Columnist Vahe Gregorian offers musings about the sports scene in and around Kansas City
Friday Five: Royals’ surge, Besler’s inspiration, Brett on McGuff, etc.
06/13/2014 9:44 AM
*OK, maybe it’s still too early to measure with any real conviction the impact Dale Sveum has made in the 13 games since he replaced Pedro Grifol as the Royals hitting coach.
But something sure seems to have happened here to boost the Royals back over .500 (33-32) for the first time since they were 22-21 after beating Baltimore on May 18.
After the three-game fiasco against Houston, the Royals sunk to a season-worst four games under .500 (24-28) as they were slinking off to Toronto.
The change was made in what reeked of desperation and brought out the skeptic in, ahem, some of us.
Something had to give, but, really, a sixth hitting coach in two years?
Then again, desperate times call for desperate measures.
And they’re 9-4 since.
And you can’t say that has nothing to with Sveum even if you can’t say it all has to do with him, either.
There is only this: At the time, they Royals had managed to rustle up six or more runs 11 times in 52 games. They’ve scored six or more six times in 13 games since.
Pre-Sveum, the Royals mustered 21 home runs. They’ve hit 10 since. All told, they’ve smacked 41 extra-base hits in the last 13 games after amassing 123 in the first 52.
How much of that reflects his approach stressing pitches up in the zone is hard to know. Plus, this all coincides with what Billy Butler on Wednesday called a wake-up call after the sweep by Houston.
But some combination of a fresh buy-in, urgency and Sveum connecting seems to be at play.
There were hints of that in less than a week of him on the job, and now there’s a bit more evidence.
“We’re playing good baseball now,” Butler said. “I don’t care who we’re playing right now, I like our chances.”
There are plenty of unaccounted-for variables in all this, of course, and the Royals will get to show how much better they really are over the next seven games.
They start tonight with three in Chicago, followed by four at Detroit. They’re 3-3 against the White Sox and 0-5 against the Tigers.
*I can’t say whether this is more testimony to the bliss of ignorance or having an open mind. But it occurred to me this week that I might see the Royals’ adventures in a different light than many long-time followers because I’ve only experienced the most recent past, not the anguish of a generation-plus of futility.
Since I started work at The Star on June 3, 2013, the Royals are 96-76.
Sure, I’ve seen some discouraging moments, they’ve got some gaps in their game and I’ve heard they’ve found a million ways to break hearts. But I believe something good is happening here.
*As Overland Park native Matt Besler starts World Cup play for Team USA on Monday, he’ll be buoyed by the memory and inspiration of Kori Quinn, the Excelsior Springs native whom Besler had befriended and died in February at age 18 after a five-year battle with cancer.
“She was an awesome girl,” said Besler, who met her at Children’s Mercy Hospital and remained friends with her after she asked him to her prom in 2012.
Besler and Graham Zusi attended her first soccer game back from her treatments, and she had a lasting impact on him because of her upbeat approach to life.
“Every time that we would have an event, she was the happiest girl in the world,” he said. “She really didn’t let anything bother her, it seemed like. Especially the cancer. She just didn’t let it affect her (emotionally, so that was pretty amazing for me to see.”
At times when he’s let himself be bothered by things he shouldn’t, he said, he thinks of her and realizes “you can always choose your attitude.”
*Maybe this is well-known, but I didn’t realize it.
When I spoke last week with George Brett about ALS and his thoughts on the “worst job in baseball,” talk turned to legendary former Star columnist and editor Joe McGuff, who died from ALS in 2006.
Brett called him “a very good friend,” then added, “I named his book for him.”
Brett laughed as he recalled his plight during the 1980 World Series, not only contending with hemorrhoids but also having to answer questions about it after he came out of Game 1 with Philadelphia.
“It was the most embarrassing thing in the world you can talk about,” Brett said. “And Joe was standing there. I could tell he felt so bad for me.”
Next thing you know …
“I said, ‘Why me? Why not Joe McGuff?’ “ Brett said, laughing. “And that was the name of his book.”
*Last winter, I had the privilege of getting to know Carter Arey, a member of the University of Missouri and U.S. National wheelchair basketball teams.
So I followed with interest his response to California Chrome co-owner Steve Coburn wailing about the disadvantage his horse faced against fresh competition in the Belmont Stakes in pursuit of the Triple Crown.
Coburn said the difference would be like “me, at 6-2, playing basketball with a kid in a wheelchair.”
Amid training for the World Championships next month in South Korea, Arey responded on Twitter with “#ChallengeAccepted,” and later elaborated via Facebook:
“My problem is not with Steve Coburn as an individual, he was caught up in the moment. But the truth is he said what he said which makes me believe he thinks people that play wheelchair and adaptive sports are less of athletes than able bodied.
“This common thought is due to the lack of coverage and seeing Paralympic sports as a heart warming story rather than a sports page story. I have played able bodied basketball at a high level and wheelchair basketball at the highest level. There is no difference in the competitiveness and desire to win.”
Meanwhile, Coburn expressed regret for his words in an interview with the Columbia Daily Tribune:
“I apologize to anyone who was offended,” he said. “I said those things before I could think about them. … Tell the young man he could whip my (butt) in a New York second.”