Gambling Preview, NFL Week 7

This is Week 7 of the NFL season and the second week of this column, offering free-of-charge gambling advice which should be taken by zeroes of people. No, really, this is for educational purposes only. Gambling on sports is, in fact, illegal in 49 of 50 states. Or something.

Last week, as seen here (or just scroll down a little bit) I had an alright debut. Overall I went 9-5, a respectable number, but the headlining pick, a fairly stupid call in hindsight, was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers +3.5, who proceeded to lose 48-17. Ouch.

This week I’ll notify my five Blazin 5 picks with an asterisk*, a term stolen from Colin Cowherd, the gigantic asshat who happens to know a thing or two when it comes to wagering fake money on the NFL.

With that being said, let’s start running through the games. Spreads are locked as of 12:30 PM on Sunday afternoon. HOME TEAMS in CAPS

Cincinnati Bengals +3 over INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

Doing this last minute, so I don’t have the time to throw as many statistics as I’d like to, but I maintain that the Colts are overvalued and overrated. And, multitude of injuries notwithstanding, the Cincinnati Bengals are really, really good. Like, Super Bowl contender good. I think they get back on track this week and pick up a W.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS -6 over Tennessee Titans

This is your weekly installment in gambling against Charlie Whitehurst, starting QB.

CHICAGO BEARS -3.5 over Miami Dolphins*

This is a line I initially loved and have slowly liked less and less as the week has gone on. Still, the line is small enough to combine with the facts that the Bears are both playing at home and are the better team to where I can still take it.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS +5 over Cleveland Browns

Well, wish I got the 6 points they were giving away all week, but I suppose I’ll take 5. Blake Bortles has looked halfway decent the past couple of weeks and the Browns, for all of their offensive wares, are fairly pitiful on defense, particularly in the secondary. Alex Mack is hurt, which might limit the run game, and 5 points is a lot of points to give up on the road for a non-elite team like Cleveland. I’m high on the Browns this year, and think they sneak away with a victory, but I’ll take the points in what should be a close game.

Seattle Seahawks -7 over ST. LOUIS RAMS

I can’t believe I’m laying this many points on the road so let’s just move on.

GREEN BAY PACKERS -6 over Carolina Panthers

Woohoo! I lost a point with Jacksonville but am only dropping 6 at Lambeau now instead of 7, where the line stood nearly all week. I hate betting against the Panthers, the most bipolar team in the NFL, and Green Bay hasn’t looked great. But laying less than a touchdown at home is doable.

BALTIMORE RAVENS -7 over Atlanta Falcons

Okay, okay. I was wrong. Like, way wrong. I can’t remember the last time I was so overwhelmingly wrong on a football game I was so confident about, even though a quick jaunt at FootballOutsiders.com would have shown me my mislead ways prior to the game. DVOA has the Ravens as the second best team in football, while the Buccaneers are marooned in the bottom five. I hate laying this many points (again), which seems to be the theme this week, but I’m buying the Ravens.

BUFFALO BILLS -6 over Minnesota Vikings*

More laying points. The exact opposite strategy of last week. Idk.

DETROIT LIONS -1 over New Orleans Saints*

I’m laying a solitary point, this time, and I would lay as many as 5 in this game. New Orleans ain’t the New Orleans Saints of your slightly older brother, especially on the road, and their defense is a disaster. I’m buying the Lions and selling the bejezzus out of the Saints. This was a slum dunk.

Kansas City Chiefs +3.5 over SAN DIEGO CHARGERS

Points.

DALLAS COWBOYS -5 over New York Giants*

I’m dying to know how this line dropped two points in 8 hours, from the time I fell asleep (staring at lines, of course) to now, but I’ll take the gift. This game is always close, yes, but this Cowboys team is better than any of the last half dozen years and I’m not entirely sure how good this Giants team is.

OAKLAND RAIDERS +4 over Arizona Cardinals*

Tony Sparano! We believe in you! I’m riding the Derek Carr train, believe the Arizona Cardinals are rather overrated and think the Raiders are gonna win a game sooner rather than later. At home, might as well be this week. And hey, if they can’t squeeze out a W, I’ll take the free four points. Came in handy last week.

San Francisco 49ers +7 over DENVER BRONCOS

I hate this pick. But I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror if I laid a touchdown again. So, backdoor cover, here we go!

Houston Texans +3.5 over PITTSBURGH STEELERS

No clue how good either of these teams are, give me the points.

Season: 9-5 (LW: 9-5)

Blazin 5: N/A (LW: N/A)

Hopefully I can keep up the relative success of last week, with maybe some additional success on the top end of the scale.

PS Go Chiefs

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Gambling Preview, NFL Week 6

I’m gonna try something new, put my gambling wares to the test and start writing mini previews of each week of the NFL slate. So I can point to a tangible, provable record, more than anything, displaying my general ineptitude when it comes to predicting the relative scores of football games. Or something.

Lines taken from Bovada at 12 noon on Sunday morning

NEW YORK JETS +10.5 over Denver Broncos

The Jets are generally a dumpster fire, no matter who will end up taking snaps from under center, and the Broncos are quarterbacked by Peyton F’n Manning. But 10.5 points is 10.5 points, an enormous figure in the NFL, and the backdoor cover potential is strong in this one. I just can’t lay that many points on the road to a team with a pulse and the Jets, for all of their warts, are a far cry from the Jaguars and Raiders of the world. Give me the points.

CLEVELAND BROWNS -1 over Pittsburgh Steelers

This line of thinking goes pretty simply. The Cleveland Browns are a better football team than the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Browns defense is bad, no question, but DVOA has them as the best offense in football and while that’s likely an exaggeration it’s plenty good enough to outlast the hated Steelers at home, especially with Ben Tate back. This game means more to Cleveland than it does Pittsburgh and, unlike in past years, the team quality is even at worst. Go Brownies.

Jacksonville Jaguars +4.5 over TENNESSEE TITANS

The Jaguars aren’t going to go winless. They’re bad, really bad even, but they’re not that bad. And playing against a team quarterbacked by Charlie Whitehurst, one week after blowing a 28-3 lead at home, seems as good a time as any to finally nail a paper airplane to that wood. Plus, Storm Johnson. A storm’s a-brewin. Other storm-related puns. Jags.

MIAMI DOLPHINS +3.5 over Green Bay Packers

More than anything else in this wide world of sports gambling, I adore home dogs. Home dogs who are coached by the former offensive coordinator of the opponent, coming off a bye week, watching their best RB come healthy in time to play are especially attractive. I’m not quite convinced the Dolphins have it in them to win this game, but it should be close at the least and the value is just far too good to ignore. This’ll be a trend, just wait, but I’ll take the points and the home team.

Detroit Lions +1 over MINNESOTA VIKINGS

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Hardest game of the week, by far. Idk.

CINCINNATI BENGALS -7 over Carolina Panthers

Another good old-fashioned shoulder shrug game, the Carolina Panthers are arguably the most bi-polar team in this league. However, if there’s any Golden Rule in the NFL right now, it’s that the Bengals always always ALWAYS cover at home, so long as the game takes place in the regular season.

BUFFALO BILLS +3 over New England Patriots

Home dog. Home dog. Home dog.

Also, the Bills shut down the run with the best of them and the Patriots’ offense has struggled all season when it can’t establish the ground game. The game means more to the rabid fans up in Buffalo. Also home dog.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS +3.5 over Baltimore Ravens

Say it with me now. Home. Dog.

This is my favorite line of the week. The Ravens are overrated, simply not that good, while the Buccaneers are playing some inspired football since inserting, at long last, Mike Glennon into the starting lineup. Glennon is the league’s most underrated signal caller for my money, and at home, with the points on his side, I think it’s the obvious play. Don’t do me wrong, Glennon.

OAKLAND RAIDERS +7.5 over San Diego Chargers

Some amalgamation of my affection for home dogs and the dead cat bounce commonly found in teams with interim coaches, and that pesky half point that gives me the cover even if the Chargers win by a touchdown. This is the most contentious pick of the week for me, because I am gambling on the Oakland Raiders football team. This is never a comforting feeling. But I follow the points, especially at home.

Chicago Bears +3 over ATLANTA FALCONS

Bears > Falcons. +3 > -3. Jay Cutler > Matt Ryan. No, really.

The Bears’ biggest weakness, despite significant improvements in the area, remains run defense. Luckily the Atlanta Falcons still employ Steven Jackson as their primary running back, so the Bears should be alright there. Also, the Falcons defense is abhorrent. So I’ll take the better team, playing in a quasi-must win game, and take the 3 points as an added bonus. I took the moneyline, however, and I think the Bears win by 10 points.

Dallas Cowboys +9 over SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Points, points, points. Points!

ARIZONA CARDINALS -5 over Washington Redskins

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Carson Palmer’s back! Woohoo! This pick is essentially an anti-Kirk Cousins pick, although after Monday night maybe he isn’t quite as terrible as I thought.

New York Giants +3 over PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

Getting points, better team, better QB. We’ve been over this before.

San Francisco 49ers -3.5 over ST. LOUIS RAMS

Austin Davis vs. the San Francisco 49ers defense. Depleted and downtrodden as the Niners D are, that still is a far cry from a fair fight.

Season: idk

We’ll see how this goes. I wish I had done this all year, because I’ve generally had a good year gambling on this terrible, loathsome league, but alas this is my first week. So we’ll see how I do today and go from there.

Go gambles!

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The Kansas City Royals and Me

I can’t quite remember exactly when he said it.

It may have been before the first pitch, after the players were introduced and before the National Anthem, twenty-nine years of anticipation coming to a frighteningly near climax. It may have been at some point in the 5th inning, when the lead was secured and James Shields seemingly had things under control and the crowd buzzed with each strike. It could have been in the immediate aftermath of Luke Gregorson’s wild pitch in the 8th inning, plating Eric Hosmer and shuffling the tying run to third base. It was, if I was to put on it, most likely in the top of the 10th, after the Royals had thumbed their noses at their 4.4% probability of winning and come back to tie the game, the stadium ablaze with constant noise and desire. Hell, it may have even been in the incredulous insanity which followed Salvador Perez’s ground ball down the third base line in the 12th, scoring Christian Colon and, somehow, sending the Kansas City Royals, my Kansas City Royals, to the ALDS.

But at some point on that magical, idyllic Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium my dad turned to me and espoused the hidden truth of true, unabashed, fervent fandom:

“Some people just don’t get it”

***

I’ve loved the Kansas City Royals forever, began following them on a nightly basis in 2004 or 2005, as I began to move around the country. With each move I was forced to let go of all of my friends, all of my routines, all of my connections to the world, but the Kansas City Royals always existed in the background. I woke up on a June morning in Irvine, California in 2005, opened the newspaper and found out the Royals won 5-2 the night before, finishing off a sweep of the New York Yankees. The next year, on my 15th birthday, I spent a couple of hours writing a blog post on the Royals’ under-the-radar acquisition of Jorge De La Rosa for Tony Graffanino, picking up a live arm with potential for a mediocre veteran.

For every year of my Royals fandom, the future was more promising than the present. Next year’s grass always seemed greener, mostly because today’s grass was littered with splotches of brown, dead sod. Being a Royals fan, by definition, was hoping for success 2, 3, 4 years down the road. Tonight’s game mattered, sure, but whether or not Emil Brown drove in that run on 3rd base in the 8th inning of a one-run ballgame only had short term effects. Win or lose, the result only mattered in the moment. The more meaningful box scores frequently were composed in Omaha, Springdale or Wilmington.

Every night spent listening to a MiLB.com audio feed of a Northwest Arkansas Naturals game, every summer afternoon spent following a Royals-Twins contest, every hour spent discussing the team on Royals Review; it all was digested with an eye towards the future. I didn’t love the Royals merely for the potential future payoff, of course, but that was the light at the end of the tunnel. That was the goal.

***

I knew the Kansas City Royals only as failures. Failures with flair at times, failures with a host of young guys and promise at others. But, no matter the composition of the team, the team inevitably lost more games than they won. That was Royals baseball. That’s the culture a generation of fans grew up in, myself included, and one that has been hard to shake.

As the Royals caught fire in the dying embers of July this season, around the same time of year the infamous 2005 outfit began their interminable 19-game losing streak, and continued ablaze into August I refused to fully believe. I watched wide-eyed every night, amazed at the continued impressive play of those men with the script Royals scrawled across their jerseys. It was so much fun and so hard to believe and, inevitably, was a due to collapse at any moment. Or at least, that’s what I had been conditioned to believe.

The Royals didn’t continue playing at a .700 clip, of course, but they played well enough to clinch a playoff spot. That Friday night, driving home from work, I called my dad and reminisced. The Royals had spent a decade, more-or-less the entire history of my baseball fandom, averaging (averaging!) 96 losses a season. We had watched Emil Brown lead the team in RBIs, Scott Elarton and Runelvys Hernandez and Jose Lima start on Opening Day. The franchise who was always playing for the future, even if they weren’t always building a terribly bright one, was suddenly good in the moment. Their organizational potential had been actualized in one glorious, dramatic, off-the-rails unusual season.

They still couldn’t hit for much power. They still never drew walks, drawing the ire of the significantly sabermetric-friendly fanbase. They rode the back of the league’s best defense and above average pitching, combining into one of baseball’s best run prevention units, to 89 regular season wins and the seemingly mythical playoff berth. Even at its best, the Royals couldn’t dominate. Even this season, when seemingly everything went right, Kansas City gave off the vibe of a plucky, underdog outfit who scrapped and clawed for everything they received.

***

It was never a matter of if my dad and I were going to attend the playoff games. The details merely needed to be sorted out, and the convoluted nature of the Royals’ playoff entrance, with the division still at play and the home team in the Wild Card game still to be decided, delayed travel plans to Sunday night. But Sunday night scans of Southwest.com led to Monday morning flights and, eventually, basking in the inimitable glow of Postseason baseball on Tuesday evening.

The last time I had stepped through the gates at Kauffman Stadium I was fourteen years old, the year was 2006 and the result was a 6-5 defeat. Ambiorix Burgos threw a pair of wild pitches in the 8th inning, the first of which allowed the tying run to score and the second of which plated the go-ahead run. The loss dropped Kansas City to 27-54, a whopping 28 games behind the division leading Chicago White Sox.

This night, though, was a dream decades in the making coming true. It was finally, at long last, the fruit of the labor. It’s hard to understand what, exactly, it meant without living through all of those lean years. The night had been a long, long time coming and I had to be there to see the demons exorcised in person.

Some people just wouldn’t get it. Some people, whether by luck or choice, have never experience interminable losing; never experienced the unescapable feeling that, deep inside, you know there’s no real tangible reason for hope for the upcoming season. They don’t get what it’s like to have been a Royals fan all of these years.

Over the years, however, they didn’t just become the Kansas City Royals. They became my Royals. I have spent essentially every day of my fandom outside of the confines of Kansas City, away from any semblance of like-minded folk anywhere except the internet. Everywhere I’ve lived I have been the lone Kansas City Royals fan. Tuesday night, as the Royals turned the odds on their head and the baseball gods shined on Kansas City and, somehow, the Royals turned a 7-3 deficit into a 7-6 one and then a tie game and then, when the Athletics took the lead yet again, tied it up and won the whole damn thing all in the boom of the 12th, the texts began pouring in. People I hadn’t talked to in years sent me emails, texts, direct messages on Twitter. For all of those years, I had been their indirect connection to this largely irrelevant franchise, the lone person stridently supporting such a worthless cause night in and night out, season after season.

Tuesday night was the greatest night of my life. Some people didn’t get why I spent so much money making the trek to Kauffman. Some people, basically every people, can’t understand the wave of emotion I, along with thousands of like-minded fans, experience that September evening.

It was validation. It was purpose. It was beautiful. It was the ultimate nirvana of fandom.

***

The ride since then has been the proverbial icing on the cake. The win that Tuesday night was so affirming, so surreal and, above all, so antithetical to my experience as a fan of the Kansas City Royals, that it, in-and-of-itself, was enough.

I don’t quite remember exactly when my dad uttered the quote mentioned in the lede, but I will forever remember the moment, in the middle of the 12th, when I looked at him and told him that everything, every moment spent following this downtrodden franchise of baseballers, had been vindicated by this night. Win or lose, I meant that. He agreed.

And so, when Eric Hosmer pounded that ball off the tip top of the left-center wall and found himself on third and when Christian Colon hit that groundball that refused to come back down and, especially, when Salvador Perez lined the ball past a diving Josh Donaldson by literally centimeters, it was hard to comprehend. The sweep of the Los Angeles Angels in the ALDS was surreal, yes, but partially because my feet still hadn’t landed from that Tuesday night. They still haven’t.

The American League Championship Series begins tonight and somehow the Kansas City Royals are involved. The goal of any professional organization is, ultimately, about championships. That’s the whole point of playing the game, or so they say. I very, very much want them to win tonight and tomorrow and, if I can even type this, enough games to win the World Series. That would be awesome, to put it mildly.

But the goal of any fan isn’t necessarily to win a championship. Fandom is about so much more. It’s about belonging to a community, becoming a part of something greater than yourself. It’s about creating a common ground with those you love most, about sharing an experience you will, truly, never forget. It’s about putting in hours upon hours upon hours of love and desire, of hoping for the best and cheering your heart (and lungs) out when lucky enough to be present for their games.

Ultimately, what it means to be a fan is impossible to define within the limitations of the English language. You just should have been there that glorious Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium, should have witnessed the simultaneous release of forty-thousand people who all had hoped and dreamed for this day, some for a full 29 years, others for every cognizant second of their lives, should have basked in the unending noise and the incredulous celebration.

And if that’s not enough, well, some people just don’t get it.

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Derek Jeter and the Kansas City Royals

Thursday night, in case you hadn’t heard, was Derek Jeter’s final opportunity to don the famous home pinstripes. The night ended in impossibly poetic fashion, with Jeter walking the game off on a ground ball sprayed through the first and second basemen powered by the type of handsy, exactly-as-taught inside-out swing he has made famous over the years. The entire evening comprised a fitting epilogue to a storybook career, dripping with gravitas throughout.

It was a familiar feeling, watching that player on that field (well, a Yankee Stadium field of some sort, at least) perform on the national stage for seemingly the millionth time. He spent year after year playing a leading role on Fox’s October programming, producing a bevy of indelible memories. There was the flip against Oakland, the home run in the opening minutes of November against Arizona, the series-opening home run against the New York Mets. His career has occurred, to the casual fan, almost exclusively in big moments on the big stage. Thursday night’s dramatic, hard-to-believe finale seemed fitting, given the award-winning career that preceded the finale.

In one sense, though, the game technically meant nothing. The Yankees were eliminated from playoff contention the night prior after their 9-5 loss to the Baltimore Orioles, meaning that Thursday evening, as Derek Jeter laced up his sneakers for the final time on those (previously) hallowed grounds, was the very first time he had done so without at least a minuscule chance of reaching the postseason. Think about that. Jeter made his debut in 1996 and last night, the final home game of his entire career, was the only home game where his team wasn’t playing for something. His entire career meant so much partly, perhaps even primarily, because the games he was playing in mattered so much.

***

The most recent season, prior to last year’s kinda-sorta contention, where the Kansas City Royals played any meaningful games in September was 2003. That ballclub was held together by chewing gum and a Winning Spirit, flukily lurching to a 16-3 start and hanging around long enough to remain in the race in September. The team wasn’t that good, though, while last year’s squad had far too big of a hole to climb out of to have anything but a prayer.

And yet here we sit, the last two months of Royals’ games each feeling individually monumental. Every day has been wrought with anxiety, wondering when, exactly, the Royals were going to blow it all. When it comes to the Royals and good fortune the question is not if it will end but when. For decades, literally multiple groups of ten years, the Royals have had random, relatively brief respites of exhilarating play breaking up the lengthy, seemingly interminable swaths of pathetic baseball. Essentially, the Royals have had a generation’s worth of meaningless games. Games cared about momentarily then forgotten an hour after their conclusion. Games where the primary interest was in how select, potentially promising young prospects performed with actually winning the game a secondary matter. The franchise, despite the inevitable optimism accompanying the Royals each March on their return trip from Arizona, played out the string from Game 1 to Game 162 year after year after year.

And then, this year happened. No matter how this season ends* it will very likely be my all time favorite baseball season. This is a team that is last in home runs in the major leagues and in walks in the American League. It pays two starting pitchers nearly $20M combined to post league average-at-best numbers and possesses a once-top 10 prospect in baseball who flirted with the Mendoza Line for the majority of the season. It is a team that is imminently flawed and one who can be blindly frustrating to watch play, given their hacktastic approach and dearth of power.

And yet here they are, playing a whole host of meaningful games. Pretty much every game since the beginning of August has felt like life or death, growing in gut-wrenching importance with each passing week. This stretch started, mind you, immediately following a Trade Deadline that saw Dayton Moore do nothing as the majority of the fan base, me included, wanted him to trade Big Game James and effectively bow out of the race. A winning streak to open the month of August quickly and forcefully inserted the team into the thick of the pennant chase and, for the first time in a generation, into games drenched with meaning.

***

Tonight, the Kansas City Royals will play a game with a chance to clinch a postseason berth. It is, by very definition, the most meaningful a regular season game can be. As Jeter’s career winds down in a meaningless series between two also-rans, the Kansas City Royals, laughingstocks for, more or less, the entirety of his long and celebrated career, are taking the final steps toward a playoff berth. The tables have turned, rather forcefully.

The stage that has always felt so natural, so assumed, for Jeter is so utterly foreign to the supporters of the Kansas City Royals. The weekly games on national television feel misplaced, the standings page on MLB.com wrought with a glitch. It still, even after two whole months of this, feel real that the Royals actually are going to make the playoffs. Typing those words, after saying them and texting them countless times in the past couple of weeks, and knowing the inherent truth behind them remains hard to believe.

The Kansas City Royals will be in the playoffs. Repeat it as many times as necessary in order to believe it. The host of nerve-wracking, edge-of-your-seat games the Kansas City Royals have played the past weeks will pale in comparison to the live-and-die-with-every-pitch gravitas of the postseason. The very same postseason that served as the setting to Derek Jeter’s Greatest Hits will now welcome the Kansas City Royals. After a lifetime, literally, of watching the other team play in the games that matter, dripping with significance, it will be overwhelming to watch my team, the Kansas City frickin’ Royals, ascend the exact stage.

Tuesday night will be soaked, from start to finish, in meaning.

Jeter will be absent. The Kansas City Royals will be present.

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Alex Gordon >

In a season, well month-and-change, that has felt consistently surreal, it was the first sepia-toned moment.

The consequences seemed ever so dire, both for the tangible effects another loss would have, dropping the lead in the AL Central to a mere 0.5 game, as well as the larger meaning. The offense, much-maligned to start the year and held up even through this hot streak by the shaky foundation of cluster luck and a league-leading batting average with runners in scoring position, had scratched out a mere 2 runs in the previous 26 games innings (lol Physioc). The pixie dust appeared to be running out, the magic wearing thin.

No matter.

The proverbial bloop-and-a-blast, the line bandied about to try and muster any remaining hope at every level of baseball from Little League on up, actually came to fruition. Alcides Escobar plopped a ducksnort into shallow center field and two pitches later, on a slider which didn’t slide quite enough, The Man himself, Alex Effin Gordon, muscled the ball over the 387 sign in right center field.

Royals 2. Twins 1.

Time appeared to freeze as Royals fans, no matter their location, took a second to gather their thoughts. It was a moment, and feeling, foreign to a generation of Royals fans and a distant memory to the remainder of them. It was only August 26th and it only kept the Royals 1.5 games ahead of the Detroit Tigers. It’s very possible the offense continues its seemingly inevitable spiral into malaise and, despite their best efforts, the Royals slowly slink out of first place and, eventually, the playoff race entirely.

Growing up a sports fan in Kansas City, no matter the success taking place in the present, the impending doom of the future always occupies the back of your mind. There is this persistent belief in gravity; of waiting and waiting for the other shoe to drop, plummeting the Royals back down to the familiar surroundings of mediocrity.

This impending sense of doom likely played a large role in the meager attendance Tuesday night at the K and, no matter what out-of-touch Ned Yost believes, it will take longer than 5 weeks to rid the city of the feeling. And, for 8 innings, the Royals played right along with the expectation of demise, providing a pitiful offensive performance for the third consecutive game.

Alex Gordon was having none of this, however. If only for a night, the demons appear to have been exorcised. The juju dodged. The unflinching pull of gravity avoided.

It was victory snatched from the jaws of defeat from an organization who has spent 25 years making a name for themselves doing the inverse. It was a grand, flashbulb moment for a franchise largely devoid of them for a generation.

***

My dad called me immediately after the home run. We talk frequently and almost always discuss the Royals for some length of time. This was the first time I can ever remember him, however, calling immediately following a happening at Kauffman Stadium. He knew I was at work. He didn’t care. I knew I was at work. I didn’t care. I answered anyways.

This moment could not wait to be digested and discussed. It was something unique to anything else I’ve ever experienced as a Royals fan. It was dramatic and it was unexpected and, most importantly of all, it mattered. It matters in the standings, of course, but more importantly it seemed to confirm the incredible, unprecedented-in-a-generation run this Royals team just went on. It almost seemed to verify the destiny of this team, to eradicate the nagging sense that this is too good to be true and will end any day now.

It still might, of course. I grew up in Kansas City and have been let down far too many times to expect anything less. But, for a night at least, caution was thrown to the wind and pure, unadulterated belief was permitted.

And it was beautiful.

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The Kansas City Royals and the Playoffs, Esoterically

“There’s no reason this team can’t go on a run where you win 15 of 20.” – Dayton Moore, July 18th, 2013, Royals’ GM Dayton Moore: ‘We’re Going to Keep Pushing’

As Dayton Moore uttered those words the Kansas City Royals had not had a stretch of winning baseball that long and that accomplished in a decade. Not since the oasis of April of 2003 had the Royals won fifteen out of twenty, a damning statistic for a General Manager who had held the reigns to the franchise since June, 2006.

Today, not even thirteen months later, the Royals are smack in the middle of their third such streak, the first of which began mere days following his seemingly inane proclamation. This particular streak, buoyed by a seven-game winning streak coinciding with Sung Woo Lee’s arrival in the world’s finest city, has been the most impressive yet, as the Royals could lose their next two games and still qualify.

On the surface this all feels like vindication for the much-maligned General Manager of the Royals, fulfillment of the brighter future he has been selling locally and nationally going on a half-dozen years now. And yet this team remains as flawed as ever; still overly-dependent on clustering singles together to generate big innings, still waiting for the highly touted minor league proteges of Moore’s Best Farm System of All Time to consistently produce at the major league level, still outperforming their second- and third-order winning percentages.

This team is legitimately better than any team which took the field in the decade prior to Dayton Moore taking over, without question, and he should be appropriately praised. He, accompanied by a rather significant hike in spending by David Glass and Co., has transformed the franchise from absolute doormat to mediocrity, from 100-losses to .500.

And this team, for all of its flaws, both obvious and hidden, is pretty damn good. Their outfield defense is historically good, probably the second-best in the past dozen years of baseball, and the back-end of their bullpen is similarly dominant when compared to recent history. His last start notwithstanding James Shields has fallen short of the ‘Ace’ tag so willingly applied to him following The Trade (which we will not mention again in the interest of maintaining as positive of an attitude as possible) but has continued to take the ball every 5th day, as promised, and become the unquestioned leader, in the clubhouse if not in FIP, of a quality rotation. Salvador Perez, both for his meager signing bonus and, especially, for his contract, which is borderline prosecutable theft, represents Dayton’s finest moment. He has become, legitimately, the best catcher in the American League, which is fun.

During winning streaks, like the two extended runs this club has ripped off this season, all of the pieces seem to fit together and the possibilities seem as far-reaching as Sung Woo’s dedication to the Royals. The lineup has table-setters, Omar Infante’s sub-.300 OBP and Ned Yost’s insistence on hitting him second anyways notwithstanding, the members of the old guard, Alex Gordon and Billy Butler, provide enough pop to keep the engine chugging along and the pitching can labor through six innings, aided by the best defense in the American League, before handing the game over to the shutdown trio of Herrera-Davis-Holland. The playoffs seem imminently in grasp, likely even, and the optimism flows.

During losing streaks, however, the team seems nothing more than a facsimile of a playoff team, blustering through three-hit performances and watching balls soar out of Kauffman Stadium by those in away uniforms, those parking lots be damned. The inexplicable decisions made by Ned Yost loom larger and Moore’s faith, seemingly undeserved, in the status quo becomes increasingly more aggravating. The general backwards nature of the organization is highlighted and, despite the undeniable progress made during his tenure, Dayton’s job is justifiably called into question.

***

To be a fan of an up-and-comer is to hope that things go right. To be a fan of a contender is to pray nothing goes wrong. In essence, optimism is more fun than anxiety.  — Seerat Sohi, Andrew Wiggins and the power of potential

There is a comfort in constant, unceasing losing. Wins are desired for a night then forgotten about the next morning as you scan the previous night’s minor league box scores, scoping out a potentially brighter future. A promising young player having a quality month can overshadow an otherwise lackluster 10-17. The results are secondary to the process of building a better team, permitting some buffer zone between the disheartening performance on the field and the general attitude of the fan base.

The second The Trade was constituted (okay, I lied) the flip switched on the Royals from “up-and-comer” to “contender,” at least in roster construction and attitude. Results became expected and wins suddenly seemed necessary, not pleasant surprises. Last year was deemed both a success and a disappointment, depending on who you ask, but in reality it likely, as most things do, lied somewhere in the middle. It was the first pennant race in decades, brought our first winning season in a similar length of time, the fluky oasis of 2003 notwithstanding, and brought meaningful baseball to Kauffman Stadium in September. It also merely served, in cold, tangible terms, to give us a lower selection in the Rule 4 Draft.

This year’s team, believe it or not, is relatively similar to last year’s outfit. The competition is significantly weaker, however, most notably the Detroit Tigers, and thus our playoff odds are way, way higher. There is more reason for optimism, ranging from the Royals’ upcoming schedule to the continued calamities befalling the Tigers, and it is impossible not to get caught up in the fervor of a playoff chase after year after year after year after year of afterthought. This season is undeniably more exhilarating than any other of my life as a Royals fan, with the highs cresting higher and lasting longer. Of course, there is an equal and opposite reaction to any action, and this has made the pratfalls all the more depressing. The four-game losing streak following the All Star break seemed to be a death knell, leading to a steadfast contingent of fans promoting the idea of selling off James Shields, Greg Holland and just about anybody else past three seasons of service time not named Salvador or Alex, loading up and getting ready to fight another day in 2015 or 2016. Granted, Dayton wouldn’t be the one leading the rebuilding charge in a perfect world, but maybe the swing-and-miss The Trade (there it goes again) would have officially, undeniably become at that point would have been enough for Glass to cut the cord.

It was a plan I supported, albeit not full-fledged. In a vacuum it was the right call, and remains the right call today winning streak be damned. But after nearly three decades of losing, would it be the worst thing in the world for the Royals to stand strong behind their imminently flawed team in a dilapidated Wild Card field? I mean, they had a chance at least, which is more than all but two teams (2003 and 2013) had been able to say in the past twenty years.

So Dayton Moore did nothing. He did not sell. He did not buy. The latter is only acceptable, perhaps even preferred, considering the “buying” would have been on players, such as Marlon Byrd or Alexis Rios, who are tangibly worse than the Royals current 4th outfielder Jarrod Dyson, the man they would have been stealing playing time away from. In essence, Dayton made the team better by refusing to “buy” as opposed to renting an overpriced, over-the-hill, mediocre slugger. So, kudos, I guess.

Essentially, Dayton doubled down on his quote sitting at the top of this article. There was no reason to assume the Royals could go on such a stretch, and yet, in this crazy game of baseball, in Dayton’s hopelessly optimistic mind, I suppose there was no reason to assume they couldn’t, either. After all, they had no business doing it last year.

Alas, here we sit. Riding a 15-3 streak in their last 18, winners of seven in a row, a mere half-game behind the Detroit Tigers. A game-and-a-half ahead of all Wild Card challengers. How the Royals got here doesn’t exactly make sense. Dayton Moore still (probably) deserves to be fired. The team remains as flawed and the organization as obtuse as ever.

But that feels almost irrelevant for the next six weeks. All that matters, in this moment, is that the Kansas City Royals actually might make the playoffs. It makes every win sweeter and every loss more painful. It brings a host of new emotions to a generation of fans only accustomed to despair and disappointment from baseball.

You can (correctly) cite second- and third-order winning percentages. The inevitable gravitational pull the other shoe dropping will have on this team’s inexplicable run of recent success. That’s all well and good and statistically sound and, over a large enough sample size, correct. But sometimes, that merely leads to getting lost in the forest staring at trees. Ultimately, the goal is to win a World Series.

And, as this team has proven multiple times in the past thirteen months, make a sample size small enough and some wacky things can happen. So let’s just see where this wild ride takes us, whether it is a cathartic monkey-off-the-back moment for a city starved for postseason success (apologies, Sporting Kansas City) or another heartbreaking finish to a growing list of them in Kansas City sports lore.

It doesn’t make much sense, and falls well short of serving as vindication for a flawed organizational philosophy headed by below average General Manager, but that doesn’t diminish the glee felt with each #HEYHEYHEYHEY, the out-and-out joy of watching the Royals ascend the standings.

Sometimes sports make no sense. That’s what makes them so damn fun.

And, you know, there’s no real reason this team can’t go on a run where it wins the World Series.

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Nobody Likes You When You’re 23

23.

It’s a number far too big.

So much can exist inside of 23. 11 + 12, yeah, but also college careers and first loves and long road trips and dreams chased and accolades earned and a personality formed.

It implies a life being put together with a plan. It implies you have a list of goals tucked away in the back of your overly organized planner, which neatly and succinctly reminds you of your dentist appointment next Thursday. Which, of course, you won’t miss. You may be forced to reschedule, say if your boss comes down with pneumonia and you need to sub in for him on that all-important regional conference call, but never out-and-out miss. You’re too old for that.

You’re 23.

***

I imagine if you showed that snippet of I’m-getting-older paranoia to a person well through their 23rd year they would chortle at the thought of such an organized life. I do understand, if I’m being honest, that ages always seem way more advanced when they lie on the horizon than when they are staring at you in the face.

But now that I’m here, on the precipice of twenty-three, it still seems like a number far too big. I’m aware that, logically, it makes sense. I’ve been out of college for going on 15 months now, which is a terrible combination of words. I work two jobs and pay for all of my bills and, despite my lack of an overly organized planner, I have never skimped an appointment with anybody in the medical profession and never have been more even a day late on a single payment. These things, for the most part, connote an adult, which I rather plainly am, as loathe as I am to admit it. And adults, like humans of all other age distinctions, grow older by the day. Add enough days up and, well, you know. You wake up one day and you’re 23.

Twenty-three.

Ugh.

***

I first became aware of my impending mortality on a breezy Sunday in 2010 at the MLB All Star Futures Game**. Lucky enough to attend, I witnessed a hotshot prospect playing in A+ ball for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim play an all-around stellar game on his way to taking home the MVP of the game in the ballpark he would soon call home. A quick check of the program informed me of this young man’s otherworldly stats, yes, but more importantly, in letters that ought to have been bolded and italicized, his birth date was listed: August 7th, 1991.

This made this young ballplayer younger than me. A few weeks prior Derrick Favors had been selected third overall in the NBA Draft and he has a birthdate a mere 10 days before mine. A close call, sure, but not nearly the moment of unstoppable doom that I faced at Angels Stadium.

I had crossed the threshold.

***

For as long as I can remember I’ve loved sports more than is healthy. I inhaled statistics along with breakfast cereal growing up, quite often literally, consuming equal parts Apple Jacks and box score minutiae from the night before. I paced in front of the television during tense moments, spent hours voraciously seeking out intelligent discourse on my favorite sides, debated endlessly with my friends at all of my childhood stops over the wares of that player or this team.

Athletes were people I looked up to, older folks capable of grandeur my juvenile abilities could only dream to accomplish in the future. That was the important word: future. I figured out about 7th grade I had officially a 0% chance of making it as a professional athlete and yet there was still a sense of comfort in the age difference between myself and my heroes. And while the specific humans I looked up to growing up, the Tony Gonzalezes, Vince Carters and Kirk Hinrichs of the world, continued to age themselves and maintained the age difference, new figures ceaselessly entered the picture, demanding my attention and adulation. The age difference between myself and these new athlets diminished and diminished and diminished and then, on that afternoon in Anaheim, poof.

It disappeared.

August 7th, 1991.

It was, as could be predicted, only the beginning. In the four years since I’ve seen a seemingly interminable number of stars and future stars emerge in every sport imaginable, from Jameis Winston to Andrew Wiggins to Yordano Ventura to Kyrie Irving, leading to an undeniable sense of acceptance. Hell, I recently purchased season tickets to Xavier basketball, ensuring I will spend seventeen evenings over the next year screaming my heart out at a jumble of players, friend and foe, wholly younger than I am.

I have well crossed the threshold.

***

Time is a flat circle and, as those creepy Uncle Rico-types assure you, the wonderful things about high schoolers is you keep growing older and they stay the same age. When comparing oneself to a pool constantly growing younger it is impossible to feel anything but old and unaccomplished.

The glorious thing about youth is the untold potential which could, potentially, be contained within. The unknown is a powerful drug, perhaps the most powerful of them all, and it decreases in potency with each passing year. This is disheartening, yet undeniably true.

But youth, as are most things in life, is relative. I’m wailing at lost potential on the eve of my 23rd birthday and even just typing that out right now I hate myself a little bit. In the grand scheme of things 23 is not too old, or at least that’s what my mom keeps telling me.

Twenty-three feels so old to me. It will take weeks, maybe months, to comprehend the fact that I’m twenty-three, an age which felt so impossibly, in-command-of-your-life old just half a dozen years ago.

And now I’m here, somehow, and I simultaneously feel So. Old. and yet so undeserving of such an age.

Welcome to life, I suppose.

***

By the way, in case you were wondering, that Futures Game MVP? The first athlete of significance I realized I was older than? Mike Trout. And he hasn’t even won an MVP (you know, a real one) yet, so I guess I ain’t so old after all. Although, before I say that, I am interested to find out if he has an overly organized planner or not, because that would (obviously) change everything.

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