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Dispatches from Kansas City: “Have you seen George Brett around?”

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HardballTalk’s Drew Silva is filing regular stories from this year’s MLB All-Star festivities in Kansas City. Part OnePart TwoPart Three. Part Four.

The Royals haven’t won a division title since 1985 and have finished with a winning record just three times since since 1992, which has translated into over 20 years of bad attendance totals at Kauffman Stadium. But the apathy here feels temporary.

Last night’s Futures Game was a sellout — the first in the 15-year history of the event — and Kauffman remained packed for the Legends & Celebrity Softball Game that was played right after. Kansas head basketball coach Bill Self drew decibel-pushing reactions (boos from Mizzou fans and cheers from the Rock Chalk faithful) every time he stepped to the plate or was spotted on the massive HD video board that sits below the giant gold crown in center field. Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel also caused a stir.

The MLB All-Star Charity 5K & Fun Run had more than 8,000 participants on Sunday morning, smashing the previous record. The public water spouts downtown in this City of Fountains have been dyed royal blue.

There’s an excitement here for the All-Star Game and the publicity it might bring. Go anywhere in town and mention you’re covering the events and you’ll get a big grin and tips on where to eat and drink. Maybe that’s just good ole fashioned Midwest generosity. Or maybe it’s time for Royals owner David Glass — former president and CEO of Wal-Mart — to recognize that he’s sitting on another potential gold mine.

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I headed up the interstate this morning at around 11:45 a.m. for All-Star media day — held inside the climate-controlled club suite level at Arrowhead Stadium. The first player I encountered was Marlins outfielder and noted tweeter Logan Morrison, who was being trailed by two cameramen and a sound guy as he peaked around different corners of the room. I believe they were filming scenes for the second season of Showtime’s “The Franchise.”

LoMo grabbed a Gatorade from a cooler next to where I was checking my phone and asked if I’d “seen George Brett around.” I couldn’t help but laugh. “Are you looking for him?” I uttered back, in a total stupor. My brain was too blown to process his response. It’s not every day that a current major league star asks you if you’ve spotted a Hall of Famer. My guess is that exchange won’t make it into an episode.

I grabbed an open chair by the back of the All-Star Game press conference, which was already underway, and listened in as National League skipper Tony La Russa finished up fielding questions about his decision to start San Francisco’s Matt Cain over the Mets’ R.A. Dickey. “I’m very aware of the first half (Dickey has) had,” La Russa insisted. “The one edge that I thought would make sense is that we have Buster Posey catching and Matt was equally deserving. … We wanted to reward Cain for a great career of excellence. It’s a tough call.”

Cain is 27. Dickey is 37. And Tony is still Tony.

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Next the American League and National League All-Stars were made available for interviews at individual podiums under lighting designed for television shots. I tried to capture everything in eye-and-earshot while pleading with my iPhone to hold its charge. Angels stud Mike Trout was as giddy as you’d expect a 20-year-old MVP candidate to be as he spoke about playing with Albert Pujols and learning from the slugger about proper work ethic. Anaheim lefty C.J. Wilson chatted about his passion for photography with a few photojournalists. Rangers starter Yu Darvish and Nationals phenom Bryce Harper were the biggest draws. Darvish seemed at home giving responses in Japanese to questions from a throng of Japanese reporters. Harper wore Converse All-Stars and spoke softly, trying to play it cool while fighting back obvious feelings of authentic teenage excitement.

“If you had to go out on the town with one of your fellow All-Stars,” an attractive blonde in a colorful dress asked Cardinals third baseman David Freese at a certain point, “which of the players would you choose?”

“Chipper (Jones),” Freese, the National League’s Final Vote winner responded. “Just look at the guy.”

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Now I sit in the left-field auxiliary press box, built on a concourse not far from the new Royals Hall of Fame, taking in the Home Run Derby. It’s not even halfway through the first round and it’s already dragging, but there is a steady breeze blowing out to right and Kauffman has great energy. There’s simply no place I’d rather be.

The Blue Jays will . . . not be blue some days next year

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The Toronto Blue Jays, like a lot of teams, will wear an alternate jersey next year. It’ll be for Sunday home games. They call it their “Canadiana,” uniforms. Which, hey, let’s hear it for national pride.

(question to Canada: my grandmother and my three of my four maternal great-grandparents were Canadian. Does that give me any rights to emigrate? You know, just in case? No reason for asking that today. Just curious!).

Anyway, these are the uniforms:

More like RED Jays, am I right?

OK, I am not going to leave this country. I’m going to stay here and fight for what’s right: a Major League Baseball-wide ban on all red alternate jerseys for anyone except the Cincinnati Reds, who make theirs work somehow. All of the rest of them look terrible.

Oh, Canada indeed.

Sports and politics share some of their worst excesses

CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 19:  Montana alternative delegate Susan Reneau shouts "guilty" as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks on the second day of the Republican National Convention on July 19, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump received the number of votes needed to secure the party's nomination. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Cleveland, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The four-day Republican National Convention kicked off on July 18.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post writes a column today — likely part of the Post’s overall Inauguration coverage — about how the world of sports and sports fandom is a refreshing change from the world of politics. It’s a place where “facts are still facts,” he says. Where  “debates, though sometimes loud, are surrounded by oceans of substantiated facts and often informed by respected experts who depend on rational analysis to make their points.” Contrasted with politics, of course, where objective fact has turned into opinion and vice-versa.

I get what he’s trying to say and I think he’s well-intentioned. But I also think he badly misreads both sports discourse and political discourse, each of which have borrowed the worst excesses from the other. And by this I do not mean the extent to which the substance of sports and politics overlap, which we have often argued about in this space. This is not a “stick to sports” point. I’m talking about the way in which sports fans interact with sports and political people interact with politics, even in a relative vacuum.

Politics has coopted sports discourse in the most toxic and wrongheaded of ways. The idea that “scoreboard!” is all that matters. The belief that winning is the only objective as opposed to a means to an end. Notions of rooting and tribalism, and that “our team” and “the opposing team” is the proper way to view the parties to the contest. All of those things — each of which make sense to varying degrees in a sports context — have been imported into politics and have served to degrade them.

Likewise, contrary to what Boswell says, sports fans and commentators have eagerly begun to traffic in political-style reality creation, distortion and spin. He takes an oblique swipe at the “hot takers” like Skip Bayless and talk radio shouters, but he’s deluded if he thinks that they do not have more influence over sports fans than do than “the respected experts who depend on rational analysis to make their points” which he describes. Bayless and his crowd are a direct aping of “Crossfire”-style political shows.

Likewise, the concept of fan loyalty is increasingly discussed and routinely encouraged by sports leagues and teams in terms that were once reserved for party politics. The notion that those who have succeeded have done so because they are worthy and all of those who are worthy have succeeded is likewise fully believed by both sports fans and political actors. The idea that validation of one sort — electoral or competitive — justifies overlooking the political or athletic actor’s real life transgressions likewise crosses political and athletic lines. How much do sports fans and citizens overlook crimes and misdemeanors if there is a sufficient redemption or comeback narrative to cloak them?

Yet Boswell believes there to be a fundamental gap between how sports and politics are practiced and consumed. To explain it, he says this:

One partial explanation for the gap between the way we talk about sports and the way we talk about some other subjects may be the distorting force field of ideology. When we have a deep attachment to unprovable beliefs, ideas and emotions get intertwined. The psychological cost of disentangling them can be profound.

Tell me that you have not witnessed that dynamic among people whose identities have become far too wound up in the sports teams for which they root. There is ideology among sports fans just as much as there is among political partisans, even if the stakes aren’t as high.

He also says this:

For example, Clemson and Alabama have split the past two college football titles. Yet both coaches, in both years, deferred respectfully to the results, didn’t seek scapegoats, didn’t claim the results were invalid and, by their example, encouraged their fans to take pride in the battle — won or lost — and analyze it with enthusiasm but without distortion.

As if sports fans haven’t spent years re-litigating the Tuck Rule, Don Denkinger or Maradona’s Hand of God. As if notions of good sportsmanship and proper perspective are satisfied by merely accepting results. As if cheating scandals, real, imagined or inflated beyond all perspective, have not caused people to question the very legitimacy of the players in question.

As I said at the outset, I get what Boswell is trying to get at. And I find it admirable that he’s looking to sports to find some grace in an increasingly graceless world. Moreover, none of this is to say that sports don’t provide some refuge from raging political storms. They do.

But the world of sports is every bit as susceptible to the reality-denying, magical thinking storms which have increasingly come to characterize politics. And those raging political storms are very much fueled by a type and mode of passion that was first cultivated in sports and repurposed for a larger stage.

I mean, are these things really all that different?

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