R’s: Hot Streaks & Bold Moves

I intentionally held off writing about the Royals activity at the trade deadline because I didn’t want to be responsible for jinxing their hot streak. Fortunately, after winning 10 of 11, they’ve now lost 3 of 4, so any bad stretch is not on me.

First off, what a great run! Right after I said they needed to go 6–3 in the nine games leading up to their trip to Boston, they went 8–1. Then won 2 of 3 in Boston. That’s not a bad way to go into August! Sadly The Indians were just as hot, and the Royals only took a game off their lead over that stretch. But they also solidified themselves in the second Wild Card spot for the time being. I’d much rather they win the division and not have to play a single-elimination game against Boston or New York, but being in the playoffs is the important thing.

In the midst of that hot streak, the Royals were one of the bigger buyers before the trade deadline. They grabbed a starter and two back-end relievers from San Diego. Then they reacquired Melky Cabrera to add another bat to the lineup.

Overall, I thought these were great trades. Of course, Trevor Cahill got shelled pretty good in his first start and Ryan Buchter contributed mightily to the bullpen meltdown and led to the winning streak ending on Saturday. But Brandon Maurer has looked pretty good when he’s been in. Cahill is likely the biggest piece of that deal. He at least gives the Royals a proven MLB starter in that #5 slot. If he gets his shit figured out and can go 5–6 strong innings every outing, that will be huge for this team.

But Maurer could be just as big. Joakim Soria has struggled of late. Kelvin Herrera hasn’t been as dominant as a closer as he was in the 8th inning role. Maurer was the Padres’ closer, and shouldn’t have any trouble handling high pressure situations late. He gives the Royals another power arm that can pitch at any point late in games. He will most likely be a 7th inning guy. But he gives the R’s flexibility to slide him in anywhere in the last three innings if needed.

Despite his PED issues after he left the Royals, I, like a lot of R’s fans, love Cabrera. He’s not the same player he was when he had an awesome year with the club in 2011. But he’s still a really solid hitter who can keep either Brandon Moss or Alex Gordon out of the lineup when needed.

So, at the moment of each trade, I loved them. The Royals didn’t give up too much to get four new players, two of which they control past this season.

Now, of course, the catch is these guys have to perform. Cahill and Buchter have made less-than-stellar first impressions. And Melky didn’t get a hit until his eighth at bat as a Royal. Small samples sizes, etc., etc., etc. I still think these deals make the Royals better.

The last couple weeks have felt more like late September than late July. I’ve watched or listened to the R’s each night while keeping an eye on the Indians, Yankees, Rays, and Mariners scores. I’ve been looking ahead to see how each team’s schedules compare. Each morning L will ask me, “Did they win?!?!” I kept having to remind myself that there are still two months of baseball left. The Royals aren’t going to play .900 ball for two months. Nor are the Indians. Just keep winning series, keep having positive road trips, and this team will be right in the middle of the playoff hunt as we move into fall.

This ‘n’ That

M had a great time at camp. We picked her up Friday afternoon and, just like last year, she shared every detail of her week for the next 90 minutes as we drove home. Well, this year was a little different since C had been at camp two weeks before and would occasionally interrupt to ask a question or share something from her experience. But, mostly, it was M talking.

Last weekend was also the festival at the church around the corner where the girls went to preschool. We’re usually at the lake that weekend, but with us taking the weekend off, we walked over on Friday night with our neighbors. It’s been at least four years since we went, so this visit was a lot different. In the past S and I took the girls to each ride, monitored their use of tickets and purchases of snacks, etc. This time we turned M and C loose with their buddies and a fistful of ride tickets. L isn’t into big kid rides at all, so S took her to the smaller ones. And my friend next door and I bought a beer, parked ourselves in kind of the middle of the midway, and kept an eye on things.

He and I were thankful our oldest daughters weren’t quite ready to be part of the huge packs of teenagers who stood around together. And we were really glad our girls aren’t wearing shorts that show off their butt cheeks or other clothes that would make us uncomfortable. Seriously, what some of these girls were wearing… Yes, we fully realized we’re turning into old men. At least we’re complaining about what kids wear and not elbowing each other and saying, “Hey, look at that one!” Grumpy old men > Dirty old men.

The fun thing about having teenagers is you can embarrass them. While M and her friend were waiting for the ferris wheel, she kind of gave me a look like “Stop watching us.” So, naturally, I yelled out her name and started waving to her. She rolled her eyes and turned her back on me. No doubt saying, “OHMYGODMYDADISSOWEIRD” to her friend. Good times!

M had a busy day yesterday, too. Off first thing to visit her orthodontist. They took her top wire off then sent us to her dentist to get a filling. On our way out the dentist said, “Yeah, that tooth is pretty messed up. It’s fine for now but after her braces come off we’ll probably need to put a crown on it.” Yikes! Then back to ortho for her regular adjustment. They added the dreaded power chain to her bottom teeth which caused some pain last night. And her face was all swollen from the filling procedure. Can’t wait for her to get up this morning to see how much everything in there hurts. Her teeth are looking good, though. Her front space is already gone after six months. Only 19 or 20 months to go!

Although school is still nine days away our calendar is already filling up. C has been doing summer workouts for cross country for three weeks, but fall practice officially begins tomorrow. Kickball practice starts this week, although M’s team won’t get on the diamond until next week. We just got back from C’s first practice, and L has her first tomorrow. Next week we’ll get kickball game schedules and XC meet lists. And soccer info is only a couple weeks away, so soon our family calendar will be a complete mess. Guarantee we’ll have at least one night with three kickball games at three different schools with XC and soccer practices for the same times.


July 2017

  • Waxahatchee – 65
  • The War on Drugs – 45
  • ratboy – 38
  • Allison Crutchfield – 30
  • Manchester Orchestra – 22

Complete stats available at my Last.fm page

Friday Playlist

“Dog” – Widowspeak. I swear I already shared this but don’t see it in past posts. Just in case, it’s good enough to share twice. Moody, gorgeous dream pop.

“Covered Wagon” – Lo Tom. Heavy summertime music.

“Motion Sickness” – Phoebe Bridgers. Ryan Adams has called her the next Dylan. He’s not totally unbiased; Bridgers records on his label. But this song is certainly a stunner.

“Everybody Knows” – Partner. Good, clean, pot-referencing fun from this Canadian duo. Their sound harkens back to the 90s before everybody got so serious.

“Long Hot Summer” – The Style Council. Required listening as the Dog Days creep up on us.

Friday Links

Going back to the Friday Links method for one week, as I have three baseball-related links to share and bundling them seemed like a good idea.

First, Will Leitch has been one of the national writers who most appreciated the Royals’ recent run of success. Perhaps that’s because, although he is a lifelong Cardinals fan, he is also a child of the Midwest and understands what the last 32 years have been like for Royals fans.

Monday he wrote about where the Royals stand, where they seem to be headed, and how he approves.

Let’s Stay Together: KC Makes a Run

Funny how quickly things can change. My wishy washiness is long gone. That’s what eight-straight wins will do.

Second, when I was a kid I would spend part of each summer with my grandparents in central Kansas. Each night we watched the local, ten o’clock news together. And each night in late July we heard scores reported from the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita. I never knew what level of baseball NBC was, nor did my (maternal) grandparents who were only the most casual of sports followers. But I always thought it was cool that teams from Hutchinson and Liberal were competing against teams from Arizona, Alaska, Massachusetts, and other widely scattered locations.

I now know that NBC is summer ball for college-aged players, draws teams from the vaunted Cape Cod and Alaskan leagues, and that the Kansas teams play in the second-tier Jayhawk League. Barry Bonds played in Hutchinson, KS in 1984. Albert Pujols, Rafael Palmeiro, Roger Clemens, Trevor Hoffman, and Ron Guidry are among other legends who spent part of their summers in small Kansas towns playing ball.

A few weeks back a Royals blogger I follow in Twitter retweeted something from the Hays Larks, his hometown. I thought that was cool, as I lived in Hays the first five years of my life. I did some digging and found that there is a new Jayhawk League team in Great Bend, my dad’s hometown and a place I usually spent part of my Kansas vacation in with his parents. I started following the team and they not only made it to the World Series, but are now a win away from advancing to championship week. Pretty cool.

While looking for info about the Jayhawk League and NBC World Series, I came across this essay from a former player. It’s not all that well written, but kind of an interesting read anyway.

Fields of Dreams: My Summer of Baseball In The Jayhawk League

Finally, it’s been another extraordinary week in the history of our Republic. It’s a shame I can’t be unbiased or uncaring about things and take a step back and marvel at the amazing events of the past five days without getting worked up about the consequences.

Joe Posnanski writes about an old baseball cliche – how home runs kill rallies – to distill that argument to what it really is. And in his final paragraph, he adroitly connects it to the state of our nation.

Rally Killing With Homers

Catch Up

It’s been a busy few days.

Going back to last week, our friends the R’s visited from KC for a long lake weekend. They met us down there Friday afternoon and stayed through lunchtime Sunday. As a lot of you know, the R’s have two boys and they’ve not spent a ton of time with our girls. So we really weren’t sure how that would all go. Our concerns were without need, because after a few moments of awkwardness, they all got along famously. They entertained themselves which gave us parents lots of time to hang out together and catch up, which was excellent.

Crazy that we only have two more lake weekends left this summer.

Monday was kickball day. We closed registration on Friday and Monday was my day to divide up all the teams. Four of the grades have a single team, so they were easy. But the other two I had to take the results from our last round of evaluations and do my best to make even teams. This was much easier than last year, when we didn’t have any evaluations to work with, but still involved a lot of adjustments until I had them where I wanted them to be.

And then a lot of emailing. To coaches, to the parish office, to league officials, to parents. Then making adjustments in our management system. For a day it was like I had a real job again!

I think things turned out pretty well. The hard part is I can create two 5th grade teams that are 100% equal in terms of talent, but then one team will get put in a very difficult division and the other will get put in an easier division, and suddenly it won’t look like the teams are all that even. I shared with the parents how I got to the final rosters, so hopefully there won’t be any complaining.

All three of our girls are playing. M’s team again seeking that elusive city championship. C’s grade is an interesting mix: there are some really good players at the top,[1] and then a lot of really weak players. The in-between players are kids with talent who need to learn how to focus a little better. Both of those teams could either be really good or kind of suck, it all depends which direction those middle girls go. And L’s team is going to be a trip. It’s their first year of playing, so they have a lot to learn. Third grade games are brutal because no one can play defense, and you end up having 90 minutes of 20-run innings back-and-forth. We’ve done some summer pickup games and there are a few girls on her team that are going to be good from the first day.[2] We have a couple girls who don’t seem to be afraid of the ball, which is a huge bonus in the field. We’ll see how it all shakes out.

And then we watched my 14-month-old nephew from Tuesday evening through yesterday afternoon while my sister-in-law helped run an event downtown. The last time we watched him for an extended period was in April, when he was just getting mobile. Now he’s walking which made it a little more challenging to keep him corralled. Fortunately he’s a really sweet kid and was no trouble at all. He slept great overnight, took a good morning nap, but wouldn’t nap in the afternoon. That was about the only negative in the 24 hours we had him.

L and I tried to teach him how to play Nerf basketball in her room. When he would get the ball, I would stretch out my arms and say, “M! Pass me the ball!” He would walk over, grab my hand, then turn his body and try to sit on my lap and hug me. I told his mom we need to work on his will to win a little bit. Although the hugs were nice.

Some schools in the area started fall classes today. Our girls are two weeks away from their first day. Once we get M home this weekend we’ve got some work to do on our Summer To Do lists before the school year kicks off.

  1. C is in this group. If she wasn’t so goofy and giggly, she could be the best player in her grade. I kind of like her being a top 4 player and spazzy, though. At least I know she’s having fun that way.  ↩
  2. Again, including her.  ↩

A Whole New Ballgame: 13

Well, here we are: the teenage years.

Holy shit!

Thirteen years ago this morning M came into the world, full of drama from the start. It’s a cliche to say something like “and that day, my life changed forever.” But, really, what else can you say? Marriage is a big change in your life. But S and I had also been together three years when we got married. There were some adjustments that came with not having our own apartments anymore. Yet life wasn’t really that different and we knew what we were getting into.

Nothing prepares you for kid number one, though. Every single aspect of your life gets turned completely upside-down. That was even more dramatic for me as M’s birth was the moment I took a big left turn with my career as well. When you add that in, you can argue M’s birth was the biggest moment of my adult life.

She would love having that level of importance.

So who is M at 13? We haven’t noticed any major changes in her personality, attitude, or behavior yet. Sure, she’s moody and emotional and will spend entire days in her room if we don’t force her to come out. If frustrating, that’s still all normal and expected. When motivated, she still gets all wound up about the things that have always wound her up. When we went down to pick C up from camp two weeks ago, M spent two-straight hours talking to me about every single detail of the camp that she remembered from last summer. That kid has always loved to talk. Even though she has grumpy stretches of silence these days, she’ll still talk the life out of you if given the right stimulus.

She is smart – really smart when she wants to be – but often lacks motivation to really use her smarts. That drives me crazy, mostly because it reminds me of myself at her age. She is – as I was – capable of getting straight A’s. But neither of us has the full commitment to do it, slacking off in subjects that don’t interest us completely. Like me she has the uncanny ability to call up detailed memories from long ago. If only she/I could have harnessed that skill for academics!

She’s still loud and obnoxious at times. But she’s also full of life when she’s in a good mood. You want her to tone it down about 10%, but you’re also thrilled that she finds so much excitement in things and wants to share that excitement with others.

She doesn’t have a lot of super close friends, which has always concerned us a little. But, also, she seems to be casual friends with all the girls in her class, from the most to least popular. Every few months it’ll seem like she’s gravitated toward a new friend she talks about most. But there’s never the one friend she wants to hang out with every weekend. Which, at this stage in life, could be a blessing.

Speaking of camp, like last year this will be a quiet birthday in the house because she is at camp. She’s looking forward to the traditional CYO camp birthday celebration: getting thrown into the creek. Although she would be quick to say you don’t actually get thrown in the creek. “You just lay down and they splash you.”

So here we go, with the most fun part of parenting a daughter. The fun has already started, of course. It’s not like some fairy appears on their 13th birthday, waves a magic wand and unleashes the hormones and moods and super dramas that are going to dominate her life for the next decade. But the number does feel like a big change to me. She’s not a kid anymore. She’s not a pre-teen anymore. She’s begun the transition into being a young lady.

Which doesn’t seem possible, 13 years under her belt or not.

Friday Playlist

“Little Guitars (Intro)”
“Little Guitars”
“Best of Both Worlds”
– Van Halen
Every summer, around this time, I spend an afternoon listening to Van Halen’s Diver Down and 5150 albums. Those two albums, representing the DLR and Hagar sides of classic VH, have always screamed summer to me. I didn’t get Diver Down until the summer of ’84, months after buying 1984 and nearly two years after its initial release. So it was a big part of the greatest music summer of my life. I bought 5150 while in St. Louis in July, 1986. Soon after I bought every Van Halen album I didn’t already own and spent the month of August listening to all the band’s albums over-and-over, with 5150 getting a little extra attention since it was the new album. Thursday was my Van Halen day for this summer. It was a good day.

Here are a couple fine songs from each album. For all the Sammy haters out there, “Best of Both Worlds” has a strong claim to best VH song ever. It’s not better than “Panama,” but it’s not too far down the list.

“Strangest Thing” – The War on Drugs
Back in mid-June, music writer Steven Hyden teased his Twitter followers, saying his favorite song of 2017 was on an album that wasn’t coming out for a few months, and that he hoped it was released as a single so he could Tweet about it 27 times. Tuesday at 2:00 I got an email from Warner Brothers Music saying that since I had pre-ordered the next War on Drugs album, I could download their new single, “Strangest Thing.” Moments later Hyden tweeted that this was the song he was talking about. He didn’t quite hit the 27-Tweet threshold, but he did carry on for a bit.

Preceded by two epic singles and arriving with the label of best song of the year by my favorite music writer, there was no pressure on this track when I listened to it for the first time. None at all.

Honestly I think Hyden undersold it. Holy-freaking-good-lord is this a great song! The War on Drugs has made some incredible songs over the years. This very well might be the greatest thing they’ve ever done. It’s a solid four-star song up until the 4:25 mark. When the drums beat a little louder, you know something huge is about to happen. And then Adam Granduciel drops the biggest goddam guitar solo of the last 20 years and it turns into something legendary. I’ve only listened to this about 500 times over the past three days. I could write 3000 words about it, but I think I’ll save the rest for December.

Yeah, go ahead and slot this in as my favorite song of the year. Unless they have something even more incredible tucked away on the album.

“Ring of Fire” – Johnny Cash.
My man E$ and his family are coming to visit this weekend, so this is in honor of him. Perhaps if I get him to drink enough beers he’ll stand on a chair and dance to this song at some point.

“Safety Dance” – Men Without Hats.
Speaking of E$ favorites…

Reader’s Notebook, 7/19/17

Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic – Jason Turbow
I teased this one awhile back when I mentioned I was roaring through an awesome book. I started it on a Monday afternoon and wrapped it up before lunch on Wednesday. It was that good!

Turbow looks at one of the iconic dynasties in baseball: the Swingin’ Oakland A’s of the early 1970s. The team, which featured Reggie Jackson, Joe Rudi, Sal Bando, Bert Campaneris, Vida Blue, Blue Moon Odom, Ken Holtzman, Rollie Fingers, and primary manager Dick Williams, was one of the great collections of both talent and personalities in big league history. They also were the first team to win three-straight World Series since the Yankees of the 1940s and 1950s.

Turbow dives into how the team came together, how they learned to become winners, and how they battled each other as often as their opponents. Most notably, after clinching their first pennant in 1972, Vida Blue and Blue Moon Odom had a full-on fistfight in the locker room as their teammates celebrated and the media looked on. That was par for the course for the A’s. He also highlights how all the teams they beat over the years – the Orioles, the Reds, the Mets, the Dodgers – refused to give the A’s credit, adding to the attitude the team played with.

But the book isn’t just about the players or the games. A huge focus is on the team’s owner, Charles O. Finley, the man who took the team from Kansas City to Oakland and turned them into winners. Finley loved the spotlight, loved drinking, and loved battling baseball’s orthodoxy. He was also loathe to accept responsibility for his failings, looked for scapegoats at every opportunity, and loved to litigate. He was a brilliant yet exceptionally flawed man. Moving to Kansas City in 1980 I followed the local media’s gleeful coverage as a desperate Finley sought to sell his A’s when he could no longer afford to own the team. I still think he was a jackass – more because of how he treated people and his Trump-like qualities of never accepting blame – but can also appreciate the positive changes he brought to the game.

This is a top-notch baseball book. Expertly researched and well written.

The Harder They Come – T.C. Boyle.
Here is a tougher book to nail down.

It begins with a retired American couple – the Stensons from California – vacationing in Costa Rica. While taking an excursion into the country’s interior, their tour group is accosted by armed thieves. Sten Stenson, a former Marine, kills one of the attackers and saves the group. He returns to the states a hero, but quickly grows weary of all the attention.

Back in Northern California, Stenson’s son, Adam, is a self-styled, modern mountain man and meets a Sara, a woman who doesn’t believe in the legitimacy of the US government. Both Sara and Adam are soon pulled into conflicts with local government officials, which soon spin into much larger conflicts due to Adam’s mental illness.

The story is loosely based on that of Aaron Bassler, who led law enforcement on month-long manhunt through Northern California in 2011.

At it’s core, the book is about how we perceive and desire freedom, and how there is an inevitable clash between the freedoms of individuals and those of society as a whole. It is taught, veers off in unexpected angles, and has wonderfully flawed characters. All that said, it’s not a book I loved. I don’t know why, but I kept waiting for there to be a slice of humor or irreverence injected into the story. When it never came, I grew a little frustrated with the book. But that’s on me, not the book itself. And I think this is a book I may look back upon more fondly after I think about it for a bit longer.

R’s: Uh Oh

I was worried this would happen.

The Royals were the second-hottest team in baseball in the six weeks leading up to the All-Star Break. They were playing really good baseball and were in the heart of both the Wild Card race and the AL Central. Suddenly not only were the Royals keeping all their free agents to-be until the end of the season, but they might just be kicking the tires on a pitcher or hitter to add for the stretch.

Then they got swept in their final three games before the break. Sure, that series was in LA, against the Dodgers, the hottest team in baseball. But getting swept was a bad way to end the first half. Given how this season began, I got worried it was a sign the hot streak was over. Would the four days off erase all the Royals momentum and with it the hopes that the championship core had one more run in them?

They stretched the losing streak to five before getting a lucky win Sunday. Then they got pummeled but Detroit on Monday, with ace Jason Vargas getting hammered for his second-straight start. The offense suddenly looks more like its April iteration than the June one. The DH spot is a disaster. Alex Gordon seems unsalvageable. Lorenzo Cain has looked terrible for two weeks. Injuries keep popping up.

Still, they’re only three back in the Central and two back in the Wild Card race.

With the trading deadline less than two weeks away the Royals are in a tough spot. Do they move someone from their depleted minor league system for a DH that can actually put the ball in play, or someone who can throw 5–6 decent innings every fifth day? Does Raul Mondesi have any value and do you risk moving him to get someone who can help this year?

I think if you have an opportunity to make the post-season you go for it. The problem is the trend lines aren’t great. Who says that moving Mondesi and a couple other prospects will be enough? It’s not like 2015, when the Royals were firmly in control of the division and had their eyes on plugging holes for October when they acquired Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist. Those were very good and reasonable gambles. When you’re about to begin a large rebuilding process, do you move bodies you’re going to need next year and the year after for ones that will help you for just two-plus months?

My biggest fear is the Royals get stuck in the middle. I’d almost rather them fall apart completely than muddle along and stay 4–6 games back, treading water. I don’t know if Dayton Moore will start moving guys if the Royals go 1–9 over their next 10, but at least that gives him cover if he decides to. Sitting right around .500 on July 29 makes it tough either way.

They have nine games against Detroit and the White Sox before they go to Boston next weekend. I really think they need to break off a 6–3 stretch if they want to be honest about having hopes for October. If they reverse that, and go 3–6, Moore has to be honest about what this team is capable of. And if there’s a decent offer out there for Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, or one of the other guys who will leave this off-season, he needs to jump on it. He hasn’t had great luck with high draft picks, so I’d almost rather him acquire players with minor league track records than get a bunch of extra picks in next year’s draft.

I realize that’s all kind of wishy washy. What I really want is 10 more weeks of these guys playing decent ball. I’m fine if they come up short. But I want to see Lorenzo, Eric, and Moose go out strong.