The majority of the Kansas City Chiefs are in the midst of an impromptu 3 day mini-camp at Bishop Miege. The thing is I’m not exactly sure what we’ll be watching or what they’ll be saying.
I don’t know what to make of these workouts.
Part of me wants to connect the dots and get optimistic. There have been multiple reports indicating we are approaching the end of this mind – numbing lockout. The reports included estimates ranging from the lockout already being over (I’m looking at you, small paper in Massachusetts) to ending in two weeks, four weeks, or that the framework for a deal is 80-85% complete. It doesn’t seem to be a stretch to connect the dots of these positive reports coinciding with the most well attended workouts thus far and think that we’re approaching the end of the tunnel.
The other side is that whatever progress is allegedly being made could derail at any time. The talks could break down at a moment’s notice. We’ve heard nothing but rhetoric on the lockout for 91 days and counting, and these recent reports have all used the dreaded ‘anonymous source.’ I swear if I never read another NFL story with the phrases “a source close to the owners” or “a player source says” again I’d be just fine.
So I’m keeping my guard up until I hear from Demaurice Smith and/or Roger Goodell that this thing is over. And call me a pessimist, but I suggest you do the same.
But until then, I’ll be at the Chiefs “practice” with a microphone, ready to share the story with you. I just have no idea what it will be.
Tonight is a big night for the Kansas City soccer fan. Because tonight the newly named Sporting KC makes its home debut in brand new Livestrong Sporting Park. Kansas City soccer finally has a place it can call its own. And take it from me because I’ve been on a tour of the stadium, they’ve got some pretty sweet digs. So I’m excited to talk to the Kansas City soccer fan tomorrow to see how the night went.
But the reality is I probably won’t talk about Sporting KC, Livestrong Park, or soccer much after tomorrow. And that’s too bad. Because I appreciate the game, respect international soccer, and do ultimately believe the MLS will become fairly main stream in this country. The thing is, we aren’t there yet. And for every one text I’ll occasionally get to the show to “talk soccer” I’ll get 25 on the Royals or 50 on the Chiefs.
What makes tonight a talking point for tomorrow is that it’s new. Kansas City has a new sports venue for its soccer team. And beyond that, a venue to host concerts and every sporting event you can think of up to and including MMA. So that’s why I’m particularly interested in how people receive the stadium. I want to know if as a venue, it’s a place you’ll want to go to again.
But that doesn’t seem to be the focus of the diehard soccer fan. Yes, they are also excited about the stadium. But they want us to talk soccer. And the only way that will happen in the near future is if they win. Right now, Sporting KC has a record of 1 – 6 – 3. I’m not sure if they were undefeated and the favorites to win an MLS Championship the amount of air time they’d get would increase. I’m looking forward to sizing up the Kansas City soccer fan tomorrow and finding out.
But if they want more than a one day shot, that they’re only getting because their new stadium is opening, the team needs to start winning.
If I ran the Kansas City Royals I couldn’t pass on drafting Bubba Starling. Even though their top team need is starting pitching, I wouldn’t be able to pass on Bubba Starling. Despite the fact his agent is Scott Boras, I’d have to select Bubba Starling. And even though it will probably take a minimum of three years before he sees the big leagues, and there’s still a chance he could wind up playing football, if it were me, and he were available, I’d draft Bubba Starling.
*Checks Business Card*
I don’t run the Kansas City Royals.
But I still think they should take him. He’s one of those guys you can’t pass up. Because if you do, and he becomes what the experts say he can become, he’ll haunt Kansas City like Babe Ruth haunted Boston.
I’m not comparing Bubba Starling to Babe Ruth as a baseball player. But I am comparing the name Bubba Starling to the name Babe Ruth.
Quite simply, he sounds like a household name. And it’s been awhile since one of those has donned the Royal blue. Around here, he’s already known on a ‘first name only’ level.
“Bubba, table for 1.”
That type of recognition provides marketability. Marketability leads to jersey sales. Jersey sales lead to an increase in revenue. And revenue is something the Royals severely lack.
And the logic of the pick goes far beyond that. We’re loyal in the Midwest. If Kansas City drafted the hometown kid, and he showed the loyalty in return by signing, people would flock to see him. He’d put butts in the seats. Something at last check, the Royals also severely lack.
Plus, it’s not like an outfielder who compares to Josh Hamilton is NOT a need for the Royals. Five – tool players are a need for every team.
Of course there’s always the chance he doesn’t live up to the hype. The chance Bubba Starling’s game never reaches the level of his name.
There’s only one number that backs up my belief that Joakim Soria should remain the closer for the Kansas City Royals. And it’s not his 3 blown saves, which equals his total in each of the last 3 seasons. It’s not his paltry 13:10 strikeout to walk ratio or his 19 hits in 19 1/3 innings either.
The number is 8.5. As in, the Royals are 8.5 games out of first place.
If they were serious contenders for the playoffs this year, I think I’d be ready to side with the masses and hand the ball in the 9th inning to Aaron Crow. But because Kansas City might not even be a serious contender to finish .500, Soria has earned a longer rope than most. In fact, he probably deserves the benefit of the doubt more than anyone on the team.
He’s a 2 – time All – Star who debatably has been the 2nd best closer in baseball the past few years behind Mariano Rivera. He’s been the lone bright spot on a team that has existed largely in the dark. And he’s been the consummate professional throughout all the losing. So forgive me for thinking Joakim Soria deserves some slack.
It’s not because I don’t think there is a problem. There clearly is. While I don’t think it’s an injury, Soria’s normal pinpoint control has been largely nonexistent this year. For every 1 -2 -3 outing he’s had like Friday night’s against the Cardinals, there’s seemingly been an adventurous one like Sunday’s Cardinals game, or a disastrous one, like last night’s blown save at Baltimore. If his consistent inconsistencies continue, then a change will have to be made.
But the Royals have demonstrated time and again that they’re going to be patient with this year’s team. Because as much as we’d all like it to be, this season isn’t solely about winning in 2011. It’s about figuring out who can contribute when they’re ready to win in 2012 and beyond. Joakim Soria has proven in the past that he’s that type of player. He deserves a little more time to prove it again.
I’ve already made the point in this space that I don’t care about the NFL lockout anymore. I follow it. I read every story on it. But it has become a mind-numbing exercise to the point where if it’s not about when there will or won’t be football, I just don’t care.
I’m not saying it’s not a story. In fact, the NFL lockout is the biggest news story in sports right now. But that doesn’t mean I have to care. It just means, as part of my job, I need to be up to speed on what’s going on. And here’s the long and short of it:
We’re still without football.
But because there are literally hundreds of NFL journalists still collecting paychecks, and thousands of NFL players waiting to collect theirs, we’re still getting football stories. Kind of.
We get to read about the lunacies of OchoCinco riding a bull. We get to hear about Reggie Bush embracing celebrity life. And in most NFL cities, we get some variation of the story we got in today’s Kansas City Star, courtesy of Adam Teicher, on players organizing their own practices.
The gist of the Kansas City version goes something like, ‘Matt Cassel is organizing workouts with any receivers who want to attend… they’re playing at a local high school… Cassel is the man in charge, displaying great leadership… it’s important to do this, because eventually, the team will be playing for real.’
I have absolutely no idea what to take from that story. Again, Teicher absolutely should write it. And I guess if I’m a Chiefs fan I’d rather read that the players are running routes opposed to running amok. And Cassel displaying leadership is nice.
But does it really matter? Will it really pay dividends? Or is this some conjured up PR move by the players to show that they care? Until there’s football, we won’t get the answer to any of those questions. The fact that these are the types of football stories we are subjected to right now is infuriating. And did you just read 350 words of me venting on how frustrated I am that we don’t have football?
Baseball is the most strategic of the major professional sports. Football is the ultimate team game, basketball can be taken over by an individual, and hockey is grueling in ways I don’t think most people appreciate. But the beauty of baseball is in the strategy. For every situation, there likely aren’t just two options to decide between, but rather a whole list. And what makes the game, for lack of a better term, so nuanced is that each option can usually be argued with logic and reason.
And right now, one of the most pressing debates Royals manager Ned Yost faces is at second base. And strangely enough, there are presently only two solutions to this problem: Chris Getz or Mike Aviles. That’s it.
Getz gets the majority of the starts because of his alleged superior defensive ability. And one of baseball’s oldest adages is that you have to be strong up the middle. The problem is Getz isn’t that good defensively. He has limited range and last night against the Yankees made two defensive blunders, in the 7th and 9th innings.
While Aviles certainly won’t remind anyone of Ozzie Smith with his glove, he brings a lot more to the table offensively than Getz, whose best offensive attribute is his ability to sacrifice bunt. In the two seasons where Aviles has gotten at least 400 at – bats, he’s finished with a batting average above .300. Getz is a career .248 hitter who gets the job done at a less than robust .228 clip this year.
I don’t envy Ned Yost for having to make this decision. Neither option is ideal. I think the advantages Aviles gives the Royals offensively outweigh the slight defensive upgrade Getz provides. But it’s certainly debatable.
No one can question Jonathan Baldwin’s physical skills. At 6’4 ½, 228 pounds, with a sub 4.5 40 yard dash and a 40+ inch vertical leap – Baldwin doesn’t just pass the look test… he aces it. What people can question, somewhat fairly, is what’s between the ears. Baldwin comes to Kansas City with the dreaded “questionable character” label.
I say it’s only somewhat fair because a lot of people read the following quote, and without context, wrote off Baldwin as a bad guy. When asked if he was going to turn pro after his Junior year, Baldwin said:
“Heck yeah, I'm leaving. It can only get worse. They had me running a lot of deep routes (this year) and yards were hard to come by. I barely ran intermediate routes; it felt like they were purposely trying to disrupt my draft stock.”
The context is this, Baldwin wasn’t wrong about any of that. I watched a ton of Big East football last year (if you feel sorry for me, you should, it was brutal) and I saw Pitt’s offense. The first three options were ‘run Dion Lewis’ ‘run Ray Graham’ and ‘run Dion Lewis again.’ With Tino Sunseri and his noodle for an arm as a first year quarterback, it probably was the right strategy to help Pitt win football games. But for Jon Baldwin to showcase his talents, it couldn’t have been worse.
Should he have said it? No. But that doesn’t make it any less true. I had Mike Zmijanac, Baldwin’s high school football coach from the famed Aliquippa program on my show today and he said his former player “is no choir boy” and used the dreaded phrase “prima donna.”
But he used it as a compliment. His basic take was in order to be great, especially at the wide receiver position, you have to be confident. And he acknowledged that Baldwin shouldn’t have said what he did about Pitt’s offense. But he chalked it up to a youthful mistake and repeatedly stressed that his former player is a good teammate and a good guy.
He’s often the first on the practice field and the last to leave. He comes from a good home. And he said at Aliquippa, which has produced four 1st round picks in the last 21 years, ‘you have a choice to be an athlete or a hoodlum’, and Baldwin chose wisely.
I look around the league and I see Andre Johnson getting into fights; Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, and Chad Ochocinco talking trash; and I think to myself, I’m supposed to be concerned about Jonathan Baldwin complaining about his college offense? Please.
I’ll take the 6’4, 228, sub 4.5, 40+ guy every day of the week… Prima donna or not.
The Royals are about to play their first must –win game of the season. And yes, I know its April. And yes, I know this team likely won’t be competing for anything real this year. But the Royals need to win one of these next two games against Cleveland for the fans. If they don’t, they risk losing all the good will that they conjured up through the first three weeks of the season.
No one is going to hold it against them that they got swept by the defending AL Champion Rangers. But getting swept by Cleveland, when you just took 2 of 3 from the same over-achieving Indians just a week ago, would be another story entirely. And while the difference between getting swept and winning one game is exactly that – one game, it will look and feel entirely different.
If the Royals win one game, they come back to Kauffman to face the Twins at 13 – 12. Over .500. If they get swept and return 0 for the road trip, then they’ll be 12 – 13, under .500, and losers of 9 of 11. My guess is, attendance for the weekend series against the Twins won’t be pretty.
To that you might say, ‘But Danny, Royals attendance is never pretty.’ And you’d be right. Except this year it’s been especially bad. And Kansas City has plenty of company. According to CNBC’s Darren Rovell, the Royals attendance is down 17% from the same point last year. And attendance is down across the sport, including in some places where you wouldn’t expect it, like at Wrigley Field and Fenway Park. But when the weather warms up, you know those places will be packed. We don’t know that about Kauffman.
This Royals team plays an exciting, fan – friendly, brand of baseball that as long as they are somewhat competitive, I believe the people of Kansas City will support. That’s our job as fans, to support the team. And supporting a team above .500 is a lot easier than one below .500.
Now it’s the Royals turn to do their job and win a game.
I’m not going to lie, I was nervous. Not heart-pumping-out-of-my-chest feel-like-I’m-going-go-pass-out nervous. Just nervous. Within my first 3 weeks on the job as the “new guy” in Kansas City, I was going to be throwing out the 1st pitch at Kauffman Stadium. I talk on the radio to more people in a week than were at Wednesday night’s Royals/Indians battle for 1st place, but that didn’t matter. It wasn’t an issue of the crowd; it was an issue of comfort.
I’m a talker. Hence the radio show. I talk about the athletes. I understand that a curve ball puts more strain on a pitcher’s elbow than a fastball. But that doesn’t mean I could throw one. I know when the situation calls for a hit-and-run, but that doesn’t mean I could execute one. So my nervousness simply came from being outside my comfort zone.
That, and knowing that I have the world’s worst arm.
I hadn’t thrown a baseball in 3 years, and as my supportive cousin reminded me minutes before I took the mound via text message, I “haven’t thrown one well in 24 years.” Thanks Sean.
But I didn’t care because ultimately my failure would lead to a good story for the radio and the rest of my life. Not too many people can say they’ve thrown out the 1st pitch at a Major League baseball game.
So even though you all think you would mow one right over the heart of the plate, you probably won’t get the chance to prove it, so I’ll let ya in on what it’s like.
You have to get there an hour early, for no reason. Literally nothing informative or cool happened in the 50 minutes leading up to throwing out the pitch. ‘You walk out when they introduce you… you pitch when they say ‘fire away’… you shake hands… you pose for a picture… you’re done… got it?’ They needed an hour of my time to explain this?
But once you get out on the field, it’s an awesome experience. Alcides Escobar and Chris Getz were playing catch in front of the dugout and I found myself watching their throwing motions as if I was going to pick up an 11th hour tip. Fans recognized Nick Wright, who was my catcher, and by proxy recognized me and offered encouraging tips like “throw a strike” and “don’t suck.” I love our listeners.
And then it was time. The camera was rolling, my name was announced, and my huge head was on the huge scoreboard. 60 feet 6 inches never looked so far. Nick stood on home plate, they said “fire away,” and I fired:
Juuuusssst a bit outside.
But I could have told you that was going to happen. I’m a radio host, not a pitcher.
I love the NFL. Like most people, it’s my favorite of the pro sport leagues. And the thought of not having games next season upsets me more than it probably should. That said, I’m furious with the NFL right now. I feel like the NFL – from the commissioner, to the owner’s, to the player’s – have let me and the rest of its fans down with this lockout. It should not have gotten to this. But it has and there’s nothing we can do about it. And this isn’t going to be another breakdown of who’s more to blame than the other or who we should really be mad at. Because the truth is, we should be mad at everyone.
And I didn’t think it was possible, but I’m growing to resent the NFL.
I didn’t realize that somewhat remarkable transformation had taken place until yesterday when the league had the audacity to release its preseason schedule. Um, guys… as of now THERE WON’T BE ANY GAMES NEXT SEASON!!
I realize the league needs to schedule the games and plan for a full season to be played. And I still think we’ll have some semblance of a season because eventually, logic has to prevail…. Doesn’t it?
But I find it completely illogical, and actually, downright offensive that the NFL released the preseason games. Why should we get excited about games that very likely won’t be played? On NFL.com the dates of the games are listed as TBD. The NFL released the schedule, at least in part, to give us a headline that doesn’t revolve around the labor talks. To get people to start talking about football again. A novel concept, I know.
But right now, the NFL doesn’t deserve our discussion. It doesn’t deserve our time. Because right now the NFL is squabbling over an insane amount of money that normally it would be inappropriate to label as “squabbling” – if not for the pesky detail that the NFL makes money. The owner’s make money. The player’s make money. The NFL is a license to print money. And they want us to get excited about preseason games that may or may not be played while they are bickering over how to divvy up a $25 billion piece of pie?
Frankly, until they figure out how to slice up that pie, my interest in the NFL can be labeled as TBD.