Don't Kill The Mellinger

Twitter Tuesday: the Royals are in the freaking World Series

Kansas City Royals starting pitcher James Shields during Monday's media day for the Kansas City Royals on October 20, 2014 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
Kansas City Royals starting pitcher James Shields during Monday's media day for the Kansas City Royals on October 20, 2014 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. The Kansas City Star

I’ve typed stories about sports every day for most of the last month or two. Once, I even typed a story about sports the day after a friend’s bachelor party, and did this WITHOUT eating Chipotle. As I type these words, there is a cut on my thumb from the other day, when I was chopping onions.

The manliest thing I’ve done in the last two years, I believe, is use a saw to sort of cut two box screens so I could fold them up like books and get them up a stairway that was too small to do it the wussy way.

What I’m trying to say here is that if I ever experience half of the pain of passing a kidney stone, I’m not getting out of bed, let alone pretending I can pitch a playoff game. What I’m saying here is that James Shields is tougher than me, and unless you make a strong case, I’m assuming he’s tougher than you, too.

The greatest playoff injury in Kansas City sports is still, and likely always will be, George Brett and the hemorrhoids in 1980. But this is strong, too.

You know, a week or so ago, I was talking to a Royals official and the conversation went something like this:

Me: is Shields OK? He seems a little, I don’t know … off.

Official: he’s good.

Me: OK, because he just doesn’t seem normal. Just wondered if he has the flu or something.

Official: I mean, he’s dealing with a little something. But they’re all dealing with something.

So, yeah. That little something turned out to be a kidney stone. In the official’s defense, kidney stones are typically less than a quarter of an inch in diameter.

Let’s just stop here.

This week’s eating recommendation is a burger, or hot dog, or whatever it is you’re planning on cooking for the game tonight. The reading recommendation is Dan Wetzel on the ugly treatment of Jameis Winston’s accuser discouraging future victims from coming forward.

As always, thanks for reading and thanks for your help. Let’s do it:

I have faith. We can do this, together.

OK, maybe this is going to be harder than I thought. And it should be. This is the best Kansas City sports story in quite some time. Years, at least, and probably decades.

I’ve heard from friends I haven’t talked to in years, who either saw something I wrote or just thought of me with what’s going on or just otherwise wanted to talk baseball. I’ve heard from readers who’ve told me that friendships that had gone cold are now back on because of the Royals.

One man wrote in that he and his brother got in a big fight, and hadn’t talked in years, until the day after the Wild Card game. They both grew up big Royals fans. This team got them talking again.

The Royals are why Westport Flea Market is selling the best burgers in town for cheap, why you see random strangers high-five each other in Westport and why conversations have never been easier to start.

We all follow sports for different reasons. The passion. The escape. The strategy. The drama. The connection with dad, or mom, or a brother or an old friend. Whatever. But I think moments like this are some of the best that sports can give us back.

Moments like this are the payoff for all the drags that following sports can give us sometimes. And people in Kansas City are owed some payoff.

First of all, I love that you’re holding him to this. But I’m curious, is he a non-drinker? If so, I hope we can keep this to a sip or a half or one beer or whatever he’s comfortable with. If he’s just not a beer-drinker, but drinks other stuff, like win or vodka or whisky, well, I can’t say I understand that. And if that’s the case, you’re doing him a favor.

You mention Wheat, and that’s a fine choice, but I’m trying to account for these newbie taste buds of his. I remember my first taste of beer, in a field out in the country when I was like 16, and I thought it tasted like rotten feet. Granted, I’m sure it was like Bud Ice, and the keg was weeks past its expiration date, but I’d like to avoid a similar fate for your friend here. I wonder if Wheat might be a little extreme, a little too much of a jolt.

You have an opportunity here, to introduce a grown man to the world of beer. I’d keep it basic, and then let him explore from there. I appreciate your wanting to keep in Boulevard, in the spirit of the bet, so I’d crack open a KC Pils.

Unless you’re just trying to screw with the guy, in case make it a Colt 45 or something.

I understand you’re making a joke here, but this hasn’t been hard at all. The only hard part is feeling responsible for telling such an incredible story. One of the things that people who do what I do for a living often say is that at a certain point, the game gets so good that you just feel entirely inadequate, unable to capture even a fraction of the excitement and memories of the moment.

I’ve felt like that a lot the last few weeks, but it really has been a joy.

My favorite part of this is the way so many people are coming together. I’m not as dumb as you might think, so I realize that sports do this all the time, every year, in cities across the country and the world.

I’ve been lucky enough to be in a lot of those cities. Final Fours, bowl games, Super Bowls. Tampa when the Rays were pushing through, St. Louis when the Cardinals are winning again, and Seattle when the Seahawks are storming through the playoffs. I understand that I am fundamentally biased here, because I’ve lived my entire life in this area, but Kansas City the last few weeks has been different. Very different.

The cars parking on the side of I-70 is my favorite image. There is so much in there. Those are cars driven by people who, for whatever reason, couldn’t get in the game. Those people have probably been to games at Kauffman Stadium before, and probably all the way back when it was still called Royals Stadium. Those people have probably driven that same stretch of highway dozens of times, at least, and looked into the stadium either empty because there’s nothing going on or not all that full when something is going on.

Those people have probably wondered if they’d ever see Kauffman Stadium like that, and if they’d ever see Kansas City like this. It’s nice to see fans rewarded.

And, sure, as a sports writer in Kansas City … it’s nice to write about something good.

Isn’t that true of a lot of us? Contribute in some spots, fail in others? I mean, just the other day, I meant to do some yardwork, mostly mulch, but also some other stuff. I didn’t get to it, but I did clean the kitchen and also – true story – tried to change a light bulb in the fridge but instead pulled on it too hard and shattered glass into the fruit drawer.

I’m not good at life sometimes.

But to answer your question, there’s no question the Royals will be hurt by losing the DH in San Francisco more than the Giants will be helped by having one in Kansas City.

This, along with a few other small things, is an advantage for the Giants. The best version of the Royals has always been with Butler hitting, and while being able to use him as a pinch hitter isn’t nothing – he basically leap frogs Josh Willingham as the top right-handed bat off the bench – it’s not as good as having him hit four times.

I don’t expect this to be a dealbreaker, not by any stretch, but even after a mostly hot eight games in the playoffs the Royals need all the offense they can get.

I mentioned this in the column, but Butler has sort of embodied a drastic improvement in pitch selection for the Royals in the playoffs. In particular, he’s done a very good job laying off the inside pitches off the plate, and, as baseball people sometimes say, not swinging at strikes he doesn’t really want to hit.

His overall numbers aren’t great — six-for-27 with four walks, two doubles and three RBIs (and one stolen base) in the playoffs — but there’s no doubt the Royals are better when he’s hitting.

Fun fact that’s inconvenient to the narrative: the Royals ranked seventh in the American League in sacrifice bunts, behind, among others, teams managed by Joe Maddon, Terry Francona and Buck Showalter.

Other fun fact that’s also inconvenient to the narrative: a LOT of the Royals’ bunts are not called from the dugout, including Lorenzo Cain’s in the first inning of the clincher against the Orioles.

But, obviously, that picture is glorious.

My guess is Power and Light. I mean, this looks fun, right?

Other than that, I think we’re looking at the typical spots. Kelly’s or Harpo’s in Westport, Granfalloon on the Plaza, or, my personal choice, the Peanut in downtown Overland Park (wings there are 90 to 95 percent as good as one south of the Plaza, and the TV setup is MUCH better).

Or, and this is a longshot, you could try to work an invitation to watch the game at this guy’s house.

Those are very, very strong credentials for Aaron Yates. I’m not sure about his singing, though. I’ve never heard the national anthem rapped. Maybe it would be awesome.

There are a a lot of suggestions for the anthem and the first pitch out there, and I basically only have three real thoughts that are worth the time even by the low standards of Twitter Tuesday:

1. No offense, but we can do better than dragging David Cook out there again.

2. You’ve probably heard Mindy Corporon’s story. She’s the woman who lost her father and son in the senseless shooting at the Jewish Community Center in April.

You might not know that on June 7, the Royals played a video of Mindy’s son, Reat, singing the national anthem as a way to honor the families who lost loved ones in the shooting. The Royals were 29-32 on that day, before beating the Yankees 8-4. That was the first of a 10-game win streak that pushed the Royals into first place.

All together, regular season and playoffs, the Royals are 68-41 since playing the video of Reat singing the anthem. How cool would it be to play that video again?

I’m not a particularly superstitious man, but, well, your move, Royals.

And the third thing I think about possible national anthem/first pitch things …

… is that this is far more complicated than people seem willing to acknowledge. I’ve written a lot about this silly Cold War between a team and one of its greatest players, most recently a year ago this week.

Most of the calls for the silliness to end place the blame entirely or mostly at the feet of the Royals, and that’s understandable. White is a living icon, Kansas City born and raised, and represents a lot of the best of what Kansas Citians see in themselves.

But it’s more complicated than just that. The Royals mistreated White, and he had every reason to be angry about that. But White is no angel in this, either, and often made it harder on the Royals than it needed to be. White often talks about respect from the Royals, who retired his number, built a statue of him, and gave him a six-figure job as a broadcaster.

However you slice up the blame — and at least in my mind it’s always been closer to 50-50 than a lot of people have wanted to believe — there is far too much scar tissue here to cure it all in a day or two to make for a good photo op at the World Series.

The Royals invited White to a pregame thing before one of the ALCS games with other former stars, and I know they meant it as a nice gesture, but I wonder if it did more harm than good. I could see White taking the invitation as a way for the Royals to save public face, while also ignoring the true depth of the divide.

The Royals and White, I’ve written a lot, are each diminished without the other. This is a messy mound of ego and self-righteousness and counterproductive pride — on both sides.

Barring a significant change of mind (mostly on White’s side) that’s hard to see coming, this is more than can be solved with a simple invitation. White and Dan Glass need to sit down and scream it out until they can hug it out. Both sides know they’re better off with each other.

I’m hopeful that the momentum from the public to see White’s relationship with the Royals start up again can carry through the offseason, when things will slow down a bit and the two sides can start some long overdue fence-mending.

Is it too much of a copout to say that he will be? Larry Johnson rushed for more than 3,500 yards and 37 touchdowns in 2005 and 2006, and Priest Holmes went for nearly 4,400 yards and 51 — that’s FIFTY-ONE! — touchdowns in 2002 and 2003.

Charles, for all his badassery, does not have two seasons nearly as good as either of those pairs.

But I do think he has a wider range of skills than either of those other very good backs. I think that Johnson will always be knocked for some selfish tendencies, perhaps best symbolized by his inability or unwillingness to become a good blocker. Holmes, for all his wonderful talents and vision, was in a crazy good system and running behind one of the best offensive lines in modern football history.

Charles is a complete back, and has had to do more of it on his own. If the answer is done on accomplishments and statistics, Charles is not (yet) the Chiefs best back.

But if the answer is done in the spirit of “who would you most want on your team” — and I think this is the better and more interesting way to do it — I think he’s already there.

No, because answer this question: what if he missed?

What if he missed that kick?

What would you think of him then? What would the Chiefs think of him then? There’s a chance he’d be cut, or at least that the Chiefs would’ve brought in a kicker to compete with him this week.

It was a great kick, a 48-yarder with the game on the line, and Santos deserves credit for making it. The win may have changed the Chiefs’ season, and along with it, Santos’ career with the Chiefs.

I guess I’d put it like this: Santos is in the good graces of the Chiefs and their fans.

But he still has to prove it over time.

Yes, but that doesn’t mean the disappointment isn’t real or justified or out of place.

Missouri is in a place – both literally and figuratively now – of very high expectations. It’s not just a bowl game, but a good bowl game. It’s not just expecting to win at South Carolina, but the resources and talent to be disappointed by losing to Indiana at home or getting blown out by Georgia at home.

The other thing that happens sometimes is that when your team drops a game you think it should’ve won, and then later proves it should’ve won that other game, it can drive you crazy with thoughts about missed opportunities. It’s OK to just not be good enough, but aggravating when you are good enough, proved you’re good enough but have to sit through the rest of the season knowing you can’t get that opportunity back.

Let’s slow down. Sporting is in the playoffs, again, and we don’t need to be throwing parades for that but we also don’t need to be acting like it’s nothing.

They’ve had an awful run of luck with injuries, and nobody wants to hear excuses like that but there is some explanation in there, too. Sporting has some troubling trends. The defense has been too susceptible to counter attacks, and they have a hard time generating offense that doesn’t come directly from Dom Dwyer, Graham Zusi or Benny Feilhaber, among other flaws.

But, let’s be reasonable here. They are the defending MLS champion, and will make the playoffs in what people are calling a down year. That’s not a terrible thing.

Vermes has been nearly fired before, but I can’t see it now. I have a small crush on how he runs his team, the way he explains things, and the philosophies that seem to guide him.

It would take a lot more than a first-round exit for me to want to lose that. It would take a lot more than a season without the playoffs, too.

Team Vermes, is what I’m saying.

I have a confession here. My wife, I’m not sure if I’m mentioned here, loves the Royals. It happened almost immediately after she moved here from Chicago about four years ago^.

^ I actually remember the exact date. May 1, 2011. Maybe I remember that because I’m deeply in love with this woman and this is a date that represents so much joy for me. Or, maybe I remember that because it’s the day we killed Bin Laden. Either way.

Anyway, the woman loves the Royals. She’s always loved baseball – her brother played in college, and was good enough to be drafted – but she particularly liked the Royals. Salvador Perez is her favorite player, I think mostly because he seems to so thoroughly enjoy playing baseball. She wanted a Perez onesie for our son, but we couldn’t find one. It’s not just Perez. She also likes Escobar and Gordon and Cain and we can go on and on.

The point is, she was so happy when the Royals made the playoffs and especially when they got the Wild Card game at home and, sure, we paid WAY more than responsible people should pay for two tickets down the left field side for her and her brother.

But then that game happened. That freaking game. That wild, nearly five-hours, impossible game happened.

And the money we spent on those tickets suddenly felt like a sound investment. If we’d have known, we’d have paid even more.

I’m never comfortable telling people how to spend their money, and I don’t think anyone else should be, either. That’s one reason I went in so hard on Ned Yost for complaining about 13,000-and-some fans showing up for that game in August.

So nobody can tell you what you should do here, but I will ask you a question here:

Will you regret it more if you spend that money and see them lose? Or will you regret it more if you don’t spend that money and you could’ve seen them win?

Technical difficulties this week, so no Knoda, but, whatever. I’m sure it would’ve been wrong anyway.

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365 or send email to smellinger@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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