Month: November 2015 (Page 1 of 2)

Thanksgiving Wrap Up

The first Monday after Thanksgiving, aka The First Day of the Longest Month of the Year. If you’re a kid, that is. M. has already said several times she wishes we could skip straight to Christmas and get this nonsense in-between holidays out of the way. I’m perfectly fine with four long weeks filled with Christmas shows, music, and beers. Anyway, I begin the month sitting on the couch, watching The Polar Express, with a seven-year-old who has been puking for roughly 19 hours next to me.[1]

As always, Thanksgiving break flew by. But our weekend was made up of two very different halves. Wednesday was gone in a flash, as the girls and I cleaned house all day, made a last-minute stop at the store and library, and otherwise prepped to host the next day. I topped the day off meeting a couple friends out for a few pre-holiday beers, including my first two Boulevard Nutcrackers of the year.

Thursday raced by, too, between the cooking and straightening and parade watching and, eventually, the eating. I made the bird and Giada’s stuffing.[2] Both turned out well, although I mistimed a bit on the bird – I had cleaned the oven the day before and forgot that it would not be cooking slowly anymore – and it was approaching dryness. But it was still good. Excellent contributions from our guests rounded out the table.

It was in the 60s here, so after dessert we met the neighbors outside for a bonfire and drinks while the kids played. They ran around like maniacs for hours.

By Friday morning the weather had changed. It was raining lightly so I headed up to our usual nursery to grab a tree. By the time I got home, it was pouring, so I timed that trip well. Tree was up and fully trimmed by dinner time, although all the outside decorations had to wait until Saturday to go up. We capped the day with the first viewing of Elf of the year. The first Bell’s Christmas Ale of the year was pretty tasty, too.

So after those three days roared by, we took the weekend proper at a much more leisurely pace. I think we watched at least 80 hours of TV, mostly sticking to holiday cookie and cake shows, with a few HGTV shows and some football sprinkled in. Saturday night we knocked out Christmas Vacation. L. got sick for the first time during the Colts game Sunday, which eliminated any chance of getting out of the house to do something. Fine by me, as I prefer to avoid all the Thanksgiving weekend mobs at shopping areas. For dinner I took our last batch of turkey and parlayed it into a pretty fantastic pot of chili. I have three different chili recipes I use each year, but this new one may retire them all.

I hope all of you had fine holiday weekends and are enjoying the dulcet sounds of Frank or Bing or Darlene this morning.

  1. Our first sick day of the year.  ↩
  2. As always, it was actually dressing, but it’s more fun to use Giada and stuffing in the same sentence.  ↩

More Of The Old This ‘n’ That

The holiday season is officially here! Which you know gets my juices going.

It was weird to be sitting in Arizona last weekend, switching around TV channels while S. was in her conference session, and coming across a Christmas cookie show while it was pushing 80 outside. I spent one year in northern California – we moved west the week before Christmas 1987 – and it was odd to my Midwestern core for it to be in the 50s and 60s over the entire school break. Living farther south, where it is summer-like during the holidays, would be even weirder.

As my Facebook friends know, I got a little head start on the holiday season, violating one of my self-imposed, admittedly silly rules. Saturday it snowed here. Hard. For 4–5 hours. We ended up with about 2” of snow when it stopped. Had it not been near 60 on Friday and the ground been warm, we likely would have had closer to 4”. Between the Winter Wonderland scene and a phone call from my friend Omar in KC, in which she told me she had listened to “Feliz Navidad” on her way home Friday, I cracked and flipped the radio over to SiriusXM’s Holiday Traditions station while I was running errands Saturday. A blatant violation of my prohibition against listening to Christmas music until after Thanksgiving.

I regret nothing.

You know who started their Christmas celebrations too early, though? The jackasses who decided to park a Santa at one of our local malls the FIRST WEEK OF NOVEMBER, that’s who. They need a punch in the head.

Also the Gap, which was already mixing Christmas music into their store music feed back in October. They suck.

I was in Office Depot or Office Max – they’re the same to me – last week and there were Christmas tunes BLASTING on the internal PA. Man, I love Christmas music, but to have to listen to it at that volume for six weeks? No wonder folks in retail get homicidal this time of year.

I began recording Christmas shows Saturday, and C. and L. watched both The Grinch and Elf on the Shelf last night. I don’t have too many years left where they’ll want to watch them, so I have no problem with them watching before Thanksgiving.

And now some other random notes.

A couple travel notes I forgot to share.

While we were waiting to drop our bags at the Phoenix airport, I had a couple interesting encounters. As we inched through the line, there was a family with a young boy, I’d guess he was 4 or 5, right behind us. Apparently he was tired of waiting and began kicking my suitcase. As first he just tapped it. Then he began kicking the crap out of it. His parents didn’t do anything at first. Then, just as I was turning around to give them a look, the dad yelled, “Hey, knock it off!” As I looked back I saw the entire family was wearing Philadelphia Eagles jerseys. I smiled at the boy and said, “I should have known it was an Eagles fan.” As soon as the words escaped my mouth I wondered if I had just made a terrible mistake. Philly fans aren’t know for their warm, fuzziness. Was I about to get my ass beat in the bag drop line for making a sarcastic comment about their fandom?

There was no need to worry. The parents laughed and admitted it has been a difficult fall to be an Eagles fan. I mentioned I was from Indy and the Colts weren’t exactly having the finest season themselves. It all turned out fine.

Later, as we continued to work through the line, we were talking about our friend who always gets pulled out of line for extra security measures. The only reason he can figure is that they do it because his head is shaved.

I mentioned that when I first began flying for work in 2002, I booked a lengthy west coast trip that lasted nearly two weeks.[1] Because of my jumping around the western quarter of the US, all my flights were booked as one-way flights. Which, in 2002, was an automatic red flag. Before every single flight I got pulled out of line at the gate and had my bag and body searched behind the little screen that was just to the side of the boarding area. Twice flights had to be held while security agents went through every single item in my possession. Including, I said to my friends in Phoenix, my contacts case.

As our line doubled-back on itself, a guy behind us chimed in.

“I don’t mean to eavesdrop, but I heard you saying they searched your contact case. That’s where my buddy puts his pot when he flies, because they never search it.”

OK then.

There haven’t been any Reporter’s Notebooks in awhile because I haven’t covered any events since the first week of October. We’ve been busy, and I’m finding it harder to make the long drives I’ve made in recent years to cover games for my paper.

I did get to drive down to Milan in late September. Milan, if it doesn’t ring a bell immediately, is the town/school that won the 1952 Indiana boys high school championship. Which was the team that the movie Hoosiers was based on. I was hoping to get to walk around and check out the museum, but didn’t have enough time before kickoff.

The town, in many ways, feels like it’s still stuck in the early 50s. There are hand-painted signs saying “1952 Champs – Straight Ahead” as you enter town. Milan High School are the Indians. Which, whatever. But there is a bar/restaurant down the street that is called The Teepee. Which is a little weird. But the strangest thing was some of the Milan fans let out an Indian war cry when their team does something good. You know, the noise you made when you were little and played cowboys and indians, patting your lips with your palm. I imagine 20 years ago a lot more people did it. And 50 years ago? The sound was probably deafening.

The next week I was covering a game where Broad Ripple, David Letterman’s high school, traveled south to play a school down near our lake house. Now Broad Ripple is not the most affluent school in the world. Or even in Indianapolis. And they tend to suck in sports. Also, it was a chilly, dreary night. But there was exactly one person in the visiting stands that night. And she was the cheerleading squad’s coach or coordinator or whatever. It was so sparse that when I arrived, and the team was still in the locker room, I wondered if the bus hadn’t made it, or we were about to see a forfeit. I felt sorry for the Broad Ripple kids that no one in their families wanted or were able to make the 45-minute drive to watch them get their asses kicked. The final was 56–8.

Finally, I was lined up to cover the Class 4A football state championship game this weekend. IF the Catholic school we cover, RHS, won their semi-state game last Friday. They were on the road, down near Cincinnati, playing a team they beat by 21 in the regular season. I downloaded the app of a radio station down that way that was airing the game so I could listen. RHS fell behind 14–0 early. They had a long drive to start the third quarter but turned the ball over on downs inside the five yard line. They got an interception but gave it right back. They ended up losing 21–0. So no trip to Lucas Oil Stadium this weekend for me.

  1. Big mistake. That was brutal. But I did spend the weekend with friends to break it up.  ↩

Friday Vid(s)

“Tunnel Of Love” and “Brilliant Disguise” – Bruce Springsteen

A prominent music writer noted during the flood of articles about Born To Run’s 40th anniversary earlier this year that he couldn’t wait for Springsteen’s 1987 album Tunnel of Love to get the same treatment. He was kind of kidding, but also kind of serious.

To most people, Tunnel Of Love was a confusing, off-putting, and largely forgotten follow-up to Born In The USA. He recorded the album (mostly) on his own, without the E. Street Band. Most of the songs were dark and depressing, focused on the dissolution of his marriage to Julianne Phillips. There wasn’t a “Dancing In The Dark” or “Cover Me” anywhere on the album. But for some, myself included, it was a brilliant and devastating statement by one of the biggest rock stars in the world. In fact, along with Paul’s Boutique, it’s one of two albums that I’m proud that I loved from the first time I heard it. The difference is Paul’s Boutique was soon recognized as a ground-breaking album, and is now considered a classic. Odds are few folks who dismissed Tunnel back in 1987 think of it much today.

I often spin Tunnel this time of year. It’s perfect for November, when the days get cooler and darker. As I thought about it more this fall, I realized it could be responsible for my affection for the Break-Up Album. Although I was just 16 when it came out, and hadn’t had a real girlfriend let alone an adult relationship yet, I loved the honesty that Bruce wove into every song. As I’ve said many times before, when a great artist gets their heart broken, great art is often the result. Tunnel may have been the first time in my life I made that connection.

Now there are a few clunkers on the album. But I like more songs than I skip. And these two are especially great. I think anyone getting married should have to listen to “Tunnel Of Love” and consider every word before they say “I do.” It is such a great comment on how too many people can’t cope when the passion of the courting phase disappears and you’re forced to live with another person. And “Brilliant Disguise” is simply devastating. I remembered how the video was a stark, black-and-white, single-shot piece. I forgot that the vocals were live, which makes it even more affecting. I also remembered watching the video with my cousin and her boyfriend when we stopped in central Kansas as we were moving from California back to Kansas City over Thanksgiving week, 1987. As we watched, she said, “He just looks so sad.” I’ve thought of that comment every time I’ve listened to the song over the nearly 30 years since it’s release.

So kind of a bummer way to start the weekend. But hopefully it helps you remember, and appreciate, a fantastic chapter in Springsteen’s career that is too often overlooked.

Back To The Court

I don’t know if I’m ready for college basketball to begin.

People who have known me for many, many years should re-read that statement. Because, once upon a time, my sports life was a big countdown to the next KU game, to the next recruiting deadline, to the day when practice could begin in the fall, and so on. Other sports were secondary to the endless calendar of college hoops.

That’s changed. The Royals have a lot to do with that. The declining quality of college basketball in recent years has something to do with it. The Hot Take era has something to do with it, too, as it is harder to enjoy your team’s success vs. deal with the downsides of losing. I’ll admit I have probably let the bad emotions that go with KU losses eclipse the good emotions when they win.

I think all that has brought about some healthy changes in my fandom. Where once all activity ground to a halt in our house when KU played – and hell no we weren’t doing anything social – I’ve learned to lean on the DVR more. Last year I remember going to M’s volleyball games, a Colts game, and a big social event while KU was playing important games. That shit would not have flown just a few years ago.

Still, as this season begins, I feel like I need to put more emphasis on enjoying the season. Find a way to control my anxiousness before games. Re-learn how to revel in those two-plus hours over 35-odd times a year, when KU is on the court. We’ll see how that turns out.

I offer up that lengthy preface because I think it helps to explain my view of KU’s prospects this season: I can’t figure them out. KU should be very good this year. Maybe even very, very good. Most people consider them the Big 12 favorites. They should have a low number next to their name when the NCAA tournament brackets come out in March. They have a deep, balanced, experienced roster. They are building on their success at the World University Games last summer.

Still, something feels off to me. I’m not sure if that’s because I’m not sure Perry Ellis is the guy who can go out and score 10 points in the last four minutes of a tight game.[1] I’m not sure if it’s because this seems like a team full of B+ players but no superstar talents among them. I’m not sure if it’s because they haven’t played good defense in three years, and with the new (old) emphasis on eliminating contact, that will hamper them further.

I think it’s mostly because of the hangovers from the past two Marches. It’s not just that they lost in the round of 32 both years. It’s how listless they looked each time. How Stanford and Wichita State out-hustled and out-worked and out-toughed them. Are those scars enough to push Ellis, Frank Mason, Wayne Selden, etc. through beyond the first weekend this year? Or is that just who they are and we’ll see the same thing this year?

Oh, and then there’s the Cheick Diallo saga. I was convinced he would have been cleared to play by now. But based on the leaks last week, when it was revealed that he turned over 2000 pages of high school homework and then the NCAA began requesting coursework from his middle school back in Mali, it seemed like the goalposts were being moved by the crack staff in downtown Indy and he was destined to never be cleared. I suppose it’s easier to flip through Diallo’s files than confront the clear scandal at North Carolina.[2]

The thing I keep telling myself is Diallo is just a piece. An important one, yes, as he would give the Jayhawks an athletic rim protector. But he’s not going to be Joel Embiid and turn into a one-in-a-lifetime player over the course of six weeks if he gets cleared. If he’s on the court and can get acclimated to the college game and not fall into the pitfalls that Cliff Alexander fell into last year, he can be the difference between KU being an Elite 8 team and a Final Four team. But the big thing about that statement is this team still has Elite 8 and beyond potential without him.

Mason and Devonté Graham give Bill Self his best backcourt since Sherron Collins and Tyshawn Taylor played together. Frank is a beast who will not let his team lose. And Devonte’, if he can stay healthy, is as good of a defensive guard as KU has had since Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson left. Plus he has an underrated offensive game which is just going to get better.

Selden will be solid wherever he plays, either at the 2 or 3. Brannen Greene is as good a shooter as there is in the country, again if he can stay healthy. I think Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk will likely not live up to his hype this year, mostly because it’s been a bit unfair. But he’s going to show a lot more flashes, and get a lot more playing time, than he did last year.

Ellis will follow the arc of his career. His numbers will get a little better overall. He’ll have a few more huge nights. But he still won’t feel like a superstar. Until you see that he’s in the high teens for scoring, near 10 boards a game, and KU’s go-to guy when they have to have a basket.

I think Carlton Bragg is going to be really, really good before he leaves KU. Like Svi, he’ll show flashes this year. And at times he’ll look completely lost. But by March he’s going to be a trusted part of the rotation.

Jamari Traylor, Landen Lucas, and Hunter Mickelson are all flawed in some way. But they’re each also better than what every team on KU’s schedule can put in their front court in some way. There will be nights when each of them looks terrible and can’t stay on the court. And nights where each of them does something huge to help KU win a game.

Diallo is just the cherry on top of all of that. I’ve gone back-and-forth several times in setting myself up for him to play vs. not be eligible at all this year. With the regular season underway, I’ve swung back to him never getting on the court. I hope that’s wrong. But I also think there’s plenty to like about this year’s roster without him playing a minute for them.

I was surprised by how many points KU put up in their opener Friday night. Sure, it was Northern Colorado, but the Jayhawks haven’t been known for their explosive offense in recent years. And they showed no signs of that in their exhibition games. That performance makes me think this team is capable of answering all my questions and concerns about them.

Tonight they really get things going against a very solid Michigan State team. Last year these teams played in November and it was about as ugly a game as two elite programs could play against each other. With both teams at less than full strength, with the new defensive rules, and with it being so early in the season, I don’t expect this to be a very pretty game either. But I’m both interested and excited to see the ‘Hawks take the court.

Rock Chalk, bitches.

  1. Which he absolutely can. But given his career, you wonder if he can do that EVERY night if needed, though.  ↩
  2. Speaking of the UNC mess, I think it’s pretty obvious the NCAA has no interest in doing a thing about it. And after the NCAA president said yesterday that it wasn’t the organization’s job to validate courses on college campuses, it’s clear they’re giving themselves the wiggle room to avoid doing anything.  ↩

Weekend In The Sun

We had a relatively fantastic weekend. I say relatively because that only applies if you enjoy fall weekends in warm locales sans children.

After years of talking about it, S. finally signed up for a medical conference outside of Indianapolis. A few years back we were on the verge of signing up to spend a weekend in New Orleans. Another time we strongly considered going to San Antonio. Each time either something else came up or we just put it off too long and weren’t able to plan the trip.

But we finally caved and flew out Thursday with one of her partners and her husband, someone I hang out with a little bit. They had friends attending as well, and when we walked into our hotel, they already had a round of drinks set up for us. Talk about a good start to the weekend!

The conference was at the Biltmore in Phoenix, which was a pretty spectacular location. Amazing architecture, a pretty relaxed setting, and a nice feeling of isolation even though downtown Phoenix was 10 minutes away and the sprawling suburbs of Scottsdale were right over the property line.

The ladies were in sessions most of the day Friday and Saturday. My buddy is a big baseball fan – and a Cardinals fan at that – and came up with the genius idea of going to an Arizona Fall League game Friday. It just so happened that the Royals and Cardinals put their prospects on the same team (along with the Yankees and Rangers) and were playing 10 minutes away on Friday afternoon. We cruised over and walked up to the stadium just before 11:30, an hour before first pitch. There was a line at least 60 people long to get in! Turned out a lot of those folks were autograph hounds, ready to pounce on prospects in hopes they turn out to be stars some day. By the time we procured our $8, general admission tickets, all those people had scurried down to the left field wall where the players slowly came out of the clubhouse to warm up.

The highlight of the day for me – well other than sitting right off the field, drinking a beer in the warm Arizona sun, and watching baseball on November 13 – was getting to see Royals prospect Bubba Starling up close. We were less than 10 feet away as he signed for some of the hounds. I’m not much on autographs, so I just snapped a picture and watched. My buddy got an autograph from one of the Cardinals prospects for his kids.


Then we hung out and watched baseball for a couple hours. The ball flew, so we saw a few homers. Bubba was 1–2 and flawless in the field in the six innings we watched.[1] We were sitting near some folks who had to be related to him. He talked to them at length before the game and then they cheered loudly for him during the game.

Also, it was pretty damn cool to walk around wearing my Royals World Series champions shirt. Especially with some Mets and Blue Jays fans wandering around. Not a bad way to spend the day.

Then back to the resort, where we met our wives at the pool. One of my sisters-in-law just happened to be in town as well, so she joined us for a bit. A nice dinner topped off the day.

Saturday was a nice, lazy day. I took a five-mile walk in the morning.[2] S. had a shorter day so we grabbed lunch at the pool and then sat and baked for a bit. I saw a few more folks with Royals shirts on. And sat near a Mets fan who appeared to making serious efforts not to catch my eye. Then a dinner with the two other couples.

S. had a quick session Sunday morning before we departed for the airport at 9:00.

All-in-all, a pretty good weekend getaway. We agreed we have to do this again and more often.

  1. I read that Saturday he got the extremely rare 9–2 force out at home. I assume he was playing shallow.  ↩
  2. A variety of old-man ailments kept me out of the gym and from running.  ↩

Links Part 2: Everything Else

Now for non-Royals links. I’ve been sitting on some of these for nearly a month. I hope they’re still worth it!

First, something brand new. Actor/comedian Aziz Ansari wrote in the New York Times about many issues surrounding minorities in TV and movies. It is funny and surprisingly great.

Aziz Ansari on Acting, Race and Hollywood

At Grantland (RIP), Mike Thomas wrote this wonderful profile of the late Jan Hooks.

The Laughs, Pathos, and Overwhelming Talent of Jan Hooks

Now a whole mess of music-related links.

Yes, I was very excited to read this GQ profile of Taylor Swift. We all have our guilty pleasures.

Taylor Swift on “Bad Blood,” Kanye West, and How People Interpret Her Lyrics

Remember Terence Trent D’Arby? If you do, you likely remember how he completely disappeared after he had that one, fantastic year (at least here in the States). This profile is fascinating.

“I was killed when I was 27”: the curious afterlife of Terence Trent D’Arby

I enjoyed this quite a bit. Instead of looking back on a classic album and finding new ways to praise it, Ryan Bray decided to look at a legendary band’s one, terrible misstep: the Clash’s Cut The Crap. It’s telling that the band did not include any songs from Crap on either of their two box sets. “This Is England” is a good song.

This Is (Not) Radio Clash: Cut The Crap Was a Snapshot of a Legendary Band’s Low Point

And for your listening pleasure, check out The War On Drugs’ recent Radio City Music Hall performance.

The War on Drugs: October 8, 2015 Radio City Music Hall

I know I put two Joe Posnanski pieces in my Royals Links post. But hare are two more. First, he and Michael Schur “debated” the Jose Bautista bat flip from game five of the ALDS is awesome.

Flipping Out

And then, for people visiting Kansas City during the World Series, he broke down the local barbecue scene. Aficionados will catch a few factual errors.

The Proper Way To Order Bryant’s Burnt Ends

College basketball kicks off this weekend. Which is way too early. Here’s a proposal to move the season back at least one month. Which seems a little extreme, especially when you see what it does to the back half of the season.

My opinion: Every team can play one game per week in November, beginning with the week before Thanksgiving. Exemptions will be made the week of Thanksgiving only for teams playing in holiday tournaments. Part two of my idea is why it will never work: cut 2–3 games from the schedule so the tournament still ends right around April 1. Schools aren’t giving up that money, though.

NCAA men’s basketball VP Dan Gavitt on moving the season (and the NCAA Tournament) back one month: “There are merits on a lot of levels”

I still have many pieces stocked up that I need to read. Fortunately I’ll be spending about seven hours on planes over the weekend, so I should be able to share them next week.

Links Part 1: R’s

So, so, so far behind on sharing links. So I’ll break them into two sets. We’ll begin with articles related to YOUR WORLD CHAMPION KANSAS CITY ROYALS!

A rather significant sports journalism event took place during the baseball playoffs: ESPN shut down the wonderful Grantland sports/pop-culture site. Many took that as a sign that there isn’t room in the modern, hot-takes-centric media world.

Turns out, though, there’s actually a ton of great sports writing out there. Despite the collapse of print media and struggles boutique sites like Grantland have gone through, we are living in an era when an amazing amount of fantastic sports writing still manages to get published.

There were a ton of great articles about the Royals over the past month. Here are a few of my favorites.

We’ll begin with two wrap-up pieces posted after game five of the World Series.

Our old pal Joe Posnanski (who we’ll hear from again) was predictably great.

Long May They Reign

And Jeff Passan, Yahoo’s national baseball writer who just happens to live in KC, isn’t quite on Posnanski’s level. But this is pretty good.

The epic story of the 2015 Royals and their World Series championship

Rather predictably, a number of old school (or at least old thinking) voices shouted that the Royals were the “anti-Moneyball team” after they won the world series. Which if you have half a brain, and understand that Moneyball was about more than the Oakland A’s love of on base percentage and slow first basemen, you immediately know is a stupid take.

Fortunately there are a couple excellent pieces that point out how dumb that argument is.

First, Posnanski.

Here were are, a dozen years later, and the market has shifted. Everybody’s read “Moneyball.” Everybody is pushing the limits of their analytics. Every team has brilliant, open-minded analysts and economists and psychiatrists reading code and studying trends and looking for secrets.
But … are they all looking in the same places?
Or, to put it in riddle form: If every team is playing Moneyball, which one is the Moneyball team? Holy barbecue Batman, could it be: The Kansas City Royals?


At Hardball Times, Alex Skillin points out that many sabermetrically-inclined analysts may be selling the Royals short because of their past.

A closer look at how the Royals are run and the manner in which they’ve built their current roster reveals an organization that is smarter and more progressive than it’s given credit for. In fact, if Kansas City had a better reputation within the sabermetrics community, the Royals would be receiving far more praise from analysts and statheads alike for their play this season.

The Royals Are A Sabermetrics Team

I really enjoyed two non-Kansas City writers’ works over the past month.

At Sports On Earth, Will Leitch offered up daily columns. Here are three of my favorites.

First, he point out how the mood around both the Royals and the city had changed from last October.

This Year, A Different Feeling In KC

Following the Mets’ meltdown in game four, he wrote about how the national media was missing the big, true story of the World Series.

Royals Are Changing The Narrative

And finally, he tapped into some Nick Hornby, Fever Pitch [1] territory by suggesting that the Royals had the ideal postseason.

The Royals Postseason Was Perfect

Grant Brisbee wrote some wonderful stuff at SB Nation.

Here, he addressed the strange blend of feelings amongst Royals fans both excited about potentially winning a World Series and being worried that Lucy would once again pull the football away before the moment of triumph.

The Royals are caught between waiting for the other shoe to drop and beating other teams to death with the shoe. They’re heading to New York with their best shot to win a title in 30 years, unless it’s not quite as good as the shot they had last season, not yet. The Royals are at the doorstep of a World Series championship, and nobody’s sure how to act, other than fans cheering wildly because any team that’s gotten this far by doing that deserves it.

Royals fans are caught between the impossible and entirely possible

His Series wrap-up covered a lot of ground but I loved every word.

The Royals were the team without a clock. They lived the entire postseason like they figured out the loophole of baseball, that it never ends if the last out isn’t recorded.
Congratulations, Royals. Congratulations, Royals fans. I’ve watched a lot of championship runs over the last couple decades, but I don’t remember anything quite like that.

The Royals won the 2015 World Series because of devil magic and pure talent

There were a number of fine pieces during the ALCS that I could share as well. I’ll pick only Brisbee’s, though, which points out how a few key calls went the Royals way in game six and uses that as a jumping off point for how any number of small decisions are often the biggest factors in a team winning or losing.

Teams aren’t supposed to face insurmountable odds in two straight postseasons and come up with miracle comebacks. In the Wild Card Game last year, the Royals were down to about a 3 percent chance of winning after Mike Moustakas lined out to end the seventh. In the ALDS this year, the Royals were down to less than a 2 percent chance of winning the must-win Game 4. According to my English major math skills, that means less than a .006 percent chance of winning back-to-back pennants.
The Royals like to eat math. They like to do it in front of you, looking you in the eye the entire time. Know this about them.

The Royals Are Going Back To The World Series

Oh, and Jeff Sullivan kind of hit on that Nick Hornby angle as well at Fangraphs. I love his lead, comparing the Seattle Seahawks consecutive Super Bowls to the Royals’ back-to-back pennants. He argues if you’re going to go 1–1, you do it how the Royals did it, not the Seahawks.

It’s not that there was no way to come to accept the crushing defeat. There was one way. There was one way to achieve perfect closure, and the Royals just found it. The demons of uncertainty have been vanquished. The angels of certainty dance in their stead. There’s no more opponent for the Royals to rally past — they’ve accomplished the last of the accomplishments.

The 2015 Royals: A Baseball Team For Baseball Fans

  1. There’s a section in Fever Pitch where Hornby tries to work out what the perfect soccer result is. I can’t find it, but I believe it was a 3–2 win where your team is behind both 1–0 and 2–1 before coming back to win.  ↩

October Books

Despite all the baseball last month, I still managed to get through four books. One of which inspired me to read two other of my October selections. For those keeping score at home, I began November with 44 books read for the year so far.

Night Soldiers – Alan Furst
You may recall I read Furst’s Dark Star a couple months back without knowing it was book two of a series. I enjoyed it so much I decided to go back and knock out the first book in the series. Wise choice, as I enjoyed this one even more.

Once again, Furst begins in Eastern Europe in the 1930s. In this case, our hero is Khristo Stoianev, a young Bulgarian who runs afoul of the local fascist mobs. First, he watches as they beat his brother to death. After he exacts his revenge, he is whisked off to Moscow by a Soviet agent for training in the NKVD, the pre-World War II Soviet espionage agency. While in training, he forms a brotherhood with four other agents. These become relationships that will save his life in the coming years.

He travels to Spain during the Civil War. His brothers help him avoid being swept up in one of the periodic purges of officers deemed not to be ideologically pure. He escapes to Paris, where he lives underground until he is framed for a crime someone else committed and is sent to prison. As the Germans prepare to invade, his NKVD brothers help him slip out of captivity. From there, it’s on to the French countryside where he helps organize the resistance movement. In the closing days of the war, he moves on to Prague, and then navigates the Danube through the collapsing German lines to head toward a life of uncertainty in the new, Soviet occupied territory.

Night Soldiers is a fine book, full of history and intrigue, but also with an occasional light touch. There’s far more humor in it than in Dark Star. I’d love to follow Stoianev through his post-World War II adventures. But the series changes protagonists and focus through the rest of its run. Book three is already on the shelf to be read in November.

D-Day Minute By Minute – Jonathan Mayo
After finishing Night Soldiers, I went to the library with a plan. Then I saw this book on a shelf. It’s a very quick read – perfect for during the baseball playoffs – that paints a general picture of what happened just before and during the invasion of France on June 6, 1944. It made me want to go watch Saving Private Ryan again.

Hell And Good Company – Richard Rhodes
For years I’ve wanted to read a good book about the Spanish Civil War. Problem is there aren’t that many that are in English and those that exist are over 500 pages. That’s a little much for just wanting an overview of what happened during the conflict. This came out not too long ago, and he been on my list since its release. Night Soldiers, and its section in Spain, made me go get it.

It’s a very a interesting view of the war. It very casually lays out the causes for war, and highlights a few of the main battles. But Rhodes spends most of his time working through issues that, at first glance, seem secondary. He goes on a fascinating tangent about the history of blood transfusions to set up how modern blood transfusion techniques first became widely used during the Spanish war. As did the idea of forward field hospitals. He highlights a few medical professionals from England, Canada, and the US who were key in setting up the wartime healthcare system. Rather than focus on Franco or any of the Republican leaders, he spends more time writing about Ernest Hemingway and George Orwell, and how their experiences and dispatches framed how the world viewed the war. He goes into exhaustive detail of how Pablo Picasso painted his Guernica mural following the destruction of that city.

He also hits the obligatory points about the Germans and Italians supporting the Nationalists, the Russians supporting the Republicans, and the rest of the world largely staying out of the war; and how the Germans particularly experimented with battle techniques they would perfect a few years later in Poland and France. But his focus is on personalities while drawing a very general arc of the actual war. Which, while limited, was probably perfect for what I wanted to learn about the war.

World Gone By – Dennis Lehane
The latest, and perhaps final, entry in Lehane’s Joe Coughlin series. Here Coughlin, the behind-the-scenes power broker in the Tampa mob scene, gets sucked into a war between the other factions that control Florida during World War II. Like all Lehane books, it’s a quick, suspenseful, enjoyable read.

Weekend Wrap-Up

I’m going to try to get back in a regular schedule of posting now that baseball is over. Although S. and I are heading out-of-town Thursday, which is yet another impediment to those plans. I’ll try my best!

Let’s begin with an old style weekend round up!

It was odd not to have a stressful baseball game two watch on Friday night. Or to be covering a high school football game. Or have some kind of social engagement on the calendar. First Friday night since before the school year began I could say that.

M. has lost two of her molars in the past week. Now she’s down to just two baby teeth. Which means another visit to the orthodontist is probably going to be on her schedule for 2016.

There were some Tooth Fairy issues this time.

She lost her first tooth last Sunday. As I always do on these nights, I set a reminder for 10:30 to do the Tooth Fairy duties before I went to bed. The only problem was that was the night of game five of the World Series. The first alarm went off and I snoozed it for half an hour. Then again. And again. And so on until it was 2:30 or 2:45 or 3:00 – I’m not really sure – and stumbled upstairs. I’ve had all kinds of interesting Tooth Fairy moments since M. lost her first tooth. Stepping on toys that were lying on the floor and made noise. Unable to find the tooth. Having to feel around under a kid’s head to find the tooth. Or just forgetting to make the visit and running in before the daughter in question woke the next morning. Being pretty hammered was a new thing. Fortunately I crept in without running into any walls or tripping on anything, collected the tooth, dropped the money, and stumbled back out.

She lost another tooth Friday. She had it in a baggie and ready to go when she and C. began fighting at about 8:30. I sent them both upstairs to bed. Once I got L. settled and came back down, I saw the tooth still sitting on the couch. I decided that since M. was being a jackass, T.F. would get the night off. Which was smart, because I didn’t have enough money to pay up.

Saturday night bedtime rolled around. I was watching football and got a text from S. saying “Please tell TF that M. lost a tooth and she is putting it on her bedside table.” Solid move by M., letting me know where the tooth was.

But, again, I failed to get any money during the day. We scrounged around the house trying to find a couple more dollar bills and failed. I decided to write a note from TF saying she was swamped and all she had was one dollar. But the other two would come soon! As with the notes the girls get from Elfie in December, I wrote this one left-handed. Which really was kind of stupid, because we know that M. knows where the money comes from. And she knows that we know she knows. I could have just jotted a note. But I figured go lefty in case her sisters see it.

Sunday S. asked M. if the Tooth Fairy came. “Yes,” she said somewhat disappointedly. “But I only got one dollar! She left me a note saying she had a busy night and could only give me one for now. She better get me those two other dollars soon!” We were in the car and I could feel her little eyeballs burning holes into my head. She also told C. and L. that the Tooth Fairy’s handwriting was a lot like Elfie’s.

Before bed last night, she made the loud statement that “The Tooth Fairy better get me my money!” Apparently she’s been listening to some of my early ‘90s West Coast rap.

Sunday was our annual “Spend a whole day at the lake blowing leaves” day. Between L. playing soccer on Sundays for two months, baseball, and the Colts’ terrible start, I had pretty much completely tuned them out. So much so that I just assumed their game against the Broncos would be the Sunday night game. We got home, I ran to the grocery store, and was surprised it was completely empty. “People must already be downtown,” I thought. On the way home I switched by the radio station that normally carries the Colts and a Pacers game was on.

So wasn’t I surprised to sit down, turn on the TV, and not only find the Colts playing, but up 10–0 in the second quarter. What a moment for them to finally right the ship! They made it interesting, but made huge plays late to seal the win.[1] Andrew Luck looked fantastic, even if he again just about got knocked out for the season three or four times. The defense looked as good as they’ve looked all year. And the Colts continue to be Peyton Manning’s kryptonite. I believe that’s 3–0 against him since he went to Denver.

The Colts still have a lot of work to do. They are shockingly thin on defense, and one or two injuries could blow apart that whole unit. They have to find a way to protect Luck. And another bad loss or two could destroy the goodwill produced yesterday. But nine or maybe ten wins are back in play again. At least for now.

Saturday night we took the girls to see the Peanuts movie. They enjoyed it, and I thought it was cute. It hit all the classic tropes from the historic Peanuts comics. Which, I realized, my girls don’t get a lot of. They watch the Great Pumpkin and Christmas specials every year. But they have never read the books the way I did when I was a kid. There were a number of little moments that amused me, but went over their heads completely.

I will say this though (Spoiler alert): the movie is set up so Charlie Brown finally (maybe?) has a big success. The entire time I was worried he was finally going to kick the football Lucy held before the movie ended. Thank goodness that didn’t happen. That really would have pissed me off.

BTW, I looked it up just to make sure Charlie never did actually kick the football. I found this page. I suggest reading through it. Turns out he did kick it, once. However, as the page points out, Peanuts zealots have a very important reason for not counting that attempt.

But really, where did fall go? We’re going to go buy a Christmas tree in just over two weeks.

  1. My Jayhawk brother Aqib Talib with the absolutely stupid and needless personal foul that pretty much clinched the game for the Colts. And then another brain-dead penalty by Denver kept Peyton from getting the ball back with 20 seconds or so to play.  ↩
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