2-2)

At this point, I’ve been super negative on our odds, so let’s say we win 2 of the 3 actual games against the Indians. The fourth game is the make-up from the other day. We are already down and will likely lose that one.

Sept 8-10: @DET (1-2)
Sept 11-14: BOS (1-3)
Sept 15-17: CWS (1-2)
Sept 19-21: DET (1-2)
Sept 22-24: @CLE (2-2)
Sept 25-28: @CWS (2-2)

So, worst case scenario (realistically) puts us at 8-13 the rest of the way, which means we end the season 87-75.

As of this post, Fangraphs lists the following projected wins for the A’s, Tigers and Mariners…

Oakland: 91.7
Detroit: 88.7
Seattle: 88.5

…so in a realistic worst case scenario, we would miss the playoffs by 1.5 games, and the division by 1.6. Highlights the importance of these games against Detroit. Going 3-3 the rest of the way puts us in a great position, but 4-2 against the Tigers all but seals up the division. We’ll look at that in a minute.

All that to say, 10 more wins should do it. That would put us at 89-73 and above the projected finish of both SEA and DET. With the caveat that at least 3 of those wins probably need to be against the Tigers.

Of course, that’s not what I think will happen. I see this being a 91-win team at the end of it. The weekend home series are the scariest based on our recent history in such games. I actually think we will win 2 of 3 in Detroit this week and 3 of 4 in Chicago to end the season. Going .500 over the rest of them would mean 12-9, or a 91-71 season.

The question, for me, is when will we clench?

Our magic number is currently 19, so any combination of Royals wins and Tigers losses that add up to 19 clenches it for us. If we take 2 of 3 this week, that makes the number 15.

If both teams go .500 between meetings (DET 3-3, KC 4-3) that would put our number at 8. If we win 1 of 3 at home against Detroit: 6. If we win 2 of 3: our magic number would be 4.

Which means the clencher will likely happen sometime +/- a day or two around September 26 in Chicago. Coming down to the wire. The season ends on the 28th, so we don’t have much wiggle room.

I’m going to be in Cleveland on the last game if that series on September 24. Watching the Royals win the division in person would be a dream come true, but I think I’ll miss it by a couple days.

But if we win the two series against Detroit, there’s a borderline decent chance I’ll get to see the Royals clench in Cleveland. If the split, it’ll be that weekend in Chicago.

And if we lose the next two series to Detroit………actually, I don’t want to talk about that right now.

-apc.

Photo: John Sleezer, KC Star. Original.

The Royals are 74-59: The Walkoff that Wasn’t (The Bruce Chen Disaster)

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I’d already seen this game once before.

Exactly five years ago, on August 28, 2009, my dad and I were at Busch Stadium in St. Louis watching the Cardinals play the Washington Nationals.

We were sitting out by the left field foul pole – my least favorite spot to sit in any ballpark – but on this night, I wouldn’t’ve wanted to be sitting anywhere else. In the bottom of the 8th, Khalil Greene had hit a solo homer that bounced off the top of the wall right in front of us to tie the ballgame, 2-2.

The Cardinals shortstop, Brendan Ryan, grounded out to short to end the inning, and Jason Motte – then an unproven catcher-turned-relief pitcher – came in to pitch the top half of the 9th. He stranded a 1 out double, and got out of the inning with no harm done.

I glanced up at the scoreboard to see who was leading off for the Cardinals in the final frame. I read the name, and turned to my dad. “Ballgame.”

“What?” He asked, “It’s still tied. Cards need to score here.”

I nodded, “Yep. And look who’s leading off.”

He checked the scoreboard. Up next: Albert Pujols.

Sure enough, three pitches later, we watched the ball jump off Albert’s bat, sail over our heads past Big Mac Land and into the concourse. Walkoff. Cardinals won, 3-2.

That is how last night should have ended at Kauffman Stadium.

The Royals were going for the sweep against Minnesota. They’d managed to steal both of the previous games: Gordon’s walkoff had taken game one on Tueaday, and a six-run 8th inning had fueled them on Wednesday.

The Twins kept scoring runs, but the Royals managed to keep pace. 2-0 Twins. Then 2-2. 4-2 Twins, then 4-4. 5-4 Twins, then 5-5 on Alex Gordon’s 119th career HR – passing Wade Boggs for the most HRs all time by a Nebraska native.

Early on, it felt like Minnesota would eventually manage to keep KC from matching their offense. But as the game went on, things slowly started to feel destined to go the Royals way. Maybe we were just used to dramatic wins at that point.

I was reminded of that night at Busch five years ago the moment Alcides Escobar grounded out to short to end the 8th. He stepped on the bag and I thought, “Wait. I’ve seen this before.” Deja vu, I guess. A flashback or something. Remembering the scenario, I looked down at my lineup and noticed who was due up in the bottom of the 9th…

Alex Gordon.

It was exactly how the 8th had ended in STL. I knew exactly how this would shake down because I’d seen it before. First, Greg Holland would come in and mow ’em down. Then #GordoBomb and we all #GordoHome.

In came Greg Holland. He worked around a 1 out walk to Brian Dozier – Salvador Perez threw out Dozier trying to steal second with ease from his knees for the second out – and as Kurt Suzuki grounded out to end the inning, I even said it aloud: “Ballgame.”

Up came Alex – just two nights removed from his two-run walkoff homer on Tuesday night. Everyone was standing, cheering, hoping. The Twins had brought in Brian Duensing – sounds like a typical, run of the mill, loser. A home run machine, no doubt.

But Alex got under it a bit and flew out to center field.

No matter. Billy Butler will jack one next. The Twins changed pitchers – this time Anthony Swarzak – another loser, guaranteed.

Billy got a good swing on it, but couldn’t get his arms extended and flew out to right field.

No matter. Salvy will jack one instead. But he ripped a single up the middle instead. Which brought up Josh Willingham, who grounded to short to end the inning.

It felt wrong. Like somehow the Twins had managed to sever time and create an alternative universe where the course of events aren’t what then should be. Like LOST, season six. The Royals were supposed to walkoff. Something went awry.

It was like when Marty McFly* and his siblings start disappearing from the Polaroid because George and Lorraine don’t go to the Enchantment Under the Sea dance together. “They’re supposed to go to this. This is where they kiss for the first time.” Sorry, Marty. Not in this new universe.

* – Two consecutive Royals posts with BTTF references. Can’t stop. Won’t stop.

Because in this Universe, Bruce Chen is coming in to pitch the 10th, and Bruce Chen is going to face 10 batters in the inning, and Bruce Chen is going to let six of them score.

The Royals went quietly in the bottom half, and the Twins won 11-5. Weird.

Fans immediately went to Twitter to rip Ned Yost for putting Chen in the game at all, but it’s not Ned’s fault, and it’s not Chen’s fault either. Well, it is Chen’s since he was terrible and gave up all of the runs. But there’s a reason he’s only pitched 3 other times in the past month…he just isn’t very good.

Now I love Bruce, we all do. The fans love him. The players love him. He’s hilarious. He’s always the go-to comedic relief for in between inning gimmicks. There was also that one time a few years back when Will Ferrell was mic’d up in the dugout seats at The K and kept screaming, “C’MON CHEN,” over and over, and that only adds to his loveably goofy persona.

And as much as I love the guy, it pains me to say that he shouldn’t be on this team.

Come to think of it, why is he on this team?

Well, he began the season as a starter. Yost gave him a slot in the rotation over Danny Duffy, who – as I wrote on Wednesday morning – is our best pitcher and ace of the future. When Yordano Ventura missed a couple starts with some elbow soreness, Duffy moved into the rotation and nearly threw a no hitter. So when Ventura came back, they sent Chen to the ‘pen instead of Duffman.

That’s when Chen morphed into the in-case-of-injury spot starter/innings-eater-upper-in-a-blowout guy. But the Royals starters have been strangely healthy all season (Kudos to their training staff) so that part of Chen’s roll is gone. Then as the Triforce emerged – that is, Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland – they looked to Aaron Crow and Francisley Bueno to cover the blowouts.

Wade Davis had thrown 24 pitches the two nights before, so he wasn’t available to pitch. Bueno had already pitched earlier in the game, as had Jason Frasor, and Aaron Crow had just been optioned to NW Arkansas for the weekend until rosters expand next week to make space for the Royals newest acquisition, Jayson Nix.

Bruce Chen was the only option Ned Yost had.

Okay, they had Scott Downs too, who just came off the DL, but in a knotted game with no bullpen left, you gotta go with the guy who can eat up more innings.

You can say Ned used his bullpen wrong to that point. But if they’d walked off like they were supposed to, then we wouldn’t have a problem, would we? Hindsight.

So they had no choice but to send out a guy who has zero roll on this team to keep us in a tie ballgame in extra innings. It was what it was, and it wasn’t great.

I’m absolutely not suggesting that GMDM hasn’t put together a solid bullpen. On the contrary, he has proven that it’s his area of expertise. He simply botched the last 24 hours of roster moves in favor of Chen.

And that just can’t happen. Because it’s Bruce Chen.

The question is not, why did Ned send in Chen?” The real question is, “how does a 25-man roster get to the point that the manager has nothing else to do but to feed good ole Bruce to the wolves?” In all honesty, I think all of us – GM Dayton Moore included – just love him too much to actually think of giving him the axe.

Aaron Crow got shipped to NW Arkansas for a week because they favored Bruce Chen? No way. They kept Chen because he was co-hosting the Royals Social event with Joel Goldberg! They’d been talking it up for days – can’t send the guy down the day he’s supposed to do that!

Even after his miserable showing, I still struggle with the thought of DFAing Bruce Chen. Just let him hang around and be apart of the 40-man September roster, right? He’s been here for long enough that he deserves to celebrate a postseason berth with the rest of us.

That’s what I want them to do, but it’s not what they need to do. They need to cut Chen and be done with him. He has no roll on this team anymore.

It’s unfortunate that Bruce had to bear that awful outing. He never should’ve been out there because Moore should have been more thoughtful with the roster situation over between now and expansion next week. This loss is on him for letting Bruce hang around when he needs to be cut.

So on a night that felt destined for a walkoff, this morning you could glance at the box scores and not even realize the game was ever even close. Everything seemed to align perfectly for another unbelievable moment. But the moment came and went giving way to the reality that Bruce Chen might be done with the Royals soon.

Poor Bruce. He was just the victim of reality not going the way it was supposed to go. And now, like Marty McFly in the Polaroid, he’s about to be erased from existence on this team.

-apc.

UPDATE: As of about 30 minutes ago Bruce Chen had been DFA’d. So, I feel like a terrible person, but it’s the right move for a division contending and championship chasing team. All the best to you, Chen.

The Royals are 73-58. Some thoughts on last night’s unbelievable game.

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Unbelievable game last night. Just unbelievable.

For 8 innings, the Royals could do absolutely nothing agains Ricky Nolasco and the Twins. Three singles through eight innings. The pitiful, underachieving offense seemed back.

Danny Duffy had left the game angrily after 6.2 innings of 4 hit, 1 run baseball, and could be seen shouting into his jersey in the dugout. Another gem spun by Duffman only to get zero run support. Again.

And then, just like that, the game was completely different.

Alcides Escobar, number-two-hitter-extraordinaire, led off with a weak pop fly that fell in for a single. Then Alex Gordon – an actual MVP candidate these days – took a 0-1 slider over the right field fence.

Royals walkoff, 2-1. They remain 1.5 games up on Detroit in the AL Central. Their magic number is 31.

Lots of takeaways from the game last night. Here are a few…

Alex Gordon is an absolute star.

We have a legitimate MVP candidate in left field. Mike Trout is his only competition – and he’ll probably win it still – but it needs to be stated that Kansas City has one of the best in the league playing in front of them day after day.

And I don’t think we even realize it. We are so used to snoozefest warm bodies filling in the lineup I think we miss the reality in front of our eyes. We are so used to seeing Ken Harvey and Neifi Perez and Dee Brown out there that it’s almost hard to notice that there’s a star out in LF.

Number 4 will join 5, 10 and 20 above the Royals Hall of Fame soon enough, and I think last night just woke up this fan base to the reality that Alex Gordon is a star.

Danny Duffy is the Royals ace of the future.

At the beginning of the season, we were all obsessed with Yordano “Ace” Ventura. And I still kinda am. He’s the sexy pick for the future Royals ace.

Last night’s game showed me that while Yordano Days are going to be just as exciting in the future, the true #1 on this team is eventually going to be Danny Duffy.

Duffy’s year has reminded me a lot of Zack Greinke’s 2009 Cy Young campaign. Gem after gem after gem, and absolutely no run support from the offense. They’re similar guys too. Emotional guys. Both stepped away from the game for a time. They even kinda look alike.

On August 24 of Greinke’s 2009 campaign, he had a 2.44 ERA with a record of just 11-14.

On August 27 of Danny’s 2014 season, he has a 2.47 ERA, yet is just 8-11.

We’ve spent a lot of this season worrying about how we’ll ever manage to survive after James Shields is gone this winter. With Duffy, we’ll be just fine.

The Royals defense remains insane.

Escobar might have made the new best play of the season. Ball in the hole. He picked it to his right, leapt in the air and threw hard across his body to first.

And Billy “suddenly playing both sides of baseball well” Butler made the pick look easy at first. Billy also had a great grab on a pop up in foul territory up against the stands. He made the catch, and then tripped and rolled over a sliding Christian Colon. Great play, albeit kinda awkward still.

Growing up, I was always a defense-first player. I was a pitcher and a shortstop and had zero power. I’ve never hit a homerun in my life, but I’ve thrown a lot of strikeouts and fielded a lot of grounders and turned a bunch of double plays. Those are what get me excited because I know what it feels like.

So to see this team field the best defense in the AL for the second consecutive year is a dream. I love it, and it remained insanely awesome last night.

Denny Matthews is Marty McFly.

How did he do that?! If you haven’t heard his call after Gordon’s walkoff jack, here’s the link: http://ow.ly/ALdXo.

“If this is your year – and a lot of signs for the Royals point in that direction – then these are the games that you win.”

Sure enough, right on queue, Gordon does his thing and makes Denny look like Nostradamus.

Nostra-Denny.

It’s like he has Marty McFly’s Sports Almanac from Back to the Future II. It’s sometimes like he knows what’s going to happen. If Denny picks the Cubs to win the a World Series next year, then something is up.

I truly love listening to Denny Matthews talk about baseball. He’s a genius. Few people know more about the game than Denny does. He has brilliant insights, and I’m amazed by his intelligence.

Denny Matthews is also George McFly.

This is maybe a stretch trying to make the BTTF connection, but as brilliant as Denny Matthews is, his calls are exceptionally boring.

Denny’s call on Gordon’s homerun was as bland as they come.

I mean, c’mon, Denny. One of the most exciting moments in the last 28 years of Royals history. Arguably the biggest moment since 1985. Yet somehow he acts like it was the most pedestrian event ever. Zero emotion. No passion. Completely straight faced and flat.

This has always bugged me about Denny. He doesn’t get me to feel anything at all. Toss in some drama, please! I get that he’s a no-flares announcer, but I want to be able connect with his call as a fan – not a know-it-all emotionless robot.

Again, I love listening to Denny talk baseball. Brilliant. I’m just asking for a little energy. Any energy, actually.

Finally, some thoughts about Ned Yost’s post game comments about the fans.

Woke up this morning excited to read the local headlines and national articles on the Royals’ night, but was so disappointed when I saw Ned’s postgame comments about the fans.

The media has painted Yost as “ripping” and “dumping on” the fans. He wished there were more people there to celebrate with the team. He talked about how he thought there would be more people. It was packed Monday against the Yankees, and he remembers how it was in Atlanta in 1991 when they were in a pennant race. He thought it would be bigger.

I have no issue with his plea to the fans to get out to The K. He just wants to share in the fun.

But you can’t compare our fans to other franchises’. It’s not fair and we take it personally.

The Royals have done the fans no favors over the past 28 years. We are a wounded group, and we have every right to take it personally when you talk even remotely bad about us.

I don’t think it was Ned’s intention, but when he says he “remembers how it was in Atlanta,” Royals fans hear, “Braves fans are better than us.” And yes, it was packed out there on Monday, sure, but there were arguably more Yankees fans than Royals fans. So we also hear that “Yankees fans are better fans than us too.”

Yet this is the same team that had “Let’s go, Royals!” chants going in Colorado and Texas last week! It hurts to hear that we aren’t the best fans.

But at the end of it, we are simply a fan base that doesn’t know what to do with first place baseball in August. We have plans on weeknights. We have lives. We have normally moved on to the Chiefs and the new school year by now. We don’t naturally program Royals Baseball into our lives at this point of the year.

So I guess my two thoughts about Ned’s comments are…First, we take it personally when we’re compared to other fans. Second, it’s because we’ve spent the last 28 years living in a miserable narrative.

All that to say, these are exciting times. If we maintain first place, the attendance will slowly creep up. This Labor Day weekend will be huge. Games against Detroit will sell out. And the closer we get to the postseason, the more people will show up. But a Tuesday night against the Twins isn’t going to change how we’ve grown to experience this team.

Last night was incredible. And it’s only late August. Things are only going to get more exciting. It’s amazing to think that the best is yet to come. For the first time in my life, Royals Baseball is back in KC, and I’m still learning how to orient myself to this new lifestyle.

Go Royals.

-apc.

Talking Baseball & Spirituality with Giants’ LHP Jeremy Affeldt

0834130513While I was in San Francisco over the weekend, I got to connect with Jeremy Affeldt of the San Francisco Giants.

Affeldt signed with the Kansas City Royals out of high school and debuted in 2002. He has since spent time with the Rockies, Reds and Giants. He’s a two-time World Series champion with San Francisco in 2010 and 2012, and earned the Setup Man of the Year award in 2009 after posting a 1.73 ERA in 74 relief appearances.

Affeldt has a book titled, “To Stir a Movement: Life, Justice, and Major League Baseball“. He’s passionate about his faith and is an advocate against human trafficking and is very involved in other justice movements such as Something to Eat through Youthfront.

He agreed to meet me on the field a few hours before game time to discuss his experience of God in his journey as an MLB pitcher over the past 12+ seasons.

I’ve transcribed essentially the entire interview – the dude is a quote factory, and I felt like rather than finding just the best bits, I’d just share the whole thing. So here’s the bulk of what he had to say about Christianity, faith, calling, failure, morality and being the “aroma of Christ” in the game he gets paid to play.

On finding God through struggles early in his career…

One of the sad things about Christianity for me that I see a lot among church goers, or avid church goers, is that they get into this cookie cutter type God – you do this, this and this, you’ll get this – and I don’t believe in that god. I think that’s why Jesus came down and disrupted society, because it wasn’t cookie cutter religion that he was after.

I’ve experienced that in baseball.

Different areas of my journey I’ve experienced different ways of seeing, feeling or needing God. I think in Kansas City I went through a lot of pain, when it came to the injuries, but in addition to the weird injuries, I wasn’t doing very well. And that pressure of trying to be a major league athlete, trying to establish yourself in baseball as a young player without any kind of security because I was a year-to-year guy, I was young, I could get sent down – so trying to lean on God that way and also getting hurt, and not playing well. So it was a very insecure time in my journey with Jesus.

I knew for a fact he existed. I loved him. And frustrated with him feeling that maybe at some times he didn’t care about my career. Knowing that I got to the big leagues at a very early age, so it’s almost like, “Man, you’ve given me this ability, you’ve opened certain doors, being able to experience something that 99% of the people in the world don’t get to experience”, but then feeling like he didn’t care at the same time, and i grew to hate the game.

I started seeing God as – “look, I worship you, I praise you, I tithe, I do all these things right, yet I don’t succeed in baseball.” I had a cookie cutter type God, right? I make these sacrifices for you, then you get the clean slate, type deal, right?

Then you’d see ballplayers that weren’t believers doing so well, then you’re like, we’ll why do they get to be good?

So you get to that jealousy, envy stage in your faith of what I hear a lot in those TV evangelist-type scenarios where you accept Christ you’re going to get healthy and rich and all of a sudden that doesn’t happen and it’s a big let down…Do I believe he’s a God of wealth? Yes. Do I believe he’s a God of healing? Yes. But it doesn’t always work that way.

So I really starting hating baseball. Getting frustrated with God and not understanding. I would spend hours in the prayer room yearning for understanding of what he was asking of me.

I look back and I actually think he enjoyed that.

“Think about how many hours you’re spending with me, getting to try to understand me, you’re trying to know me, and would you have gotten there if we didn’t walk this path?” And I don’t know if I would’ve. If I had walked into the big leagues and had instant success, maybe I wouldn’t’ve understood pain and perplexity.

Maybe because he loved me so much that he allowed for that to take place.

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On discovering his purpose as a Major League Baseball player…

I went into an area of not understanding who I was as an athlete.

Right after I got traded [to the Rockies in 2006], and into the offseason, it was like I casted a fleece saying, “If you want me to play this game, then I need to know why I’m here. What is my purpose in baseball? If all it is is to entertain people, then this is a shallow life. And I am not enjoying it. There’s got to be something more than this.”

This is where he started to take me into the place where I am now…this “love your neighbor as yourself” mentality. Understanding the platform which I’ve given you, to promote the Gospel.

People who sit in these seats will judge you whether you give up a hit or not or whether you hold a game or literally lose a game. So there’s no act of Gospel promotion, really, from that mound – maybe from action, how I do stuff on the mound – but even that I don’t necessarily buy into.

I remember seeing a girl who was very poor, and she was living on the streets – she was a street kid…I walked down on the street and that’s where I was asking God to show me, and I remember this young lady – she had a split lip and a black eye, here clothes were torn – probably not feeling very comfortable as a woman in her skin at the time because I don’t think she was treated well the night before.

That journey of seeing that girl and me going in and asking if she wanted something to eat and being able to provide that for her – seeing what that meant and the joy I experienced from looking into those eyes and saying, “I want to help you,” and her looking back saying, “You know I exist?” – there is where I started to find it.

I find this in baseball too, but the media doesn’t help at all in this area.

They put us as these supernatural, superhero-type people – our life is here [at the ballpark], and in our nice cars and our nice homes – and everybody else are just these…peasants. And some players do that – but I want those people to know, I put my pants on the same way you do: one leg at a time. And I get up. I have bad days. we exist in the same world, but sometimes they don’t think we do.

But I think God wanted people to understand that you always need to be aware of the least of these.

When Jesus walked the earth, he could’ve walked the same way – I am the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, I’m the child of the Most High God, I come from something way better than this. He could’ve acted like the high priests – you’re not holy enough to be around me – but he didn’t. He hung out with the people who were in pain and poverty, and the sick and in need of emotional and physical help.

He wanted to create an atmosphere of safety and trust, and he did that. And that’s where I want to be. I think I entered into that journey finding that God.

In Kansas City, I needed the God of comfort. I was going through pain and frustration, and I met him.

And all of a sudden I got promoted and all of a sudden I’m in the World Series, and I’m enjoying the game again. Suddenly, there was this whole different level of wanting to quit the game and hate the game, to being one of the top left-handed relievers in the game – and God said, “Yeah, and I needed you to understand that so you can use that platform  going go give you to help people, not a platform so that people can worship you.”

And I think that’s what he had to take me through and that’s the face of God that I met – a humbling God, but a God that made me understand, it’s not you that got you here, and it’s not about you that you are here – it’s about me.

It’s very hard int his game to see that because naturally in my flesh – you step out there, your name gets announced, and you get booed or cheered, but either way you’re getting it for who you are as a baseball player. And in some way shape or form, the pride will start to get to you. You boast in that. I’ve been there where when I go home, I’m just dad. I’m just Jeremy the Husband.

I mean, when I get home, she’s not going to ask for my autograph. It’s not happening. She’s not going to treat me like that! I even went through a time when I wasn’t getting the same respect at home as felt I was on the field.

You are not here for you.

On experiencing successes and failures…

Baseball. It is a game of failure. It is who fails the least that does well in this game. You have to learn how to fail, you have to be okay with failure.

Well, problem is, as athletes, we’re not okay with failure. We have a hard time with failure. We go out there and give up a lead and we end up becoming the loser, and everyone thinks we stink. We just have one bad day, or maybe its not even in our control. I can’t control where they hit the ground ball, it just happened – you’re frustrated, you lose, but some fans will be like, “well, you didn’t pitch well.”

No, I did pitch well, just – why can’t I succeed every time?

You start to base your days, or your trust in God, on your wins and losses – your success or not. You trust in me as God, but you don’t trust me as God. You don’t trust me with your life. Do you trust in the identity of who you are?

When God says that because you believe in Jesus you are holy and righteous, do you live out of that identity? Or do you live out the identity of you are going to be happy as long as everything is great?

Do you trust in the fact that whether the circumstances are not necessarily what you’re asking for, do you believe that I am God, and that you can trust me, and that you are holy and righteous, and I’m for you and not against you, and I’ve already written the Story and you’re living it, but don’t think I’ve all of a sudden given up or that I don’t love you, or that you’re not doing something right – maybe you didn’t pray enough or you didn’t read your Bible enough – because you’re not doing good enough.

And I think that’s now the journey I’m in now with God.

No, I am good enough. Because of Jesus.

It’s not about how much Bible verses I memorize, or how much I pray, or did I give up a hit and say “shit” in the game and “oh my gosh I cussed! Is God gonna…”

He doesn’t look at you like that! He might convict you at times, but the conviction is because he is reminding you that your identity is holy and righteous.

Live out of that identity. Do not live out of your flesh.

When things don’t go right, it’s not because God is punishing you. He doesn’t do that! You’re holy and righteous and you’re forgiven by the Almighty God. You live out of that. so when things don’t go right – that’s where you have to lean more, not pull away from, run to – just lean and trust that he’s God. Find the joy in Him.

On why he continues to play the game…

I’m probably at the latter part of my career.

Now, it’s not about the amount of money, or the security – all the things I worried about in Kansas City and Colorado – now it’s about, do I want to play this game anymore? Now, if I don’t do well, it’s like, I’ll just go home; I don’t need the game anymore. I want to be with my three sons and my wife and have a normal life. I don’t want to deal with the media calling me out for not doing good, or people booing me – I’m over that.

So now, God is saying, “No, you have two years left on your contract, I have you here for a reason. Understand that. Don’t sit there and think, ‘I don’t really need to be here anymore.’”

He says, “No, you stay. and you stay not for those reasons. You stay because I’ve called you to be a holy and righteous servant of mine in this game that is far from holy and far from righteous. This game is the furthest thing from a moral heaven that you will ever find.”

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On the morality of the game, and interacting with teammates…

The morality of the game is very very tough, and that’s where I think the cookie cutter God, again, does not make sense in baseball.

If I live in church society, go to a church, work in a church, live in a church, office in a church, and everywhere I look someone is reading a Bible, or praying or having a bible study and everyone is saying the same things – blessed! – they gotta be holy, and the live in that culture.

But this here, you walk in, and I cannot whip open a Bible and start quoting Scripture and expect any of these guys that don’t believe in God to feel comfortable enough to walk up to me and want a dialogue. They’re not going to walk up to somebody and say, “Hey, I see you’re reading your Bible. Tell me more about that.” No, they’re going to say, “You are a wacko man.” Or, “Here we go. We got another Bible thumper on the team. Another guy who – when I get back with a girl to the hotel or I come back from the bar drunk – is going to sit in the hotel and judge me.” They don’t want to feel that way. They don’t want to feel judged.

My view of spirituality in the game, when it comes to the morality of the game, when i look at Scripture, Jesus never gave his opinion unless he was asked for it. He didn’t walk in and say, “You’re wrong, and you’re wrong, and you’re wrong.” Jesus never just walked into a situation and just gave his own opinion, and I try to do the same thing in my clubhouse.

Do I go out and get drunk with the guys? No. Why? Because I don’t believe that drunkenness is good. I believe that drunkenness s a sin. I’m a holy and righteous person and I live out of that identity. Now, do I go and grab a beer with them? Yes. Why? I like the taste of beer, for one, but two – I can just have a conversation with these guys. We go out to dinner, we have a few beers, they decide they want to go out to a strip club or something, I go back to my room.

If they ask me, “Jeremy, why don’t you go out to the strip club with us? Well, are you asking you my opinion? Well then here’s my opinion.

I don’t walk up to them and say, “Hey, I want to talk to about where you guys went last night.” By just my actions alone they’ll see it. That’s my promotion of Jesus Christ.

You have guys that don’t want to believe in God, but when they’re struggling all of a sudden it becomes, “Uh, so I have a question about God.” They know who to come to, because they come to the guy – I’ve had teammates that always want to shout out stuff, but they usually don’t want to go to those guys for any advice about Jesus, because they don’t  really respect them.

I’m going to simply love you as my neighbor. Do I agree with your morals? Nope. Do I agree with your actions? No. Do I agree with the words you use? No. But I still love you. And I’m going to continue to love you. And I don’t believe that I save you.

I’m not going to be the one to change your morals. When you become a believer in Christ, the Holy Spirit changes your morals.

I’m only someone that’s just reflecting the Kingdom of God. I’m only going to be what I believe I’m called to be in my identity – a holy and righteous person. Will I act out of my flesh? Yes. Because Jesus didn’t die for my flesh, he died for my spirit.

I’m going to promote that, but I’m not going to be perfect, I am a saint that sins. But I believe my actions are going to see and feel the aroma of Christ. And that’s who we are, and that’s how you have to be in baseball.

On being the aroma of Christ…

A lot of times I’ll have conversations with people from church culture and they’ll say, “No, no. You can’t be ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus.”

I’m far from ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I just don’t think I have to whip out the Bible and quote verses to a guy who will look back and say, “Well, that’s great. But I don’t believe in the Bible.” They’ll look at me and say, “Well that’s a verse you live by, but considering that I don’t believe in God or the Bible – why should I listen to you?”

If all I’ve got to go on is me quoting verses, then no one is ever going to want to listen to you, but if they see my actions, and they see that real joy that I carry, eventually they’ll come up to you and they’re going to be asking, “Now where do you get these thoughts from? And I can tell them about God.”

We finished the conversation, and I told Jeremy that I felt like I’d just gone to church. Incredible guy with an incredible passion for Jesus and his journey with him. What a joy to dialogue with him about his faith and baseball.

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Thanks, Jeremy, for being generous with your time and hanging with me a bit this week. Looking forward to seeing you in Kansas City when the Giants come to town in August.

* – By the way, this post is coming soon. I learned today that transcribing an interview is not a quick process. Play. Type. Pause. Rewind. Play. Edit. Pause Rewind. Repeat. It should be posted tomorrow.

-apc.

Game 10: Safeco Field, Seattle

Two things about Seattle: it’s an awesomely beautiful place, and their residents don’t really care about their sports teams.

Sure, it’s fun to go to a Seahawks or a Mariners game, but this is not a passionate fan base. They cheer for their team, but it’s more about being outdoors and enjoying the night together than it is about the success of the team.

So this post won’t talk about the team much. Because, frankly, it’s not what’s important in Seattle.

What is important: recycling, bike riding, the public market, conserving energy, the outdoors…it’s a very “green” city in both the colorful and ecological senses.

And why wouldn’t you be? It’s a gorgeous place. Coming from smoggy LA to crisp and clean Seattle was like biting into a York Peppermint Patty.

It’s no wonder why so many people move to the Pacific Northwest. It’s a breathtakingly pretty place.

My wife, Karlie, is with me on this portion of the Tour. We spent time with some of our KC friends have moved up here recently – Meredith and Tim & Beth. Meredith has spent the last two years as a student at Seattle Pacific University while Tim & Beth made the move this past fall. They’re new to the area, and they love it, but they’re definitely still dealing with the tension of leaving home behind.

We went to the Mariners game with Tim & Beth and had a blast rooting for the Royals, who won easily, 6-1. They’re going back again tonight to cheer on the boys in blue.

For Meredith, Seattle is starting to feel like home a bit though. She’s built a new community of college friends and found a church she loves. Plus, college just fosters an atmosphere of meeting new people and building new life-long friendships. Kansas City is still home though – her parents and sisters are back there and she definitely misses their faces.

Meredith showed us around town in the afternoon. We visited the Market, saw the Gum Wall* and the original Starbucks. We walked down to the Waterfront and I ate a crab-stuffed king salmon for lunch because salmon is to Seattle as a BBQ sandwich is to KC. Comparably priced too.

* – Business idea: set up a candy shop/bubble gum machine right next to the Gum Wall. Guaranteed millions.

Occasionally when I visit different cities I remember that I have the freedom to live anywhere I want. I’ve lived in Kansas City for 27 years, and I don’t really want to leave, but the thought of leaving sometimes crosses my mind. My wife and I love to dream about how amazing it would be to live somewhere new: explore a new city, eat different foods, and enjoy different weather. Maybe even cheer for new sports teams…ehhhh, doubtful.

Seattle was definitely one of those places. It’s a gorgeous city, surrounded by green forests and white-capped mountains sitting on the bay. The weather oscillates from sunny to rainy by the moment, and the salmon and crab are the freshest you’ll find.

But wait. We couldn’t do that. We can’t leave our home!

But what is it that makes something “home”?

I’ve heard that pets make a house feel like a home. Or putting pictures on the walls. Or plants. But what makes a new city feel like home? My opinion…

Family. Community. Relationships.

It’s the only reason I’m still living in Kansas City; that’s where my people are, and that’s what makes it home.

Meredith is starting to feel like she has those things in Seattle. She has a community and has established a web of relationships, but she still misses here other people back in KC. Which one is home for her? Tough to say.

Tim and Beth have been in the northwest for much less time and are still getting to know their new community. Beth told us a story from right after they moved here where she saw a guy wearing a K-State shirt (her alma mater), and she said wanted to hug him because it was someone she “knew”. She was missing Kansas City, and that guy was a glimpse of home.

It felt that way after the game last night too as we were throwing up high fives and shouting “go Royals!” to everyone in a KC cap. An extension of our community back home.

We aren’t moving to Seattle – or anywhere else in the world probably – but it isn’t because we wouldn’t love to. It’s because of our family, community and relationships we have in KC. And that’s what makes it our home.

Game Notes:

There was a game too, and the Royals pretty much dominates by slapping 16 singles al over the yard. Everyone but Mike Moustakas had a single, and six different guys had 2+ singles.

Brandon Maurer, the Seattle starter, had a bizarro line: 7.1 IP, 14 H, 6 R, 4 ER…0 BB and 0 K. Jayson Stark of ESPN posted to Twitter that it was the first time someone had given up 14+ hits with 0 BB and 0 K since Whitey Ford in 1966.

Jason Vargas was terrific for the Royals: 7 IP, 0 R, 3 H, 6 K.

The Mariners offense is struggling, and I don’t expect them to pick up any against Yordano Ventura tonight. The Royals ought to win their 6th series in the last 8 chances and get back to .500 for the first time in over a week.

I should also note: the retractable roof is super cool at Safeco. It takes about 10-15 minutes to open/close, and when we got there it was closed due to some rain. But, as Seattle weather does, the next moment it was sunny and mostly perfect, so they opened it up.

It was a quick trip, and I wish we could’ve stayed longer, but it’s on to Oakland tonight!

Ten down. Twenty to go.

Up Next: Oakland Athletics.

-apc.

The Royals are 14-16

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It’s May 5, and the Royals just wrapped up their first home series against the probably-going-to-win-the-division Detroit Tigers. The Royals got swept, and I found myself completely silent on social media because I didn’t have anything nice to say in just 140 characters.

When the game of baseball gets you down, it takes a lot more words than a simple tweet to keep you from spiraling into a deep depression. Comments like, “it’s a long season,” or, “we’ll turn it around,” or, “it’s a matter of time before Hosmer hits a home run,” just don’t feel appropriate when your team just got swept by the team they’re likely going to be chasing now for the rest of the season.

This weekend’s series was awful, sure, and I feel we wasted a major opportunity to make a statement early in the season, but I believe more strongly in the importance of taking a step back and evaluating the entire season on a broader scale. We get so caught up in the minutiae of baseball – lack of power, 0-5 against the Tigers, Moose batting .151, etc. – and forget that baseball is a marathon and anything can happen over the next 5 months.

You can call me overly optimistic if you want. That’s fine. But I continue to think this Royals team can win a lot of games and make the playoffs.

I want to look at each part of our team at this point of the season, give it a grade, and then make a final point about this team and be done with this post.

Starting Pitching

The starting pitching has been borderline phenomenal to this point of the season. Each of our pitchers has gotten shelled at one point – maybe save for Yordano Ventura who has just had one average outing – and that’s going to happen at some point during the season. But even with Bruce Chen’s 5 run inning last week, James Shields’s 12 hit/7 ER performance on Friday, Jeremy Guthrie’s abundance of HRs (7), and Vargas’s adventure on the mound yesterday, we have a team ERA of 3.42 – third best in the AL behind Detroit and Oakland. Our starters also have the second lowest BB/9 in the AL – 2.51, second only to the Yankees.

So the pitching is there. Ventura has been as advertised. Vargas has benefitted greatly from the large confines of Kauffman Stadium and has been arguably worth the contract we are paying him. Guthrie has done fine, save for a few mistakes that ended up in the outfield seats. Bruce Chen has even been alright so far – much better than your normal #5 starter, and Danny Duffy filled in nicely on Saturday throwing 4 scoreless innings.

The pitching is there, and will continue to be there. In fact, we haven’t even seen the best stuff from Shields yet. Last week they would’ve gotten a solid A. This weekend has dropped them a bit in my mind. Grade: B+

Relief Pitching

The Royals had the best bullpen in the American League last year. We all know this. And we also all knew they couldn’t reproduce their insane 2013 campaign.

The first two weeks were rocky, but the past three weeks have looked much better. Wade Davis has looked great in his role. Aaron Crow has been alright – he’s been Ned Yost’s jam guy to this point and has inherited a lot of base runners. Coleman coming back from the DL will help. And Greg Holland is still one of the best in the majors at his job.

The bullpen has given up the least amount of HRs/9 in the majors (0.34) and is second only to the Yankees in K/9 thanks to Davis and Greg Holland.

Early April was rough. The past few weeks have been okay.

I believe in this unit. But they’ve been shaky early, and I can’t give them a grade on 2013 or expectations. Grade: B-

Batting

This has been embarrassing to watch at times.

Mike Moustakas opens the season with an embarrassing hitless streak. Billy Butler is in an unprecedented slump. Hosmer hasn’t hit a home run yet. In fact, the entire Royals team has been in a power slump and have only hit 12 homers as a team. Dead last in the MLB. Jose Abreu of the White Sox has hit 11 by himself. The league average is 27 HRs. Colorado has hit 43. In fact, 5 different Colorado players have hit more HRs than the Royals leader, Moustakas, who has 4: Tulowitski (7), Morneau (6), Gonzalez (6), Blackmon (6), Arenado (5).

Sure, it’s the thin air up there in Denver, but the Giants, Blue Jays, Dodgers, Nationals, Brewers, Marlins, Yankees, Mariners, Cubs and Astros all have at least 4 players with 4+ HRs. That’s 11 different teams – two of them the worst in baseball. Embarrassing.

And what makes it more embarrassing: that’s all Moose has done this season. Four lousy homers. He’s still batting .151. He only has 14 total hits in 93 at bats. Dyson had 13 in less than half the ABs.

Speaking of Dyson, his .289 AVG has been a bright spot lately. I think it was Rusty Kuntz who said Dyson could bunt every time up and bat .300. He’s been bunting a lot. Clearly not quite enough. Kidding.

Infante and Escobar have carried way too much of this offense through April. We need to get Perez, Butler and Moose going. And we have to find some power because this is getting sad. Grade: D

Fielding

In my mind, the Royals have without question the best defense in the American League.

They handed out 2013 Gold Gloves this weekend. Gordon, Escobar and Hosmer all winning, and Lorenzo Cain and Salvy could have won GGs of their own. Escobar has already been brilliant on about a dozen occasions this year.

I wish Aoki had a slightly better arm in RF, but that’s nitpicking.

The only real complaint here: pitcher fielding. Oh my, Danny Duffy. The errors from Duffy the other night were embarrassing – 3 in one inning, single-handedly giving the game away – and brought the Royals pitchers’ error total to 9 this year, by far the most in the majors (Dodgers are second with 6, Padres 5, and no one else has more than 4 E’s). Gotta get some PFP in immediately. Maybe that’s why Shields/Vargas had such poor outings this weekend; they were preoccupied with their fielding practice. Nah.

Best defense in the league has somehow underperformed a bit over the past month thanks to some pitchers botching easy plays. Grade: B+

Management

I don’t gripe about Ned Yost as much as most of the KC fan base does. It’s hard for me to blame the manager for poor decisions when it’s the players who aren’t executing. It’s not his fault Moose is batting .151. It’s not his fault Duffy can’t throw to first base. It’s not his fault the Royals can’t hit the ball father than 320′. One of the hats every manager wears is Team Scapegoat. My guy tells me he’s not as responsible for the underperformance as the fans say he is.

Jonah Keri had a great article on Grantland about Ned Yost’s decision making – specifically with the bullpen – and if it’s cost the Royals so far. I recommend giving it a read.

I believe the difference between a good and bad manager is about 4 wins per season. There have been a few moments where I have questioned his decisions so far, and most of them have been bullpen usage questions that Keri’s article smoothed over a bit for me. I don’t believe Yost had been a good manager over his career, and it’s really easy to point the finger and blame the man in charge, but I don’t think Ned is as much of a buffoon as my peers do.

My biggest frustration with the managing of this team comes in the player decisions Dayton Moore made at the end of free agency. Specifically one decision.

When Omar Infante got hit in the face with a fastball and missed a couple games, the Royals had no immediate backup available and had to roll with Danny Valencia at 2B until they could bring up Johnny Giavotella to save the depth chart.

Escobar got cleated and tweaked his ankle last week on a play at second, and for a moment it looked like he would have to leave the game. He toughed it out though, and it’s a good thing because the Royals do not have a backup SS on their roster.

Nevermind the fact that Emilio Bonefacio is hitting like .850 for the Cubs right now, that’s not the point. The point is that we desperately need infield depth, and we needed it to begin the season. Why we felt the need to give the last roster spot to another bullpen arm is beyond me. We don’t need Francisly Bueno in our pen. We need a utility player on the bench, and an insurance policy in case either Infante or Esky go down.

I get why we signed Danny Valencia – he hits leftys well and Moose is looking more and more like a bust every day – but there is plenty of room on this team for Bonefacio.

And what on earth will we do in an interleague series?! We don’t have enough bats to survive an early exit from a starter.

And I don’t even want to talk about what George Kottaras did yesterday. Cutting him was baffling to me.

Dayton Moore has done a good job turning this team around, but it took a long time for him to do it. He has convinced the ownership to pump money into scouting and build a terrific farm system. I think he has done it the right way. Honestly, I do. I’ve trusted The Process, and our organization is in a much better place because of it.

But we still aren’t winning the way our fan base wants, and it’s player decisions like this which can shift a really good thing in the wrong direction very quickly.

But Aoki was a great pickup this offseason, and Vargas is turning into a good choice too, albeit an expensive one. If Ventura, Duffy and eventually Kyle Zimmer can even remotely live up to expectation, then I’ll be speaking much more glowingly of the management by the end of the year. Grade: C

So where does that leave us? What does my Royals grade card look like on May 5?

Starting Pitching: B+
Relief Pitching: B-
Batting: D
Fielding: B+
Management: C

Which means overall, the Royals have underperformed substantially. And yet, they survived April and are hovering around .500.

It’s a long long season, and there is so much time to improve. I’m comfortable with where the Royals are right now. I don’t think they’ll win the Central, because Detroit is absolutely stacked, but I think they’re in a fine position to make the playoffs still.

And in the playoffs, starting pitching and solid defense rules all, and that is the a Royals best game.

We need to improve, yes. But as bad as our offense has been and as awful as the bullpen was early, and as rocky as the last week has been for our starters, I think we are in a good position.

Let’s take it one series at a time. San Diego next. We can’t allow this weekend’s performance to roll over into a crummy month of May.

The losing steak ends at 4 tonight in SD. Ventura and Guthrie are going against two pitchers with an ERA over 5, and Shields matches up against Andrew Cashner. We can win this series and move on to Seattle.

And I’ll be in Seattle on Friday.

Don’t lose heart, Royals fans. It’s May 5, they’ve had a pretty rough start, and yet they’re only 14-16. I still have hope in this team.

-apc.

Game 6: Minute Maid Park, Houston

I was born in Houston.

Sometimes I forget that about myself. I only lived there for a few months before moving to Kansas City, so I obviously have no memories there myself, just second hand stories my parents have told me for years and years.

I went to my first ballgame in Houston. On April 6, 1986, was 23 days old and the Braves were in town playing the Astros. My dad wanted to take me to a Sunday afternoon game at the Astrodome. My mom agreed on one condition: he has to go to church before he goes to a ballgame.

So even as an infant, these two themes – church and baseball – were already becoming a part of my life trajectory.

The Astrodome, unfortunately, is just sitting as an empty crumbling shell next door to the Texans’ Reliant Stadium. When the Astrodome was built in 1966, it was described as being the “8th Wonder of the World” – a fully enclosed, climate controlled, indoor facility to protect the fans from the humidity capitol of the world.

The Astrodome also brought with it AstroTurf, which is where it gets its goofy name. They tried to grow real grass in there for a year, but even first graders know that grass needs sunlight to survive. It all died, and they replaced it with the fake stuff. Today, the only stadium still sporting turf is in Toronto.

Thankfully, the city declared it a historic landmark this past year and won’t knock it down now. My vote is to renovate it in another 10 years or so and turn it into a sweet concert venue. It’s too nostalgic to do away with and it’s too much of a monstrosity to just let sit idle.

Check out this Astrodome gallery here.

The Astros left their dome and moved downtown in 2000 for The Ballpark at Union Station, which was a great descriptor because the primary entrance is through the old Union Station concourse built in 1911. But quickly they found an opportunity for extra revenue when it became Enron Field that same year. Then Enron…happened, and it dropped the name for a few months and became Astros Field until it found its current suitor: Minute Maid.

Minute Maid is a unique park, and some people even called it the “9th Wonder of the World” when it was being built. It has a giant retractable roof with a retractable glass wall that goes up above the archways in LF, completely enclosing the ballpark. This is essential in the dog days of summer, but in April, it’s wide open and feels extremely comfortable outside.

Along with the Union Station design, MMP has a couple other interesting bits about it. The giant concrete archways in LF make for a really cool view from behind the plate, and above the arches sits a locomotive on a short track that runs back and forth whenever the Astros hit a homer.

Underneath one of the arches is a big gas pump with a home run counter on it referred to as the Home Run Pump.

Just to the left of the pump, down on the field, is the most unique stadium design in the majors, I think: The Hill.

At it’s widest point, the hill is 90 feet across – much larger than it looks on TV – and at the top of the hill, in the field of play, is a flag pole. It’s 436 to the wall in straight away CF – Simmons home run in Atlanta on Sunday would’ve stayed in the yard at MMP – but occasionally a ball is it up on that hill and every time I get nervous the CF is going to injure himself trying to run up it.

Yesterday was Jackie Robinson Day across the MLB. It’s a day when every single player wears the number that no player will ever wear again out of respect to the man who broke the color barrier and integrated baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

His number, 42,  is now retired in every ballpark across the nation.

The man with the second most ballparks with his number retired: Nolan Ryan – Angels, Rangers and Astros all three have his name and number on display.

Nolan Ryan’s name was attached to another hot dog too. This time it was a chili cheese brisket dog. Two nights in a row going for a Nolan Ryan Beef meal. Delicious decisions on both accounts.

Over the past two games, my friend Nick has joined me along with Wally, Ryan and Rapley and sons. Nick is a photographer for my publisher, The House Studio, so he came along to shoot some promotional material for the project. Until Monday, I thought it would just be he and I in H-Town.

IMG_6261But my buddy, Dan, found out he was going to be in Austin for work on Monday and could rent a car and make the trip over to Houston in time for the game. So it was the three of us going to see the Astros.

Except we weren’t really going to see the Astros. We were going to see the visiting Royals.

As has been my custom at each ballpark so far, I have worn the hat of the home team and tried my best to blend in as one of them. Things were different last night in Houston.

I wore my orange Houston cap.

But I was yelling loudly for the visitors.

Also, in an unintentional darkhorse move, I wore my KC Monarchs t-shirt under my hoodie, which was somehow perfect because it 1. supported Kansas City, 2. repped the Negro Leagues on Jackie Robinson Day, and 3. it matched my Astros cap decently.

I decided to get us the cheapest tickets available since the Astros draw hardly any fans nowadays. We ended up standing under one of the archways in LF the entire game spitting sunflower shells on to the warning track. We got pretty rowdy cheering for the Royals after a while – especially after Lorenzo Cain starting communicating with us pretty regularly in about the 3rd inning.

I got a few curious glares from some of the Astros fans. Probably weird to find a guy wearing a Houston cap rooting so openly for the opponent. On one occasion, when Greg Holland was in the game effectively shutting the door on the Astros hopes, a woman standing next to us turned to her husband and said loudly, “Let’s go. These Royals guys are starting to bug me.”

And I don’t blame her. I know what that’s like. I’ve seen the Yankees come to Kansas City and hated listening to their fans cheer louder than ours. It’s obnoxious and infuriating. These fans are stepping into our ballpark, our sacred ground, and acting like they belong and run the show. It’s insulting.

We try really hard to draw lines in the sand between things that we find sacred and things we don’t. We all do it: our homes, our desks, our neighborhoods and our personal space*, they’re all defined in each of our minds as belonging to us. And when someone else crosses those defined lines and wrongly enters our spaces, our frustration elevates as we watch our sacred space become profane.

* – As I write this post, I’m on a flight from Houston to Phoenix, and the guy next to me is leaning confidently into my personal space. My arms are pinned to my sides to where I’m typing like a T-Rex. He has crossed into my space and made it thoroughly profane.

It’s okay to have a group over for a BBQ out on your deck or a nice dinner in your dining room, but if your friend decided to go upstairs, lay down in your bed and turn on old episodes of Jimmy Fallon, you’d probably feel like a line was crossed.

We all do this.

And we hate it when others move into our sacred spaces when they don’t belong there.

Which is interesting to note considering that yesterday was Jackie Robinson Day. For decades, baseball was segregated into the Major Leagues and the Negro Leagues. Players like Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell and Oscar Charleston were some of the best players of all time, yet few know much about them because they weren’t allowed to play in the MLB.

Today, we celebrate a history African American players who are celebrated as some of the best to ever play the game: Hank Aaron, Bob Gibson, Ken Griffey Jr., Joe Morgan, Rickey Henderson, Willie Mays.

But in the 1940s, when Jackie Robinson finally entered the world of white baseball, he was viewed by many as an outsider stepping into a well defined space. Managers, fans, and even other players hated him for stepping into an area they believed he didn’t belong. In their minds, he was making their “sacred space” profane.

The difference, however, is that he did belong.

He had every right to play baseball, and today we can celebrate the fact that baseball- and life itself – is for everyone to participate in equally.

Scripture is jam packed with themes of sacred and profane. Depending on your family, gender, occupation, health condition, or nationality, you could only enter certain levels of the Temple. Judeans and Samaritans wouldn’t mix. Gentiles had no business in the synagogues. Women had little prominence in society. Anyone with an illness wasn’t allowed to be touched and couldn’t join in gatherings for certain periods.

And Jesus broke these socially defined spaces all the time.

Which is why the outsiders loved him, and the insiders ended up crucifying him.

Anyway. I’m excited to explore this sacred/profane conversation more in depth later. But this blog is already getting super long (because it’s a longer flight today, and there’s nothing else to do but type), so I better move on to some game notes and wrap this thing up.

Game Notes:

The top story line from last night’s game: Yordano Ventura got his first win of his career. Ventura is going to be amazing. The Royals need to lock him up for a long term contract immediately. It’s baffling to watch a 5’11” dude put triple digits on the radar gun in the 7th inning, but that’s the kind of pitcher he is. He’s my pick for the AL Rookie of the Year.

Ventura only allowed 7 base runners the whole night. Wade Davis pitched a perfect 8th. Holland pitched a perfect 9th. They looked really good, but then again, the Astros are really bad.

Last time Astros starter Lucas Harrell pitched against the Royals he went 7 IP, 2 H, 0 R…so there was some reason to think he might perform well against KC last night. Instead he went 5 IP, 5 H, 4 R, and after the game he was designated for assignment. He’s had a rough season so far – 12.1 IP, 9.49 ERA in 3 starts.

The Royals doubled their home run count in the 1st inning when Omar Infante hit a solo shot to the short porch in LF.

Lorenzo Cain became our best friend last night. He hit a ball right below us to LCF that went just under the glove of the left fielder and Cain ended up at third. They called it an error and gave him a single. He scored on an Omar Infante grounder a few batters later.

When he came back out to CF after the Royals got out, we started hollering at him that he should’ve gotten a triple just like he should’ve gotten a Gold Glove last season. He laughed, shrugged his shoulders and gave us a thumbs up. For the rest of the game, any time the Royals did anything good, he would turn around smiling and give us a nod. Basically we’re best friends now and he’s probably coming over to play RBI Baseball with me after he gets home from Houston.

Six down. Twenty-Four to go.

Up next: Arizona Diamondbacks

-apc.

The Royals are 0-1

The Royals are 0-1.

I still believe this team can win 85-90 games again this year, and they still have 85-90 to go.

But I keep hearing from other people about how the Royals have no chance against Max Scherzer tonight and are already turning quickly away from hope and positioning themselves strongly toward despair.

Which is frustrating, because this team is the same team as it was before Opening Day. They only lost 1 game. It isn’t the end of the world. And if you thought this team was a potential playoff team this off season, then one Opening Day loss shouldn’t change that.

This Tigers rotation is tough, but if we believe that we’re good enough to make the playoffs, tonight’s game is exactly the type of game we ought to expect the Royals to be competitive in all season long. We nearly beat Verlander on Monday. Why is that the end of the world?

It was just 1 game, against a tough opponent, and we can’t lose hope already.

However.

As Royals fans, we’ve seen this before, and we’ve had our hearts broken before, and we know how this story plays out. We know that 1 loss can turn into 2, can turn into 4 can turn into 6. The Royals cannot let that happen. There are a few things that need to happen over the next week in order to set this season in the right direction and reestablish this fan base as a hopeful one.

1. Moustakas must get a hit today.

We heard all Spring Training how he has finally turned it around. He’s a new player this time, and unlike last year, this Spring Training is going to carry over into the regular season. He’s finally arrived.

But then he went 0-4 on Monday.

Moose absolutely must get a hit today. He cannot start the season 0-8. He just can’t. Moose can’t allow doubt and uncertainty to creep into his head, and an 0-8 start starts him down that path. He needs to get comfortable at the plate early this season, so we don’t spend the whole year grumbling about his lack of production again. For his own sake and for ours, please, Moose, get at least 1 hit today.

2. Vargas must go 6+ innings and give up 2 or less runs.

Can he replace the production that Ervin Santana brought last year? That’s what we all want to know about this Jason Vargas guy that the Royals so eagerly paid $7M this year. He needs to establish himself early in the season as a legit #2 on this pitching staff. He doesn’t even have to win the game. But he must eat up innings and keep Detroit somewhat at bay.

3. The Royals must win their home Opening Series vs. the White Sox.

No matter what happens in Detroit, whether it ends 2-1, 1-2 or 0-3, we absolutely must take the Opening Series against the freaking White Sox. The Royals went 10-9 against Chicago last year while the Indians went 17-2. No wonder they got the Wild Card spot and we didn’t. The Royals should be the White Sox every single time they face them.

The Royals need to learn to take care of business. Losing to Detroit isn’t the end of the world, but if we can’t consistently take series against teams we should beat, then we have no business acting like we’re a playoff contender. If we win the White Sox series, the worst we can be is 2-4. Baseball is about winning series, and we have to do that against patsies like the Sox.

4. Ned Yost needs to continue to trust his bullpen.

The Royals bullpen is great. And while it’s easy to bash on Yost for taking Shields out with runners on 1st and 3rd late in the game, our bullpen has a track record of getting the job done in those situations and I applaud Ned for trusting them in that situation. I don’t agree with the decision – with Shields on the mound, I’d rather see him work out of it than take the ball out of his hand – but I at least understand the decision.

Ned cannot allow Monday’s blown game change how he wants to use his bullpen. Give the ball back to Crow, Davis and Holland. They’re the guys who got us to 86 wins last year, and they need to be the guys to do it again in 2014. Keep giving them the ball. Especially when it’s not a Shields start.

Don’t lose heart Royals fans. It’s a long season, and I was disappointed after the loss on Monday afternoon too. I was sitting at Great American Ballpark watching the score change torturously from 3-1 to 3-3 to 4-3 over the course of an hour. It was the worst and I had to catch myself from spiraling into despair myself.

But we aren’t anywhere close to despair yet. We’re 0-1, and we could even steal this Tigers series and come home 2-1. It’s possible! Don’t lose heart Royals fans. Baseball is a long long season. I still believe this team can win 85-90 games and make the playoffs.

Let’s revisit this next week. Because we’ll know a lot more about this team’s outlook by then.

-apc.