Tag Archives: baseball

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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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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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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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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My Friends Are in My Pocket: Why the Digital Age Isn’t Ruining Interpersonal Interaction

Children are raised being told to respect their elders, and not all of them do it, that’s true. On the other hand, nobody tells any elders to respect children, teens, and young adults either. So there’s a constant tension among all the age groups, and for some reason, few from any of the groups try to understand those from the others (hmm, sounds like how all conflict gets started, doesn’t it?).

One of the things that the oldest of the still-alive generations don’t understand is the young people’s addiction to technology. The claim is that young adults have lost the ability to interact face to face, and that teenagers and younger children will never learn it to begin with. Such an assertion is, of course, exaggerated, but, since computers are obviously not going away, and since teenagers and young adults will be running the world soon, I’d like to cast a little different light on how we view relationships in the digital age.

Let me just set the scene for you on what digital interaction looks like in my life. My closest and most trusted friend lives in Austin, Texas (and, in fact, is getting ready to move to the United Arab Emirates), so we conduct our entire friendship via text messaging and online chat. My next-closest friend lives four blocks away from me but is married and has two children, so we also conduct most of our friendship via text and online chat. I use Facebook and Twitter and Gmail, as well as a host of other websites where you are required to have an account and profile of some sort in order to interact. Twitter, though, is the one I use the most.

Interestingly enough, Twitter seems to be the one the older generations understand the least. They don’t understand the point of it, or the layout, or the functions (where is the “like” button?). But Twitter has become, for me, a place to find people to go to baseball games with, or watch baseball games with, or – at the very least – talk baseball with while we each sit on our respective couches at home. Certainly, baseball is a niche interest, and it is the foundation on which most of my Twitter friendships are built, but it is not the only niche community out there that Twitter facilitates.

The best part about Twitter is that I can show up as frequently or infrequently as I want, and someone else is always there. If I’m busy, I don’t have to post. If I’m twiddling my thumbs in a waiting room or standing in a very long line, I can send 10 tweets in the span of 15 minutes and nobody tells me to shut up. Twitter serves as a diary I keep online that 523 people have signed up to read. So, it’s like this blog, but way more popular.

Recently, I was in San Francisco. I went there for vacation. I also utilized my Twitter connections for a couple of things while I was there: 1) to score free (and really sweet, really close-behind-home-plate) Giants tickets, and 2) to meet up with a fellow tweep I had interacted with over the course of the baseball season. Twice during the days that he and I hung out, I was introduced to a couple of elderly-type people he knows, and both of those people wanted to know how he and I met, and both of those people were told the same thing: Twitter. And both of those people launched into a diatribe about not understanding young people these days. (Coincidentally, both times this happened, my friend happened to be engaging a restroom, so I was left alone to defend the honor of young people everywhere to two complete strangers.)

Oddly enough, both also had stories about being in restaurants and observing young couples who were “obviously on dates” sit there and “text each other” on their phones instead of talk face to face. I tried not to laugh, even though it was uncanny that this scenario played itself out almost exactly the same way but with different characters twice in the span of just a couple of days (or maybe San Franciscans just aren’t as unique as they think they are, who knows). When I found myself in this conversation the second time, I wondered if either scenario had actually been observed, or if it was simply an iteration of the “sister’s friend’s cousin’s stepbrother’s nephew” vicarious game of telephone we all know so well.

I also considered pointing out both times that the observed couples were probably not texting each other at all but were texting other friends, or were tweeting. But that didn’t seem like it would help the cause of the young people, so I simply smiled and nodded and continued to listen, all the while appreciating the irony of the fact that these two older gentlemen found it acceptable to deplore young people and their addiction to the internet to the face of a young woman they both claimed they were delighted to have met, and whom they both either hugged or kissed on the cheek at some point, and who was only standing there talking to them in those moments because of the internet.

As to the claim that young people don’t know how to interact face to face anymore, I find the exact opposite to be true. In fact, I even assert that having the internet as a buffer actually helps some people who struggle with interpersonal interaction do it better face to face. Take Twitter, for example. We use it to share our thoughts and experiences with whomever might be reading. My profile says 523 people are reading my tweets, but I know that there are not 523 people who read every tweet I post, and most of the time I just pretend that nobody is reading it, which allows me to share things about myself that I might choose not to share if I spent time over-analyzing exactly who might be reading. (Those who have seen my Twitter feed are probably wondering if, in fact, there even is anything I would not share, and I assure you, there is.)

But, though all of my followers do not read every single tweet, there are many who see each tweet, and some who respond. And sometimes it leads to engaging dialogue, and sometimes it leads to other tweeps who see us going back and forth hopping into the conversation too. Sometimes it devolves into an argument, but most of the time it’s a good and positive thing. I spent the full six months of the 2013 baseball season building up my Twitter community with fellow baseball fans (mostly Royals fans, but there are a fair number from other fanbases too; my San Francisco friend, for instance, is part of the Giants fanbase).

As I was doing this, and having engaging conversations with people I liked a lot on Twitter, I was also constantly searching for partners to attend Royals games with. I’m not a season ticketholder, but I set a silly – and lofty – goal for myself at the beginning of this past season: Attend one game per home series. Did you read that right? Not homestand. Home series. For every team that the Royals played at Kauffman this year, I wanted to be at a minimum of one game per opponent. This meant I went to a lot of games, and it meant I ran out of game-going partners early in the season. My existing friends were happy to go to games with me on occasion, but nobody could or wanted to go as often as meeting my goal necessitated.

So I took to Twitter. Over the course of the season, I met, attended games, or tailgated with more than 20 of my friends from Twitter. (I just did an unofficial count off the top of my head and came up with 23, but it’s possible I left out a few. But even if I didn’t, 23?! Wow. That’s kind of awesome.) Since it was spread over the course of an entire season, I didn’t realize the number had climbed that high, but I did make it clear early and often that I intended to meet as many tweeps as possible at Kauffman, and I found plenty of people willing to meet.

And guess what? We did not find our conversation lacking or stalling out when we did meet up. We’d all already gotten to know each other on Twitter, so it was no big deal to hang out in person. We had things to talk about and updates to inquire about. And, if the flow of conversation ever did start to slow down, we had the Royals (and Royals Twitter) to fall back on because, you see, there are a lot of us, and the ones who are vocal and participatory in the Royals Twitter community all know one another. We all follow and interact with one another, so it’s like we’re a huge group of friends already, even the ones who haven’t met up in person.

Twitter provides us a place to share our lives with one another. Because of Twitter, I know that certain people have recently entered parenthood for the first time (shout-out to baby Parker and baby Cale). Also because of Twitter, I shared that entrance into parenthood too, and all the frustrations about in-laws, and insensitive doctors and nurses, and how long the labor process was lasting (yes, it was the fathers I was following, in both cases). Because of Twitter, I know that a fellow tweep experienced the death of her young son just a few years ago. Because of Twitter, I know that someone is dealing with the medical implications involved with having a thyroid tumor. Because of Twitter, I know that a friend is battling what is likely bipolar disorder, but he’s unable to be diagnosed and get medical help because he lacks health insurance. Because of Twitter, I know that a friend recently reconnected with a brother and sister he never knew he had. (And, that brother and sister found him because of Twitter.)

Because of Twitter, I can have a bad day, tweet about it, and instantly be met with all manner of replies varying from sarcasm to distraction to comfort. Because of Twitter, I can ask hard faith questions and enter a dialogue with people who wonder the same things. Or with people who don’t. Because of Twitter, I am connected to people of all different kinds, many of them very different from myself (as opposed to Facebook, where I’m mostly connected to people who have very similar backgrounds and contexts to mine). My Twitter friends know me. They know who my favorite baseball teams are (AL and NL); they know who my favorite individual players are; they know who my favorite college basketball team is, and they know who my NFL team is; beyond the world of sports, they know I have an adorable and chubby niece; they know I have a black dog, and that his name is Soren; they know that this past baseball season has coincided with my training for my first marathon, and they know that I mostly only trained during Royals games so I could listen; they know that I’m an editor, that I love words and books and grammar; they know I’m a Christian.

These people are my friends, and Twitter allows me to connect with them in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening, late at night, at home, at work, out and about running errands, or stuck waiting somewhere. I derive joy from my interactions on Twitter. So, yes, I will be one of the people who stands in a long line and looks at a phone instead of those around me. Some people think that means we are self-absorbed, but my attention to my phone doesn’t mean I don’t care about people. It means just the opposite, in fact. I do care about people, and I’m using my phone to engage them.

Because of digital interaction, I have more friends than I’ve ever had in my entire life. And I don’t say that lightly. For me, friend is a heavy word, carrying weight and obligation and meaning. Some people think they have 1,012 friends because that’s what their Facebook says. This is not that. I have 523 Twitter followers, but I don’t have 523 friends. But I do have friends and people I have come to care about solely because the internet and Twitter exist, and those people are larger in number than they would be without digital interaction. And I care about them, and I know they care about me. And when it does work out for us to get together in person, we do it, and we have fun. (If you don’t believe me, you should come sometime when I hang out with some of them, and I’ll show you.)

So that’s why I don’t like to be without my phone. To be without my phone is to be without my friends.

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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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Live Simply So Others Can Simply Live (Or, Why I Don’t Have a Smartphone)

It is part of my value system to employ a philosophy of simplicity in as many areas of my life as I can. In some areas (like the amount of debt I have), I shot myself in the foot early on because I haven’t always valued this particular philosophy, so now I’m just trying not to drown. But I’m doing pretty well in other areas, like the amount of “stuff” I own, the amount of money I spend recreationally, and the time I spend doing anything besides what I consider to be the purest of life’s pursuits, at least for me: reading or writing (and now, watching baseball).

Ever since I decided that I wanted simplicity to rule my life (which was circa late 2009 or, probably more accurately, early 2010), it has been fairly easy to make cuts and be choosy about what I spend my money on. For instance, I unplug everything in the house that doesn’t need to be plugged in at all times. That means right now, at this very moment, my major appliances (fridge, oven, washing machine, dryer, and dishwasher) are the only things that stay plugged in all the time. Everything else only gets plugged in when I need to use it. This includes my TV (that I never use and, therefore, never plug in), microwave, toaster (that I recently gave away because of non-use), hair dryer, straightener, computer, phone charger, and even internet. Yes, I said internet. I go so far as to turn off and unplug the power strip that hooks me up to the internet when I’m not using it. Obviously, that means when I leave the house and when I go to bed.

I also do my best to keep the cost of my utilities down by waiting as long as possible during the ‘between’ seasons to turn on heat or AC, from March to sometime in June or July, and from September to November or so. Even when I do turn them on, I put them at the lowest & highest possible settings that I can stand and still be mildly comfortable. And, of course, I schedule it to extremes for during the day when I’m at work, which I hope doesn’t adversely affect the dog too much. So far he is always alive and wagging his tail when I come home, so I assume that means he’s all right.

And don’t forget water. It’s a utility too. I do all the basic things that normal people do, such as not running the tap excessively when it’s not being used (while doing dishes, brushing teeth, etc.), not running the dishwasher for just a couple of plates, and not using the washing machine for only one garment. But I also shower every other day, give or take some frequency on either end. Sometimes I do it sooner than that; sometimes I wait longer. (It usually depends on my running and dating schedule. Dates usually get showers; running obviously does not – until after.)

People don’t believe me that persisting in such frugal use-of-electricity practices actually lowers my bills in the long run, but it does. I’ve seen the evidence firsthand. I’ve compared my bills side by side after adopting certain practices, and the differences are not only noticeable; they’re significant. Living alone goes a long way toward this being a meaningful practice. Not all of my roommates/housemates have shared or respected my philosophy of simplicity, although the one I had the longest (who, surprisingly, was a guy) was the best at it. Not sure if that was a coincidence.

The strength of my conviction and commitment to my values has been challenged recently, though. I have lately discovered that my financial frugality has thus far been an easy philosophy to uphold because I didn’t really have a choice. It was either live as cheaply as possible, or get foreclosed on/get car repossessed/accrue more credit card debt/overdraft the bank account, etc. My finances were stretched paper thin, what with a car payment, school loans, a dog, regular housing bills, a mortgage, and general other necessary expenses like insurance and groceries. Oh yeah, and trying to cover all that with a paltry, laughably small paycheck.

Well, the paycheck is still paltry, but it’s better than it was, and I have “enough” to get by (even after tithing!), even if I don’t necessarily have extra. Before, not only did I not have extra; I rarely even had enough. I overdrafted a lot, and I never tithed. Or went out to eat. Or bought people gifts. Or did anything besides pay bills. It sucked.

Now things are a little different. I don’t have a lot of money, but I sometimes pay all my bills and realize I have a good chance of making it to the next paycheck without overdrafting. I might even be able to go grab dinner with friends or get something fun at the grocery store – like Oreos. And, when that happens, I find it difficult not to maintain my discipline status quo. Which forces me to confront my stated conviction and philosophy and challenge myself about whether I actually believe it. And think about why I believe it.

A few years ago I read some study where they polled a large sample size of U.S. Americans and asked them what their philosophy of spending was, and the majority answer came down to this: If I can afford something, I have zero reason not to purchase it. Surprisingly, and discouragingly, the second-most popular response was this: If I can’t afford something but really want it, I buy it anyway, on credit.

Having “enough” money has caused me to have to make this decision more often. Do I buy Chipotle tonight just because I can? Do I get dessert at the grocery store just because I can? Do I get a pack of gum just because I can? These are very small things, but it’s true with the big things too. I could never previously consider getting a new garage door or new plumbing or a new roof (probably the three biggest things that could be fixed/replaced on my house right now) because the money just wasn’t there. At all. But now I can address the question: Should I start saving for one or all three of these projects, just because I can? Or should I save for something more practical, like traveling? Or retirement, for that matter. Of course, there are also medium-size considerations that I used to avoid because I couldn’t afford it but now am allowed to consider. These are simple life-maintenance things that add up after awhile – things like regular haircuts, oil changes, small house projects, even routine doctor visits.

Sometimes I think it was easier when I didn’t have to make these decisions. The answer was always no, so I never wrestled with the questions. But then I remember the fear and constant discomfort I lived in with never having enough money. If something happened to my dog, if something happened to me, if something happened to my house, my car, my computer, my phone… The list of fears and questions about how I would pay for routine maintenance situations that, for me, constituted emergency situations was endless. It is not fun to live in fear. It is not fun to live in emergency mode.

So, despite the influx of questions that having “enough” money brings with it, I’m not sorry to be out of constant emergency mode. Not that I’m very far away from it. I’m grateful to have my job because if I lose my job, I will likely be homeless within a month. And, luckily, not only am I grateful for my job; I’m good at it, and I like it. So I’m in a fortunate position right now.

But a slight paycheck increase raises the question too: What constitutes enough? I still don’t have enough to get a new garage door, new plumbing, or new roof. I don’t have enough to eliminate my credit card debt in one blow or my student loan payments in one blow, or my car payments. I don’t have enough to keep my dog on the regular medications that he technically needs. I don’t have enough to buy season tickets to the Royals or to take really any kind of vacation. Obviously, considering I’ve gone however many years without these expenses, they are not needs. So that’s fine.

But, once I get to a place in life where I have the ability to spend a little more money on pleasurable pursuits, or upgrades to my house, where will I need to draw the line? That’s what I’m wrestling with right now. How do I balance having enough money with continuing to live simply? It’s an ongoing struggle that I haven’t figured out yet. Especially because of the why portion of the question. Why do I believe that I should live so simply?

Well, the easy answer is in the title of the post. But what does that mean? If I’m living simply “so others can simply live,” what does that look like exactly? How do my choices affect other people? I guess I see it mainly as a consumption problem. If I consume excessively, I’m using resources that someone who can’t afford them now, because of my decision, cannot even access. This doesn’t seem like a problem on a small scale, but step back and look at the big picture – and the shrinkage of so many of our natural resources – and it becomes rather a huge problem. No, I’m not slipping cash under my neighbors’ front doors. No, I don’t regularly support a charity (other than the church, with my tithe). No, I don’t hand out cash to the homeless people I drive past on street corners. Largely I don’t do these things because, financially, I still can’t.

And that’s why I choose to live simply instead. Yes, consuming fewer resources is probably a good idea for the sake of the earth, but am I as one person really doing anything about the state of the earth? Not really, no. Living simply for me is more about solidarity. I am privileged. I know this. I’m privileged because I’m white, because I was raised middle class, and because I’m educated. These things do not make me better than anyone else; please don’t think I’m saying that. But they do afford me more opportunities. I own my house, I own a car, and I have a full-time job. Rather than exploit these advantages by consuming and accumulating as much as I am able just because I’m able, I want to do what I can to live as simply as I can so I can understand those around me who have fewer advantages and opportunities. In order to love people, one has to be able to understand and relate to people. I can’t relate to the poor urban populace if I seclude myself from them in luxurious suburbia.

Until a couple of months ago, my refusal to get a smartphone had more to do with inability to afford the phone bill than anything else. Sometimes I pedantically (and often sarcastically) said it was because I’m not materialistic, which probably hurt some people’s feelings or offended them. But the truth was, I just couldn’t afford it. Now I probably can afford it, and I’ve been trying to decide whether to get one. On one hand, it’s getting to be more of an inconvenience than not, simply because everyone just assumes that I have one, and they try to interact with me in ways that are impossible. This was never a glaring issue until my parents got smartphones and my brother had a baby. But now I miss a lot of shared pictures and videos and group chats because of my phone.

But I don’t want a smartphone because I go out in public and can’t even make eye contact with strangers anymore because they’re all tweeting or Facebooking or texting constantly. I know complaining about this makes me sound like an old person, but it really has gotten ridiculous. And I just don’t want to be that person. Who can’t sit through a movie without tweeting. Who can’t hang out with friends without checking social media. Who checks Facebook at every stoplight. Who posts online about how much fun I’m having with my friends although I’m not even interacting with said friends. I like the fact that, once I leave my house or my desk at work, I’m internet free until I get back home. I like that I have to learn the corners and secrets and ins and outs of my city streets because I can’t just pull up Google Maps on my phone. I truly believe that not having a smartphone makes me smarter. Or at least keeps me from getting dumber.

I did recently promise, both on Twitter and Facebook, to get a smartphone as soon as the Kansas City Royals make a roster move that takes Jeff Francoeur off the team. Knowing Royals management, that could take anywhere from another couple of weeks to the whole rest of the season, and it’s probably the latter. But I must admit, I do want to be able to view pictures and videos of my niece. And when I’m out to dinner by myself, it might be nice to be able to pull up an article to read once in awhile. And I love Twitter. It would sometimes be nice – if I’m out and about alone – to be able to continue to interact with my followers when they at-reply me, instead of finding out when I get home and replying four hours late.

I’m still trying to discern how valid some of my desires are. I’m mostly trying to wait on the smartphone thing until one of my major expenses is eliminated. In November my car will be paid in full. So maybe Thanksgiving would be a good time to make the switch.

Until then, go ahead and keep mocking me for being cheap or out of date, but at least now you know my decisions are intentional.

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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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2012: Baseball, Home Decor, Solitude

These year-in-review posts might just be the most consistent thing I’ve ever done on this blog, or any of my blogs, for that matter. This will be my third one!

There are certain parts of my life that are starting to seem a little broken recordy, especially when it comes to the impressive number of ex-boyfriends I’m collecting, as if they’re vintage vinyls (cue wah-wah sound). However, it’s less fun to focus on my hardships, and since I beat myself up about those all the time in private anyway, I’d rather use public settings to focus on the positive parts of my life and personal achievements. Oh, and guess what? This edition – for the first time ever – has pictures!

So, even though 2012 included some pretty icky stuff, these are, in chronological order, the ten things I want to remember about last year:

1) Brad Paisley Concert
In January last year, I went with a friend to my first Brad Paisley concert. Brad Paisley is probably in my top five favorite country music artists. His songs are either really touching or really hilarious. He’s a fantastic songwriter, and his guitar skills are legendary, and I’ve heard he’s an even more quality guy. So Toni and I went down to Kansas City’s Sprint Center (which I always accidentally call the Ford Center first, which is Oklahoma City’s event hall) and saw him perform live. The show was everything I would’ve expected and more from BP. It was truly incredible watching him play guitar, and I don’t even know the half of it, I’m sure, not being a guitarist myself. The other reason this makes the list is that live music isn’t really my thing, unless I’m very familiar with the artist. So the mere fact that I express interest in going to live shows is memorable in and of itself, even if I never actually make it to the show. But I did make it to this show, and it was great.

2) Lady Antebellum Concert
So, of course it follows that my next fond memory is another country music show. Lady Antebellum is not just in my top five favorite country artists. They are the favorite. They came to Kansas City in the summer of 2010, and I hinted strongly to the boyfriend I had at the time that I’d love to be surprised with tickets to their show, but he didn’t pick up on that. (Never mind that I went all the way to Nebraska with him to see Dave Matthews – whom I hate. I guess that just proves who was the better partner in that relationship! Okay, kidding. Kinda.) Anyway, this time I decided that I would just go see Lady A myself, boyfriend or no boyfriend. And that’s what I did. Another of my favorites, Thompson Square, opened for them, although they are still pretty new to stage performing, and they didn’t do that great a job. But Lady Antebellum did not disappoint in the least. I opened 2012 with a whirlwind of live shows (yes, all two of them) and then didn’t go to any others all year long!

3) Individual Counseling
In May last year, I started going to some individual counseling sessions at the recommendation of a trusted friend. The whole endeavor made things tighter-than-tight for my budget, but I managed to fund it all the way into October, and when I told my counselor I needed to quit, she said I had achieved all the goals I set at the beginning anyway, so she felt comfortable releasing me. This was the first time I had ever gone to counseling as an individual (I have had some limited experience with couples’ counseling), and I was not prepared for how helpful and insightful it would turn out to be. I learned quite a lot about myself in those sessions with Vanessa, and if I could afford to keep up the weekly meetings, I definitely would still be going. I hope that sometime in the future my finances will allow me to start going again.

For the last 2+ years now, I’ve been a huge proponent of couples’ counseling for everyone, whether married, engaged, or seriously dating, but especially for married couples. I think it’s a mistake for couples to go to premarital counseling for eight weeks before the wedding and then quit, like that fixes everything. I think couples who find their first year of marriage difficult would discover it to be much, much easier if they went to counseling together. However, let me trade that soapbox for a different one: individual counseling. I am now a huge advocate of individual counseling in addition to couples’ counseling. I’m so glad the stigma around therapy and counseling has dissolved. There is absolutely nothing wrong with making every effort you possibly can to grow and become the best person you can be. You will discover things about yourself, your emotions, and your worldview that you had no idea were in there, and it will be so worth it. I promise.

4) Road Trip to Mississippi
Over Memorial Day weekend, I drove down to Oxford, Mississippi, famed literary town, to visit a friend and see all the literary sights. This was the longest I had ever been in a car by myself, and I thought I was going to be so bored on the drives to and from. But what I discovered was that I quite like my own company! I also discovered I quite like Oxford, and it was fun seeing my old college friend Amy again after several years. There were a couple of things that put a damper on the trip itself, the main one being my severe lack of knowledge about the copious number of authors who make or have made their homes there, William Faulkner, of course, being the most notable. I did listen to a collection of John Grisham stories on the drive down to prepare myself for the mood and southern culture. Amy was sure to take me to all the good places, including the Square (which holds the famed Square Books), Rowan Oak (Faulkner’s home), The University of Mississippi, and Faulkner’s grave, where we paid midnight homage to the author via the reading of a pericope from Absalom, Absalom! and the pouring of some Jack Daniels on his grave (to pacify the known alcoholic for intruding upon his peace at such a late hour, I guess; who knows). If only the moon had been full. It would’ve been so gothic and creepy.

See the liquor? That wasn't what we brought; they were there already.

See the liquor? That wasn’t what we brought; those were there already.

5) ROYALS BASEBALL
The only reason this one is all the way down at number 5 is that I made myself order the list chronologically. Otherwise it would be #1. It would also be #2-10 if I weren’t constrained by my other rule, which is: List different things. Seriously, though. Most of you know I got super into baseball last year for the first time ever, and since I live in Kansas City, the team I became a super fan of was the Royals. My transition to baseball obsession happened almost overnight and surprised pretty much everyone I know, including myself. But I went with it and spent the months from April to October attending somewhere between 20 and 22 games (I can’t seem to get an accurate count from my calendar) and learning more about the sport itself than I’ve ever learned from six months of consecutive study of grammar. But of course, that’s because I was born knowing everything I know about grammar. But, sudden or not, everyone I know accepts me as a baseball fan now, and I’m counting down the days until the season starts again (literally: 4 days until Royals FanFest; 27 days until pitchers and catchers report to spring training; 30 days until the full squad reports to spring training; 76 days until the first game of the season; 83 days until the home opener at Kauffman Stadium). How excited am I? THIS excited:

That's right. I'm Jeff-Francoeur's-crazy-eyes amounts of excited.

That’s right. I’m Jeff-Francoeur’s-crazy-eyes level of excited.

6) Custom Fireplace Bookcase
The number of DIY home projects I did when I bought and moved into my house in 2010 was exactly: 1. I painted my white fireplace a very bright orange. And I was quite proud of it too, and content for it to be the only thing I did to improve – or at least personalize – my living space. But, if I weren’t already calling 2012 The Year of Baseball Infatuation, I would probably call it The Year of Homeowner’s Projects – starting with the custom bookcase I made in July. I don’t really remember how or why the idea came to me to craft these shelves, but I had some wood scraps lying around, and I enlisted my friend Adrianne’s power tools along with my friend Kevin’s carpentry expertise, and what followed was approximately six hours’ worth of man (and woman) hours constructing these two shelves that now fit inside my fireplace. (Don’t worry, the fireplace itself is nonfunctional, so there will be no accidental Fahrenheit 451 reenactments occurring in there.)

The only problem with having such a bookcase was that I didn’t own enough books to fill it. Given that my 28th birthday was coming up a couple of weeks after I finished the project, I decided to throw a party and request that the guests bring books to help fill the shelves. The only stipulation was that the books had to have something to do with fire. The result turned out to be more successful than I anticipated, and the two shelves are now occupied by no fewer than 18 books that feature fire either in their contents, cover designs, or titles (and only three are copies of F451!). There is such a variety too: memoir, fiction, self-help, children’s, trashy romance, religious, family, classic. I don’t know if I’ll ever get around to reading them all (so far I’ve only read one: Stephen King’s Firestarter, though I have previously read Fahrenheit 451 twice, even if not from one of those copies), but I love how the project turned out nonetheless. Below are a few pictures of the construction process, finished product, and final display.

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7) #SoloVacation
In October, I took five days off work – the first vacation I had taken all year from my job – and spent six days on a mini-vacation, visiting a series of small towns just north and west of Kansas City. I went all by myself and Tweeted about some of my experiences using the above hashtag. I was sure I took my camera, but either I didn’t actually take any pictures, or the ghosts erased them all. It’s anybody’s guess.

I spent two days in Atchison, Kansas, which touts itself as the most haunted town in Kansas (and it’s totally true, thus the ghost reference). I took a haunted bus tour, bought and read a book about all the haunted buildings and stories associated with them, visited a couple of haunted houses/museums, and scared the living daylights out of myself spending an hour in a pitch-black park said to be haunted by the ghost of Molly, a girl who committed suicide there. I was there after the moon came out (because that’s the only time Molly screams), and there were no streetlamps or anything. I never did hear Molly scream, but a couple of feral cats walked up behind me and meowed in the dark, causing me to jump nearly out of my skin. (Oh yeah, did I mention I was there alone?) Other noted stops in Atchison included an afternoon visit to the lovely International Forest of Friendship, where I sat on a bench and read for two hours; a tour of the monks’ abbey at Benedictine College; a lunch at the locally famous Jerry’s cafe; a tour of Amelia Earhart’s childhood home; and a riverwalk stroll along the Lewis & Clark Trail that featured historical markers and placards about the explorers.

I left Atchison after two days (which was more than enough time to see everything, trust me) and went east a short way to Weston, Missouri, which was one of Missouri’s first settled towns along the river, and has a quaint little downtown area that has been restored to look pretty much like it did when the town first sprang up. I only spent a few hours in Weston, touring the downtown, eating lunch in their locally famous brewery, and perusing a small graveyard. Then it was off to a remote Catholic retreat center outside Leavenworth, Kansas, to spend four days in wooded Thoreauian fashion.

I stayed in a cabin the entire size of which was smaller than my bedroom at home and which had no air conditioning, no plumbing, no cell service, and no internet access. Since it was October, the weather was actually perfect, and there was no need for AC or heat. The lack of plumbing and running water was an interesting complication. I had a bucket for a bathroom and a gallon-size jug to fill twice a day with water I got from a pump a quarter-mile’s walk away. If ever you want to simplify, unplug, and retreat from the whole world, this is the place to do it. I spent four whole days doing nothing but sleeping, taking walks in the woods, sitting by a pond, and reading, reading, reading. This ended up being the perfect way to spend the week leading up to my half marathon, and as it happened, it also served to remind me (because I’d forgotten since my Mississippi trip) that I genuinely enjoy spending time by myself. (One of my favorite memories from the driving on this trip was making a joke out loud – to myself, of course – that made me laugh really hard.)

8) Running My Fourth Half Marathon
I know I say this every time, but: I can’t believe it myself, but it’s true. I have now earned four medals from running and finishing half marathons. This 13.1 stuff is getting to be no big deal. (Okay, not really. It’s a big deal every time!) Finding a place to put all my medals became part of another of my home-decor projects, and I ended up getting some adhesive hooks from Home Depot and hanging them from my fireplace mantel (much in the manner of Christmas stockings). (As long as we’re discussing home maintenance, this decor decision happened on the same night that I self-caulked my tub and replaced my furnace filter, which was a much bigger deal than it sounds…only because the filter I replaced was going on 2 1/2 years in the furnace, and apparently that’s a no-no.) Anyway, back to the half marathon. I convinced my good friend J.R. to run this one with me, and it was his first ever, so that was a fun achievement of his to be a part of. I also broke a PR for myself, finishing a minute or two ahead of my previous best time, so that was exciting too.

Kansas City Half 4 Kansas City Half 5

9) Becoming an Aunt
As with baseball, the only reason this one isn’t higher on the list is that it didn’t happen until December. But on the 11th of that now sacred month, my brother and his wife welcomed the family’s first grandchild into the world. Her name is Avery, and she was a delicate 4(!!) pounds, 10 ounces, at first weigh-in. I can’t even begin to describe how I felt the first time I met and held her, when she was a mere four hours new. It was a pretty magical day for our whole family, and she totally changed the dynamic of our Christmas celebration this year. Talk about bringing new meaning to the words anticipation and arrival on earth. Avery is nearly perfect, and I can’t wait to watch her grow up. Unfortunately, I have no pictures of her on my computer, since none have been taken with my own camera, but she’s plastered all over Facebook if you care to go digging into tagged pictures of me (she’s also featured prominently in my profile picture).

10) Painting My House
This was definitely the magnum opus of the homeowner’s projects for the year (although it bears mentioning that this was a week-long job that alternated with my final homeowner’s task of the year, which was winterizing 21 of my 27 or so windows; see what I mean about it being the year of projects?). I call it the magnum opus because it’s the only project (except for hanging the medals, which is pretty weak) that I did entirely by myself, with no help from anyone. For Christmas, I got some money to buy paint and supplies, and then my remaining vacation days combined with the way our holiday schedule was set up allowed me two full weeks off from Christmas until the end of the year, so I vigorously attacked the vision I had for my paint. In the end, I added three new colors to various rooms of my house, and I’m extremely pleased with how it turned out. The colors are called Cranberry Whip, Garden Glow, and Amazon Stone, and they appear respectively in the bedroom, the living room, and the room I have started calling the library, although it doubles as the front room.

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That’s it for me on 2012. I haven’t made any specific resolutions for 2013, but I’m gonna follow in Ross’s footsteps, go out on a limb, and say, “No breakups in 2013!” So far I’ve made it 15 days. I’m off to a good start.

Oh, and bonus picture showing the orange fireplace, the new gray paint, and the half-marathon medals on the mantel. (Just ignore the dog kennel, if you can; Soren and I had an extended-stay house guest during that time):

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