Tag Archives: Kansas City

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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That Time I Saw Some Cool Stuff in the Sky

I’ve always been interested in the stars. My favorite unit in 8th grade Earth Science was the one where we learned about different constellations and what they looked like and how to identify them. My teacher was kind of creepy, and he flirted with the pretty girls in class by asking them which was their favorite constellation and then drawing it on their hand. On my hand he drew Orion. See what I mean? Kind of a creep.

So, despite my casual interest in the night sky, I have never seen a meteor shower, even though I’ve always wanted to. It seemed like I always heard about it after the fact. Or, if I heard about it in time, it was the kind of thing where you had to go see it at 2am on a Tuesday night, and I was never motivated enough to do that, at least not in the middle of the week.

But last week a good friend of mine informed me ahead of time both of the fact that a meteor shower was happening and when would be the best times to see it. Luckily, the best times were a Thursday night and a Friday night. So I chose the Friday night, bundled up in many, many layers, and left my house at 11pm to head up north to an open, rural area where I could clearly see the sky and stars.

The farther away from the city I got, the more gradually I began to see increasing numbers of stars. After an hour of driving and several left and right turns and a lot of creeping along down very dark, two-lane, narrow roads, I finally settled into a spot I thought would work. I was in a network of paved but snow-covered roads that appeared to be the bare  bones of a brand-new housing development. There were cul-de-sacs and dead ends but nothing else. Just land and trees. So I parked my car in the darkness and got out.

I looked up at the sky and realized I had no idea what I was actually looking for. It occurred to me that I wasn’t sure what a meteor shower even was. I’d been assuming it was just a show of various falling and shooting stars. But, faced with the expanse of starry night I now stared into, I was hit by the vastness of it all. I puzzled over exactly how to watch the sky. It had become clear early on that I would need to be outside my car rather than in it. But I had no desire to just stand around and stare up into the sky like a dummy. I eventually decided that climbing onto the roof of my car would be the best course of action. So I hauled myself up to the roof and just lay there, hands stuffed into my pockets, staring straight up.

The thing is, what I saw was like nothing I’d ever seen before. For one thing, I’d never seen so many stars in the sky at one time. The aforementioned friend had told me to locate the Big Dipper and that, if I could do that, I would find the bulk of the meteor shower action just below its handle…or something like that. Problem was, I couldn’t locate ANYTHING familiar in that sky. It was the most overcrowded sky I have ever seen. I could not find a Big Dipper or a Little Dipper or a North Star or an Orion (although I don’t think it’s Orion’s season anyway…). I mean, nothing. Absolutely nothing. So I gave up on that and just stared. What stood out to me the most was the sheer, pulsating quality the sky had. It just seemed to be literally bursting and throbbing with moving light. And I don’t mean falling stars. There were certainly those, but I just mean, it had a pulsing rhythm, resonant of a drumbeat. I’ve never seen the sky in quite such an alive state before.

When I looked due north and straight up, there was one star in particular – an ultra-bright one – that seemed itself to be moving, but not in a falling or shooting star kind of way. It moved sort of like the planchettes that accompany Ouija boards do in the movies: slowly, hovering, sometimes a little jerky. If I focused on it – and only it – for a certain amount of time, then it seemed to become the only star in the entire, crowded sky. Trick of the eyes, I guess, I don’t know.

I lay on the roof of my car, shivering, teeth chattering, the cold seeping into my toes, my nose, my fingertips, everywhere. But it didn’t seem to matter. The tremors were inconsequential compared to the show playing up above. It probably would’ve been a better experience if I’d done more planning and brought a blanket, and maybe a thermos with a warm beverage of some kind in it, but I didn’t do those things. I layered up, hopped in the car, and drove because I had no idea what I was doing or what I was really looking for, and I can’t say – even now, after the fact – that I even really know exactly what I saw.

At times I got lost in the alternating blackness and brightness, and if I got into a comfortable stare, I sometimes had the sensation that there was so much more going on up there than my naked eye could see. The feeling that there was something…more…up there never lasted long, but it was persistent and recurrent.

And then the most magical moment happened while I stared into an inky black expanse. I was trying something new with my eyes. I had been letting my gaze dart frantically around the whole sky, trying to keep up with shooting stars that always seemed to be just in my periphery and never in my straight, full-on line of sight. So for a moment, I quieted myself and decided to train my eyes just on one spot – not one star, but more like a defined square patch – in the sky. I did that for about fifteen seconds, and then there was a flickering in an empty black space within the patch. And then all of a sudden a star burned there, in the exact same spot that had been totally unoccupied two seconds prior, and it burned and shone just as if it had been there the entire time. It seemed so sure of itself and its existence that I blinked and began to second-guess what I had seen. I don’t know how scientific it is that a star will just turn on in the black sky out of nowhere. Perhaps it was just another trick of the eyes, who knows. Nobody was looking at that exact same spot at that exact same moment in order to corroborate my story, but – as my favorite necklace (and Kurt Vonnegut) says, “So it goes.”

I could make some cheesy-sounding and inauthentic, contrived-feeling references to the shepherds and wise men who followed the star in the east to Bethlehem, or to God’s promise to Abraham to make his descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. But I won’t do that because I don’t want to cheapen the experience, either for myself, or for anyone who might be reading. I did have a cool and unique experience that night, and I’m glad I went. I spent about two hours out there in the dead of night, in the rural quiet of “just outside Kansas City.” And I hope I will never forget the giddy way I felt lying on top of my car and looking up at the brightest darkness I’d ever seen, wishing I did childlike and impulsive things like that more often in my life but also simply soaking up the present moment. It was a lovely evening, and my only regret is that the camera on my phone was not adequate enough to immortalize any of it. Maybe next time.

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In Which I Ran for a Really Long Time and then Wrote for a Really Long Time

When I first sat down to write this, it had been about 33 hours since I finished my first (and last) marathon, and I still couldn’t quite believe it. If it weren’t for my body screaming at me with every movement, I wouldn’t have believed it at all, the feeling was so surreal. But the arrested sleep, and the desire to sleep more than normal, as well as the fact that, for the following two days, it took triple the usual time to ascend and descend the stairs due to all the pain – all of those things assured me that I had, in fact, run 26.2 miles. In giving you the race recap, I’ll be as concise and as interesting as possible, but bear with me. I RAN these dang miles; the least you can do is read about them.

The morning of race day was very cold, which was an abrupt switch from the temperate weather Kansas City had been enjoying, and I was underprepared. I knew what I wanted to wear, but what I wanted to wear did not match what the outdoor elements required. I’ve always trained and run races in warm or hot weather, so I don’t actually own any cold-weather-running clothes. And I like it that way. It gives me an excuse to take a six-month break from running.

I took no pre-race pictures, but I solved the unequal clothing-to-weather ratio problem by wearing tights under my running skirt and a thermal-underwear long-sleeve shirt under my favorite running tank. The long-sleeved shirt was the only thing I owned that I could stand the thought of getting rid of if I got too hot along the course. I’ve been looking for an excuse to get rid of it for months.

Once at the starting line, I stood in the crowd alone. I had a friend running the half, and we had driven down to the start together, but we split up when he had an issue with gear check and I didn’t trust him to be finished in time for the gun to go off. Plus, we wanted to start near different pace groups anyway, so it worked better to split up. But that meant I was all by myself for about 15 minutes waiting for the race to start. I stood there looking around me at all sorts of people, some with other people, and some alone. I – perhaps for the first time, perhaps not – experienced that awful sensation of “alone in a crowd.” I felt pretty invisible.

I was so far back – because of my estimated pace – that I never even heard any announcements or the gun going off. All I knew was that one minute we were standing there, and the next we were shuffling forward. It was pretty crowded for a while, and I had trouble finding a comfortable pace because I had to dodge all those who immediately started walking. I also had to rein in my urge to fall in step with some who came from behind me and took up a faster pace than I wanted to do. In the beginning of a very long run, it’s always hard to find the exact perfect pace. Too much, and you will run out of gas long before the finish. Too little, and it’s difficult to convince yourself a) that you even can go that slow, or b) that you’re actually doing something more strenuous than speed-walking.

Eventually, though, I found what worked for me, and I cruised around people who started walking even before the first hill, and I relaxed and let people who wanted to pass me, pass me. I kept to the inside corners as much as I could to maximize foot-on-pavement time, and overall I was feeling pretty good. Somewhere around mile 2 I ditched my shirt. I did it right after the first aid station so I could just extend my walk break a little while I adjusted. I did remove both layers of my clothing and was down to just my sports bra in 30-something-degree weather for a few short seconds. It was cold, and putting on just a tank top after removing my long sleeves didn’t do much to alleviate the cold, but overall I thought I felt better, and I assumed I’d warm up, especially since the ascent up to mile 3 was the Liberty Memorial Hill (a.k.a. the worst hill of the entire race; yes, nice that we get it out of the way early).

I was still feeling good on that hill. I had to dodge even more people who began walking, and not only was I still going; I hadn’t slowed my pace down yet at all. I got to the top and felt a little wheezy but kept moving. Shortly after that hill is another steep one that goes up the road that passes behind the dog park and beside the Federal Reserve building, behind the museum and Liberty Memorial. That one is extremely steep but not long, so I managed it fine too. The only hiccup came when one of the traffic cops shouted a dumb question to the runners: “Is this the marathon course?”, and one runner behind me shouted back an even dumber answer: “No, it’s just the half marathon.” I turned and yelled, “It’s both until mile 7 or so,” and then kept going.

When I crested the top of that hill, I felt really good zipping down the other side, and was totally confused by the fact that people were still walking on the downhill (um, hello, that’s the easy part). I continued on, keeping to my strategy of staying as much on the inside corners as possible, which is actually a really difficult strategy that requires you crossing the street a lot. While I was busy focusing on zigging and zagging, I missed the mile 4 marker, and my shoe came untied. We were heading south on Main Street by this time, so the crowd was able to widen up considerably, but overall most runners kept to the right side of the two lanes of the road, leaving the other two lanes totally empty. When I noticed my loose shoelace, I was in about the middle of the pack laterally. Heading over to the empty part of the road as opposed to the sidewalk (trafficked with bicycles, pedestrians, dogs, and other types of onlookers) seemed like the least crowded, most convenient option.

I glanced behind me once to see how far over I needed to go then slipped to the outer edge of the crowd and bent down to tie my shoe. Shortly after I bent down, a guy running all by himself in that outside lane, at least three tall-man’s arms’-lengths’ worth away from the nearest pack member, shouted at me, “Well, I guess I could jump over you” in a sarcastic tone as he ran by. My instinct was to apologize, and I did, but as I watched him gain distance in front of me, I realized he was the one being rude, and I got a little indignant about the whole thing. I mean, I specifically pulled a significant distance away from the pack so I could tie my shoe, and you’re going to get mad at me because you’re not running within race parameters? Yeah. Okay, buddy. 

Coming up on mile 6, I was still feeling good physically, although a little forlorn emotionally, considering none of the sideline cheerers or signs thus far had been specifically for me. I knew going into it that this would be the case, but it was still hard not to get a little resentful about the fact that I’d done all this work, trained for so many months, and everybody but me had friends and supporters on the side cheering for them, and I had no one. I, again, felt invisible. As we rounded a corner in Westport to head down to the plaza, I suddenly heard “AUDRA” from the sidewalk. I looked over, and there was a familiar face! A smiling friend! He wasn’t there to see me specifically; I knew that. He possibly didn’t even know I was running that day, but he was there, and he saw me. And that felt good. That fueled me into another burst of downhill energy, and I realized I was still feeling pretty good.

Down on the plaza, on 47th Street, I crossed the street to give a spectator a high-five. She was bundled up in a coat and gloves, and as I reached out to slap her hand, she said to me, “Wow. You’re making me cold just looking at you!” I smiled and kept going but looked down at my goosebump-covered arms and realized that I couldn’t actually feel my fingers. I could move them, but I could not feel them moving. And I thought that yeah, it actually was kinda cold, come to think of it, and maybe I shouldn’t have ditched my shirt so early. But there was nothing I could do about it, so I just kept going.

Between miles 7 and 8, we split from the half marathoners, and I cried. Not for the first time. Off and on over those first few miles, I teared up a lot. When I crested the first – and nastiest – hill; when I saw the face of my friend on the corner; when I reached the checkpoint for 6.2 miles (10k); when I wondered if my fingers were going to get any more frozen than they already were, and if my limited dexterity would impede my taking water and Gatorade from the volunteers’ hands at the aid stations. But crying when the half marathoners split off was rather more significant. I felt like I was losing a huge group of friends I would never see again. Even though I hadn’t spoken to a single one of them. Silly as it sounds, though, it was a loss because, after that, the crowd thinned out a lot, and not only was I now running this race by myself, I was doing it literally alone. Even the sideline cheerers had disappeared.

On my way to mile 9, the first, second, third, and fourth place runners passed us going back the other way. They were on mile 20 already. Although, now that I think about it, I realize that the only reason I call them the first, second, third, and fourth place runners is that they were the first and last way-ahead-of-me-on-the-course runners I saw. But I suppose there could’ve been runners in front of them even, who had passed that marker while I was still doing even earlier miles. That seems preposterous, but I guess I don’t know. I was hovering at that time around the 5:15 pace group, and the pace leader, when those runners passed us going the other way, said, “They are on about a 6:20” pace, and everyone huddled around him in his group oohed and aahed like we were on a safari or one of those city bus tours and he was the tour guide. It was a little bizarre, and I was happy when they pulled away from me.

I knew they were a group I couldn’t stay with anyway. If I kept to my half-marathon pace for the entire marathon, I would’ve finished around 5:20 at the earliest, so 5:15 was a pipe dream, and I had never intended to be in front of them or finish with them or anything. My running strategy during races is to ignore all pace groups except to take them in when I pass them or they pass me as purely informational. So the information I took in here was that I had stayed ahead of the 5:15 pace group through 9 miles. That meant two things to me: 1) I was doing well; 2) I was slowing down. I didn’t let it faze me. I just kept moving.

Around this time was when I began to realize that I had no real concept of where the course was supposed to go. I have done the half portion of the Kansas City Marathon twice, so I know that course well. I had looked at the marathon course map enough to know generally where it went. I knew which road I’d be on for most of the going-south part, and I knew which road I’d be on that would bring me back north. But there were several twisty-turnies that I didn’t look at closely. Between miles 10 and 11, I noticed that the runners were much sparser. There were much fewer in front of me than there had been. There were still several behind me, but they were way back.

I dutifully followed the two girls and guy who were most closely in front of me, and keeping my eye on them helped me navigate several turns I wasn’t sure about. After a particularly confusing turn, I started to wonder what I would do if I lost sight of the people in front of me. I was between miles 11 and 12 by this time, and I was afraid to slow down at the aid station in case the runners in front of me pulled ahead too much. I reached deep down, found some unused energy, and kept what felt like a rigorous and grueling pace in order to keep them in sight. Before I reached mile 12, however, I happened to glance down at one of the intersections where I needed to turn, and I noticed for the first time that the pavement I was pounding had white spray-paint arrows that pointed the way at each turn. AHA! What a discovery! Had these been there the entire time? I had no idea. But they were there now, and that was what mattered. Direction. Guidance. Assurance that I wouldn’t get lost. I could relax my pace. So I did, and I soon lost the runners I’d been keeping tabs on.

I spent all of miles 12 and 13 in the rich neighborhood. One house I passed had a full-on carnival going in their enormous front yard. There were games, food and drink, people milling about, having a great time. There was even – I kid you not – a bouncy house. Most people who were out on their lawns while the runners went by cheered for us and encouraged us. Not the people at this party. They barely even acknowledged that we were there. As I ran by, I imagined the tweet I would compose if I were able. I would’ve attached a picture of the scene accompanied by the following hashtag: #RichPeopleBeingRichPeople. I kept going.

By the time I reached mile 13, the course had taken so many turns that I was legitimately lost, despite the fact that I was no more than two miles from my own house, and only a few blocks from some of my own training routes. One thing I knew, though. The numbered street I looked up at said 54th Street, which was confusing because I knew I had already gone as far as 58th, and I knew I had to get to 75th before I could turn back north again. So how had I gotten all the way back to 54th? I must have looked fatigued as I passed a particular course volunteer because he called out to me, “There are 4 miles of downhill coming up!” I replied, “That sounds wonderful because all I can see in front of me is uphill.” Then he backpedaled: “Well, yes. You have to make it to 75th before the downhills will start.” Thanks, dude. Thanks for letting me know I still had to go twenty more blocks before I could have a glimmer of a downhill. If I could’ve spared the energy, I would’ve smacked him.

Once I reached mile 14, I was squarely on one of my regular training routes and feeling tired but pretty good overall. Except for the nagging feeling of how close to my own house I was, and how much closer I would get before this was all over, and how far away from my house the finish line was. At one point I crossed my street, and some race volunteers called out to encourage me. I yelled, “THIS IS THE STREET I LIVE ON! I WANT TO GO HOME!” They laughed. They thought I was joking. I guess I was, a little bit. Shortly after that I saw one of my favorite signs from the day: YOU ROCK. YOU TRAINED LONGER THAN KIM KARDASHIAN’S MARRIAGE.

That’s right, I DID train longer than her marriage, I told myself, even though I have no idea how long her marriage lasted. At mile 15, I began to touch the mile markers as I passed them because my head was feeling swimmy, and I wasn’t sure if I could trust that they were real. Things were starting to feel difficult at that point. I tried to console myself with the assurance that the number of miles I had left to go was fewer than the number I’d already gone, but the only thing that kept flashing in my head, without permission, was, ELEVEN MORE MILES. ELEVEN. ELEVEN. YOU HAVE TO RUN ELEVEN MORE. They sure aren’t kidding when they say running is as much a mental sport as physical. Mile 16 brought an important turn. I didn’t have to go any farther south. Any movement past that point would be movement toward the finish line rather than away from it. It also brought a long stretch of sunshine, which I welcomed, but there was surprisingly little warmth.

And then. There was an another aid station. And then: Mile 17. I have no idea where mile 17 began, but it never ended. I have no clue what happened to me during mile 17, but I wanted to die. I did not feel like my body could take one more step. My hamstrings were screaming at me, and burning – the same way they did right after I crossed the finish line of my first-ever half marathon. Except when it happened then, I was able to sit down and stretch. When it happened on mile 17, I had to tell myself – and my hamstrings – to keep it together for another 9 miles. My entire body protested, and I finally realized that I hadn’t yet allowed myself any walk breaks. During the summer I had trained in intervals of 7 minutes. I ran for 7 minutes, and I walked for 1. Over and over and over until the last mile was complete. It was the only bearable way to go past what had previously been my absolute distance limit of 13 miles. The only way I could conceive of getting in 15-, 17-, and 20-mile training runs was to do them in intervals. So when I realized during mile 17 that, except for the brief and brisk breaks at aid stations, I hadn’t walked yet at all, I decided I could damn well take a break. I slowed down to a walk and breathed deeply. I looked around me. Still plenty of runners back there, although now I was about to be passed by quite a few of them, including the 5:30 pace group, which I never saw again. I told myself it was okay. I took in my surroundings. I saw a guy in front of me take a picture of himself and realized I too could do that now. I took my phone out of its running sleeve, ignored all the text, Twitter, and Facebook notifications, and opened up the camera. I tried to look happy, but I felt miserable, and I think the picture shows it. It was the only mid-race picture I took. I put my phone away and sat down to stretch. I contemplated the meaning of life and the point of running and came up with no meaning or point for either. I asked Jesus where the hell he’d been all day and reminded him that he had an open invitation to join me on this run any time he felt like he could spare a minute or two. I thought about the guy who had promised the “4 miles of downhill” and looked ahead, realizing I was past the 75th Street mark where he said it would all change, but all I could see was the road sloping upward yet again. I said out loud, “I feel like I’ve been lied to.” At some point during mile 17 – I have no idea when – I found the courage to discard all the despair and start running again. That was most certainly the longest mile of the course. I would not at all be surprised to learn they made a mistake and crammed two miles into mile 17.

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At mile 18, there was another aid station, and I realized I could feel my fingers again. The dexterity was back! I used the restroom for the first time. I had been avoiding the restrooms up to that point because they all had lines in front of them, and I know myself. I knew I would not be able to make up any lost time I used in the restroom, so I wanted to minimize that loss as much as possible. After that, I had a long stretch down Brookside that led me to mile 20, and I have no idea what happened from mile 18 to mile 20. I was totally in autopilot, just-keep-going mode. But, at mile 20, there were some spectators along the side of the road who cheered for me – the only runner in sight when I passed by them. They said I was doing great, and one of them suggested I do some jumping jacks. I glared at them, and they laughed, and I laughed, and I kept going.

After that, mile 21 appeared very quickly, and then I knew I was close to seeing my friends. They stood in the middle of mile 21, and one of them started jumping up and down as soon as she saw me, which gave me a small burst of energy. The other one held up a sign that said #TeamAudra and had the Royals crown logo on the top with my initials scripted inside instead of the KC. My hamstrings were burning again by the time I reached them, so I took the opportunity to sit on the curb and stretch some more while they lavished me with praise and encouragement. One of them decided to run to the end of the block with me, and when I looked up at the end, I was astounded to be at mile 22.

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After I was alone again, I let myself have another walk break. Things were starting to feel a little hopeless. I was so beaten down and weary, and I still had to manage four more miles. It seemed impossible. I got going again and went up the last two hills, both of which were gradual slopes but long. I rounded a corner and hit mile 23 and was offered FOOD for the first time during the race. It was just pretzels – not at all an ideal race-running food – but I shoved them in my mouth anyway, and washed them down with Gatorade, chased by water. After I finished the pretzels, I had the thought, Hey. I’m gonna make this. I’m gonna finish this damn race. I only have three more miles to go! I CAN DO THREE MORE MILES! I must’ve said the last part out loud because a race volunteer shouted at me, “YEAH you can! You got this!”

A girl who had been trading places with me ahead and behind for the last few miles appeared alongside me and said, “Hey, you’re really doing great. I’ve enjoyed following your bright-orange shirt. Good luck to the finish!” And then she fell behind me again, and I used her encouragement to take a few more steps and keep going.

Then, in the middle of mile 23, my friend who had done the half appeared out of nowhere on the course, which gave me a burst of happiness and excitement to see someone I knew. He started running alongside me, and I asked if he was going to go all the way to the finish with me, and he said yes, if that was okay. I said of course it was okay, and picked up my pace a little (of course, that could’ve been due to the downhill).

I don’t remember much of mile 24 or mile 25. I was so incredibly tired. I kept asking which mile we were on, and if we’d already passed such-and-such a mile marker. I was too weary to think much beyond telling myself to keep going.

And then I saw the mile 26 marker. And, shortly after that, the finish line. I sped up a little and started to cry. Once I reached the corrals, my dad was right there taking pictures and cheering me on. And then my mom was a little ways beyond him, waving a bunch of balloons and some flowers. I started to sprint, at the same time marveling at the fact that I had energy enough left to sprint. Of course, what felt like sprinting to me probably looked like slow-mo running to everyone on the sidelines, but I didn’t care. Tons of strangers were cheering for me and shouting, “Finish strong! Good job! You did it!” and I realized that I had done it. Just before I officially crossed the line, the PA announcer said, “AUDRA MARVIN,” and I threw my arms up in the air in triumph as I stomped down on the finish mat.

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It was over. I had actually done it. And I couldn’t think of a time in my life before that moment when I had felt so proud or so happy. I let them cut the chip off my shoe and hang the heavy medal around my neck, and I let my parents hug me and fawn over me, and I sat down and stretched and ate and drank and breathed deeply, and let the pride and the verbal accolades wash over me.

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And that’s the story of how I officially became a marathoner.

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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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I Am Not a Turtle (Or, Lemme Outta This Box)

I no longer want to be forced into the introvert/extrovert boxes. 

I am way too much of both to feel comfortable choosing a side.

So please stop generalizing and cramming me inside those parameters.

Please and thank you.

I posted the above text recently on Facebook because so much conversation seems to revolve these days around the introvert/extrovert debate, and so many people excuse or explain away behaviors and mannerisms by slapping one of those labels on it.

However, I, for one, don’t feel comfortable being labeled and dismissed. I am not one dimensional. I am complex, and so are you. Sometimes I display introvert tendencies, and sometimes I display extrovert tendencies. Either way, though, everything I do overall is just an Audra thing. I do what I do because I am who I have become. Sometimes that matches up with introversion and sometimes with extroversion and sometimes it’s a combination of both and sometimes it’s something way out of left field that nobody has bothered to define yet.

I’m also tired of the fact that (as this Gawker article so hilariously pokes fun at) introverts want to be left alone but whine about being understood. Introverts scream for space but post a million things a day online about how to understand them. Introverts have more of an online presence than most extroverts I know (myself excluded), and yet they whine about needing to be left alone. What I’d really like to say to introverts is, if you want to be left alone, don’t remind us all that you’re still around by posting online forty times a day. Out of sight, out of mind. If you disappear, we’ll leave you alone. Promise.

The reason a lot of extroverts don’t have an engaging online presence is that they’re out in the world, doing something, being their extroverted selves. Introverts, on the other hand, stay home – because “that’s where they get their energy,” but then they apparently use up all that energy arguing with people on the internet because, by the time I ask them to hang out next, they’re too tired, and need alone time.

Now, all of that is a little tongue in cheek. However, my friend Elizabeth wrote about her introversion the other day in a kind, unassuming, personable way. A way that made me want to try to understand introversion, and her, better. And in the comments she and I had an exchange wherein she said:

Now you’ve got me wondering what it is that introverts assume wrongly about extroverts, though . . .

So I decided, without being a researcher, to write some things about extroverts that introverts either don’t know or don’t seem to understand. After all, if introverts are allowed to publish eight internet articles in the last month about themselves, surely the web can handle two about extroverts, right? (We can’t produce more than that because we’re outside, though, doing things. Case in point: Once I click ‘Publish,’ I’m going out for a run.)

Without further circumlocution, here are ten things that the word extrovert does not mean.

1) Extrovert does not mean limelight.
Just because I’m an extrovert does not mean that I want to be the center of attention at the karaoke bar, or the regular bar, or the work party, or anywhere that a large crowd is gathered. Enjoying being around people does not mean enjoying having all those people look at you and expect something from you all at once. Now, it’s most likely that the majority of entertainers and performers are extroverts, but that’s not a two-way thoroughfare. Being an extrovert does not mean one wants to be or is an entertainer or performer.

2) Extrovert does not mean Energizer Bunny.
Introverts seem to think that extroverts never get tired and never need a chance to recharge, which is simply not true. Our recharge times and activities may look different, or not take as long, but they are needed and important nonetheless. At the same time, though, extroverts understand that time does not stop, and the world still spins, despite the need to recharge. They are more willing – and possibly more able – to continue to live life in normal ways, pausing occasionally to recharge but knowing that optimal recharge isn’t necessarily always feasible. Extroverts are willing to run on lower than full battery for longer than introverts are because they know that a world where everyone shuts down at once would not be a world worth living in. (Take Mexico, for instance. They place prime importance on the afternoon siesta. When was the last time you heard someone describe Mexico as having a “booming economy” ? Or even the last time you heard someone say, “Mexico. They’ve got it figured out.”)

3) Extrovert does not mean clingy.
Yes, extroverts enjoy your time and attention. Yes, they probably make you feel like they would take as much as you are willing to give, but there is a limit. Just because you haven’t found it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Extroverts are capable of being discerning, boundary-observing human beings, and they do not need your attention 100% of the time. It helps to establish clear boundaries so that they know when and when not to ask you for quality time. And quality time is, in fact, they key term here. When extroverts are engaged in activities they deem quality – meaningful conversations, fun outings, etc. – they do get excited by that, and energized. Whereas introverts seem to have a mercury thermometer that starts at 100 and goes down to 0 beginning when the activity starts – no matter what the activity is – extroverts are able to discard the thermometer as soon as any interaction enters into the realm of quality. It is not interaction for interaction’s sake that energizes the extrovert. Quality time feeds an extrovert’s “feeling loved and worthwhile” bucket, so extending those interactions only makes it overflow, and who isn’t a fan of that bucket overflowing? Extroverts don’t want to spend endless time with everyone, so if they continue to want to spend lots of time with you, take it as a compliment.

4) Extrovert does not mean afraid to be alone.
Extroverts do not fear solitude and silence, nor is it always necessarily viewed as unproductive. Extroverts are not afraid of the proverbial dark. They are capable of being alone, and lots of them even enjoy it. For me personally, I have learned that my extroversion is better served if I live alone. I enjoy being out and about in the world, and I take opportunities to leave my house as often as I receive them. (When I lived in Oklahoma, for instance, my dog learned to train his bladder for long hours alone. I think the longest I ever left him alone was 28, possibly 36, hours. No accidents in the house. But we did stand in the grass for a looooong time that day after I arrived home.) The point is, I might go out six days of the week out of seven (or not, at this age). But when I come home, that is my space, and I have no desire to invite anyone into it. I am going to take off all my clothes and turn up Pandora really loud and dance around the house completely naked. Or I won’t. I’ll make some tea and cuddle under a blanket and read a book. Or I’ll sleep in my bed. Whatever I do, though, it’s important that it be done alone because once I shut my front door, solitude is what I crave.

5) Extrovert does not mean Party Animal
When I was a younger, springier chicken, going out six days a week out of seven might have meant carousing around and painting the town red (but, knowing me, likely not). But more often than not, for the extrovert, it just means being out and about and participating in life and the world around us. Going to a library function, an art festival, the zoo, a baseball game, etc. These aren’t grandiose affairs to be experienced once every six months. These are Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday. Just because we can handle being busy doesn’t mean we want to attend and get drunk at every party at every bar in the city. It rarely (if ever) means that, in fact. Someone who wants to go out to the bar every night and get drunk every weekend is not an extrovert. That person is simply 22. (And if that’s the type of person you’re trying to avoid, then do what the rest of us figured out a long time ago, and stay away from Kansas City’s Power & Light District.)

6) Extrovert does not mean attention-deficit.
Extroverts are totally capable of finishing what they begin. It’s just that doing so does not always feel necessary or important.

I hope you’re able to take some of my sarcasm and some of my truth and come to a little more of an understanding about extroverts. One time, I complained that I was tired of reading about introverts all the time, and how come nobody ever wrote anything about what extroverts need, and I got a response (from an introvert) along the lines of: “Because, you’re too needy, and you’re loud, so everybody already knows what you need.” Or something like that. It was a joke, I believe, but it felt careless too. The implication was that introverts know everything there is to know about extroverts, and that extroverts are easily understood because they’re shallow, and loud, and obnoxious. It’s true that some extroverts are those things. But nobody likes to be generalized.

And maybe everything I’ve written here is wrong. I know that I have introverted qualities. Supposedly being a writer is a sign you’re an introvert. (Whatever.) Maybe my explanations here are more true for me, someone who tries to balance identifying with both sides, than they are for blue-blooded extroverts. Take from it what you will. But my main goal is to help introverts know that, just as they feel the need to be heard and understood, so do extroverts feel the need to be un-labeled, un-boxed, and un-generalized. Because as soon as you make a generalization, you dismiss someone. And as soon as you dismiss someone, you strip that person’s dignity and right to a complex personality.

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Wherein I Confess That I’m Marathon Training

Yes, let’s get the spoiler out of the way right up front: I’m training for my first full marathon.

If you’re a longtime reader, you know that the half marathon is my “thing.” And you also know that I sort of hate running but do it to practice discipline as well as community as well as general health.

If you’re new here, then you may not realize just how big of a bomb I dropped in that first sentence.

But it’s the truth. In January of this year, I signed up to run the Kansas City Marathon, which will be taking place on October 19. I intentionally kept the news a secret from all but a very few people. I know it seems like an absurd thing to keep secret, but I had my reasons.

First, I’ve never run anything close to 26.2 miles. The farthest I’d gone, as of January when I signed up, was 13.1 miles, and I’ve always been proud of myself beyond measure for doing that distance. And, every time I’ve finished a half marathon, I’ve felt totally spent, incapable of moving another half step, let alone another mile, let alone another thirteen miles. I’ve many times considered signing up for a full and have always chickened out, sticking to what I “know” my body can do.

But over this past winter, the idea started weighing really heavily on me. Should I try? If I don’t try, will I regret it? I’ll never know if I can do it unless I just go do it. I turn 29 this year. I don’t have any “I want to do this before I’m 30” bucket list items, so maybe now’s a good time to make one.

So I decided to sign up, but a primary reason I kept it a secret was that I decided I’d switch to the half marathon if I got into my training and realized my body just couldn’t handle it. And I didn’t want to have the humiliation of having announced that I had signed up for the full and then have to let everyone know that no, it was too much, and I was going to do the half instead.

I had one more reason for keeping it a secret, and this one had to do with some conversations I’d been having with God during that time about humility. As I’ve already mentioned, I am extremely proud of myself for the distances I’ve accomplished since my running career began a little more than three years ago. But I had let my pride become boastful. I spent a lot of time bragging about how far I’d run, and how many half marathons I’ve finished, etc. Truthfully, I did this not because I’m think I’m amazing but because I’m amazed at myself that I could do it, if that even makes sense. Running doesn’t come easily to me, and it’s not something I enjoy, and my pace is not one that will have people getting whiplash as they watch me go by. Using these and other reasons, I found myself easily able to justify all my boasting as “not really boasting.”

But it is, and it was. And God pointed that out to me in our conversations, and I felt disgusted by it. So when I signed up for the full marathon, I decided that I would show Boasting who’s Boss. I would keep it a secret, and not brag about my training distances at all, and nobody would have any idea that I was doing anything more than my routine 13.1 until the week before the full marathon. Then I’d announce it.

I decided it would be lots of fun to lie to people about my training, and I decided it would be okay to lie because, even though lying was wrong, it was simply a means to an end that was ultimately for my own good. And I’d explain it all eventually, and everyone would understand, so it wouldn’t really be lying. Lying’s okay if you have a legitimate reason, right? And what reason is more legitimate than spiritual formation? At least, that is the logic that made sense to me in January.

Here in August, with the last few weeks of training coming up, it seems absurd and totally nonsensical, and I realize now that maybe I didn’t finish listening to God’s side of those conversations we had about humility. Perhaps God had something in mind like that I would train, like normal, and talk about it when asked but not go out of my way to brag about it by posting my distances all over social media like I always do. Or maybe there was a different, even more intelligent plan that I never heard because I received the message “You need to practice humility” and then totally ran away with it, shouting, “I’M GOING TO TRAIN FOR A FULL MARATHON, AND THEY’LL NEVER KNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWW.”

I can see God now, shaking his head and chuckling at me, maybe even leaning over to Jesus on his right and saying, “Welp. This should be interesting. Let’s watch and see what happens.” (I kinda think that exchange may happen between them more often than not when it comes to discussing me.)

Besides the common-sense fact that lying is rarely a smart or healthy or wise way to go about doing anything, it hasn’t taken me long to learn just how difficult it is to lie creatively, whether by misleading someone or by omission. As my runs have gotten longer, it’s gotten harder to evade questions about where I was, why my run lasted so long, and – the most difficult one to dodge – how far I went.

Furthermore, I had forgotten how much I relied on people’s encouragement when I trained for my first half marathon. I soaked that stuff up like a heroin addict. I needed it because I didn’t believe in myself. I’m not sure if I believe in myself yet this time around, and so all the more, I will need encouragement in these last few weeks as I hit some of the farthest distances I’ve ever done (I’ve reached 15; 16 is up next). And what better place to seek encouragement than my communities? My friends? My family? People who appreciate me and want me to succeed. I’ve not only been robbing myself of that joy; I’ve been robbing all of those who would want to participate in the encouragement festivities of the joy of doing so, and if any of you feel hurt by the fact that you’ve been left out of the loop, know two things: 1) I’m sorry; I’m a foolish and silly person; 2) You’re in good company, since I left almost everyone out.

So, there it is. It’s all out there now. I’m training my body to run a total distance of 26.2 miles, which is exciting and terrifying and daunting and slowly becoming manageable all at once.

am still trying to work on my humility, but in healthier ways. I’ll do my best not to brag all the time if you’ll do your best to send me an encouraging word now and then in the stretch of these last few weeks that are going to be increasingly difficult for me. All boasting bets are off if you enter my house, though. I proudly display my medals on the fireplace mantel.

Finally, if you live in Kansas City, I would love to see you at the finish line on race day. I’ll be wearing orange. And I’ll definitely be crying. And probably limping. Or maybe crawling.

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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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