Tag: Royals

ALCS - Baltimore Orioles v Kansas City Royals - Game Four

This team.


There are only so many ways to describe the impossible, so let me relate a personal anecdote. Minutes after the Kansas City Royals beat Baltimore and secured their first World Series berth since the first Nintendo game system was invented, my younger daughter, Katie, called on FaceTime. She was wearing a Royals sweatshirt.

“Mom’s crying,” she said.

My wife, Margo, is from a tiny town in Kansas called Cuba. Well, Cuba used to be a tiny town – it’s smaller than that now. Margo was valedictorian of her high school class of 12. That high school closed down a while ago.

In Cuba, when my wife was young, the years were marked by certain events. There was harvest, of course, and the Cuba Rock-a-Thon – which still proudly features delicious Czech food and more than 300 hours of people going back and forth in rocking chairs – and the Republic County Fair in Belleville. There was Kansas State football season and the college basketball season, Halloween and Christmas. As much as anything, there was Royals baseball.

Yes, the Royals were there, every night of summer on KSAL from Salina, Kan., (or, when the wind was right, the big station, 980 KMBZ out of Kansas City). Cuba folks would sit outside in the sweltering evenings and listen to Denny Matthews and Fred White call the action.

I know many people from tiny Midwestern towns – Minneapolis, Clay Center, Abilene, just in Kansas – and most of them seem powerfully impacted by Royals baseball on the radio. I’m not sure it’s an emotion I can fully explain, but I guess it had something to do with connecting to a bigger city, connecting to the country at large, reaching beyond the sometimes claustrophobic city limits and the often suffocating boredom of nothing new ever happening. The Royals of Margo’s youth were exciting and passionate. George Brett almost hit .400, Frank White made dazzling plays, Bret Saberhagen pitched games that were more like symphonies, and Dan Quisenberry closed the door.

Then, about the time Margo turned 16, the Royals just stopped. They didn’t just stop winning. They stopped being. The team of Brett and Leonard and Sabes and Quiz … well … what? Who could even say? One year they were a team of washed-up veterans. The next they were a team of overmatched kids. Then they were washed-up veterans again.

[ RELATED: Ned Yost doesn’t get much credit for Royals’ run. Maybe he should ]

The Royals never had any money, so the best players would dig holes in the walls behind posters to escape. They were never any good, so the only time SportsCenter or anyone else paid attention was when they went on 19-game losing streaks or when their first-base coach was attacked by a lunatic father-and-son fan duo in Chicago.

Margo never stopped caring. Our first date was a Royals game. Every summer, even after the kids were born, we went to plenty of Royals games. I don’t think Royals fans in general ever stopped caring, but I do think Margo stopped believing.

Every spring training, when I was writing columns for the Kansas City Star, I would write a column called, “Why the Royals are going to win the pennant.” She would read it, and ask doubtfully, “Do the Royals REALLY have a chance?” I would shrug and say something like, “It’s not impossible,” and she nodded and went on with her life.

When Kansas City made the playoffs this year, Margo was as excited as every other Royals fan. But I don’t think she believed, not yet. It’s hard to overcome a quarter-century of bloopers and busted prospects and failed plans. When the Royals trailed Oakland by four runs in the Wild Card game, she dozed off under her covers and was jolted awake by the sounds of a comeback.

When the Royals won, though, it was well past midnight, she called her mother Judy, who had instilled in her a love of the team, and for a half-hour, the two lobbed giddy versions of “Can you believe it?” back and forth at each other.

This team; these Royals were something. For one thing, they caught everything. Margo has always been partial to great defense; it was the defensive blunders through the years (like the time two Royals outfielders jogged toward the dugout to end an inning and forgot to actually catch the fly ball) that drove her mad.

But this team. Lorenzo Cain was supernatural in center field. How could he make hard catches look so easy? Alex Gordon seemed to have some kind of magnetic force in the way baseballs would bend to his will. Alcides Escobar made every kind of play at shortstop. No pitch – even ones that bounced angrily in the dirt – ever seemed to get behind that catcher Salvador Perez.

[ RELATED: Will too much rest before World Series ruin the Royals? ]

That whole defense was brilliant, and then there were those three relievers – the closing law firm of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland – and they threw so hard, they made hitters look so helpless. They seemed to make the act of swinging a bat pointless. The Royals beat the Angels in extra innings, then did it again, then came home to Kauffman Stadium and seemed electrified by all those fans – Margo found herself on the phone with her Mom nightly, and she found herself reconnecting with old friends she had not talked to in years, and old feelings returned.

Then came this Baltimore series, four heartbreaking games of staggering genius. There was no place in the outfield for Baltimore baseballs to drop. There was no opening to the left side of the infield with Escobar and Mike Moustakas. Baltimore won this year by hitting home runs, but those Royals relievers don’t give up home runs. So when the Orioles players got to Kansas City they found themselves lost in a cavernous place where home runs died before even reaching the warning track. It became very clear, very quickly that the only way the Orioles could win was if they somehow held the Royals scoreless.

This scenario – keeping the Royals scoreless – is not implausible. Scoring runs is the team’s one weakness. But they kept going. They scored their second run in Game 3 on a blooper, a ground ball and a fly ball. They scored their two runs in Game 4 by beating out an infield single, getting hit by a pitch, (the first sacrifice bunt of Cain’s Major League life) and hitting a ground ball to first that Escobar kicked out of the catcher’s glove. They had two runs, and that was enough. The law firm came in and made sure.

Buck O’Neil, the wonderful Negro Leagues player, manager, and spokesman, used to say, “I don’t like that word unbelievable. … Nothing is unbelievable.” Buck had a gift for suspending belief and expecting good things even when there was no reason at all to expect them. Most of us don’t have that gift, certainly not to his extent, and so when the Royals got the final out and won the Championship Series and clinched their place in the World Series, I think it all just hit Margo, suddenly; the way people’s kindness hit George Bailey at the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the way a belief in magical things hit the farmer in “Babe,” the way it all finally made sense when the son asked his Dad for a game of a catch in “Field of Dreams.”

So Margo started crying. I know she wasn’t alone. The Royals are winners again. That word Buck loathed, that word “unbelievable,” lost some ground.

If this is the end for Mariano Rivera, it’s a sad day for baseball


Mariano Rivera’s career could be over.

Think about that for a moment, and let it set in. If that is indeed the case, if the 42-year-old is unable to come back, or unwilling to go through the grueling rehab required to pitch again, then this is truly a sad day for baseball.

Rivera was injured on Thursday in Kansas City while shagging balls during batting practice, his knee buckling as he crumpled awkwardly to the dirt of the warning track. He was diagnosed with a torn ACL, prompting Yankees manager Joe Girardi to say “this is bad. There’s no question about it.”

A gifted athlete, Rivera has been shagging balls his whole career. As Keith Olbermann relays in his blog, Joe Torre once said Rivera was easily his best defensive center fielder.

“Yes, he’s a great outfielder,” Torre said, “He’s always bugging me to let him play there in a game. But does anybody really think I’d be crazy enough to let him play in a game? What if he got hurt?”

How prescient, and how unfortunate.

This is not how legends are supposed to go out. Our final image of Rivera in uniform should not be of him writhing on the warning track, or being carried to the cart by his teammates. It should be of him tipping his hat to the crowd as he walks off the mound after saving one last victory.

The numbers for this 12-time All-Star are simply ridiculous:

  • First on the all-time saves list with 608
  • 1119 strikeouts and 277 walks in more than 1200 innings
  • A 2.21 ERA and 0.998 WHIP
  • A career ERA+ (which measures his ERA against his peers, with 100 being average) of 206.

And then don’t forget the postseason: 42 saves in 96 games. A 0.70 ERA and a 0.759 WHIP. And five championship rings.

But even though the numbers are amazing and worthy of Cooperstown enshrinement on their face, they are only part of the Mariano Rivera picture.

Throughout his career, from setting up John Wetteland on the 1996 championship team, to pitching these past 18 years in the fishbowl atmosphere of the Bronx, Rivera has carried himself with a level of class and grace rarely seen in life, let alone in sports. The greatest closer of all time might also be the most universally respected athlete in sports. When he does decide to retire, whether tomorrow or sometime down the line, he will hang up his cleats as the last player – fittingly — to wear No. 42, which was retired across baseball in 1997 to honor the great Jackie Robinson.

It’s too early to know how long Rivera will be out, and if he’ll come back. Chipper Jones missed nearly eight months with a similar injury in 2010-11. Rivera was non-committal as he fought back tears and talked to reporters after Thursday’s game.

“At this point, I don’t know,” Rivera said. “At this point, I don’t know. Going to have to face this first. It all depends on how the rehab is going to happen, and from there, we’ll see.”

Here’s hoping the injury is not as bad as feared. Here’s hoping that even if it is, Rivera decides to come back, even if only for one more trip to the mound. He might not care for the burden of a season-long farewell tour. It’s simply not his style. But this is no way for a legend to go out.

Mariano Rivera deserves a better sendoff.

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Jeff Francoeur already has Kansas City media under his spell

jeff francoeur royals presser

It’s been less than a week since Jeff Francoeur signed a one-year, $2.5 million deal with the Royals, but he predictably already has local media members in Kansas City writing the same type of overly glowing prose and outright fluff about him that became commonplace in Atlanta and New York.

Yesterday the Royals held a press conference to introduce Francoeur, after which Terez Paylor wrote the following introduction to an article in the Kansas City Star:

With a smile on his face and a brand-new No. 21 home jersey on his back, the newest Kansas City Royal plopped into a chair next to general manager Dayton Moore and proceeded to field questions from reporters Monday. Five minutes in–and several laughs later–one thing about Jeff Francoeur became perfectly clear: He does not lack personality, enthusiasm or (most important) hope about the future.

Seriously. Here’s a little more from the same article:

These are the positive things that players typically say during introductory news conferences, especially when it’s the offseason and it’s the Royals. But as Francoeur talked on this day, it’s hard not to believe him or Moore when they insist that better times are ahead.

Seriously. When it comes to people to trust “when they insist that better times are ahead” Dayton Moore and Jeff Francoeur would be pretty close to the bottom of my list, since one is a mistake-prone general manager of a consistently horrendous team and the other is an exceptionally overrated player who has the lowest OPS in baseball among all corner outfielders during the past three seasons. But hey, that’s just me.

Paylor goes on to make passing mention of Francoeur’s terrible on-base percentage, but mostly just brushes it aside because, after all, he “was once considered to be one of the best prospects in baseball.” As if that’s at all relevant for a 27-year-old with more than 3,400 plate appearances under his belt.

Francoeur is far from the worst player in baseball–although he ranks up there when teams insist on playing him every day–but the real source of the mockery he receives from folks like me is that the media members covering him on a daily basis can’t seem to avoid getting caught up in his sparkling personality and ability to give them good quotes. He’s a career .268/.310/.425 hitter who managed only a modest one-year deal to sign with his fourth team in seven years, yet the focus always seems to be on anything but his performance.

That must be one hell of a smile.