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Bleeding Royal Blue

Inside the mind of a Kansas City Royals fan

Month

January 2014

Where are They Now: Powder Blue Edition

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I am friends with quite a few baseball geeks. Hey, it’s very hard to just ‘kind of’ like baseball! Because we love the game so much, we remember players who have long since either left the game or left (at least) the big stage of the big leagues. So I thought it would be fun to see what some former Royals are up to nowadays. Yes, I am as scared as most of you…

Royals vs. White Sox

Kila Ka’aihue

Kila was once a rising star in the Royals farm system as a possible solution to Kansas City’s shortage of power. In 2008, Kila was crushing balls left and right in the minor leagues and seemed to be on the fast track to Kansas City. Unfortunately, despite being called up in September of that year, Ka’aihue must not have impressed Royals management and was back in AAA in 2009, despite their need for a power bat(no, Mike Jacobs was NOT the answer!). Kila would continue to put up solid numbers in the minors until his next shot at big leagues, which wasn’t until 2010. By then, whether it was the obvious lack of faith in him by Royals management, or his flaws just being prominent against big league pitching, Ka’aihue struggled. Kila started 2011 with the Royals but only lasted 23 games before rising prospect Eric Hosmer was recalled to take over first base. That was it for his time in Kansas City. Ka’aihue bounced around the last few years, as he played in Oakland in 2012, then picked up by Arizona before the 2013 season. Kila played in the Diamondbacks farm system until June 2nd last year, when he was released so he could sign a contract with Hiroshima Toyo Carp in Japan. Kila is still only 29, so there is always an outside chance he could return to the big leagues at some point. I always felt like the Royals badly mismanaged Kila and never really gave him an honest chance to prove what he could do. It was obvious in 2008 that he at the least  should have been given a chance to show what he could do. Alas, that was not allowed to happen.

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Justin Huber

I always feel like if I mention Ka’aihue, I should mention Huber. Justin Huber was a prospect(from Australia) for the New York Mets before he was traded to Kansas City in July 2004 for…Jose Bautista. Yes, THAT Jose Bautista, but before he was really good. Huber was originally signed as a catcher but had made the move to first base for Kansas City, a spot that opened up once Mike Sweeney was gone. Huber had a great season in 2005 in the minor leagues and actually got 78 at bats that season for the Royals. But that would be about it for his time in Kansas City, as he would only appear in 13 big league games the next two years. During Spring Training 2008, Huber was purchased by the San Diego Padres. San Diego is where he got the most playing time of his major league career, a whole 33 games that year. Huber would also appear in a few games the following season for Minnesota, but that would be all she wrote for Huber and his time in the bigs. Huber is currently playing for the Offseason Leagues Australian Baseball League(or as I like to refer to it as, the OLABL). As to his time in Kansas City, once again, I felt like he was never given a fair shake. I fondly remember him getting called up at some point(I believe in the 2005 season) during a series in Minnesota. At the time, the Royals were sucking(as normal back then) and Huber would sit on the bench for that entire series, except for one at bat. He would then get sent back to AAA. I never understood why you would even call him up if that was all he was going to do. In all honesty, it probably meant that the Royals (and this wasn’t the first time for this) just didn’t see anything in him, a mistake that continues to get repeated. Once again, I felt like they could have at least given him a chance.

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Mitch Maier 

Hard to believe it, but Mitch Maier was a 1st Round Draft Pick of the Royals back in 2003. Even back then, it didn’t seem as if the Royals knew what to do with Mitch. He had started his career as a catcher, but by 2004 they had moved him over to third base.  With Mark Teahen on the horizon, the Royals once again moved Mitch in 2005, this time to the outfield. By 2006 he was a Texas League mid-season All-Star and made his big league debut in September. Maier would find himself back in the majors in 2008 and would hang around for awhile, becoming the Royals backup outfielder for the next 3 1/2 seasons. Mitch became a bit of everything for Kansas City, whether the team needed him to play in the outfield, pinch hit, pinch run, be the team’s third catcher at times and even come out of the bullpen. Seriously. Maier has two career pitching appearances, pitching an inning in both, giving up no runs and only one hit each appearance. The running joke amongst most of us fans was how if we needed someone to stop the bleeding, Maier should be called in to close the door. Unfortunately, Maier was designated for assignment by the Royals in July of 2012, spending the rest of the year in Omaha. Mitch would spend the 2013 season in Boston’s minor league system and has signed a minor league with the Chicago Cubs for the upcoming 2014 season. Now, I always felt Maier was a good fourth outfielder and I still feel like he has a lot of value to a team, especially a National League team. I don’t know if he would ever be a starter, but there is no reason he doesn’t have a major league job. Hopefully he catches on in Chicago and finds a new home.

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Mike MacDougal

Remember MacDougal? I mean, he was a former All-Star for the Royals. MacDougal was another 1st Round Draft Pick for Kansas City, 25th pick overall in the 1999 draft. Originally a starter, MacDougal was shifted to the bullpen in 2003 and became the Royals closer that season. He had racked up 24 saves by mid-season that year and made the All-Star team. MacDougal would struggle with flu-like symptoms during Spring Training 2004 and lost his closer job to Jeremy Affeldt. MacDougal would return to the closers role the next season, as Affeldt would deal with blister issues, which plagued him during most of his time in Kansas City. Injuries found MacDougal again in 2006 and would return to the field in July of 2006. His stay in Kansas City was wrapping up though, as he was dealt to the White Sox about a week later. Mike had a great rest of the season for Chicago, but injuries would find him again. Since then, MacDougal has bounced around, from Washington, to St. Louis, to Los Angeles, to Chicago, to Cincinnati to Philadelphia. MacDougal had some success with the Dodgers a few seasons ago, but in what looks to be a pattern, then turned around and struggled the following season. MacDougal was blessed with an arm that could throw in triple digits, but between injuries and lack of consistency, he has not been able to find a steady home. There is still time for him to add to his big league resume, but at 36 time is getting short.

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Philip Humber

Humber didn’t have a very long stint with the Royals. In fact his Royals numbers only total eight games. Humber was a top prospect for the Mets before they traded him to Minnesota in the Johan Santana trade. Between a Tommy John surgery and his struggles in the minors, Humber never really settled into a home before his arrival in Kansas City. There was a lot of intrigue in Humber by Royal’s management, as the team at that time was constantly looking for fringe players who might blossom if given a chance(as long as they weren’t home grown, obviously). Humber was recalled in August of 2010 by Kansas City and earned his first major league win in relief against Detroit. He would also get a start during that period, racking up 21.2 innings in his eight appearances. Humber was let go by Kansas City in December so they could make room for Jeff Francoeur on the roster, a casualty of the numbers game. Royals management had mentioned they would have liked to keep Humber around but felt they needed to use roster space on other players. Humber would be picked up by Oakland, then designated for assignment by them as well that off-season before the White Sox picked him up. Royals fans cringed when Humber pitched well in the first half of the 2011 season, earning him a contract for the 2012 season. Humber would throw the 21st perfect game in MLB history in April of 2012 against Seattle. Unfortunately, that did not mean added success for him, as he struggled the rest of the season and was let go following season. Since then, Humber struggled with Houston last year and signed a minor league deal with Oakland this past off-season. I know there were Royals fans who felt the team gave up on Humber too soon, but he really hadn’t done anything with Kansas City that made it seem as if he was going to be a quality fifth starter for the team. I tend to credit White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper with Humber’s success, as Cooper has helped numerous pitchers rise from the ashes of fallen careers and is a big part to Humber throwing that perfect game. Humber had some success after leaving Kansas City, but not enough to make anyone feel as if they did wrong by letting him go. For most of us, he will be “that guy who threw a perfect game after leaving the Royals”.

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Johnny Giavotella

Giavotella played for the Royals from 2011 to…wait, he is still with the team? Oh, that poor man! I figured since they had given up on him then that would mean they had let him move on. Should I restart the #FreeGio campaign? Or just revisit this once he is allowed to travel to greener pastures? That poor, poor man…

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So those are just a few former Royals and what they are up to now. I always find it interesting to see what happens to some of these players once they leave and you never hear from them again. At some point we will revisit some other players from years past, possibly even some from many a year ago. Sorry to leave everyone waiting, but Onix Concepcion and Angel Salazar will just have to wait. Until then I recommend chewing on a toothpick like U.L. Washington. I hear they are tasty.

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A Letter to Toronto Blue Jays Fans

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Greetings Blue Jays Fans!

First off, I want to say that I have no ill will toward your team nor you, the fans. I’ve always loved our neighbors to the North and love that baseball has at least survived in Toronto. You’ve also given me a great joy, seeing former Wichita State Shocker Joe Carter hit a walk-off home run to win the World Series back in 1993. So what I am about to tell you is not a threat as much as a warning.

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You see, as a Kansas City Royals fan I feel I need to warn you about what your team has gone and done. I’m sure you think it is no big deal, and maybe you are right. You might not even have to deal with this, as this could be a bigger issue for your AAA team in Buffalo. But I feel you need to be warned. I feel you need to know about the frustration just around the corner. I feel you need to know just what you have now that the Blue Jays have signed Chris Getz.

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You might be chuckling right now, thinking to yourself “oh, this can’t be that bad.” Royals fans thought the same thing when Getz was acquired from the White Sox before the 2010 season. What has happened over the last four years has scared us to the bone. We didn’t realize we got a player who would be overvalued by management. We didn’t realize that they would think he was ‘#mistakefree’ despite us not being blind. We didn’t think there would be so much bunting….oh, good lord, the bunting. Seriously, there was soooo much bunting. You should go ahead now and just make it against the rules to bunt in Canada. I’m telling you, it will save you so many angry moments.

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I know the Rogers Centre is known to be an offensive ballpark and has quite the home run rate. That might be true, but don’t expect any long bombs from Getzie. I’m not even sure we could say he has “Warning Track Power”. It’s more like “Shallow Right Field Power”. Every now and then he might get lucky; he hit a few homers during his time in Chicago and hit one this past year in Atlanta. But by no means should you expect any extra bases from Getz. He singles, he bunts and sometimes has the occasionally liner down the line. Expect a true ‘Punch & Judy’ type hitter from this average second baseman. Yes, he would be like a Muppet(look up Punch & Judy, folks)! I love the Muppets and Chris Getz is no Muppet. Maybe Scooter. No one really likes Scooter. So maybe that Muppet, but that would be it. Statler and Waldorf laugh at you, sir.

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Defensively, you are getting an average second baseman at best. Sure, you might get told he is  above average defensively, but they are lying to you. Getz is serviceable at second, but he is nothing special. He’s a step slower than he should be, and makes the routine play easily enough. But that is it. Once again, we were told over and over what a great defensive player he is. Royals management forgot that a lot of us saw Frank White play. That is a superior defensive player. Getzie is no Frank White.

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At this point you might be thinking “but what are the chances he actually makes the big league club”? Under normal circumstances I would tell you a slim chance, but logically he shouldn’t have been the Royals primary second baseman for almost four years. Logic doesn’t always win out in the end. Add in that Toronto’s manager is John Gibbons(former Royals bench coach) and their new hitting coach is Kevin Seitzer(former Royals hitting coach) and you can see where Getz might have just jumped to the front of the line for the Blue Jays second base job. I mean, it’s not like Ryan Goins tore up the majors last year during his stint with the Jays. I hope for you, the fans, sake that logic wins out.

Chris Getz of the Kansas City Royals turns a double play against Atlanta's Juan Francisco

So Blue Jays fans, I hope I have warned you to what you might have in store this year. Getz will bring back warm feelings about Damaso Garcia or Danny Ainge. Hell, he will make you yearn for the days of Garth Iorg or Homer Bush. If you like an average player who does nothing spectacular but a few things okay, then you’ll be happy. If you prefer your players to use ‘bunting’ as a big part of their offense, you are going to want to make Chris Getz an official Canadian citizen. If not, you are in for a year where you start looking around to see who Toronto could acquire to play second base. You’ll hope and pray that the team wakes up and realizes their mistake. You’ll wish it was all a dream and that you’ll find Patrick Duffy in the shower. I hope you don’t understand this frustration, Blue Jays fans. But if you do, trust me when I say that us Royals fans will feel your pain. He might be your problem now, but we still have the scars from the four years of Getz.

Sincerely,

Sean Thornton

P.S.~Should I warn Cleveland fans about Francoeur? Eh, they’ll figure it out…   

The Little Hump in the Middle of the Field

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Many a quote from many a great baseball man has stated that nothing is more important in the game than pitching. If you have it you can make up for weaknesses elsewhere. If you don’t, then don’t expect to be playing in October.  The Kansas City Royals knew this and spent last off-season fixing their pitching problem. Pitching is still an issue with the Royals and this past week a couple of notes related to the Royals pitching arose.

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The most obvious note was the restructuring of Jeremy Guthrie’s contract. Sure, at first I wondered if there was a deeper meaning for Guthrie to restructure his dollars. Maybe he felt a greater need for shoes in 2015 rather than this year. Maybe the Backstreet Boys are planning to come out with a new album next year and he plans to follow them on tour. Speaking of, I don’t really understand his fascination with boy bands. I mean, if he was more old school, maybe more into New Kids on the Block, that would make sense. Hey, if he loved New Edition I would totally get it. I used to love New Edition, until Bobby Brown left and Johnny Gill took his spot. I know, I know, Gill wasn’t that bad. But he was no Bobby, as Whitney used to attest to…wait, I was discussing Guthrie…

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If you are anything like me, once this was announced alarms went off. Big alarms. You normally only restructure a contract for two reasons: to free up room on the payroll because you are over or to make another addition. My thought was the addition of another starting pitcher. With the Royals seemingly set in their starting lineup, it only makes sense that Kansas City would go after another starter. I’ve felt(even after the Vargas signing) that the Royals needed to add another starter, at least for insurance. For one, there isn’t a lot of proven depth. You have James Shields, Guthrie, Vargas and then….well, it gets dicey from there. Sure, the Royals are hoping Danny Duffy or Yordano Ventura step up this year (and as far as we know they could) but it’s not assured. Wade Davis is still lingering around and (God help us all) they’ve even mentioned giving Luke Hochevar another (last) shot. Still, none of these guys are certain locks nor good replacements for Ervin Santana. So the idea of the Royals going out and bringing one more starter to Spring Training seems like the logical way to go. Although, speaking of Santana…

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As of this writing Ervin Santana is still out there and available for the taking. The longer Santana is available, the better chance Kansas City has to bring him back. Now, most believe that Santana is just waiting for Masahiro Tanaka to sign with a team and then the dominoes will fall and Erv will have a new home. But at the same time, a lot of teams aren’t for sure Santana can duplicate his great 2013 season. Add in that to sign Santana you would have to give up a first round draft pick and more teams are leery to sign him to a long term deal. So far the Blue Jays, Mariners and Orioles have all been mentioned in rumors for Erv, but two of those teams seem like a bad fit for a flyball pitcher. So with all that said, there is a very outside chance that Santana could come back to play for the Royals in 2014. Now, it would take him not getting the type of deal he has coveted all winter, but it could happen. I’m sure if he did return, it would be on a one year deal (and Dayton would have to get permission from the Glass’ to up the payroll) for at least $15-16 million. It actually would make some sense for him to go back to the Royals. Let’s say he returns to Kansas City this year and performs at least moderately close to how he did last year. Then he could return to the free agent market and with two straight solid seasons under his belt could probably get the type of deal he has wanted this off-season. But once again, this is a big long shot and I highly doubt it will happen. As far as we know, a team like Toronto will swoop in this week and lock him up for 3-4 years. But the longer he is out there, the greater the possibility that Santana is a Royal in 2014.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Kansas City Royals

With all this being mentioned, Royals fans took a blow to the stomach this week as word came out that James Shields was seeking a “Zack Greinke-like” deal next off-season. Peter Gammons had reported this, as he was looking forward to next year’s pitching crop in free agency and the affects of Clayton Kershaw’s giant new contract. This is about the worst news the Royals could get, as that is money that the Royals just can’t spend on one player, even if that player is the caliber of Shields. Just as a reminder, Greinke’s deal is a 6 year, $147 million contract. Now, if you are like me, this hasn’t affected you much. I always felt the Royals weren’t going to be able to sign “Big Game James” so this was just confirmation that Wil Myers was traded for two years of James Shields. Now, there are warning signs that could hinder Shields being able to get a contract of that magnitude. For one, Greinke was 29 when he signed his deal; Shields will be 33 by the end of this season. Shields has also put more innings on his arm than Greinke has(although after the 2013 season they were fairly close on major league innings). But even if Shields lowers his expectations for his contract, it will still be out of the Royals price range. In theory it would be nice to bring Shields back after next year. But if you really thought about it, would you want the Royals to sign James to that big of a contract? More than likely it will have to be at least a four year deal, which would make him 37 by the end of the deal. At that point, regression would be his name(and game). Don’t be surprised if the Royals deal Shields before the trade deadline this summer if they are out of the playoff race. It would be the smart thing to do to at least get something for him rather than nothing. Even if they keep him for the duration of his contract, his time in Kansas City seems to be winding down.

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With all of this in play, it makes for a very interesting next 9 months.  Without a doubt the starting pitching will be a bit of a question mark and that looks to continue into next off-season. I personally feel that is just another reason to sign another starting pitcher now rather than wait until it is too late. Hopefully by Spring Training we have a better idea of who fits in where and whether there needs to be more concern about the pitching or if it sizes up with 2013. Stay tuned, folks…it’s starting to get interesting.

 

Put That in Your Pipe and Smoke It!

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If you have been a fan of the Kansas City Royals for as long as I have been(or even longer), you are well aware that the teams they trotted out in the late 70’s and early 80’s were overloaded with talent. Sure, everyone knows about George Brett and Frank White. Most will have heard about Willie Wilson or Dan Quisenberry. Real diehards will mention Amos Otis and Dennis Leonard as key players to Kansas City’s success. But a key cog in the Royals machine for most of those years(and a man who has always been taken for granted) was Hal McRae. In fact, it might be safe to say McRae and his hitting was almost as vital as Brett’s for a lot of those Royals teams.

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McRae’s professional career began in 1965, as he was drafted in the 6th round of the amateur draft by the Cincinnati Reds, the 117th overall pick. It’s hard to believe, but at one point Hal was a speedster, a center fielder that could cover a lot of ground. Before the 1969 season though, McRae suffered a multiple leg fracture in the Winter League and he went from being a player who could fly to just being of average speed. As much as the injury hurt his speed, what really hurt Hal in Cincinnati was the pool of talent the Reds were accumulating, a team that would soon be referred to as “The Big Red Machine”. The Reds at that point had an outfield of Cesar Geronimo(who would end up in Royal blue in 1981), Bobby Tolan and some guy named Pete Rose. With George Foster also in the picture, the Reds found McRae expendable and dealt him to Kansas City after the 1972 season. McRae didn’t instantly show Cincy that they had made a mistake, as he would struggle in his first season with the Royals, hitting .234 in 106 games.

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It’s safe to say though that the 1974 season was Hal’s coming out party. McRae would play in 148 of the Royals games, hitting .310 with an .850 OPS and a 3.9 WAR. McRae fit perfectly in the Royals lineup, a contact hitter who didn’t hit for a lot of power but got on base and drove in runs. Kauffman Stadium(at the time known as Royals Stadium) has always been known as a good park for gap hitters, and back in the 70’s it was even better with the artificial turf. McRae would also spend a lot of his playing time at DH, a fairly new position that was somewhat looked down upon. McRae would embrace the role and some would say became a pioneer for the position.

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1976 would be a banner year for Hal, as he continued his hot hitting. In fact, McRae was leading the league in hitting going into the final game of the season, with teammate George Brett and Minnesota Twin Rod Carew right behind him. Brett would go 2 for 4 and clinch the batting title by a margin of less than .001. McRae was not happy though, as he felt the Twins had conspired to help George win the title. Twins left fielder Steve Brye would misplay a fly ball in the 9th inning that helped Brett win, a move that McRae felt was racially motivated. McRae was so incensed that as he headed back to the dugout after getting out in his final at bat, he would turn toward the Twins dugout and flip the bird toward Twins manager Gene Mauch. A scuffle would ensue, and McRae would let his feelings be known after the game:

“Things have been like this a long time. They’re changing gradually. They shouldn’t be this way, but I can accept it.” […] “I know what happened. It’s been too good a season for me to say too much, but I know they let that ball fall on purpose.”

McRae was never one to be shy or not let his feelings known, and this would be one of those moments. Overall, McRae had a great season in 1976, as he would get picked for his second straight All-Star team and ended up fourth in the MVP voting. 1976 was also the first year that DH was his primary position. Things were definitely looking up for McRae.

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The rest of the 70’s McRae put up solid numbers, even if they weren’t quite at the peak of his 1976 season. McRae would lead the league in doubles in 1977 and continued to be a solid run producer for the Royals. Hal would also be known for being an aggressive base runner. So aggressive in fact that the rule that states a runner must slide into second base to break up a double play is known as the “Hal McRae Rule”. McRae was known to cross body block infielders while sliding into second, which many players had learned to avoid.

Oakland A's v Kansas City Royals

Injuries had started taking their toll on Hal starting in the late 70’s and continuing into the early 80’s. After appearing in only 101 games in 1979, McRae came back in 1980 and was a vital part of the Royals team that would make their first World Series appearance. He would lose close to 40 games to injuries that year, but still put up solid numbers that many had started expecting from him. After having a rough ALCS that year, Hal would have a very good World Series, hitting at a .375 clip, with 9 hits and an OPS of .923. It wouldn’t be enough as the Royals would fall to the Phillies in six games.

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1982 would see McRae stay healthy, which helped him have a season that would rival 1976. Hal would hit over .300, put up his highest OPS of his career(.910), hit the most home runs of his career(27) and lead the league in both doubles(46) and RBI’s(133). The Royals would not make the playoffs that year, but it wasn’t because of Hal. This would garner him with another All-Star nod, a Silver Slugger Award, and fourth place in the MVP voting.

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1983 would see another solid season from McRae as he would play in all but 5 games for the Royals that year. Injuries would return though in 1984 and so would the regression expected at his age(he turned 39 in the middle of the ’84 season). Hal would appear in just a shade over 100 games in both 1984 and 1985 and his hitting took a hit as well. McRae would hit about .260 for both the ’85 season and the ALCS that year, and with no DH in the World Series that year, McRae would see only pinch hitting duty. The Royals would finally get their first(and only) World Series title that year and luckily he got to be a part of that. But it had become apparent that he was nearing the end of his career.

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1986 would be McRae’s last full season in the big leagues, appearing in only 112 games and hitting a paltry .252. The man who had once been a major cog of the Kansas City Royals machine was nearing the end, and on July 17, 1987, he would play his final game in the majors. During his 19-year career, McRae put up some very strong numbers, numbers that even today he should be proud of. Hal would be a career .290 hitter, with over 1000 RBI’s and close to 500 doubles. He would rack up a career OPS+ of 123 and a career WAR of 27.9. Maybe his biggest accomplishment though was his embracing of being the DH and realizing that a career could be made just batting. As guys like Harold Baines and Edgar Martinez would do later on, McRae would not let injuries end his career and in fact helped him flourish. McRae helped make it easier for players to play the majority of their games at DH, as he showed that you could actually make a career out of it.

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With his playing career over, Hal would return to Kansas City’s dugout in 1991, this time as the team’s manager. Much like his playing career, he was hard-nosed and expected the same from his players. McRae would actually turn into a good manager for the Royals and in 1994 had the team playing their best baseball since the late ’80’s. The Royals were making a run at the playoff spot that season before the strike hit and ruined the Royals hopes. When the strike went down on August 12th, the Royals were only four games out of the American League Central and half a game out of a Wildcard spot. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be and McRae would be fired before the 1995 season would get underway. But before this happened, there was one defining moment during Hal’s run as Royals manager. It might be one of the greatest post-game blowups of all time. Words cannot do this justice. Just watch:

Just epic. All these years later and people still flock to that meltdown. To clarify, McRae didn’t even think about pinch hitting Keith Miller for George Brett. Actually just typing that makes me agree with Hal. Who would pinch hit for #5, even late in his career? By the way, my favorite part of that is the twirly bird. Fantastic.

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McRae would manage one more team before it was all said and done, managing the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for a couple of seasons in the earlier 2000’s. McRae would also show up as the hitting coach over the years for the Reds, Phillies and Cardinals and was St. Louis’ hitting coach in 2006 when they would win the World Series, McRae’s second ring. As far as I know, McRae is out of baseball now, but I can’t help but feel like he could help a team. I hope when everyone thinks of those great Royals teams of the ’70’s and ’80’s, they remember that McRae was a big part of them and in fact they probably wouldn’t have gone as far without Hal. His tough as nails style rubbed off on his teammates and pushed them to be better. Between that and his being a pioneer for the Designated Hitter, McRae has more than enough to be proud of when looking back at his career.

The Beauty of a Ballpark

 

(Writer’s Note: I originally wrote this a couple of years ago for a weekly feature I do during the baseball season for 14 KVOE Emporia.  I stumbled across it today(ie. I cleaned my desk) and wanted to share it with everyone)

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This past week Boston’s Fenway Park celebrated it’s 100th anniversary, a feat that seems inconceivable for the batch of today’s baseball stadiums. With the influx of new stadiums over the past few years, teams have figured out that a good way to get more fans out to the old ballpark is to build a new stadium. Nothing makes the turnstiles move more than a new place to watch their favorite team play. Other than maybe Wrigley Field, it will be awhile before we see a park reach the triple digit mark.

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With Marlins Park opening this year in Miami, the number of stadiums that have opened in the past twenty years almost averages out to one a year: twenty one new ballparks have graced Major League Baseball in that span.

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With all that said, it is amazing that almost forty years later Kauffman Stadium is one of the most beautiful ballparks in baseball. A couple years ago renovations were made to the stadium and it went from being a good looking park to one of the best in the game to witness baseball. Sure, all these new parks have those extra special touches that make them unique and keep fans coming back for more.

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Whether it’s Boog Powell’s barbeque at Camden Yards in Baltimore or the monuments at the new Yankee Stadium, these ballparks give fans an extra incentive to make a trip to a ball game. Some are flashy, while some are more subtle and Kauffman could be classified as subtle.

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The fountains are still in the outfield and you can now walk out there before the game and feel the water on your skin, which is nice on a warm summer day.

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If you go out to left field, there is the Royals Hall of Fame, which takes a look at the history of not only the Royals but also baseball in Kansas City. Just make sure you get there early, as a long line forms pretty quickly out there.  There is also the Little K back behind the outfield, a place for the kids to play at and includes a small baseball field and putt putt course just name a few.

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Out in right field is the Pepsi Party Porch for the adults, a place to relax and enjoy the game out by the fountains. On top of that, the seating in the renovated “K” makes you see the game from a more level playing field. This all from a stadium that is close to 40 years old. Sure, the Royals are off to a rough start to this new season but the losses are softened if you get the chance to be at the game. It’s hard to imagine that Kauffman Stadium could reach 100 in another sixty years, but if the stadium is kept up it could be one of the ballparks to stand the test of time.

My Baseball Bucket List

(Writer’s Note: I originally wrote this a couple of years ago for a weekly feature I do during the baseball season for 14 KVOE Emporia.  I stumbled across it today(ie. I cleaned my desk) and wanted to share it with everyone)

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Most people have a bucket list, a mental list of places or things they want to do at some point in their life. I have a baseball bucket list, or baseball related places I want to visit at some point before I die.

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The big thing on that list is to visit every one of the Major League baseball stadiums. So far, I’m not very far into that, as I can only count three on my list, including Busch Stadium in St. Louis this past weekend. The initial plan was to do this some summer when I retire but I’m thinking more and more of going to a different stadium every year.

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Also on my list is to visit the ball field where the movie “Field of Dreams” was filmed. It seems a bit corny but I’ve always thought the look of the field was reminiscent of the old ballparks, which I am a sucker for. The farm where it is located was sold this past year and plans are to expand it into a baseball and softball complex to be named All-Star Ballpark Heaven. Maybe on a return trip back from Minnesota I could swing through Iowa and visit this iconic baseball field.

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Speaking of old ballparks, I would love to visit the former sites of Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds in New York. Both are stadiums that had their own unique feel to them and to see where they once stood would be an interesting peek into baseball history.

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Last on my baseball bucket list is to visit Omaha and attend the College World Series. Sure, it’s not quite the same as when Rosenblatt Stadium was still the home park, but it is still the College World Series! To take in this once a year event and get a feel for it would be a really cool experience.

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Of course there is more I would like to do that just isn’t on my list. I would like to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown again, as I was able to go back in 1999, so it is not an urgent requirement. I also plan on going to the Negro League Museum in Kansas City but I am planning to cross that off my list later this year(writers note: I visited the museum in October and it was fantastic!). Also, to attend a World Series game would be pretty thrilling but I’m holding out for the Kansas City Royals to get back to the Fall Classic. I know, I might be waiting awhile but I can still hold out hope. Overall, it’s a pretty long list. But when someone has a dream, anything can be accomplished.      

Two Days of Baseball Heaven

(Writer’s Note: I originally wrote this a couple of years ago for a weekly feature I do during the baseball season for 14 KVOE Emporia.  I stumbled across it today(ie. I cleaned my desk) and wanted to share it with everyone)

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Last week I had the privilege to be a part of the massive media that took over Kauffman Stadium for the 83rd annual Major League Baseball All-Star Game and the Home Run Derby. To say it was a once in a lifetime event is an understatement. When I decided to write about my experience, I wasn’t for sure at first what I should talk about. Then it hit me; why talk about all the stuff that you are used to hearing about the festivities when I could talk about the odd stuff that occurred during my time there? So let’s go with that, the quirky moments that I will never forget from my time at baseball’s mid-summer classic.

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First, there is Cano-Gate. I have been at “The K” countless times over the years, to the point that I am insanely comfortable when I am there. But I have never heard the stadium that loud. It was deafening and I loved every minute of it! It really showed just how passionate Royals fans really are. There is a pretty good chance I will never experience something like that again.

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I also got to ride up in an elevator with Dayton Moore. Well, the two of us and about six of our closest friends, crammed in there like sardines. The amusing part to me was that Mr. Moore is about my height, which is saying he is very short. Neither one of us will get mistaken for giants, nor even being of average height.

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Speaking of odd places to run into people, I had a nice conversation with Rick Sutcliffe in the tunnel, as I was preparing to walk out onto the field. Sutcliffe was a player I watched a lot when I was a kid, as I watched endless hours of Chicago Cubs games on WGN. Real nice guy and I’m sure Scott Hayes was just a bit jealous of me!

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I also almost ran over Scott Boras. Yes, super agent Scott Boras! I could have seen if he would negotiate my next contract here at the radio station but I have a feeling I wouldn’t be able to afford him.

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There was Chris Berman complaining down in the tunnel Monday afternoon about something in the Boston/New York game from the night before.

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Maybe the weirdest thing that happened to me in Kansas City was the gang of baseball mascots about running me down. I was headed up to the press box via the stairs, and at about level 3 or 4, the mascots came scurrying out of their dressing space. I might have thrown them off, as Mr. Met about ran straight into the wall…or it could be the giant baseball he has as a head!

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But one of the oddest realities that sunk in for me was during the barrage of media on Monday, as the press conferences and player availability took place. I would look to my left and there was FOX Sport’s Ken Rosenthal, a man who’s columns I regularly read and someone who I have a ton of respect for. To my right, Rob Neyer, a writer and former Royals’ fan who is a major supporter of the Sabermetric community in baseball. Here were guys who I read on a regular basis and I am in the same place as them. Talk about feeling like I was in way over my head!

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All in all, it was two days of baseball heaven for someone like me. I’ve always said that baseball is my first love. Monday and Tuesday in Kansas City was me being around the thing I love the most. I wouldn’t trade my memories for anything in the world. It was even better than I ever imagined.

Celebrating Jackie Robinson Day

(Writer’s Note: I originally wrote this a couple of years ago for a weekly feature I do during the baseball season for 14 KVOE Emporia.  I stumbled across it today and wanted to share it with everyone)

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Yesterday was Jackie Robinson Day around the Major Leagues and it’s great all these years later that Robinson is honored for his grace and courage in handling a situation that could be both difficult and even dangerous at times. Robinson’s number “42” has been retired by all Major League teams in honor of not only his legacy that he has left with the game, but also for what he stood for. Sixty Five years ago, Robinson appeared in his first game, the first man of African American descent to suit up for a Major League team. Integration was not popular back in 1947, and he was treated accordingly. But for all that Robinson did(and he truly was the right man at the right time), there are other men that roamed the fields in the Negro Leagues for years that deserve praise too, even if they might have never played for a Major League team.

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Larry Doby is the first to come to mind, the first African American to play in the American League. Doby debuted for the Cleveland Indians just eleven weeks after Robinson, but is largely forgotten. Doby incurred the same indignities that Robinson did, with nowhere near the media attention and implicit support.

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Another man was Satchel Paige, a man who played twenty one seasons in the Negro Leagues and is considered by some to be the greatest pitcher in Negro Leagues history. Paige would make the big leagues in 1948 and played six seasons in the Majors.

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Who can forget Josh Gibson, maybe the greatest power hitter ever, if only the Negro Leagues had kept statistics all those years ago. Gibson never made it to the big leagues, but nonetheless is still a member of the baseball Hall of Fame.

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Hank Aaron is one of the greatest of all time, but Aaron had to deal with insurmountable pressure back in the 1970’s as he approached Babe Ruth’s all time home run record. Aaron even received death threats but pushed on to break the Babe’s record, only to eventually be toppled by Barry Bonds back in 2007.

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The list could go on and on. Oscar Charleston, Cool Papa Bell, and Smokey Joe Williams are all players that never received their just do. Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier was for those players. Robinson not only broke a color line that needed to be broke, he also excelled and turned it into a Hall of Fame career.

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One last person should be mentioned if we are giving credit. Branch Rickey, then the General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, was the man who not only signed Robinson but also believed that Jackie was the right man for the job. Rickey once told Robinson, “I know you’re a good ball player. What I don’t know is whether you have the guts.” Robinson then asked Rickey, “Mr. Rickey, are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?” Rickey shot back, “I’m looking for a ball player with guts enough not to fight back.”

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Jackie Robinson Day has been celebrated for years in the Majors and for good reason. It is not only celebrating a special part of baseball history. It is celebrating a man who did something no normal man would have been able to do. For that, we thank you, Jackie.

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