When I heard about the passing of Yordano Ventura, at first I wasn’t sure the headline I saw was accurate or true. A quick Google search proved that it was, and my emotions ran from disbelief to shock, then quickly to sadness. Obviously, I didn’t know Ventura personally, never met him in person, and had he opted to do something with his life other than play baseball, would likely never have heard of him. Even knowing all this, upon reading the news of his death, I couldn’t help but feel a genuine sense of loss. After all, I had watched this young man pitch through some of the best seasons I’ve had the privilege to watch as a Royals fan. In spite of his temper (or maybe because of it), he was a fan favorite in Kansas City, and many of his fans continue to grieve as the week goes on.
It’s one of those events that gets me thinking about baseball, about sports in general, and its role in our world. When the Chicago Cubs visited the White House last week, Barack Obama commented, “Throughout our history, sports has had this power to bring us together even when the country is divided.” The fact that baseball’s popularity grew exponentially following the American Civil War is a testament to this. During both World War I and World War II, baseball became a form of entertainment that provided Americans a much-needed escape from the realities of being a nation at war. Jackie Robinson’s journey into the history books shows that baseball can even impact the social climate of our country.
For me, personally, the world of sports continues to provide a sense of balance and purpose to my day-to-day life. I am a notoriously active person, which helps to offset the forty-plus hours a week I spend sitting at a desk at work. I love the competition of running road races, the challenge of tackling obstacle course races, and the feeling of accomplishment when I have become strong enough to need to go out and buy a new set of dumbbells. In the past, I’ve slid into bases, played tackle football in the backyard with my brothers, and had my ass kicked in martial arts studios. The benefits to my physical and mental health are too numerous to list here (though that might be a worthwhile topic for a future post? We’ll see…). Then, when the workday is done and the chores are finished and the day’s workout is completed, there’s the escape of turning on a Royals game or a Packers game and getting lost in watching others compete while I unwind.
For kids and adults alike, there are organized recreational teams to encourage a sense of community as well as to promote our overall well-being. And, again, we also find community in the teams we root for (or against), and in the time we can spend in watching those teams and players compete. We become so engrossed with these games that we become emotionally involved in them. We sometimes become obsessed. We track our favorite players, we feel anxiety or elation over the performances of our teams, we buy their jerseys and wear caps bearing their logos and we do so with pride. Hell, the Super Bowl has become such a big deal that we throw house parties, complete with booze and a junk food feast, sometimes just so we can watch the commercials.
The death of Yordano Ventura revealed the incredible sense of community among Royals fans. The way my Facebook feed exploded with shock and grief revealed just how profound an impact this one man playing for this one team really had. The tributes in memory of Ventura made at Kauffman Stadium are overflowing onto the parking lot. Baseball, and sports in general, they mean something to us, and they impact us on a deeper level than we oftentimes fail to acknowledge. In a time of tremendous political and social turmoil in our country, maybe it is time for sports, whether it is baseball or football or hockey or whatever, to exercise its power of healing yet again.
It feels like only yesterday that I wrote my 500th post on this blog. It seems quite surreal that I now find myself sitting down to work on this one, post number 1,000. To commemorate the occasion, I thought I’d focus on a play from my softball-playing days that I look back on with pride and fondness.
During the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, I played for a competitive softball team called the Drifters. We were a pretty solid team, and with the exception of a few stints in the outfield or at third base, I spent most of the summer playing shortstop.
I honestly cannot recall where we were playing or who we were playing against, nor can I recall what inning we were in, but I do remember that this particular memory happened around mid-summer and that it was after dark. The artificial lighting illuminated the field so completely that it might as well have been noon, and bugs buzzed around the infield as though they wanted to be a part of the game, too.
We were on defense, with me at shortstop, and we had one out in the inning with a runner on first. The girl at the plate slapped a groundball to second base, and everything that happened from there was essentially the product of hundreds of repetitions during practices.
With a ball hit to the right side of the field, I automatically moved to my left to cover second base. Our second baseman fielded the ball cleanly behind the baseline and tossed it to me as the runner who had been on first came barreling towards me. I caught the ball and pivoted.
All I can remember seeing was the front of the baserunner’s jersey. I couldn’t see our first baseman, but I also knew that I didn’t have time to look for her. With the runner coming straight at me and not bothering to slide, I dropped my throwing motion to a sidearm and fired as hard as I could around the runner, making my best guess at first base without being able to locate it visually. The baserunner came into second base, still standing.
Next thing I knew, I heard cheering and my teammates were running past me towards the dugout. I blinked, confused. Holy crap, did we get her? I thought wildly. I jogged towards the dugout, where our coach greeted me with a huge smile and a high five. I sat down on the bench, still too stunned to believe it.
We had turned a 4-6-3 double play, and I hadn’t even realized it. It was the first (and only) double play of that sort that I’d ever turned.
Watching Major League Baseball on television, an infield double play like that appears to be one of the most routine plays out there. You don’t realize just how difficult it is to pull off until you’re out on the field trying to do it yourself. Every piece of it has to go right: the ball has to be fielded cleanly, thrown cleanly, and caught cleanly, and it all has to be done with rapid fire precision. The tiniest misplay or hesitation can blow the entire play. At the amateur level, the only double plays you ever really see are the result of unlucky line drives or miscues by baserunners. That play we turned with the Drifters was the only one of that sort that I’ve ever seen at that level, and I didn’t even get to see the end of it. But I sure was glad to be a part of it.
The Royals-Cardinals series, also known as the I-70 Series thanks to the interstate that connects Kansas City and St. Louis, is generally touted as a big rivalry. It is a showdown between the two MLB teams who call the Show-Me State home. Ticket prices are generally pretty outrageous for this series (this year, the cheapest tickets available were $42). As a result, I had never attended one of these games in person. So when I was offered a free ticket to attend last night’s game between the two teams, I naturally jumped on the opportunity, expecting a high-energy and intense experience.
Boy, was I disappointed.
Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed the game. I have a hard time not enjoying any Royals game that I attend, and I’m always willing to cheer them on. I felt sad that the Royals lost, but really, it was the crowd that proved so disappointing. Admittedly, it’s hard for the average fan to stay involved in a game in which the home team isn’t doing so well. The Royals’ struggles of late haven’t been very easy to swallow. But when you have a crowd of almost 33,000, and it feels like none of them are paying attention to the field… well, that’s just upsetting. The sound guys kept playing all kinds of pump up music and prompts, trying anything to get the crowd fired up, and most of it fell flat. The Hot Dog Derby brought on more cheers than most innings.
There were a few bright spots. The Royals rally in the sixth inning to score a couple runs did raise the energy level a bit. And when they managed to load the bases in the bottom of the ninth, the whole stadium — those who stayed, at least — was on its feet. The rest of the game, though, felt pretty blah. I’m not a very loud person, but for much of the game, I was easily one of the loudest folks in our general area.
I realize that much of this post is pretty whiny, especially considering that I don’t have any solutions to offer, other than asking folks not to attend a ballgame they intend to ignore. We live in a world where everyone is plastered to their phones, even at the ballpark, which is the whole reason stadiums are expanding their protective netting — to protect those who won’t see that foul ball coming as they focus on their next selfie. In the last couple years, attending a Royals game for most folks has been more about showing off to others their presence there than it has been about watching the actual game. It seems that you can either have a winning team with a crowd of bandwagon fans, or you can watch a losing team surrounded by fans who actually care about what’s going on. You just can’t have both.
In any case, here are pictures!
I’ve been in the process of moving these last few weeks, which left me without internet at home for a good chunk of time. This has made it difficult to keep up with things, including baseball and this blog. I did have the opportunity to attend my first Royals game of the season this past Thursday, April 21st, and I witnessed the Royals’ 4-0 victory over the Detroit Tigers. I intended to write something of more substance about the occasion, but as it has now been a few days since that game, I will instead settle for merely posting the pictures I took.
For starters, we wandered through the Royals Hall of Fame. Here are a handful of the bobble heads on display. My own collection needs some work…
I also had the opportunity to see the World Series trophy. In retrospect, I regret that I didn’t jump in the line to get my picture taken with it.
It was great to be back in Kauffman Stadium with the beautiful fountains. The strong winds of the day caused the water to blow all over.
The game itself was a blast, and we were lucky in that the fans around us weren’t too obnoxious. Plus, the weather that night was absolutely beautiful.
And, as always, it’s always fun to watch the home team win!
“I’ll bet I know why you’re standing there,” commented my boss this past Monday morning, as I stood in the doorway of her office.
I had to grin at this. “I’m pretty sure you probably do.”
“You want tomorrow off so that you can go to the parade,” she stated matter-of-factly. Which, of course, was completely accurate. If it takes the Royals another thirty years to win their next World Series (fingers crossed that it doesn’t!), then this could very well be my best chance to attend one of these celebrations. My request was granted on two conditions: clear my calendar of all Tuesday meetings and appointments, and, of course, take lots of pictures. Ironically, clearing my calendar proved the more easily completed task of the two.
I rode out to Kansas City with one of my co-workers, also a big Royals fan who received permission to take the day off on the same conditions. I mentioned to her that I had heard estimates on the radio that a crowd of about 200,000 was expected to attend the celebration, so we knew to expect a good-sized crowd. We arrived in the city relatively early, meaning nine a.m., and downtown already had transformed into a sea of blue and white shirts and jerseys.
First thing after we found a place to park, I requested that we find a place to stop and use the restroom. Besides needing the stop after the hour-long car ride, I also knew it might be our last chance for a while. Once we found a spot to wait for the parade, we would want to stay put so as not to lose it. As it turned out, taking care of it early was the best idea I had all day, as the line to the restroom in Crown Center extended out the door and tailed into the food court. Fortunately, everyone who stood in line knew we were all in the same boat and remained courteous and patient with one another, which made the wait relatively pacific.
In front of Crown Center, the fountain was dyed blue in celebration:
We walked around a bit, seeking a spot to claim as our own. Various stands had been set up along the streets, selling World Series merchandise at exorbitant prices. Chants of “Let’s go, Royals!” broke out at random intervals, sometimes with greater enthusiasm than others. Kids in Eric Hosmer and Salvador Pérez jerseys blew into long plastic horns, which I could only guess their parents bought for them somewhere in the area. All of downtown Kansas City had come alive with excited chatter.
We found ourselves a spot along Pershing Road, a couple blocks from Union Station. We planned to watch the parade go by, and then to make our way to Union Station for the rally. Several people were already standing or sitting in lawn chairs along the parade route in front of us, and some looked like they may have even camped out overnight. It wasn’t much later than ten o’ clock at this point, which meant that we had two hours before the parade even started, and an estimated hour-and-a-half beyond that before the procession reached us. We passed the time people-watching, and I ate my way through half a box of Cheez-its, mostly out of a need to do something with my hands. I finally had to give up on the Cheez-its, however, when I realized that they were creating a gnawing feeling in my stomach that was only growing worse. I should’ve brought something with protein in it, I realized.
Our position was as good a spot as we could have gotten, considering when we got there and how many people had already camped out ahead of us, and I thought we might still have a decent view of the parade. Once the procession finally approached us, however, I realized that my prediction wasn’t entirely accurate. The people in front of us seemed to grow in height once the parade started passing in front of us. Not only that, those with small children (understandably) hoisted their kids onto their shoulders so that they might see the parade. This left all five-feet-three-inches of me standing on my tiptoes and craning my neck in every possible direction to try to get a glimpse of what was going on.
The parade was led off by a giant replica of the World Series trophy (it’s hard to pick out, but it is dead center in this picture):
Throughout the parade, there was also a collection of these giant, inflatable baseballs (I kind of want one for myself):
And Dave Webster, the man who hoists the now-customary ‘W’ after each Royals’ home victory, also made an appearance:
I also caught sight of several players, including Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, and Salvador Pérez, as well as David Glass, Dayton Moore, and Ned Yost. Unfortunately, I was far away enough that looking at my pictures now and trying to decipher their figures through the forest of spectators, I honestly cannot tell who is who anymore. It doesn’t help that the players were all wearing the same black hoodie. The hoodies had “Thank you Kansas City” printed on them, which was certainly a wonderful gesture, so I’m not saying it was a bad idea. It just makes it more difficult to distinguish the players from a distance. Nevertheless, here are a couple shots that I managed:
While we were there, we could tell that there was no way that a mere 200,000 people had come out for the parade. The way we were packed in just in our immediate vicinity, I estimated approximately 50,000 right there, and if things were just as crowded along the entire route, then the attendance for the show exceeded 200K easily. I estimated the number at 500,000, but when I saw the number 800,000 that night, even I was blown away. The headlines about the turnout seemed just as surprised:
And pictures like this one were actually kind of awe-inspiring:
While we were there, I discovered that even though I could receive text messages, I couldn’t send any. Most folks were unable to access websites or other features on their phones because the signals was so jammed. We initially tried to follow through with our plans to attend the rally after the parade, but as we approached Union Station, we quickly hit a wall of people that would have been near-impossible to get through. Somewhat reluctantly, we decided to turn around and head home.
I’ve been to some big gatherings before, ballgames and rock concerts mostly, but never anything like this. It’s actually been pretty fun to tell people, “Yeah, I was there. It was crazy!” And totally worth the experience.
For the World Series this year, I decided to do something I’ve never done, and I scribbled down some thoughts/notes about the games as they were being played. Granted, I didn’t jot down every single thought that popped into my head as the Series went on — I’d have a small novel on my hands if I did — but rather, I focused on moments that seemed (relatively) big or interesting to me at the time.
I will mention a couple things about this note compilation, however: First, for anyone who isn’t already aware, I have been a Royals fan since I was ten years old, and that bias is all over these comments. Honestly, I don’t think I could’ve been objective about this World Series if I tried. You’ve been warned.
Second, one note that I nearly made over and over again, though I managed to restrain myself, was a thought about the broadcasters of the game. More specifically, my wish that we could just cut out all commentary and keep it strictly to the play-by-play and statistics. For example, how many times did we really need to question the decision to allow Harvey to return for the ninth inning in Game 5? Mention it once, maybe twice, then move the hell on already.
~ Escobar with the inside-the-park home run! Awesome start to the Series. Wish I knew what happened to those guys out in that outfield.
~ FOX with the technical difficulties. WTF?
~ Granderson homer… ouch. Mets up 2-1.
~ Some impressive defense in this game. From both sides.
~ Zobrist doing a fun little tarantella out on the base paths against Harvey.
~ RBI Moooooose! 3-3 tie after six innings.
~ Volquez’s father passed away prior to the game? Oh man, that’s tough.
~ Misplay by Hosmer. Nooooooooooooo……. 4-3.
~ Gotta figure out that Clippard change up.
~ Glad we got replay back for that caught stealing.
~ Bottom of the 9th. Time for a rally!
~ Aaaand… into extra innings. Wouldn’t be a Royals game if it didn’t get interesting late.
~ I have a feeling I won’t be getting much sleep throughout this Series.
~ Hos redeems himself! What a game. 14 innings, 5-4 Royals!
~ Sure hope the effective Cueto shows up tonight.
~ I think deGrom has more hair than I do. Cueto definitely does.
~ Low strike zone tonight. Will make things interesting.
~ What’s up with all the throwback photos in this WS?
~ Bats finally come alive in the 4th.
~ Rally! Royals up 4-1 after five.
~ Cueto still looking good. Thank goodness.
~ Another rally in the 8th! 7-1 Royals.
~ Complete game two-hitter! Sure wish this version of Cueto would show up more consistently.
~ Can’t say I’m surprised that Syndergaard would throw at Escobar’s head, but it’s still dirty as hell.
~ Blown coverage at first. Early Royals lead!
~ And a homer by David Wright. 2-1, Mets on top.
~ Wow, Salvy broke two bats in that AB.
~ Holy smokes, Ventura has some wheels.
~ Royals back up 3-2 after two innings.
~ Homer by Granderson puts Mets up 4-3. This game is crazy.
~ Raul Mondesi becomes the first player in history to make his Major League debut in the World Series.
~ Morales doesn’t know where to throw the ball — should’ve just gone to first if he didn’t know.
~ Ouch. Mets up after 6 innings, 9-3.
~ And that’s the final score. Mets dominate.
~ Mets score first in the bottom of the 3rd on a Conforto homer.
~ Rios forgetting how many outs there are. No room for mental errors in the World Series…
~ Gordon RBI to put the Royals on the board. 2-1 in the middle of the fifth.
~ Score stands at 3-2 after seven innings. Royals need a rally.
~ Error by Murphy! Tie game!
~ RBI Mooooose!!
~ And Salvy follows up with an RBI of his own! Royals up 5-3.
~ After a much-too-exciting ninth, Royals hang on! Now leading the Series 3 games to 1.
~ Mets strike first with a Granderson homer.
~ Volquez gets a hit! Nice.
~ Save for the homer, both pitchers are rockin’ it tonight. Harvey looks especially sharp.
~ Still 1-0 after five. What a game.
~ Volquez escapes a jam giving up only one run. 2-0, Mets, after six.
~ Royals tie it in the top of the ninth!!
~ And now into extra innings…
~ Dyson scores in the twelfth! Royals up 3-2.
~ Royals now up 7-2 in the middle of the 12th inning…!!!
~ And that’s the game!! ROYALS!!!!!!! Fireworks already going off here in town. There is no way I’m going to sleep tonight.
As a follow-up I managed to get about 3-4 hours of sleep before I had to get back up for work on Monday morning, but the lack of sleep didn’t really affect me. Even now, I’m still running on the adrenal high of it all. In my baseball literature class yesterday, we didn’t discuss literature at all — the conversation revolved completely around the Series and the playoffs as a whole.
The decision to name Salvador Pérez the Series MVP, I think, was a good one. To be honest, had I been asked to make the decision, I don’t know whom I would have chosen. The thing about the Royals is that they really don’t have a superstar, no single, go-to player in their lineup. Several players made significant contributions to their success. I do believe Salvy was an appropriate choice in the end due to his work with the pitchers especially. Watching him work with the Kansas City pitchers is impressive to behold. He clearly has a rapport with all of them, and serves as a calming influence when things start getting out of hand. The fact that he’s bilingual allows him to do this with the entire staff. Furthermore, I’m impressed by his ability to take a beating and yet continue to play well. Multiple times throughout the month of October, I found myself worrying that the latest foul ball off his body would take him out of the lineup, and yet he persisted.
All in all, this note jotting exercise proved an interesting experience. And reading back over my random scribbles, it feels like fast-forwarding through the games all over again. I had considered keeping score throughout the Series, but decided I would become too excited to stick with it, and I think that was probably a good call. The notes, however, were perfect.