Category Archives: baseball

somehow baseball has come to be a recurring topic on this allegedly otherwise-literary blog. oops.

The 2015 Kansas City Royals: Destroying the Narrative

I hate journalism. Most especially, I hate sports journalism.

You know what? Let me start over.

THE KANSAS CITY ROYALS ARE THE 2015 WORLD CHAMPIONS.

Apologies for burying the lede.

My team, the team that has played in this city since 1969, the team I’ve been geographically connected to since birth, the team that has not won a World Series title since I was 14 months old, is the best baseball team in the best baseball league in the world. Several hours after it became reality, I’m still struggling with so many aspects of comprehension. I’ve fired off many half-thought-out tweets partially dissecting my attempts to grapple with this new and strange reality. I’ve written and deleted many more.

The 2013 Royals were good. They missed the postseason by inches. The 2014 Royals were good. They made the postseason by the skin of their teeth then inexplicably barreled through to the World Series, steamrolling the two other (also very good) teams that cowered in their path. Then they took the World Series to Game 7 against a team that, just two years prior, had swept a very good Detroit Tigers team in the Fall Classic. The Royals were not out of the 2014 World Series until that final out.

The 2015 Royals, though. They weren’t just good. They weren’t just great. They were special. They had no trouble at all clinching the AL Central division title and cruising into a legitimate postseason appearance rather than a one-game, last-chance, scrapper-takes-all spot. They met two very difficult teams on the way to the World Series. The Royals struggled during the regular season with both the Astros and the Blue Jays. Many, many fans preferred the Royals to face the Yankees and the Rangers instead of the Astros and the Blue Jays, although they struggled against the Yankees this year too.

Lots of people asked me, before ALDS Game 1, how excited I was about the Royals returning to the postseason for a second consecutive year, and I was modest, even stingy, with my response. “It’s hard to see how they can make it more exciting than last year. They set the bar so high last year, not only with making it all the way to the World Series, not only with taking it all the way to Game 7, all the way to the last out in the 9th inning, but with sweeping their way there. The only way they can possibly top the drama of last year is to go all the way back this year and win this time—and we all know the odds of that. So it’s hard to be over the moon right now.”

I’m not ashamed of my reserved excitement. Any fan who has claimed the Royals at any point between the years of 1986 and 2014 will tell you that going all in on this team emotionally is difficult. It has, historically, led to disappointment and heartbreak. The reservations are understandable.

At the same time, though, there was a small, quiet—but insistently faithful—part of me that felt like this year was the year. Last year felt magical, to be sure, but this year felt like something more solid and less fickle than magic. Last year seemed to depend on superstitions and narratives and a certain South Korean’s juju.

This year seemed to depend more on the sheer talent of the Royals themselves. Yeah, they got some calls from umpires that went their way. Yeah, they got lucky with BABIP, at times. But they also displayed some extreme skill that just hasn’t been part of this team—at least not all at one time, from every single player—for the last thirty years. The defensive plays from Zobrist, Escobar, Cain, etc., made us gasp. The clutch hits from Perez, Hosmer, and Gordon made us scream.

Chris Young, Mike Moustakas, and Edinson Volquez all lost parents this year. All three, despite these deep heartaches, put up impressive years nobody expected from them and came through for their team in huge ways (regular season and beyond) while wrestling with the deepest anguish any of them has probably ever known. Alex Gordon and Greg Holland both left the team at critical periods. Both players were considered backbone players before injuries took them out. The team won without them anyway.

Guys who are lucky don’t do that. Teams riding so-called devil magic to success don’t do that. Fluke teams don’t do that.

Last year the narratives abounded with the mystical. This year, the Royals themselves stripped away the veil of mysticism and showed us how talented, how deep, they actually are—from position 1 all the way to 9.

Except… That is not the story reflected in the media outside of Kansas City, by non-local writers. The story being told nationally is about the Astros, Blue Jays, and Mets all choking. The story being told is about those three teams falling short. Why? If the victors write history, then why haven’t the Royals been able to change the national narrative? Why are people so reluctant to admit that the reason the Astros, Blue Jays, and Mets all failed is not because they messed up but because the Royals are actually unbeatable?

Matt Harvey, David Price, Dallas Keuchel, and Jeurys Familia did not screw up. They gave everything they had. They pitched incredibly well, and they pitched well enough to beat every team in MLB. Except one. That doesn’t make them the failures. It makes the Royals the unstoppable winners. Those teams were all fantastic. They didn’t drop the ball (no pun intended) when it counted most. The Royals never gave them the ball to begin with.

Sure, it looked like these teams had a chance. The Astros looked to have it locked up. The Blue Jays looked scrappy enough to force a Game 6 and advance. The Mets had enough aces in their pocket to go all in and take everything. These teams did not screw up. These teams gave everything they had and played their hearts out. And it wasn’t enough.

Not because they gave up. Not because they made errors. Not because they have historically bad postseason numbers.

But because the Royals are good. Because, when it counts, the Royals can’t be beat. Because, when their backs are against the wall, the Royals will destroy that wall and stand on top of it and pummel those who try to follow.

Because the Royals wanted it more.

The national narrative underestimated the Royals at every turn, going all the way back to spring training. Did their postseason opponents make the same mistake? Did the scouts and coaches all underestimate the ability of the Royals to win the whole thing? Maybe. But the moral of this story is not about how the Astros, the Blue Jays, and the Mets couldn’t get it together, couldn’t measure up, couldn’t perform when it mattered.

The moral of this story is that the 2015 Kansas City Royals are the very best team that Major League Baseball has to offer. The end.

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Filed under baseball, sentimental

MLB Nickname Evaluations: Whose Names Should Change?

The baseball offseason is long and difficult. It is not for the faint of heart. This season of slow news usually sees all kinds of articles pop up from sportswriters grasping at straws (and/or trying to keep their jobs). I’ve seen anything from the best beards in baseball to the most attractive players to a ranking of players’ eye colors to discussions of team uniforms. Sportswriters do this because they are desperate.

We are all desperate to talk baseball in some form or other by the time January rolls around. And in this year’s longer-than-usual-feeling offseason, I’ve been pondering MLB team names and have decided that a few of them could use some updating. In this process I ended up eventually reflecting on all thirty MLB team names and deciding whether the names should stay or change. And so, here below, I present my analysis of MLB’s thirty current team names. The list is in no particular order, but AL & NL are separated, and the teams are listed by division. You’ll also notice there are significantly fewer change suggestions in the AL. I don’t know what that’s about, but I don’t have a bias, I promise. If anything, as far as rules are concerned, I actually tend to lean NL. For what that’s worth.

AL Central

Kansas City Royals (Verdict: Keep)
As a Royals fan, of course I am going to discuss this team name first. It is, of course, perfect. It has ties to the city’s history, the livestock show with accompanying rodeo called American Royal, which has been an event in Kansas City for years. And, perhaps coincidentally, its theme of royalty/nobility matches prior Kansas City sports teams’ names like the Monarchs (Negro Leagues) and the Kings (NBA) and, of course, the current NFL team, the Chiefs (ignoring for the moment that “Chiefs” is a culturally insensitive nickname that should probably be changed). The Royals have been the Royals since 1969, and the accompanying logo has hardly changed at all. The typeface and color scheme are slightly plagiaristic of the Dodgers, but other than that, the Royals are perfect (in every way except on-field success, of course, 2014 season excluded).

Detroit Tigers (Verdict: Keep)
The tiger is a ferocious, scary, exotic animal. It’s perfect for a mascot, and it’s not offensive to any people group. In fact, its city’s sports team names (Pistons, Red Wings, and Lions, in addition to the Tigers) are about the only good thing Detroit has going for it at the moment, so we’ll just leave them be.

Chicago White Sox (Verdict: Change)
Suggestion: Chicago Grizzlies
Sox? Really? Come on. That’s not even a word. It’s like you let an illiterate person name your team. I know the team name has been around for a long time, but nobody even knows how to singularize it. If a player from Kansas City is a Royal, is a player from Chicago South Side a Sock? A Soc? A Sok? A Sox player? Nobody knows. There are many different opinions out there, and “Sox” is just a dumb spelling, plus they have that whole “Black Sox” scandal following their name around. Shed your tainted skin and start fresh, White Sox. I suggest Grizzlies for a variety of reasons. Like Detroit’s Tigers, Grizzly bears are scary. Plus, it matches Chicago’s sports nickname theme. They already have the Bears and the Cubs. Why not get in line and take a potshot at the Cubs, your crosstown rival, while you’re at it? Nobody is afraid of baby bear cubs, after all. They’re so cute and cuddly. C’mon, White Sox. You’re a laughingstock. Pick yourself up by your bootstraps and be the GRIZZLIES! Oooh, scary.

Cleveland Indians (Verdict: Change)
Suggestion: Cleveland Jaguars
The Indians definitely need to change. Not as fast as the football team in Washington needs to, but still. The most obviously offensive aspect of this nickname is that it’s an inaccurate description of America’s indigenous populations. Their little mascot, Chief Wahoo or whatever he’s called, is a pretty offensive caricature too. Come on, Cleveland. You don’t have much more going for you than Detroit. You at least could be politically correct. As for why the Jaguars? Simple. Jaguars are scary. Also, Cleveland doesn’t have much chance of having too many of either the animal OR the car in what I’ve heard is rather a dump of a city (haven’t been there myself), so we might as well shoot for the stars and give them Jaguars in baseball.

Minnesota Twins (Verdict: Keep)
There isn’t much that needs to be said about this name. It’s an obvious nod to the Twin Cities – Minneapolis and St. Paul – and to be honest with you, I’m not even sure which of those cities the stadium is located in. I think Minneapolis, but I’m not sure. Is that as bad as people not knowing whether the Kansas City Royals play in Kansas or Missouri? Hmm. Well anyway, Twins is a great name. Good job, Minnesotans.

AL West

Oakland Athletics (Verdict: Keep)
I have no problem with the name “Athletics.” It’s a good description of baseball players. They ARE athletic. Plus, the name has a history that goes back to Philadelphia via Kansas City. If they changed their name, they’d lose some of their ties to Kansas City, and we don’t want that. Our allegiance is to the Royals now, but people like my grandpa like to remember when the A’s played in Kansas City and were our team.

Los Angeles Angels (Verdict: Keep)
This nickname comes directly from the translation of the city’s name. Therefore, there’s no reason to change it. Their logo is a little hokey, and they really need to get rid of that whole “of Anaheim” thing because that’s weird and super confusing, but other than that, we’re all square here.

Seattle Mariners (Verdict: Keep)
Brilliant nickname! The team is on the coast, Washington is rainy, and “mariner” is such a cool, bad-a name for a sailor. It’s so old-timey and hardcore-sounding. When I think of a “mariner,” I envision a dude with a huge, long, gray beard standing on the deck of an old wooden ship in the middle of a raging ocean storm, wearing a black rain coat and hat, and yelling instructions to his crew. How is that NOT hardcore? Plus, Seattle’s old logo involves a trident (upside down to make an M, actually). Not only should they keep this nickname forEVER, they should bring back the trident into prominent use.

Houston Astros (Verdict: Keep)
I’ve got no beef with this one. I assume it’s a nod to NASA’s headquarters, and everyone likes NASA and outer space and astronauts. Keep it up, Houston.

Texas Rangers (Verdict: Keep)
This one is so essentially Texas it’s almost embarrassing. The only way you could get more Texas with a sports team nickname is if you called them the Texas Ranch Hands or the Cowboy…wait. I don’t know if I’m entirely sure what a ranger is in regard to the state of Texas, but it sounds to me like a scary dude on a really big horse with a gun in each hand. If that ain’t Texas, I don’t know what is.

AL East

Baltimore Orioles (Verdict: Keep)
I like orange, and this bird (at least in the team logo) is squat and cute. I don’t know if it has specific ties to the city, but I’m good with it just the same.

New York Yankees (Verdict: Keep)
The Yankees, love ’em or hate ’em, are a baseball institution. They’ve been around forever, and the term yankee is both historic and insulting. The word wasn’t always derogatory, but it evolved to be that way at some point. So it keeps the team’s fans happy while allowing the rest of us a chuckle at their expense. I’m good with that.

Toronto Blue Jays (Verdict: Keep)
Let’s face it; half the time I don’t even remember this team exists. They’re in Canada, for crying out loud. I can’t remember the last time I cared about a single thing Canadians did. Pass.

Tampa Bay Rays (Verdict: Keep)
I’m iffy on this one, especially since they dropped “devil” and tried to pretend that “ray” was a reference to sunlight and not a ferocious, lethal ocean animal. But what are they gonna change it to? Plus, without “devil,” the rhyming is kinda fun.

Boston Red Sox (Verdict: Change)
Suggestion: Boston Marathoners
Many will say that if I’m going to let the Yankees stay because of how long they’ve been around with that name, I should apply the same rule to Boston. Sorry. Nope. Not gonna happen. For the same reason I expressed about the White Sox, the Red Sox should act like they are literate and change their name to something that isn’t a piece of clothing. I suggest Marathoners because it’s the thing that Boston is known for that doesn’t sound completely moronic as a baseball team nickname. Trust me; I considered “Marketeers,” “Baked Beans,” “Tea Partiers,” etc. Those are just dumb. Plus, Marathoners works on multiple levels. It can be a sort of tribute/nod to the tragedy of 2013 that shut down the city for a couple days after the marathon bombing (the year that was also packed chock full with narrative, and watched Big Papi curse on live, national TV and the team go on to win the World Series, by the way). It also works on a baseball level because baseball games can be long and grueling and tough to finish, just like a marathon. A “short” baseball game tends to last three hours or just under. Plus, a marathoner is athletic, and socks aren’t. Bam. Perfect rationale. Go ahead, Boston. We’re waiting.

NL East

Washington Nationals (Verdict: Change)
Suggestion: Washington Cosmopolitans
I don’t like the Nationals as a nickname simply because it’s boring. I considered suggesting “Politicians,” but then that made me think of the Senators, which I think is kind of a silly name too, so I went away from politics altogether. I’ve been to Washington DC only a couple of times, but on my very first visit there, the main impression that city made on me was its international diversity. Everywhere I went, I heard conversations being had in languages I couldn’t always identify. In the Midwest, the main language you hear in addition to English is Spanish. There are pockets of other cultures, but they are small and concentrated, and you don’t hear those languages regularly. In DC, there were a couple of times I just went ahead and asked people what language they were speaking because I was so fascinated. I got answers like German, Dutch, Swedish, Polish, etc. It was great. DC, for reasons that are obvious, is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in our country, perhaps surpassed only by New York City. Hence, the Washington Cosmopolitans (plus, Cosmos for short is fun).

Atlanta Braves (Verdict: Change)
Suggestion: Atlanta Badgers
I’ll be honest with you. I struggled with this one. Atlanta has a LOT of history, and it’s a really great city, actually, but a lot of its history is rooted in how strong of a Confederate city Atlanta was before the war. So it’s not like you could choose something like “Confederates” or “Rebs” (which some southern school has already taken anyway, and it’s awfully offensive; “Hey, let’s celebrate and commemorate how incredibly racist we used to be, and how some of us still are!”). No thanks. That is, by the way, the same reasoning with getting rid of Braves and, with it, the stupid tomahawk chop (yes, Chiefs fans, it’s offensive in Kansas City too). I mean, how hard is it, as a public organization, to just NOT be offensive? Apparently pretty hard. So anyway, I am going with badgers because badgers are scary little suckers you don’t want to meet on a deserted road at night. I don’t know if Atlanta (or the state of Georgia in general) has badgers, but who really cares. Anything is better than Braves at this point.

New York Mets (Verdict: Keep)
As far as I can tell, this nickname is not a nod to “The Met,” the art museum in New York City. I believe it was adopted in homage to a former team called the Metropolitans, and simply shortened. Either way, however, the connection(s) are nice. I like their colors too.

Miami Marlins (Verdict: Change)
Suggestion: Miami Lionfish
My main beef with the Marlins is that the name itself is grammatically incorrect. The plural of marlin is like deer, moose, and fish. You can have one marlin or you can have eight marlin. I think some official dictionaries have allowed the evolution of improper use to rule in this case, but I’m unwilling to budge. If they can’t be grammatically correct, they should change. And if they want to be a scary ocean animal, why not lionfish? Those things are terrifying. I actually came in close proximity to one while diving the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, and let me tell you. I could not get away fast enough. (Little red squigglies are telling me that “lionfish” isn’t a word, so maybe it’s lion fish? Hmm. Better not go from grammatically incorrect to incorrect spelling. That would defeat the whole purpose of changing in the first place. Miami front office officials, do your research on spelling before changing to lion fish, please and thank you.)

Philadelphia Phillies (Verdict: Change)
Suggestion: Philadelphia Bells
Come on, Philly. I know that’s a nickname for the city, but it feels like you’re just being lazy at this point. Philadelphia is one of the most historically interesting cities in our nation. It used to be the capital, for crying out loud! You could do a lot of things with a team nickname (although I wouldn’t suggest Cheese Steaks). They do have the Liberty Bell, and even though it is cracked and some might infer weakness from that, it’s still there, isn’t it? It hasn’t crumbled into dust. A noble namesake, if you ask me.

NL Central

St. Louis Cardinals (Verdict: Keep)
I don’t like the Cardinals, so I’ll keep this short. I have no problem with their name. I don’t know if cardinals are mean birds, but they are pretty and I like them (the birds, not the MLB organization). Besides, if you changed the name, the self-proclaimed BFIB would be in a ridiculously annoying uproar. So let’s just keep them quiet and try to forget they exist.

Pittsburgh Pirates (Verdict: Keep)
Pirates are cool, and tough, and even trendy. They are scrappy too. No problems with this name.

Milwaukee Brewers (Verdict: Keep)
Brewers is a nod to a city tradition. Milwaukee is known as a beer city. No reason to change that. Plus, they should bring back their old logo, the one where the “m” and the “b” formed a baseball mitt. That was a great logo.

Cincinnati Reds (Verdict: Change)
Suggestion: Cincinnati Skyliners
The name “Reds” is, I believe, a shortened version of what the team used to be called, the Red Stockings. So again, we are referencing not only a team’s uniform but specifically their SOCKS? COME ON. Ten percent of MLB team names reference a sock?! That’s absurd. Cincinnati is known for their skyline chili (which I personally find disgusting, but other people seem to love it). Plus, skyliners is just a pretty cool name, if you ask me.

Chicago Cubs (Verdict: Keep)
Even though, as previously mentioned, baby bear cubs are in no way scary (unless you’re talking specifically about Clark, the new mascot), the Cubs are, like the Yankees, an institution. They’re historic. The name might be kinda dumb, but it should live until baseball dies. It’s just too classic.

NL West

Los Angeles Dodgers (Verdict: Keep)
Ken Burns taught me that this name comes from when the team was still in New York and there was a common practice in the city of crossing streets by dodging trolley cars. It was, essentially, real-life Frogger. Historic, classic, strong & solid name. Leave it.

San Francisco Giants (Verdict: Keep)
The Giants kept their name from New York as well. I don’t know its roots, and I’m not terribly crazy about it (or about the team itself, after the 2014 season…still a fresh wound – that’s fresh, not flesh). But it’s an old team with an old name, and besides – what would they change it to? The San Francisco Streetcars? Please. (Wait that actually could be cool…maybe.) But Giants are scary too, and super intimidating. Have you ever met one? I mean, I hear Andre was nice and all, but he was probably the exception to the rule. Hagrid too.

San Diego Padres (Verdict: Keep)
My first inclination was to change this one because it (and especially its logo) is just kinda silly. But then I figured, you know what, the whole swinging/chubby friar thing is kind of adorable and hilarious. And I don’t have anything against religion in baseball. If the Angels can stay, so can the Spanish priests.

Colorado Rockies (Verdict: Keep)
Now, someone’s first thought about this nickname might  be, What’s scary about a mountain? To which I say… Umm, only EVERYTHING. Do you know how many people die at the hands of mountains every year? Neither do I, but it’s more than zero. Mountains are big, dangerous, and scary. Mountains are basically the boss of everyone who goes near them. They have a lot of power and control. If mountains don’t like you, they can just avalanche a crap ton of snow or gravel toward you and you’re basically dead at that point. So. I’m not gonna mess with the Rockies.

Arizona Diamondbacks (Verdict: Change)
Suggestion: Arizona Snakes
This is team #30, so I’m a little short on steam at this point. But I hate the nickname Diamondbacks for more than one reason. First of all, their colors and logo design are super ugly. The snake head thing in the “db” is clever and all, but one clever logo design does not forgive an entire bad name. Second, commentators shorten this nickname to “DBacks” all the time. I don’t know about you, but every single time I hear a commentator say “DBacks” I hear “DBags,” and I think we can all agree that’s inappropriate. Besides, Arizona is basically a desert full of snakes, with a few people scattered around. There are a lot of types of snakes there, not just diamondbacks. If you want to be a scary reptile as a team, that’s fine. But just be the Snakes. What’s scarier than one snake? ALL THE SNAKES. Blech. I’m getting shivery just thinking about it.

So there you have it. My plan for improving the future of Major League Baseball. (In my opinion, it’s better than the new commissioner’s desire to eliminate the defensive shift.) I only suggested nine teams change their names. That’s not even a third. That’s not bad. Surely this is doable. Especially if everybody does it all at once. We still have some time before spring training starts. This could totally happen in time for the 2015 season (unlike the Chicago Cubs bleacher renovation, hardyharhar).

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Filed under baseball, bloggy, irreverent

Let’s Talk Sex(ism) [Part 3 of 3: Feminism’s Biggest Obstacle]

I’ve spent the last two posts discussing my struggles with balancing feminism and common sense, and feminism and my faith. As I’ve established over the course of this three-part blog series, the institution of sexism is one I feel called and created to speak out against, and – in time – to overthrow. So does that automatically make my opponents (whether men or women, whether purposeful or unwitting) my enemies? I’m not convinced it does, but there are times that my adversaries do feel like legitimate enemies.

The sad truth is that sexism against women is not something perpetuated solely by insecure, chauvinistic men. If it were, I don’t think it would be quite so difficult an institution to abolish. For me, the most frustrating detractors of feminism are other women. Misogynistic women are the worst kinds because they breed intra-gender discord, and they have an easier time convincing other women that they are less than equal (and not only less than equal to men, but to certain types of women as well). As Jesus said (paraphrased), “A gender divided against itself cannot stand.” When I use the term misogynist women, I’m talking about the ones who are overly competitive with other women, who set themselves apart from and above other women by putting women down, and who are generally nasty to anyone who doesn’t have a penis.

I’ve struggled at times to keep from becoming this kind of woman myself. My personality does tend to mesh a little (or a lot) easier with men than it does with women. I’m not interested in arts and crafts, home decor, fashion, or cooking and baking. I’m not married, engaged, or dating, so I don’t have a man to lightheartedly complain about with my coupled-up female friends. I don’t have children, so I can’t talk breastfeeding, homeschooling, stay-at-home vs go-to-work mothering, cloth diapers, or whatever else the moms think is interesting these days. And finally, I hate Pinterest.

On the other hand, I live alone, my longest-lasting non-familial relationship is with a canine, I eat Ramen and pizza more than is good for me, I enjoy crude jokes, I have thick skin, I’m sarcastic, I enjoy sports, and I stay up later than I should. By default, that usually means it’s easier for me to hang out in male company than female company. It means I don’t have to try as hard, and it means I can talk freely about my own interests, rather than trying to muster up an interest in things I don’t understand. (If we’re being totally honest here, it also means I can fart with impunity.)

Because of this natural tendency to gravitate toward the opposite sex, it’s always been easy to cause friction with other women, and for a long time, I didn’t even care enough to try not to. I do remember one year in college, though, when I decided I should attempt to cultivate more meaningful friendships with women, and I declared a New Year’s resolution that stated simply, “Be Nice to Girls.” Seems comical, but considering that for the past four or five years I’d been going around saying things like, “I hate girls” and “Girls are stupid” and “Girls are the worst,” it was quite an adjustment for me.

What I learned during that year (and have continued to learn in the years since) is that there are deep rewards to be found in meaningful friendships with women. However, I have also learned and relearned that not all women want to be friends, and I’ve been burned in relationships with other women that I thought were real friendships but turned out actually to be only shallow competitions of one kind or another. I wish that more women would realize that feminism and equality could make a lot bigger strides if we would start by being kind to one another.

Women get especially competitive and territorial when it comes to certain of their hobbies and interests that they believe to be unique, such as (gasp!) being a sports fan! The truth is, however, it’s not unique to be a female sports fan. It might be a less common occurrence than a woman being into fashion, but it’s not unique, plain and simple. And who cares? Whatever world it is that a woman is interested in, that she believes to be dominated by men, what’s the big deal if she encounters another woman in that same world? It doesn’t make her less interesting, and it doesn’t invalidate her interest in the least, whether that interest is hunting, sports, video games, comic books, etc. I know some women (myself included) don’t want to associate themselves with women who pretend to be interested in these fields just to get a man’s attention, or to seem cool. Here’s a tip, though: People can tell if you’re faking it. So if your interest is genuine, you have nothing to worry about. So what if Valley Girl wants to wear high heels and pink sports apparel? Does her wanting to look cute make you less of a fan? No. No it does not.

Full disclosure: I do still struggle with this from time to time in my baseball fandom. It’s important to me that people view me as a real fan and not someone who’s just trawling for men. And I don’t want to be associated with cleat chasers, that’s for sure. But, for the most part, I haven’t had to work very hard to establish myself in people’s eyes as a genuine baseball fan. My enthusiasm has done that all on its own, I think. Besides, baseball is too exhausting a sport to keep up with for someone who’s just pretending. Unfortunately, the people I have had to work the hardest to convince of the authenticity of my newfound interest have actually been women, further proving my point.

Other than being unequivocally kind to the women I meet and get to know, I don’t know what the solution to this problem is. It’s my experience that, no matter how kind and open and vulnerable I am with other women, there are some who are just going to be competitive, shallow, catty, or territorial. Since it’s not in my nature to just back off at the first sign of conflict, I usually initiate some candid confrontations, but if that doesn’t resolve matters, my next recourse is to write those women out of my life. I don’t do that to be rude. I do it because I don’t see a positive way forward, and disengaging seems more healthy for both parties than the alternative. And because I loathe pretense and false courtesy. (I could never survive in the American South.)

Now, admittedly, “being unequivocally kind” is not necessarily something that comes easy to me. If I sense insecurity or intimidation in other women, I tend to ignore them because that’s easier than trying to engage them and be friendly and prove to them that I’m worth getting to know. I’m extroverted, but one-sided small talk is hard for me, and if someone doesn’t “get” me, or if I have to carry the conversation, I prefer not to waste my time.

All things considered, even though I have some work yet to do, I know I’ve made a lot of progress both in how I think about my relationships with other women, and in how I execute them. Since I became a Royals fan, I have enjoyed finding other women on Twitter who like to talk baseball. It’s good to have allies. And that’s really what it comes down to. If this feminism thing is going to get us anywhere at all, if we’re ever going to conquer sexism, we are going to need as many allies as we can get. We have to be on the same team. We have to stop cutting each other down and start giving one another the benefit of the doubt.

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Filed under baseball, bloggy, feminisim

Pine Tar Press Feature

Today I was published on the esteemed Royals blog Pine Tar Press. I rather liked the article I wrote, though, so I wanted to make sure it made it into my personal blog archives too so I can keep track of it.

So hop on over to where I wrote about the relationship between new Royals beat writer Andy McCullough and Royals manager Ned Yost. For those disinclined to click because it sounds too baseball-y, there’s very little baseball discussion in there. It’s more of a candid discussion of public personalities.

Enjoy. I’m grateful to PTP for giving me the opportunity to write for them. Love those guys.

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The 2013 Royalcoaster* Has Come to a Complete Stop

The 2013 Royals season has been described on Twitter, in the papers, and by word of mouth as a roller coaster of a season. For a team that has spent the better part of almost three decades languishing in irrelevance and embarrassment, I picked an interesting time to become a fan (summer 2012) because of all the attention the 2013 team got. The 2012 team performed below fan expectations but right about at the expectations of the rest of the country, and aside from the long and embarrassing 12-game losing streak in April 2012, nothing happened to the team that year that was really worth noting. (Side note: If you google “Royals losing streak” without tagging on a year, the number of results that come up is horrifying.) So in other words, it was the perfect time for a gal to become a fan. No fanfare, no relevance, no bandwagon accusations could have possibly been leveled at me in 2012.

The 2013 season, however, has been entirely different. In my opinion, the season itself can be summed up with a series of capital-letter terms that mark key events and turning points throughout the year.

And, despite being the 2013 season, it all truly began in 2012, on December 10, with The Trade. I remember this clearly because on December 11, I was tasked with the purchase of a newspaper for my brother, whose firstborn daughter had arrived that day, and I was pleased to see that my niece’s front-page day-of-birth story was none other than a full-page devotion to discussion of the blockbuster trade that sent Wil Myers (and other young prospects) to the Tampa Bay Rays for James Shields (and Wade Davis and a PTBNL, who turned out to be Elliot Johnson). The Trade sparked a flurry of discussion, speculation, outrage, and delight, all surrounding the Royals, the likes of which hadn’t been seen in Kansas City since at least the previous summer with the All-Star Game hullabaloo. And before that? Who knows. It was intense, and whether one loved or hated it, everyone – even casual fans, even my Boston Red Sox fan, new-daddy brother – had an opinion about The Trade. And we still had to wait three whole months for spring training to begin to even see a glimpse of what Shields would bring to our team. So we waited. And we discussed. And we speculated. And we feared.

And then spring training came. And the Royals breezed through spring training without a hitch, playing some of the best – and most meaningless – baseball the city had ever seen. Hopefuls like myself took it as a good sign that the team had figured things out, that Eric Hosmer would return to his fabled 2011 form (fabled because I never saw it, not being a fan back then), that Mike Moustakas would also break out as the star he had once been projected to be. Casual fans were mildly interested in the spring training success, and skeptics were, well, skeptic, of course. And the rest of MLB and its fans looked on and laughed. “Look at the Royals; they’re doing so well in spring training, and it’s making their fans hopeful. Isn’t that cute?”

And then April came, and the Royals came out of the gate hot, marching their way to a winning first month, and causing local sports radio to spend hours on end each day discussing them. Even the non-sports stations threw in mentions every now and then. The general notion was surprise with a hint of, “But it’s only April; can it last?” And, of course, the rest of MLB and its fans looked on and laughed. “Look at the Royals; they’re doing so well in April, and it’s making their fans hopeful. Isn’t that cute?” Even so, the Royals weren’t without their struggles in April. They battled through every kind of delay possible in both April and May. There were rain delays, snow delays, manhunt delays, you name it. (Yes, a Royals game scheduled in Boston was actually postponed because the city was on lockdown while the police hunted for the Boston Marathon terrorist – whom they found that same day, just about an hour before it would’ve been game time.) The number of off days – both scheduled and unscheduled – that the Royals had in April and early May had many wondering if baseball season had actually begun. We were deprived of everyday baseball for so long that it was painful, torturous.

And then, the month of May happened. There was an 11-game home losing streak as well as a straight-up 8-game losing streak. The Royals only won 8 games in the month of May, compared to 20 losses. The month of May contained such capital-letter incidents as The Pull, The New Hitting Coach, and The Rain Delay Win. May is the month that everyone points back to now that the Royals have lost out on the postseason. “If only it hadn’t been for May…” It’s always something with the Royals, it seems. Each year, though, there are so many “if onlys” that listing them becomes ludicrous. But this year, with the Royals having a winning month in every single month except May, that terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad month of baseball really is the one culprit keeping us out of playing October baseball this year.

May started out just fine. The Royals won their first three games of the month. And then they began to lose, starting with The Pull. I’m not about to get into the details of whether Ned Yost should’ve pulled Shields from that game. It was a surprise to me, and the loss that resulted was certainly heartbreaking. Did Yost make the wrong call? Probably. Is hindsight 20/20, and am I great at pretending I know something about baseball from my couch? Absolutely. The superstitious (and even the little stitious) among us will point to that date as the reason the horrendous month of May happened. It’s true that there’s a correlation, but I don’t think it’s true that there’s a cause and effect relationship there.

Something else that manifested in the month of May was the fact that Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas sucked. Of course, that was true in 2012 too, but for some reason it just became extremely noticeable and embarrassing in May. And nobody knew what to do about it. Nobody had any explanation for it. So, in an act of desperation that also served as a PR stunt, the Royals fired their hitting coaches and named George Brett to be the interim hitting coach. This appeased and excited fans and made it look like the organization was doing something. There was so much buzz around George Brett wearing a uniform and being in the dugout again. Even though I wasn’t a Royals fan as a kid, I did grow up in the metro area, so I’ve long known and understood the reverence with which Kansas City views George Brett. So even I got excited about what it might mean for him to be part of the team staff.

And then, of course, to cap off the month and end the losing streak, the Royals ended up powering through The Rain Delay to beat the Cardinals in what will for sure be one of the most remembered games from 2013. So many crazy things happened that night, including a clutch home run from Jeff Francoeur that kept the Royals in the game before the four-hour delay began; Jeremy Guthrie and other Royals players helping prepare the field for play after the long delay; and Mike Moustakas handing out snacks to the few fans remaining in the stands, to name a couple.

The brave, the committed, the few stayed awake in Kansas City to see the Royals hang on to get that win against the hated Cardinals. Except for the fact that the umpires knew the Royals had already had a lot of games canceled due to weather, I can’t imagine why Joe West insisted the game be played that night. Waiting out long rain delays seems like something you would do at the end of the season, in a postseason push, or in the postseason. It must have been abnormal for the crew to decide to wait out the delay, but that’s what they decided, so that’s what we did. And things felt especially emotional that night. We had just lost three in a row to St. Louis, and two of the losses had been at home, in front of near-sellout crowds that contained more Cardinal red in the stands than Royal blue. Jeremy Guthrie had been out-dueled that night by rookie Michael Wacha making his MLB debut. We were still trying to shake off the irregularities in our schedule, the insane number of scheduled off days and unscheduled postponements we’d already had on the year. Our hearts were breaking from a month of bad baseball after two months of hope and promise. That win meant so much to so many, and those of us who stayed up together on Twitter to await the final result will be forever bonded by the memory of that game.

Following the craziness of May, June was relatively quiet, except for the fact that it seemed George Brett had magically fixed Eric Hosmer, and there were hopeful signs with Moustakas too. The Royals started winning again, finished June with a winning record, and headed toward the All-Star Break having renewed fans’ hope. And then, on July 3, The Collision happened, and Kauffman was quiet and fearful for what seemed like an eternity as Alex Gordon – toughest of the tough – lay on the ground in left field after colliding with the bullpen wall, and didn’t get up. I’ve seen other players get hurt and take awhile to get up. I was there when Jose Reyes messed up his ankle at second base and had to be carried off the field. I’ve seen both Cain and Lough take outfield spills and take some time to get up. But this was Alex. Alex, who, when he collides with a wall, you hear the wall complain. Alex, who dives and rolls and slams then pops right back up immediately. Alex, who hits things twice as hard as Cain and gets up twice as fast. Alex, who never even shakes off a rough collision, just comes up smiling and blowing bubbles with his gum. That same Alex lay, hardly moving, in left field, and my heart was in my throat. I was sitting in the upper deck along the first-base line, so I couldn’t see much of anything. All I knew for sure was that the minutes were passing, and Alex wasn’t getting up. Eventually, of course, he did get up, and he walked off the field on his own, which was a relief. But he looked more shaken than I’ve ever seen him, and I’ve never been more scared about a possible DL stint. If this team needs anybody to stay healthy, it’s Alex. I couldn’t begin to imagine what the outfield would look like without Alex standing out there every day (or most days). Relying on Jeff Francoeur even more heavily? I didn’t even want to consider it.

Luckily, Alex didn’t go on the DL and was only out a couple of games (fewer than he later took off for paternity leave), so it was a moot point, and then Frenchy himself was released just two days after The Collision. The Release was a day of mixed emotions for almost everyone. We were all happy for the indication that management recognized that Francoeur wasn’t a solution for right field. But everybody likes Francoeur (me most of all, as you doubtless recall). So, while we were happy to be losing a huge liability in RF, I do think most of us were also pretty sad to be losing the personality and congeniality that came with RF. And, of course, we all miss his throwing arm. But we’ve survived.

The Royals dashed fans’ hopes again by going on a skid right before the All-Star Break. Luckily, however, the disappointment that should’ve pervaded through the break was dissipated by the news that three Royals players – yes, three – had made the All-Star team. Fans who are smarter than I am (or like spending time searching for that stuff more than I do) would be able to tell you when the last time was that three Royals players were named to the All-Star Game, but just know that it’s been many years. It came down to the wire too. We knew immediately there were two (Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez both got voted in as reserves), and we were excited enough about that, since it had been years and years since the Royals had had more than the token player required from each team. And then, shortly before the game, we found out that Greg Holland had been named to the team as well, and we all got drunk on the excitement. And the game itself was special. My eyes teared up when I watched Alex jog out to left field, when I watched Sal stalk out in his gear to the plate. And then they brought Holland in to pitch during the same inning that Perez and Gordon played, which meant that, for a moment in baseball history, Royals players comprised one-third of the on-field American League All-Star Team. It was an emotional and proud moment in Kansas City.

And then, of course, after the All-Star Break, all hell broke loose when the Royals embarked on The Streak. The nine-game winning streak was the first time that I noticed people begin to say “If only…” about the month of May. For me, the most exciting part of The Streak was the fact that, post-ASB, national media and other fanbases were still talking about the Royals. And they weren’t laughing anymore. Yes, they were all surprised, and the discussion wasn’t without its sarcastic jabs, but that comes with the territory of a losing legacy like the one the Royals have created, and everyone had begun to recognize that the Royals were doing something that might be worth watching.

The Royals cruised to a winning July, and then things got really exciting. We had reached August 1, and the Royals were above .500. Twitter was abuzz, radio was abuzz, the Kansas City Star was abuzz. Everyone was so excited that we were about to play some relevant baseball in August. Historic! Hasn’t been done in a decade! Chiefs training camp had begun by this time, and people were happy to have the problem of wanting to discuss both the Royals and the Chiefs on August 1. And, on August 1, Lorenzo Cain amped up that excitement by making The Catch. The Catch is arguably my personal favorite moment from 2013, although what I’m about to describe from September certainly competes. But someone from the Star (probably John Sleezer, but I’m not sure) took the picture that made the front page the day after The Catch. It is a picture that shows the pure delight of the Royals bullpen pitchers, in front of which Cain happened to make the Game-Saving, Trevor-Plouffe-Home-Run-Robbing Catch, and no fan can look at that picture and not smile. August was another winning month for the Royals, and in great ways. (My birthday also occurred in August, and brought a 13-0 win against the Twins, as well as the Fountain Mom excitement.)

And then we rolled into September, above .500, playing relevant baseball, and with an outside shot at a wildcard spot. By that time, the fanbase was out of control. A commonly trending hashtag on Twitter was #TheHuntForBlueOctober, and people started discussing how they would finance postseason tickets. I never got that crazy because I know I’ll never in a million years be able to afford postseason baseball tickets for any team in any city, but especially since the Royals themselves, once things got into mid-September and it became clear we were still in the race, invoiced season ticketholders with one of the highest postseason markups in the history of baseball. Of course, if the Royals didn’t make the postseason, then that money could be applied toward 2014 season ticket costs. But to hear some of the numbers season ticketholders quoted, it sounded to me like it would finance 2015 and 2016 season ticket costs as well! (They denied that it was that bad, but I’m still unsure.)

The Royals, hesitant to disappoint an ecstatic fanbase, certainly made September an exciting ride. Our proximity to the wildcard made every win exhilarating, but the number of teams we had to overcome to achieve a wildcard spot made every loss heartbreaking. In the span of a few short days, we experienced the extreme high that accompanied The Throw, the extreme low that accompanied The Mismanagement, and then another high from The Double Steal. Alcides Escobar has been the target of some vitriol from fans this year, based on his poor batting average, and also the fact that it has become clear that 2012 was a career year for him defensively, and he has showed some regression in range, skill, and basic baseball smarts this year. But, as the middle man in The Throw that Alex got in from the outfield that Alcides then relayed from third base to Sal to get Prince Fielder at the plate and save a very important game against the Tigers, Escobar vaulted himself into esteem with the fans. And then he increased it a few short days later against the Indians, when he and Alex executed The Double Steal, which put them both in pickle situations that they both miraculously got out of, allowing Escobar to score and Alex to take second base. I’m not sure how many times a steal of home plate has been attempted this year, but the only other success I know of is the rookie from the Astros who did it earlier in the summer. I was at the game where Escobar did it, and I was screaming my head off at Alex because, since Bonifacio (who was at the plate) missed the sign and didn’t swing at the pitch, the play looked unplanned and bone-headed. I only found out later, listening to Ned on the post-game show, that the play had been called for, and Bonifacio had screwed up his part. If you haven’t clicked on any other links in this post thus far, The Throw and The Double Steal are worth a watch. I promise.

Between those two highs was the game where Yost so obviously mismanaged Jeremy Guthrie that even I, listening on the radio during a 17-mile run, knew that Yost was making a bad call. To sum up, Guthrie had been getting knocked around all game long by the Tigers. He spent the entire game working himself out of jams. He should’ve come out around the 6th inning or so, and many were surprised that he was left in for 7, but everyone knew he wouldn’t come out in the 8th. After all, the game was tied, 2-2. The Royals actually had a chance to win, and Guthrie had been getting lucky. The game was relevant and important. No manager in his right mind would bring out his starter for yet another inning in that situation, especially with Avila, the guy who had already hit a home run off that same pitcher earlier in the game, coming to the plate; especially when his team is armed with the best bullpen in the American League; especially when there are just six outs to go, assuming the Royals could rough up the Detroit bullpen and take the lead (which they’ve proven all year they can certainly do). I was running downhill, heading north on State Line Road, near 47th St, when I heard Denny say that Guthrie was coming back out to the mound for the top of the 8th inning. I screamed, “What?!” And then the next thing I said was, “Please, Jeremy, do NOT give up a home run.” And, well, the rest is history. Guthrie gave up that home run, to Alex Avila, and the Tigers won that game. I had to spend the final two miles of my run listening to Josh Vernier yell angrily in my ears on the post-game show. I wanted to cry. I was already beat from the 14-15 miles I’d run up to that point. That loss made me want to crawl the rest of the way home.

Lots of people will arbitrarily assign a number of games that Ned Yost is responsible for us losing this year. I do not pretend to know how to manage a bullpen or any other aspect of a major-league ballgame. I will confidently blame Ned for The [Shields] Pull and The [Guthrie] Mismanagement, and that is all. Of course, we have no way of knowing how it would’ve turned out. Maybe Shields wouldn’t have been able to finish out his game with a win. Maybe the bullpen wouldn’t have bailed Guthrie out, and maybe the offense wouldn’t have stepped up to break the tie in the Tigers game. But, with the knowledge he had at the time of each decision, Ned Yost made the wrong call both times. And that is certainly infuriating. Would two games make a difference today? Maybe. We might still be fighting for the wild card. I don’t know (mainly because I’m not good at math). But, even with the right call made, there’s still no guarantee we would’ve won those two games. So we just have to let it go, heartbreaking as it is.

Finally, last week, the Mariners showed us no sympathy at all, and spoiled our playoff hopes for good by handing us two losses at Safeco Field. We kept things alive for a short while by winning our first game against them in 12 long innings (I was on the west coast and dealing with jet lag, in a bar I’d never been in before that had generously agreed to put the Royals game on – since the Giants had an off day – and let me sit there drinking water in excess and almost falling off my stool from weariness). By the time the Royals won in the 12th inning, I was too tired to even cheer. And then, the following night, because I’m ridiculous, I chose not to go out and see the city I was visiting but rather to sit in my hotel room and watch the Royals lose. Although, tired as I was, I didn’t do much watching, because I fell asleep in my bed, with the game playing in my lap. By Wednesday last week, my hope for the Royals was gone, and it was a good thing, since I wasn’t going to be able to watch Wednesday night’s loss anyway (occupied as I was by a different game, at AT&T Park).

And so the roller coaster ride has come to an end. Yes, there are two games left in the season, and yes, the Royals may make some spectacular plays such as Alex’s last night at U.S. Cellular Field. But the journey, the hunt, the ride, and the excitement are over, and we’re now looking at 2014 possibilities and potential off-season moves. As heartbreaking as it has been to ultimately lose out, we knew it was more likely than not to happen sometime. After all, it does happen to 29 of 30 teams every single year. The Royals took us on a wilder, longer ride than many expected this year, and I hope they do it again next year. It’s been fun to be a Royals fan in 2013. And now, as the season winds down and we choose our postseason alliances, I say with all sincerity, in solidarity with the fanbase that is closest to feeling our pain, “Go Pirates.”

*Acknowledgment to my friend David Lesky (@DBLesky) for coining the word Royalcoaster.

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Baseball’s Broken Heart: The Real Reason I Love the Game

People have asked me so many times what drew me to baseball. And why I became such a big fan so fast. And how, after spending my entire life totally ignoring it (and even professing, at times, to hate it), I was able to do a 180 and fall so in love with it. I’ve always just shrugged my shoulders and said, “I don’t know. Just happened. Just got lucky, I guess.” But in recent days and weeks, I’ve realized there’s a truer truth about why I fell in love with baseball.

In April 2012, I was 27 years old. I was in a relationship that had lasted eight months up to that point, and it only had three more to go. I was incredibly depressed. If you’ve ever been in a relationship where you were 100% all in and the other person was more like, “Eh? Why not. Not sold, but might as well. Got nothin’ better to do,” then you know how exhausting and draining it can be to choose to continue loving that person. And yet, if you’re the one who’s 100% all in, then you also know that choosing not to love that person feels completely impossible. You get to a place where you totally inflate average traits and small kindnesses and explain away the bigger flaws and settle for the mediocrity. You feel as if you’re constantly justifying the relationship to yourself and others, even though most people aren’t even asking.

So, one of the reasons I first began to learn about baseball – and specifically the Royals – was to try to gain some traction back in my relationship. The bf was super into the Royals and had been for the last three-plus decades (he was a little older than me). So he had an answer for every question I asked, and like many duped Royals fans, going into the 2012 season, he hung a hefty amount of his hopes on Hosmer and Moustakas. (Wow. Take a moment to appreciate the unintentional alliteration that  bloomed in that last sentence. So organic. So lovely.)

The boyfriend’s birthday happened to be in April, so in addition to The Best Birthday Gift Ever #2* I went to Rally House and got us a pair of Royals shirts to kick off the season (no, they weren’t matching shirts). I mainly did it for him, because he didn’t even own a Royals shirt. (No idea what he wore to games before I came along.) But I did it a little for me too. I didn’t really care about owning a shirt, but I thought he might feel prouder to sit next to me at the stadium if I donned the proper attire.

So we spent April and May going to Royals games, when we had a chance and some extra cash. We certainly didn’t go as often as I go these days. But we went maybe three or four times during those first two months of the season.

And then a series of events happened that led to Breakup Day. Breakup Day dawned warm and sunny, as you would expect for a morning in early June. I called the bf around 10 or 11 a.m. and asked The Four Words of Relationship Doom: if we could talk. He said sure, and I drove to his house. He had a housemate getting married that day, and I had no interest in being in the middle of any wedding prep, so I asked if we could take a walk. We ended up walking for a significant amount of time, not saying much of anything. I think I was working up my courage. I have absolutely no idea what he was doing. We ended up at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, which has a picturesque lawn for any type of scene you could imagine – yes, even breaking up. There is not a single activity I can think of that, if someone suggested doing it on the lawn of the Nelson, I would say no. It’s just that perfect of a setting.

So we settled on a bench and proceeded to have our breakup conversation with the pretty backdrop behind us. And, just down the hill and across the street, that housemate of his and his fiancee were saying their vows to each other in the park. Right at the same time. Ah, the cycles of life, huh? Something ends, something else begins. Whether represented in death and birth, or breakups and marriages, or career transitions, it’s always going on, all around us, and it’s both endlessly beautiful and endlessly painful.

To put it as bluntly and succintly as possible, that breakup was a very difficult one. In fact, I almost didn’t even go through with it. I almost tried to ask for a redo in the middle of the conversation. And, in that conversation, or in a few of the months immediately following, if he had ever indicated any feeling of having made a mistake, of wanting to take another stab at things, of wanting me back at all, I would’ve jumped at the chance. But he didn’t. And I know now that’s best. I don’t think things would’ve turned out any better in the end, but if we had attempted a redo, I’m sure the emotional condition of my heart would have only been all the worse for the wear when it was all over.

So how does baseball factor into all this? Well, I’m not really sure when or how it happened. The only thing I know for sure is why. Because of my broken heart, because I needed a distraction, because I needed a hobby, and because baseball provides all of these things every single day for six months out of the year, I turned my full attention to baseball. For the rest of that season, from June through October, I orchestrated my entire life around the Royals’ playing schedule, and then around the (non-Royals) post-season games.

And let me tell you, if you have a broken heart, it’s pretty masochistic to try to patch it up with a perennially losing baseball team. On days that were emotionally harder than most, I quickly learned that I had to lower my expectations for the Royals to lift my spirits. Instead of hoping for a win, I started focusing on deliverables I knew I could get: on-air tangents from Denny Matthews and Bob Davis; tidbits of cheesy catch phrases from Rex Hudler; summer evenings at the ballpark with anyone who wasn’t my ex; as many tickets to as many games as I could possibly get my hands on; HRs from Billy Butler; smiles from Jeff Francoeur; and consistent production from Alex Gordon.

It’s a good thing baseball has a long season because it took the rest of the 2012 season as well as the entire off-season and all of 2013 spring training for me to finally feel like my heart wasn’t hemorrhaging anymore. I came in to the 2013 season with high hopes for the Royals. Key moves were made in the off-season; moves that indicated that the club expects to contend this year. April was really, really fun, even though a lot of people made fun of me for acting like what the Royals did in April mattered.

But it did matter. To a girl with a newly mended heart, a winning April meant more than the whole world. But now we’re almost done with May, and even if we win every single game we have left this month, we won’t emerge with a winning record on the month. Fans are disappointed, angry, and just plain apathetic. They’re calling for front-office jobs, they’re advocating game avoidance, they’re threatening to pack up and move on, to become fans of entirely new teams.

I guess if I’d been around for the last (almost) thirty years of losing, I’d probably be in their camp. But I’ve only been around for one (and a half) years of losing, and I can’t give up on the one thing that put my heart back together. Win or lose, baseball still gets played every day. Win or lose, Alex Gordon still produces. Win or lose, Kauffman still puts on fireworks shows, hosts Buck Night, and changes the colors of the outfield fountains. Win or lose, I’ve used those little red stitches to put my heart back together, and that’s why I’m a fan for life, and I’m not giving up on the Kansas City Royals.

*The Best Birthday Gift Ever #2 was a creative present I put together for the boyfriend that year that was, in essence, really cool and pretty perfect. I’m not going to tell you what it was, but just know that it centered around and involved his interests, his love language, his hobbies, and about fifty of his closest friends. It was genius, and I’ll never have another idea quite like that one again. Oh, and the reason it’s “#2” is that The Best Birthday Gift Ever #1 was a present to my ex before this ex. It was also extremely creative and centered on his biggest hobby. Dang, I have good ideas. Hopefully I haven’t wasted them all on exes.

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An Open Letter to Jeff Francoeur

Dear Jeff Francoeur,

I am a relatively new baseball fan. I don’t know how long my friends and followers will put up with me saying that because my baseball obsession probably makes them feel like I’ve been a fan my entire life (or at least, their entire lives). Everybody (except other baseball fans) is tired of hearing me talk about baseball. (And other baseball fans are tired of hearing me defend you.) But the truth is, I really have only been a baseball fan for one year. Less than that, even.

We are about to finish the second week of the MLB season (first week of the Royals’ opening homestand), and I’ve already been to two Royals games, with a third coming tonight. With only six games this week to go to, three is kind of a lot, without being a season ticketholder. Last season it was midsummer before I got three games under my belt. I don’t really say all that to brag or prove anything about myself. I say it to show the dramatic change in my lifestyle since discovering the greatness of baseball.

Once I realized I couldn’t have too much baseball in my life, it was easy enough to get attached to the Royals. And to you, Jeff. Last season was a bit of a tailspin season for players individually as well as for the team as a whole. (That includes you too, unfortunately.) Two Royals players got injured so early in the season that I didn’t even know they existed until they came off the DL.

But there were redeeming moments. Just exactly how many redeeming moments there were will vary in opinion, and will probably depend on how long one has been a Royals fan. For me, a brand-new fan, the opportunities to forgive and forget were numerous, and I took advantage of almost all of them, and had a difficult time deciding which player was my “favorite.” (A few days ago, at my first Royals game of the season, a friend asked me that very question, and by the time I finished answering her, I had just about listed the entire 25-man roster, and even a couple on the 40-man. If you’re wondering, Luke Hochevar didn’t make the list.)

But as far as favorites go, you, Jeff, seemed to make the news more often than any other Royals player last year. During a year when Alex Gordon played well enough to earn his second Gold Glove in a row; a year when the Face of the Franchise, Eric Hosmer – tall, dark, and unbelievably good looking – sucked so much it was hard to believe he was a top prospect just a couple years before; the year the All-Star Game came to Kansas City and Billy Butler was all over the news as the Royals’ representative; a year when Yuniesky Betancourt was inexplicably on the Royals’ roster again; and a year when Salvador Perez came off the DL and immediately started turning heads, both with his bat and his defense… With all that going on, it’s interesting that you still seemed to be talked about as much as you were.

But you found a way: You became a Super Friend to the Fans. You threw baseballs wrapped in money into opposing teams’ outfield stands (actually, that happened in 2011, but it was so crazy that it got talked about a lot last year too). You threw baseballs wrapped in money into your own fans’ outfield stands. You posed for a picture with a young fan who had autism. You reached into a fan’s bucket of popcorn after attempting to snag a foul ball.

Haters still found a way to criticize you for these actions, but on the whole, you are pretty well loved by baseball fans around the country. But that’s key: “around the country.” Here in Kansas City, especially last year, you were pretty unpopular, and I took a lot of flack for calling you one of my favorite players. People said I was naive; people said I didn’t care about winning, only about your winning smile; people said I knew nothing about baseball.

But I continued to like you because you continued to trot out there every day like you cared about your job, despite the fact that your team was losing and you were on your way to having arguably the worst season of your career. You continued to smile, despite the fact that people booed you. You continued to hold your head up, despite the fact that a Francoeur plate appearance more often than not meant a guaranteed out for the Royals.

I guess, in the end, the reason the Royals are so likable is that, despite the losing, we have players and managers who are likable as human beings. Royals players don’t get in the news for being jerks the way Yankees players do. Royals players don’t get in the news for starting benches-clearing brawls the way a lot of other MLB players do (of most recent and notable mention, former Royal Zack Greinke, emphasis on former, and Carlos Quentin). There’s a culture of class and sportsmanship about the Royals organization, and that’s why I don’t care that we’ve historically traded away so many talented players like Melky Cabrera, Zack Greinke, Johnny Damon, etc. Of course, it bears remembering that I wasn’t part of the baseball world when those things happened, so it’s easy not to care now.

But it’s also easy to like the Royals, despite their offensive struggles, because they are a group of genuinely good guys whom just about any local fan would want to go out and have a beer with. And yes, sometimes all the losing means it sucks to be a Royals fan, but at least I’m still happy in the rest of my life. Yankees fans, Red Sox fans, White Sox fans, Cardinals fans… They all seem to be disgruntled in general, despite the fact that their teams win a lot. Nothing seems to make them happy.

Fan culture imitates player culture, it seems. And you, Jeff, are one of the Royals players who leads by example when it comes to being a good sport, and a generally good-seeming guy. You even became buddies with Alex Gordon in the offseason, training with him and getting training tips from him, and doing everything you could to become the best baseball player you can be. I say “even” because Alex Gordon is the only Royal I would not classify as “a nice guy.” (However, he’s still not enough of a jerk to be a Yankee. And maybe he is a nice guy, who knows. He just doesn’t seem to be interested in any fan interaction whatsoever, and I guess that’s fine. There’s no rule that says you have to love the fans.) But see, that’s exactly my point. The guy on our team who is the biggest jerk is simply a guy who prefers to keep to himself. That’s how awesome all the other players are.

Anyway, Jeff, I’m probably the only fan in Kansas City who wasn’t outraged when the guy a lot of people thought would replace you this season got traded for a really good pitcher. I’m the only fan in Kansas City who didn’t care that you being on the team was blocking a “better” player from coming up. (Part of my rationale is that we needed good starting pitching more than we needed another potential yet unproven bat. We’ve got plenty of potentially hot, unproven bats. Maybe if we have some good pitching – which, it appears we finally do – our potentially hot, unproven bats can have a chance to relax, get hot, and actually prove themselves.)

But here’s the point, Jeff. You’re a great guy. And sometimes you play some great baseball. (I’ve seen you throw from the warning track corner in right field all the way to third base. I’ve seen you get RBI hits in clutch situations. When I sat in the Frenchy Quarter section at Kauffman last year, you hit a home run in your first AB.)

Of course, my love isn’t blind, and there are other times that you make me facepalm. Like last night, when you swung twice in a row at pitches that were literally in the dirt. I mean, really. I think they actually bounced before they crossed the plate, and you still swung at them. Or like any number of times last season when you would take off running for a base at the worst possible moment and generate a free out for the opposing team. I am pretty sure one time you even ran when the pitcher was staring right at you.

I don’t know what is going through your head when you do silly things like that. I really, really don’t. But I will always be a Jeff Francoeur fan. Because you are a wonderful human being. Because you have a great attitude and a killer smile. And because, when you are playing good baseball, you’re so much fun to watch. I hope you have a good season this year. But even if you don’t, at least you’ll be happier than guys like A-Rod at the end of the season because, whether you end up having a good or bad season, you’ll go into the offseason knowing, At least I don’t act like guys like A-Rod.

But could I give you one piece of advice, Jeff? That goatee you’ve been sporting this season is not a good look for you.

Sincerely,
Audra Marvin
Devoted Royals Fan, Budding Baseball-in-General Fan, Vin Scully Fan, and Active Hater of Bad Attitudes and Spider Crickets

PS If you’re feeling fan-generous tonight, I’ll be sitting in section 131, row G.

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Filed under baseball, bloggy, experimental, irreverent, sentimental, writing exercises

All Americans Are Baseball Fans

Baseball is America’s pastime. And yet, the number of loyal fans the sport claims seems low in light of this consideration. Of course, my perspective is skewed because I attend games at a small stadium that only sells out on Opening Day, or when the Yankees are in town, and is home to a team with a 25-year losing streak.

Even so, although I grew up playing softball and going to Royals games in the summertime, I lived the first 26 years of my life mostly oblivious to Major League Baseball. I could not tell you when the season started or ended, nor could I tell you who made it to the postseason in any given year (except that I always knew it wasn’t the Royals). And yet, I somehow managed to collect an arsenal of baseball terminology that I used regularly to apply to non-baseball aspects of life, and I know I’m not the only one.

Even though – since becoming a baseball fan – I’ve uncovered all sorts of Facebook and real-life baseball friends I didn’t know existed, I would still estimate the majority of people in my life to claim they are not baseball fans. And yet, I know that all of these non-fans also use baseball terminology to describe the events that unfold in their everyday lives.

By this observation alone, it makes sense that baseball retains the claim of America’s pastime, if for no other reason than that we just don’t pull terms and phrases from other sports nearly as often or in as great a quantity as we pull from baseball. Think about it. Do me a favor and come up with a mental list of all the sports-related diction you have heard or used yourself in conversations that aren’t about sports.

First, try to think only of terms that don’t come from baseball. You might consider such terms as tackle (as in a problem); the ball’s in his/her court (as related to dating, or getting a job); it’s your move (whoa, a chess reference!); and he’s been sacked (or, if you’re not British and don’t watch excessive amounts of Monty Python, you might just say fired, which discounts this last one). Are there others I haven’t thought of?

Let’s move on to baseball. There are so many in baseball, I’m actually going with list form to detail them. And let’s go ahead and put them in real-life contexts.

*I really got thrown a curveball at my mother-in-law’s. I had no idea she expected me to bring the turkey!
*That’s strike three for that toddler. Now it’ll be timeout. (Alternatively: He has struck out.)
*Sorry to hear you didn’t get your girlfriend back, but at least you did everything you could and went down swinging, eh?
*Wow, can you believe the projects those students turned in? They really hit this one outta the park (alternatively: hit a home run).
*Man, I can’t wait to tell you what I did with Suzy last night; I totally got to first [or second, or third] base (alternatively: scored).
*How in the world did we go from discussing peanut butter to I don’t love you anymore? That’s totally out of left field!
*Someone else bought the house we wanted. Our realtor totally dropped the ball on getting our offer in on time.
*What about this HUD house instead? Let’s lowball them and see what they say.
*How much would you say you’ve spent on entertainment this year? Just give me a ballpark figure.
*I’m willing to paint the living room. Remodeling the entire kitchen is a whole different ballgame.
*Finals are this week, and then graduation. You can do it; you’re on the home stretch!
*Wow, all I did was say “road trip,” and right off the bat, you listed ten places you’d like to go.
*Okay, it’s time for annual reviews. Emmy, you’re up.
*What do you think, should we ground her for one week or two? I’m gonna let this one be your call.

Okay, here’s the part where you admit that I’m right and that, even though you might claim not to be a fan of baseball – you might even claim to know nothing about baseball – you know what all those terms mean in each of those contexts. I would be legitimately surprised if anyone said otherwise. Of course, some can be disputed, such as the alternative scoring. That one can obviously apply to most any sport. And so could a whole different ballgame. But I included them here because, well, baseball counts as “any” sport.

But the reality is that those terms and phrases are so common in American vernacular that I had to italicize them just because, when I didn’t, and then went back through to edit, I had trouble realizing at first that I had inserted a baseball phrase into some of the sentences. Some of them didn’t stand out to me at all. (For people who are baseball fans, a mildly interesting side note is that, of 14 baseball-related terms listed here, roughly half are related to pitching or the ball going over the plate in some way. I suppose that just backs up the claim that pitching is the currency of baseball.)

Alternatively, what if we did try to draw from other sports for some of these metaphors? As confusing as rounding the bases is when it comes to high schoolers getting some action (after all, it seems like each set of friends has its own definitions of what each base means), I wouldn’t even have a good guess about what it meant if, instead of claiming a base number, I heard a teenage boy brag that he got to the 40-yard line (first of all, on whose side?) or to half court (so, what happens next, does he attempt a three-pointer, or pass to a teammate? I seriously hope it’s not the latter, if we’re still talking about making out).

I also would be confused if, instead of talking about the home stretch, a friend told me she was nearing the redzone in regards to writing her thesis. (Is that good or bad? Does it even refer to whether the paper is close to finished? Or is she talking about her grammar devolving and therefore indicating how much red ink will be used when the paper is evaluated?)

Lastly, if I asked a friend how his job interview went and he answered that he made it to fourth down but then had to kick, I would probably know I needed to console him, but, unless my friend was actually a quarterback trying out for an NFL team, I’d likely ask for clarification on what exactly he meant.

The point is, all we have to do is listen to some of the metaphors we all use without batting an eye to make the case that baseball – whether important to an individual personally – is indisputably this country’s sport and pastime. And if, like me, you’ve conditioned yourself to start noticing, an interesting thing is going to happen. You’re going to be watching other sports, like football or basketball or hockey or soccer, and you’re going to hear the announcers use baseball metaphors to describe what just happened in all those non-baseball sports. That was the best part about beginning to notice all of this. And actually, turnabout is fair play, since the baseball announcers do it too. More than once I heard weird crossover metaphors as I listened to and watched all those games this summer.

So, the next time you open your mouth to tell someone you’re not really a baseball fan, stop and think a couple seconds before you say that. If you think long and hard, you might realize that you know more about baseball – and how the game is played – than you ever would’ve thought it possible to know without claiming fandom. I’m also willing to bet that, even if you’ve never been to a Major League game, or any game at all, you still know the words to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” And why is that? It’s kind of a weird phenomenon, really. It’s not like we sing it after we say the Pledge of Allegiance in elementary school. And yet, I bet there are more of us who know more words to that silly song than there are who can still say the Pledge of Allegiance correctly.

You might as well stop fighting it. I’m a baseball fan. You’re a baseball fan. President Obama is a freaking White Sox fan. We’re all baseball fans. Welcome to the United States.

If you want to join me at Kauffman next year, I’ll be taking reservations beginning April 2.

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Filed under baseball, bloggy

As American As…

There are lots of stereotypes and general-knowledge notions that I have never been able to identify with, such as the statement that Kansas is flatter than a pancake or just one large expanse of farmland; moms who do their daughters’ hair; or the idea of baseball and apple pie being the two loves that make people American. Of course, the reason I couldn’t identify with these supposed common-experience notions was that they didn’t match up with my experience growing up.

For instance, has anyone who calls Kansas flat ever visited Lawrence? Or Atchison? Or Kansas City (on the Kansas side, of course, although the Missouri side has its fair share of hills too, as any runner knows)? I can only assume not. Furthermore, I grew up in a suburb of Kansas City. The nearest farms were at least an hour south of us, and we never went south. Why would we? The city was north. When I was young, my dad crimped and curled my hair for big events like school pictures or church; my mom never laid a finger on my tresses. She wouldn’t have known what to do if I’d asked her to.

And as for baseball and apple pie… Are you kidding me? When it came to dessert, chocolate ruled the day in our house, and when we wanted to be entertained, well, we were a book family (as any loyal reader of this blog already knows). Once a year, in the smack-dab middle of the summer, right about the time our sans-school ennui hit, our family ventured to Kauffman Stadium (a torturous, 45-minute drive away) to take in a baseball game. We sat way up high, had no idea of any of the players’ names (except George Brett, of course), and expected to see the home team lose. It was a good night if my parents sprang for cotton candy. If they declined our vendor-related pleas, the night could not achieve a higher rating than mediocre. For me, the most fun part of going to the baseball stadium was getting to walk down the spiral ramp at the end of the game.

My second favorite part of going to the baseball stadium also happened once the game was over. And it was my dad’s least favorite part: the parking-lot traffic jam. I loved staring at the long lines of cars and brake lights illuminating the night as we waited to get back out on the road. I think my joy over the long wait only exacerbated my dad’s aggravation with it. My third favorite part of a baseball outing was definitely the coveted cotton candy, if I was lucky enough to get some. If not, the game itself could slide up to take a comfortable third place in Audra’s Personal-Enjoyment Rankings.

With the combination of a losing home team, a non-sports-interested family, and the crowd-control factors competing for my affection, one can easily deduce why I’ve never been able to identify with the old phrase “as American as baseball.” And, since I already couldn’t identify with the other American-defining phrase, the one about apple pie, I had no choice but to conclude I was an alien forced to spend my days in this country where they made such errors in judgment as preferring apple pie and baseball over chocolate and traffic jams. And thus I lived, happily – or so I thought – for 27 years. (It seems like I mention my age a lot in my blog posts. I wonder if that’s to remind people that I’m still young, or just to help me keep track of where I’m at in life?)

And then April 2012 came, and through a confluence of factors, I came to be interested in the sport of baseball. Those who know how this story ends might not believe me when I say it started out as a perfectly mild, even casual, interest. In fact, it was less than that. It was purely perfunctory. At that juncture of my life, I was spending a lot of evenings and a lot of carpool rides with a couple of boys who had baseball on the brain. In the evenings, my choices of conversation were baseball or book spines. On the rides to and from work, my choices were baseball or obscure music. I thought their chances of maintaining my interest were better if I chose baseball in both cases, so I began to study and read up on the Kansas City Royals. I also took a few opportunities to attend home games, since the tickets go for as cheap as seven bucks sometimes.

As it turned out, I was a bit overwhelmed at first by everything there was to learn. I had previously thought all there really was to know about baseball beyond what I considered “the basics” were all the players’ names and numbers. (I later found out jersey numbers matter very little; position numbers are what’s important.) To me, the basics were the multiples of three: three strikes, six outs per inning, nine innings, nine field positions. These things are important, but with each game I experienced, whether at the stadium or over the radio waves, I found there was still so much I didn’t know.

So I subscribed to a Royals-specific blog and read every post faithfully, which was exhausting at first because they posted multiple times a day during the season, and some of them were so full of statistics I could barely get to the end of a sentence and still understand what was going on. And if I missed a couple of days of checking Google Reader, I could have as many as eight posts backlogged. In those early days of blog reading, I clicked a lot of outside links to extra information and performed a lot of Google searches to suss out the meanings of various terms and stats.

At first, I took everything the blog posted as gospel truth and verbally quoted it (sometimes without citing my source – gasp!) in conversation, until I started noticing that, due to the number of games I personally attended and listened to, I was beginning to form my own semi-educated opinions about certain Royals players and certain managerial decisions, and sometimes those opinions differed from what the Royals bloggers posted. And I learned that was okay because we’re all just fans, and we don’t have to agree. Plus, other baseball fans were starting to notice my opinions on Facebook, and interesting conversations began to blossom!

Around midsummer, I again thought I had pretty much figured things out as far as batting strategy and basic fielding and defense were concerned, only to learn that there was more to offense than I realized: Pitching theories and techniques were an entire dimension I hadn’t even begun to explore. I had just gotten the hang of the field position numbers when I learned that position numero uno contained far more than met my eye. It seemed like I had a whole new roster to learn, what with starting pitchers and bullpen pitchers, both of which could be categorized further into left-handed and right-handed pitchers, #1-#5 starters, long relievers and short relievers, innings-eaters and closers.

I began to get dizzy when I tried to think about all the different types of pitches that could be thrown. Curveball, fastball, slider, change-up, knuckleball, and on and on and on. So, to borrow a metaphor from the sport that is played in Kauffman’s neighbor stadium, I tackled this problem head on by pulling up YouTube videos of good pitching. I listened to the announcers call the pitches and tried to see how the ball changed speed or direction as it went over the plate. It was tough to figure out, and it was especially difficult to try to apply my knowledge at live games because I didn’t particularly want to watch the pitch; I wanted to watch the runners stealing, the batters making contact, and the fielders playing the shift. And, besides all that, depending on where I sat in the stadium and what angle I had over the pitcher’s mound, I was darned if I could tell without the help of an announcer how fast it was going or how sharply it curved over the plate.

Eventually I found out about a new autobiography written by MLB pitcher R.A. Dickey. I had never heard of this guy and knew very little about his team, the New York Mets, but the title of the book struck me as clever, so I checked it out from the library. If I had known I was in for a read that would compete with my choice for Best Book of 2012, I’m…not really sure what I would’ve done differently. Maybe nothing, except opened it up much sooner than I did after acquiring a copy. But once I did open it and begin reading, I was hooked. Not only did I learn about great pitching (and great pitchers, knuckleballers specifically, like the Niekro brothers, Charlie Hough, and Tim Wakefield); I learned about the life of a man who struggled with self-worth issues and personal demons that stemmed from child abuse, molestation, rape, and abandonment. I learned about a guy who became a Christian early in his life, only to find it didn’t really make his external hardships disappear. I learned about someone who didn’t have anything handed to him on a platter; or rather, had pretty much everything handed to him on a platter, when he first signed an MLB contract, and then had that platter yanked away from him almost as fast. Finally, I learned about a man who loves baseball, loves God, and loves his wife and kids (not necessarily in that order) – and is just trying to figure out how to balance all that love (and stay humble) in a life where he finally – after much struggle, toil, heartache, and disappointment – seems to have everything he has ever wanted.

And with that book, the flame of my interest in baseball was fanned into a fire that spread beyond the exclusivity of the Kansas City Royals. I spent an afternoon near the end of the season watching a Mets game that R.A. Dickey pitched. As it happened, that game was his last of the season, and he earned the win (his 20th W of the season and the first Mets pitcher to achieve that many wins in one season since 1990), throwing 128 pitches over 7 and 2/3 innings and striking out 13 batters. If you don’t know the significance of those numbers, then I promise you, the word you’re looking for is, Wow.

R.A. Dickey and his knuckleball helped me begin to understand the complexities and dynamics of pitching. They also helped garner my interest in players outside the Royals organization. From that Mets/Pirates game, I went on to watch end-of-season games for the Nationals, the Dodgers, the Braves, the Mariners (wherein I also got to see a pitching feat accomplished, the day I watched Felix achieve his perfect game!), and more. When the end of the season loomed and divisions still hadn’t been clinched, I watched some of those games to see who would make it, the Orioles or the Yankees, the A’s or the Rangers, the Dodgers or the Cardinals. I probably watched more Dodgers games than any others, mostly because I discovered a gem of an announcer in Vin Scully, who, as an octogenarian, I quickly learned, is a baseball-announcing legend.

And then, of course, the postseason was upon us, and like any disappointed local fan, I began to choose favorites in the fight for the World Series. I canceled social plans to watch postseason games and lived and breathed postseason baseball for the first two weeks of October. All of my favorites ended up losing in the division or championship series, and I had to choose a new team for the World Series. I chose the Giants based on one player who had caught my eye early near the end of the regular season, when I watched all those Dodgers games. His name is Buster Posey, and his skill blew my mind time and time again, in almost every game I watched. He caught runners stealing, he recovered passed balls faster than anyone I’d seen all year, and his batting! Whew! He hit a grand slam in the Division Series to knock the Reds out of contention. I missed the Championship Series because I was on vacation, but then he notched a two-run homer in Game 4 of the World Series, which, when combined with Scutaro’s 10th-inning RBI, cemented the Series win 4-3 in thrilling fashion – a four-game sweep! – for the Giants.

The more games I watched, the more I learned about the craft and genius and complexity of baseball. And the more I learned, the more I craved to experience and know more. My conversations with friends both on Facebook and off began to go deeper. Even with all I had learned in those short few months, those discussions still turned down routes I couldn’t follow, and I discovered that there is still a huge gap in my baseball knowledge because I know very little of the history of baseball. Steer a baseball conversation away from the year 2012, and, even if you stick with the Royals, I won’t be of much use to you.

And so, my epic quest continues. I have begun to scour Wiki sites to learn about the history of teams, stadiums, franchises, logos, payrolls, and – of course – legendary players. I do this so that, when someone brings up Kirk Gibson or Lou Gehrig or heck – even Babe Ruth – I can still participate in the conversation. (Of course, thanks to The Sandlot, I have been able to rattle off the nicknames Great Bambino, Sultan of Swat, and Colossus of Clout for some couple of decades now, but I figure it’s time to go deeper than that.)  To aid me on my historical facts and legends hunt, I just recently learned that Ken Burns: Baseball is available on Netflix Instant Play, so I’m pretty excited about all of those tidbits of baseball lore just waiting to implant themselves in my  brain, especially now that I’ve got a long off-season looming.

To sum up, I’ve come a long way since those family excursions to the high-stadium seats and our collective expectations of loss. I still love the spiral ramp and the traffic jams, but they’ve moved down a few places in the rankings. I also still expect the Royals to lose a lot of the time, but now it pains me to the depths of my soul when they actually fulfill that expectation. And, contrarily, my joy soars to the highest heights when they defy expectations and Billy Butler hits a walkoff home run; Jeff Francoeur doesn’t make a running error on the base paths; Eric Hosmer manages to get on base; Lorenzo Cain lays out to catch a ball and doesn’t get up limping; or Salvador Perez manages to watch a pitch go by without swinging. These players now feel like mine, somehow, and I’m grateful to the rest of the community of baseball fans, who have (mostly) accepted me and my new fandom with open arms.

Oh, and just for the record, I still love chocolate. But I eat apple pie now too. What with Obama and all, I’ve learned this country isn’t so bad after all (sometimes).

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Filed under baseball, bloggy, experimental, writing exercises

1,001 [Bad] Dates

If you will recall, I wrote a marvelously lighthearted post around three months ago that poked fun at the fact that my heart had just shattered (again). (How wonderful; my dating life is becoming one of those.) In the three months since I’ve been back in the game, I’ve had a few opportunities to dust off my skills, oil up my rusty joints, and put myself out there, so to speak. (My goodness, could that sentence have been laden with any more trite phrases?)

I tried my hand at online dating and was in and out of there about as quickly as a guy sent into a store to buy tampons. I went on an actual date with an actual guy from the site, but the evening proceeded in situational-comedy style, including me being kicked underneath the table at least twice, without either acknowledgment or apology. And I found more interest in the Royals game on the TV than I did in my companion, which should’ve sent him a strong message because this was about four days before the All-Star Break, and the Royals were in a losing spiral leading up to the break. My date, however, was so bad at reading social cues that he actually asked me to take a walk and get ice cream after dinner, apparently thinking the night was going wellIt would be my luck that my attempt to pay more attention to a baseball game than to my date would be interpreted as me being an into-sports type of girl rather than a not-into-him type of girl. I guess I should’ve fixed my rapt interest on something clearly less engaging, like counting the number of hipsters who passed on the street, walking alongside their fixed-gear bikes. (Can’t make it up that hill, huh? Serves you right, trend-chasing suckers.)

I also tried the traditional blind-date route. My grandpa had a guy in mind for me, sort of. That phone call actually started like this: “Audra, I have a date for you. [My friend’s] grandson is a very nice man, and he’s married.” Yes, that’s really what Grandpa said, but as it turned out, the only involvement the married grandson had in the situation was offering up the name of his single friend. Grandpa quickly surrendered my phone number to the grandson for delivery to the friend, and several days later, I ignored a phone call from a number I didn’t recognize and listened to a garbled and static-filled message from a guy whose name I couldn’t make out. This must be Grandpa’s guy. I shot him a text by way of response. He immediately asked if he could see me the next night. I said I preferred to get to know him a bit before we jumped into the going-on-a-date part. He said okay and then asked to meet the following weekend. Not exactly what I had in mind, but of course, I was fresh off the online-dating scene, in which you exchange about a hundred messages and then about a thousand texts before you graduate to actually meeting. He seemed nice, and his hadn’t-been-updated-for-three-years Facebook picture was flattering enough, but he was chomping at the bit, whereas I was meandering through the meadow and munching dandelions, so we never ended up meeting.

There was one more short-lived, fairly ridiculous, and awfully humorous evening during which I got hit on somewhat aggressively by a pretty intoxicated out-of-towner one night when I was out with my married friends and was clearly the single wolf in the pack.

When I realized how little fun I was having trying to wrangle dates and meet new guys, I shut down the online profile and took myself off the market, telling myself I was (am) perfectly capable of meeting a guy in real life, in a normal scenario, where we introduce ourselves to each other on our own impetus rather than someone else’s. And then I spent most of the summer going to Royals games and forgetting about real boys because I had an attractive first baseman (and third baseman, and left fielder, and right fielder, and a coupla pitchers) to set my sights on and fantasize about meeting in various places around town, including (but in no way limited to) the stadium itself.

Because the Royals suck (and have sucked for so many years), Kauffman has perfected the art of gimmicky fan promotions in an attempt to boost attendance. Therefore, I have been at the park this year for various events and attractions such as Buck Night (which is also Fireworks Friday), Mizzou Night, K-State Night, KU Day, Family FunDay (every Sunday), Oktoberfest, and more. In August, I found out via the Royals Twitter feed that Singles’ Night at the K was coming up. I abhor singles’ events, just to throw that out there. The desire I had to be at the stadium on Singles’ Night was driven by only one overriding ambition: my goal of going to 20 games this year. Perhaps luckily and unluckily, I already had a conflict written on my calendar for that night: I had to lead community group. Darn.

Several days before the event, a (single, female) friend texted and asked if I knew about Singles’ Night and whether I wanted to go. This got me thinking about whether there was a way I actually could go. The church my community group is rooted in (even though most of us don’t actually attend that church, including me, the group’s leader) just had a community group revival kickoff party in August to attempt to drum up new business or renew old interest in this particular aspect of the church’s ministry efforts. Then the thought occurred to me, What better way to invite new people to experience our community group than a relaxed outing in a nonthreatening environment, say, at a baseball game?

I was, of course, fully aware of my ulterior motives in trying to kill two birds with one stone by upping my baseball game attendance count and also conducting my previously-committed-to community group meeting. But I wasn’t so attached to the idea of the baseball game that I would’ve abandoned community group altogether, so I emailed the core regulars and asked them what they thought about going to the game that night. Everybody except one emailed back and said they were down, so that became the plan. When the actual night rolled around, however, I gathered the carpool group on my porch, simply to find that only one from my community group had shown up. Everyone else had flaked. Luckily, I’d invited another friend, who invited another friend, who invited another friend, so we ended up with a group of five, and coincidentally, we were all female. I had asked my friend Toni to curl my hair all fancy-like, and she did (and did a fantastic job), and then we headed out to the park, peppering the drive with a few jokes about the fact that it was Singles’ Night and the grand plans we had for snagging cute guys.

Then we got to the park, got our five-dollar tickets (?!) – thanks, guy in line behind us, for the BOGO coupons – and headed up to our seats, at which point I promptly forgot all about meeting a guy. How could I focus on that when 1) the baseball game was about to start, and 2) the Royals were trying that night to complete a three-game sweep of our division leaders? (We are rapidly snowballing toward the postseason, after all.) Exactly. I couldn’t.

Right after we trekked and climbed to our very-high-up, very-far-out seats and were about to sit down, the section usher came down and suggested we move infield a few sections. He made it seem like he was doing us a favor, but really I think he was supposed to patrol multiple sections, and, since we were the only ones out that far, he didn’t want to have to traipse all the way over there all night just to check that we weren’t… I dunno, spitting sunflower seeds or peanut shells onto unsuspecting fans in the lower deck or something. So we humored him and moved a few sections over.

We were down at the bottom of the upper level, right in front of the railing. It was my friend Toni’s first MLB game ever, and things hadn’t gotten underway just yet. She was very excited to be there and to see all the pre-game festivities. She took quite a few pictures and then spent the rest of her time standing up and leaning over the railing to see as much as she could. All of this was fine, until the game started. At which point, when Toni was still standing up at the railing (and I next to her, to explain the game and answer her questions), the usher came down again and asked us to take our seats so the people behind us could see. We apologized and obeyed. The game got started and moved along at a swell pace.

A few innings in, one of the girls in our group, Kimberly, pulled out some snacks to share. In the spirit of making them accessible to the entire row, she set them on the concrete part of the wall/railing in front of her, which, when noticed, brought the usher to our section once again. I felt embarrassed at this point, and probably blushed, because I’m not really used to calling so much disciplinary attention to myself. I also felt that I, as the resident stadium-etiquette expert (for 2012, anyway), should’ve recognized these peccadilloes for what they were and extinguished them before an authority figure had to. But, lo and behold, I cared more about the baseball game than what rules my compatriots might be flouting.

On the usher’s fourth descent to our seats, I began to feel like a child in a dunce cap. However, this time, he said, he wasn’t coming to say anything to us; he merely had to stand in the aisle for a bit to give the appearance of good patrolling. I sighed with relief and said to him, “Sorry we’ve been such troublemakers tonight” and flashed a shy smile.

He smiled back and said, “Trust me, you haven’t. I’ve had much, much worse.”

It was only when he smiled that I realized he was actually quite attractive. After he left his post and went to stand guard elsewhere, I turned to Toni and told her I thought he was cute and had already surreptitiously checked his hand and found no ring. Toni immediately went into wingwoman mode and started offering up the various options I had for execution of continued flirtation. I laughed her off but kept a peripheral eye on him for the next couple of innings. After all, I had nothing to lose, it was Singles’ Night, and my hair was all done up! (Kimberly had made a jesting comment earlier in the night about how I could be “one of the super-pretty girls who gets on the big screen,” since they only seem to show dancing children, extremely old people, or really pretty women. Alas, despite my lustrous, flowing curls, the cameras did not make their way to our section that night, not even when we all stood up and swayed back and forth while we sang the Garth Brooks song.)

Pretty soon, the game was nearing the 7th inning, which meant I was nearing the end of my chances to get something started with the Attractive Baseball Stadium Usher (ABSU). Some of the girls had gotten some food earlier, and the trash was under our seats. Lame and transparent an excuse as it was, I decided to get up and throw it away myself. Unfortunately, this task only took about forty-five seconds, and ABSU was nowhere in or around our section during the time I ascended the steps and stepped out to the trashcan. (Since when do they put them right outside the concourse entrances? I remember times of having to hunt for them, walking around aimlessly with a pile of trash just because I can’t find a fricking bin!) So I returned to my seat without talking to him.

In the top of the 8th inning, I decided to try again. Toni suggested I visit the restroom. I nodded and said, “I could pee.” Again, as I exited, ABSU was nowhere to be seen, but I figured I could waste enough time in the restroom that he’d appear again before I got back to my seat.

Sure enough, when I came out of the restroom and headed back to my seat, I had to pass right by him, so close that it would’ve been absurd not to stop and flirt. So I stopped. I stuttered for half a second then opened with, “So… What are some of the worst fan experiences you’ve had?” He turned toward me, smiled, and immediately regaled me with no fewer than three horror stories of drunk fans who had either thrown up (on themselves and on strangers) or peed right in the seats.

I smiled and laughed and OMG’ed in all the right places, acting appropriately scandalized and sympathetic in turn. When that topic died down, I checked the game, saw that the White Sox were still up to bat in the top of the same inning, and started him on another track of conversation. We talked baseball and the Royals mostly, as well as the particulars of the stadium itself and some of the other requirements of his job. Then the Royals recorded the third out and were coming up to bat, which I didn’t want to miss, so I ended the conversation by giving him my name and asking his then returned to my seat, where Toni was all aflutter with accolades for my successful execution of her Faux-Restroom Flirtation Mission.

The game got so exciting after that, I almost forgot about ABSU. Until Eric Hosmer’s walkoff RBI single to score Dyson in the 9th and complete the White Sox sweep, that is. Then I looked around for ABSU so I could 1) chat with him on my way out about the great win, 2) tell him goodbye, and 3) try to work up the courage to ask him for his phone number.

Toni had a slew of wingwoman suggestions for this scenario too, one of which involved me writing my phone number on my game ticket and slipping it to him as we left the stands. I refused this idea, though, because I like saving my game tickets. They make great bookmarks. Besides that, nobody had a pen. I resolved to just be brave and ask him straight out.

I walked toward him across a row of seats as my girlfriends ascended the opposite set of stairs to the exit. He saw me coming and flashed that smile once again (boy, I’m a sucker for a good smile). I thought for a millisecond that I might not make it all the way over there. Then I remembered that I’ve never fainted in my whole life and reminded myself that, to faint, you actually have to be feeling weak and lightheaded, neither of which I was; just excited and nervous. (Sorry; no southern-belle hysterics for me.)

ABSU spoke first. “Wasn’t that a great win? How ’bout that Hosmer, huh?” I nodded enthusiastically and immediately launched into a diatribe about the horrendous season Hosmer has had and how much it warms my heart when he does something clutch like that to redeem himself (he’s had more than a few of those shining moments over the course of his mostly disappointing season). ABSU agreed heartily with everything I said, and then the conversation flatlined. It was very clearly time to make my move and/or say goodbye.

I completely lost my nerve and blurted out, “Well, it was really nice to meet you. Have a great night.” He echoed the sentiment, and then I walked up the stairs with the feeling that he was watching me go.

When I got to the top and was near the exit, I asked myself once again, What have you got to lose? I took a deep breath and turned around. He was about halfway up the steps behind me, and he saw me turn around and come back down. I began to stutter again when I reached him (what’s with the sudden speech impediment?) and did my best Carly Rae Jepsen: “Uh, this might be dumb, but… Could I maybe…have your phone number?”

He smiled immediately (again), appeared flattered but not totally surprised, and said, “Sure.” Then he rattled it off while I punched it into my phone. Then I thanked him, said goodbye (again), and left.

I spent the rest of the night on an adrenaline high, full of many emotions. Relief that I wasn’t rejected. Pride about my ability to be brave. Confidence about the fact that I was, as I texted a friend, “back” [in the game]. Vanity about the boundless power my curled hair might contain. Excitement about a new dating prospect. Hope that there do exist other guys in the world (other than The Ex, that is) who love baseball. (After the breakup, I kind of let myself sink into the depressing mire of the idea that I had unearthed [and subsequently released] the world’s only unmarried baseball – and not just baseball, but Royals! – fan. Do not mock me. We have all painted ourselves into corners filled with absurdly untrue messages.)

The next day I agonized over when to contact ABSU, and how. I polled the Facebook masses, who mostly said to call but who also mostly seemed to misunderstand the context, either thinking it was *I* who was expecting to be called or texted (or had possibly already been called or texted), or that this was a much more advanced acquaintance than it really was. So I mostly disregarded everyone’s advice because I’ve found that the oldest piece of writing wisdom in the proverbial book – Write what you know – usually works best in any life situation. Modify it to fit your context, but basically, be yourself. And calling isn’t me.

Also on that day, the Day After, I got a piece of mail from the library announcing October library events. One such event is a public-speaking engagement by Frank White, former Royals player and true club legend. Being the advance planner (and also the look-too-far-ahead and hope-for-too-much) girl that I am, I penciled in my imaginary first date with ABSU for this specific event. It would be perfect. It would be a public setting, and it would be something that featured the one thing we already knew we had in common. Could this be any more perfect? Obviously God was telling me to marry this guy.

I waited one more day and then texted him Saturday afternoon, the two-days-later mark. I was clever and light and friendly. I mentioned the game the night before, which I’d been at again, and which we’d won again. I also left things wide open for continued communication. Approximately fifteen minutes passed before my phone buzzed with his response. I laughed before I read it because, knowing only his first name when I added his number to my phone, the text showed up as being from “[First Name] From the K.” Oh yeah. Totally marriage bound.

He started off really amicably. “Hey! It’s good to hear from you!” (Notice: Two exclamation points.) Then he responded to my quips about the previous night’s game with a couple of light and sarcastic jokes of his own. (So far, so good. I’m already planning how to answer next – I’ll ask him to meet for coffee next week.) Then the Weird bomb dropped: “I should probably go ahead and tell you this up front. I have a girlfriend. I think you seem really awesome, and it was great meeting you, but she probably wouldn’t like it if I continued to talk to you. :(”

[Insert record-skid sound here.]

Holy mixed messages. On one hand, my eye seems to be able to focus only on certain words, like “you…really awesome” and “great meeting you,” and yeah, he said we shouldn’t keep talking, but he added a sadface. And what about the two exclamation points at the beginning?! But on the other hand, I also can’t ignore the words “girlfriend” and “but” and “can’t keep talking [sadface].”

Now I feel another onslaught of emotions. Rejection, first and foremost. Deflated balloon. Wounded ego. Hurt pride. Disappointed hopes. Anger. Annoyance. Self-righteousness.

So what do I do? I delete his number and the texts and then get on Facebook to publicly decry men.

All’s well that ends weird…or something like that. Bring on the next round.

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