Royalty In Waiting

Every season it seems there is at least one Major League Baseball team capable of producing an improbable run to the postseason and in the process help revive a long suffering fan base.

In 2012 the Baltimore Orioles made it back to October after serving a decade and a half long sentence as the doormats of the high powered and high priced American League East.

Last year it was the Pittsburgh Pirates turn to regain their long lost mojo as MVP Andrew McCutchen led the charge and helped restore the “W” back to the “We Are Family”.

And now, with less than a month remaining in the 2014 season, the much maligned Kansas City Royals are on the verge of their first trip to the playoffs since 1985. 19 years of ineptitude potentially washed away in the majestic waterfalls of Kauffman Stadium.

To fully understand how long it has been since the Royals last tasted October, in 1985 Ukraine was still a part of the Soviet Union and Back To The Future ended the year as the highest grossing film at the box office.

The Royals revival this season can be chalked up to much more than a plutonium fueled ride in a Delorean as their ascension to the top of the AL Central has been driven by a collection of relatively anonymous stars like catcher Salvador Perez, starting pitchers James Shields and Danny Duffy and dark horse MVP candidate Alex Gordon who over the last few years has rewritten his own personal history with a remarkable metamorphosis from highly touted, under performing third base prospect to all-star five tool outfielder and current face of the franchise. All in all, they may not be household names like Brett, Balboni and Saberhagen but there is certainly enough talent along the shores of the Missouri River to recreate some of that ’85 magic.

Before casting a jinx across the entire Show Me State there are several elements standing in Kansas City’s way this September including a talented, experienced Detroit Tigers team that is waiting to wake up from it’s dog days of summer doldrums. Adding to this AL Central intrigue is the Royals schedule which has six of the team’s final 20 games against their rivals from the Motor City with four additional games vs fellow underdog upstarts the Cleveland Indians.

Another potential obstacle facing Kansas City is the sparse attendance at home games as the team currently ranks 25th in total attendance a point manager Ned Yost brought up recently which, fair or unfair, caught the ire of the Royals faithful.

But if the team keeps winning then the fans will come back to Kauffman Stadium and 2014 will be celebrated as the season the Kansas City Royals returned to the postseason for the first time in nearly 20 years. Just don’t count on Don Denkinger to come out of retirement anytime soon.

 

MLB Playoffs: A Little Something for Everyone

It’s not very often that you have four playoff games in a single day. Yesterday was an instance where you had roughly 10 straight hours of baseball on TV so if you happened to be unemployed, or bored with your job, Tuesday served as an excellent opportunity to kill valuable brain cells.

Yankees 10 Tigers 1 – Heading into last night, I was surprisingly confident that the much maligned AJ Burnett would help the Yankees force a game 5 in their series against the Detroit Tigers. All thanks and praise should go to Curtis Granderson who made two PHENOMENAL run saving catches. Now, as they had back to the Bronx, smart money moves back to the Bombers. However, should the Tigers win Thursday night, expect New York sports radio to be filled with all kinds of “fire Joe Girardi and ARod” talk.

Rangers 4 Rays 3 – Rays manager Joe Maddon is a pretty enlightened dude. From the horned rim glasses to the flowing white locks, throw a black turtleneck on him and he becomes something out of a Kerouak autobiography. Wouldn’t Maddon fit in perfectly alongside Dean Moriarty and Sal Paradise cruising through the Salton Sea? Unfortunately, “the Dude” couldn’t help the Rays overcome Adrian Beltre and the Rangers who move on to the ALCS to face the winner of Yankees/Tigers.

Diamondbacks 8 Brewers 1 – The Diamond Dogs live to fight another day in the desert. Very rarely do sideline reporters say anything newsworthy, however, last night was an exception. Sam Ryan, reporting from the dugout, mentioned how Arizona pitcher Josh Collmenter developed his strange “ferris-wheel” like pitching mechanics by throwing a small axe at a tree stump. As I joked last night, if the Coen brothers were watching the game, Collmenter should expect a phone call soon to star in their next movie, Fargo 2: What Lies Below Paul Bunyan’s Beard.

Phillies 3 Cardinals 2 – My favorite opening round series is the matchup between the Cardinals and Phillies. Two great baseball cities with boat loads of marketable stars and two iconic managers. Unfortunately for St. Louis, most of their players seem to be walking around the diamond with some sort of limp or in the case of Lance Berkman, a pretty sweet mullet.

view from Busch Stadium courtesy of @JNW218

It Happened on 125th Street

Not to get all Ken Burns on you, but I’m watching more of this year’s MLB playoffs because of the final day of the regular season. For baseball fans like myself, September 28th was a reminder of how dramatic and exciting the game can be. As a country, Americans have slowly started to trend away from our national pastime, choosing instead to set the DVR for the less time consuming and faster paced football or basketball. And to be fair, I myself did not intend to watch any baseball that Wednesday evening after agreeing to attend a special screening of Pearl Jam Twenty in New York City, which, in retrospect, was a fairly radical decision for a 32 year old male who no longer wears flannel.

Flash forward three hours. My first move after hopping on the 10:22 out of Grand Central Station was to fire up the MLB At Bat app on my iPhone, a feature which I have not used since the Orioles dropped twenty games below .500 in Mid July. Standing there in the nearly vacant bar car, I was pleasantly surprised to find that neither the Yankees/Rays or Red Sox/Orioles games were over. And then, just as the express train cruised passed Larchmont, Dan Johnson hit the homerun to tie the game at 7 causing the Chris Christie look-a-like sitting across the aisle and drinking a Coors Light to stand up and give a jubilent, yet solitary fist pump. I never did bother to ask the New Jersey governor if he was a Rays fan or Yankee fan just happy that the Red Sox path to the playoffs was about to take an even more circuitous route. Either way, thanks to baseball, that 52 minute non-stop trip from Midtown Manhattan to Stamford, CT felt like it took no time at all.

That night, I was back on my couch in time to watch the conclusion of both games and I guess I’m telling you this story today because here it is Tuesday morning, with another long work week looming, and I’m already fighting serious sleep deprivation having stayed up to watch Yankees/Tigers. As John Sterling says, “you just can’t predict baseball”.

view from Comerica Park courtesy of @MissCoryCoffey