Sports are great for too many reasons to say just one, and sports give us too many reasons to be cynical to focus on just one.
But here I am ... in a baseball stadium with a beautifully tacky $2.5 million flamingo sculpture in left field ... at an exhibition event that has very little to do with actual baseball ... held the night before another exhibition event in which all involved have agreed is now a participation trophy ... in hour 12 or so of a 16-hour day in which I’ve been given bad directions three times, had a door slammed in my face, sat outside by two trash cans sweating while I finish something because they won’t let me in the stadium ... now trying to finish a story on Jason Vargas through the noise ... all the while missing my family back home, and, well, all I’m doing is shaking my head, literally my breath taken away, because Aaron Judge is down on the field swinging a bat.
You never know when sports will take you to that place.
I don’t know if that’s the best part of sports, but I don’t know that there is a better part of sports.
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Like a hockey game or a sack on third down, the Home Run Derby is an event best experienced in person.
It’s good enough on television, of course. The angles created by specially placed cameras help appreciate the power, but at some point, all but the very longest home runs can seem repetitive, the distance lost on the screen.
But watching in person, you can’t help but be transfixed at such a singular event — the world’s best sluggers hitting baseballs far over fences at a rate of once every 12 seconds or so.
A 500-foot home run is sort of like seeing Bigfoot eating soup at a cafe, so rare that according to the excellent Home Run Tracker none have been hit in a regular-season Major League Baseball game since 2008.
That was so long ago that the author of that blast, Adam Dunn, has been retired for three years.
Well, Aaron Judge hit four of them in the Derby, the longest 513 feet. He hit a ball halfway up the windows that are behind the concourse that’s behind the seats that are behind the left-field wall that is 386 feet from home plate.
It was majestic, and I’m using that word intentionally, the kind of thing that turns the best players in the world into did-you-see-that 8-year-olds. That wasn’t all. Justin Bour, a former Rule 5 pick for goodness’ sakes, had this place rocking with a round of 22 home runs that included a doughnut break.
Sometimes, the derby stinks. Like basketball’s dunk contest, it is an event that fails or succeeds based solely on the power and performance of the athletes in the moment, and the energy supplied by fans in response.
There is no way to predict how it goes, which is part of the point.
It doesn’t work when you expect to have your breath taken away.
But one of the great things about sports is that you always know you might have your breath taken away.
I’m hijacking this question to talk about the Chiefs formally announcing Brett Veach as their new general manager, something a lot of us had been expecting the whole time.
This is the best the Chiefs could’ve done to maintain even a passable amount of stability. In Veach, they have someone in tune with and molded by Andy Reid’s football worldview which in practical terms is a real bonus for the Chiefs.
This will be read by many as a power play by Reid, of the highly paid coach at minimum standing by as his first GM is hired and then welcoming his protege as the replacement.
That makes sense.
I see it differently.
The Reid Power Play theory requires the coach to essentially backstab a man he got along with, presumably helped bring to Kansas City, and enjoyed success with.
What seems much more likely is that this was a Clark Hunt power play, a way for him to wrestle more control of the day-to-day operations and, if there is more success coming, more of the credit.
When Hunt fired Scott Pioli, he remade the franchise’s power structure so that the coach, GM, and president would all report directly to him. It was a logical reaction to Pioli’s awful reign, but one of Hunt’s strengths has always been to hire the best people possible and support them by staying out of their way and providing resources.
Firing a successful general manager, a man who took a broken roster and built it into one of the league’s best, is a move away from that, at least based on the information and reporting we have.
In Veach, Hunt has a sort of “homegrown” executive who figures to loyal not just to Reid but to the organization that gave him his first big boy job.
Hunt is smart, great with details, and far tougher than the “daddy’s boy” people believe. But if you talk to people who have worked in football operations over the years, one of the themes you hear often is an appreciation for Hunt understanding where he fits.
He’s the boss, but he’s not a coach, or a scout, and he can’t put together a game plan for Sunday or a prospect board for the draft.
The Chiefs are, at the moment, in seemingly solid shape for both the short- and long-term.
Their roster is still mostly young, and figures to have little turnover from a team that went 12-4 and swept the AFC West. The quarterback of the future is in place, and a difficult cap situation can be fixed with relative simplicity.
Nothing Hunt has done in the last month is likely to change that, and the same can be true for anything Veach does in the next year or so.
But between Dorsey, Chris Ballard, and director of pro scouting Will Lewis, the Chiefs have lost an enormous amount of intellectual infrastructure in the last six months.
If Hunt is attempting to step out of his lane as head of the family business and into the void as a lead football guy, this will be remembered as the offseason he undercut the stability he always craved just as it was beginning to materialize.
That’s the way some will take it, or spin it, depending on your view. But I don’t think so.
I got texts from three personnel folks with three different teams, and none of them read this as justification. This was the move everyone expected all along, some of that is because Hunt put himself in an unnecessarily difficult spot.
If he fired Dorsey after the season, fine, the imminently qualified Chris Ballard takes over the draft and it’s a relatively smooth transition.
If he fired Dorsey after the draft, fine, a more comprehensive outside search can be conducted to make sure you get the best possible candidate.
I know football people who believe Scott Fitterer and Ryan Crowden (the known outside candidates) to be far superior GM prospects than Veach, but the timing of the search meant it was always going to be difficult to get the best outside man.
The Chiefs will probably — and should — push this as an attempt to maintain a culture that’s put the franchise on somewhat stable ground.
And Veach is, by all accounts, highly qualified and bright. It’s unfortunate if the awkward and apparently unprecedented firing of Dorsey clouds the opportunity of Veach’s professional lifetime.
But that’s what’s happening, at least until the Chiefs talk about it which — checks calendar — is a mere 13 days away.
I don’t know that there is one, really. You might be able to set something up for outfielders to rob home runs, or a test of arm strength, but I don’t know how exciting it would be to watch defensive drills.
Maybe a race, the fastest guys in baseball going first to home, something like that?
I know I’m a geek, but I’d watch a pitching skills competition. Make it two categories: fastball velocity, and breaking ball movement.
These things are easily measured by modern technology, and it would be fun to watch Aroldis Chapman and Luis Severino try to outgas each other, or watch Chris Sale’s slider against Clayton Kershaw’s curveball.
But I don’t know how excited teams would be to have their pitchers do something like that.
Actually, that’s not true. We all know exactly how excited they’d be.
Time to sell, you guys.
This is the most obvious thing you’ll read today, but: holy crap the Dodgers are good.
Some of this has to do with them getting so many games against the awful Padres and Giants, but they’re on pace to win 110 games. The Diamondbacks have the second-best record in the National League, and they’re 7 1/2 games out of first place.
Look, I know you’re joking here, but the game on Saturday does hurt. That’s a blown late lead, and a loss on four straight walks. If the Royals are going to make the playoffs, it probably won’t be by more than a game or two. Every team has losses it wants back, but the Royals know they’re playing the rest of this season on a razor’s edge.
I know I’ve said this a lot here before, but it’s true: I continue to believe the Royals are good enough to be in the playoffs, and continue to believe that 10-20 start will end up proving too much.
They’re a notoriously streaky bunch, so it’s unrealistic to expect them to go 162 without a few slumps, but that one was worse and longer than it should’ve been for a team this experienced and proven.
They’re only a game and a half out of the wild card, and three out of first place.
It’s doable, but the tough losses tend to hurt a little more now.
I understand the sentiment, but if the Royals don’t make the playoffs, I hope it’s not looked at as a heartbreaker.
This probably isn’t something the local sports columnist should say, because it makes for better #content if I went the other way, but it’s how I feel:
This group owes Kansas City nothing.
Of course you want to compete every year, and of course fans and players and coaches and anyone else will be disappointed if there are no playoffs, but winning the first world championship for a small market since the 1990 Reds — that was so long ago Ken Griffey SR. played on that team — means no need for apologies.
But, I’m probably taking your question too literally.
The most likely outcome has always been that the Royals will miss the playoffs. They play in the tougher league, with a smaller margin for error than most, and have already had some things work against them — the Yordano Ventura tragedy, the 10-20 start, Danny Duffy’s injury, Jorge Soler’s struggles, Kelvin Herrera not being Kelvin Herrera, Alex Gordon, and so on.
No season goes to script, and no team is perfect. Baseball’s double wild-card format is very forgiving, which is how the 2014 Royals got into the playoffs, and how the 2017 Royals can still realistically think about the playoffs.
I just worry that they’ll end up missing the playoffs, while playing the final 132 games of the season at a playoff-worthy pace.
Assuming the Royals don’t sell at the deadline — and it would take a shocking series of events for the Royals to sell at the deadline — then missing the playoffs represents the worst case scenario:
Not adding talent for the future, and not adding a flag to remember the past.
But if they’re within a few games of a playoff spot at the deadline, I don’t know how you’d call it a mistake to go for it.
The point of trading away pieces at the deadline is, basically, to someday have a chance at the playoffs. Why give that away now, on the hope that you can get it back later?
Look, I think longtime readers* know I’m more conscious of the future than most. I have a good column teed up if the Royals are like five or six games out of the second wild card on July 31 and don’t trade anyone.
* THE BEST PEOPLE IN THE WORLD.
In fact, I’m pro-tank. If they don’t think they can be in the playoffs, I believe it’s best for the Royals to lose their way to the top of the draft.
But I just don’t know how you can sell important pieces if you’re in the race. You can say the Royals would lose the Wild Card Game, or wouldn’t have a chance in a series if they made it that far, but you would also have to acknowledge that people said that about the 2014 Royals and the playoffs are largely a crapshoot.
In other words: if the rebuild takes a year or two longer because the Royals didn’t want to give away a realistic chance at the playoffs right now, I’m OK with it and believe most Royals fans should be, too.
What a great question and, guys, did you see I made the editorial page?
I need you people to start treating me with some respect around here.
Now, moving on...
I do think KU will play MU again, and I won’t be surprised if it happens when Bill Self is still an employee of the University of Kansas.
I just continue to believe that people like money, and that sports hate can be profitable, and at some point it becomes difficult to continue to not play your most important rival on the grounds that they left the conference when you have literally played everyone else who left the conference — including Nebraska, who got the whole thing started.
I did, however, enjoy Bowen Loftin coming off the top rope on Self. Good grief. First of all, any picture of Bowen Loftin is hilarious, and the chutzpah on Loftin to say anyone has a big ego is pretty incredible.
There’s an old saying in writing, that you should write what you know, so maybe Loftin is talking about what he knows in measuring egos. But I feel a little like Ron Burgundy after Baxter pooped in the fridge and ate the wheel of cheese: I’m not even mad, that’s amazing.
But I digress.
From design to completion, a new airport would take about 4 1/2 years. If it’s approved in November, that means, perhaps, sometime in 2022.
Even with my riveting debut on the editorial page, there is no guarantee voters approve in November, and if they don’t, we could be looking at a delay of many years.
But I’m betting the thing passes, because I think voters will understand that taxpayer money won’t be used and that a new airport is a matter of when, not if.
If that happens, I think we’ll be using a new terminal with burritos past security and power outlets as far as the eye can see before Self decides — and we’re all old enough to understand it has to be Self deciding, right? — Kansas and Missouri to play each other again.
But, man, this is a terrific question. Take a bow, good sir.
We talked about this on the Border Patrol, but Neal Patterson is a great American success story.
In one sentence: the son of Oklahoma farmers built one of America’s great tech companies from nothing.
Along with his partners, Patterson made Cerner into the biggest private employer in Kansas City and the biggest company of its kind in the United States. Kansas City would be a different, and lesser, place without Neal Patterson, and that’s a mark of a hell of a good life.
I know I have a tendency to take some of these questions too literally, but the problem with placing Patterson among other giants in Kansas City is that I don’t know how much to credit solely to him, how much to give to Cliff Illig, how much for Pat Curran, and so on.
For the purposes of this question, let’s put what I sometimes think of as “the Cerner guys” together.
In that context, I can’t think of anyone who has had a bigger impact on Kansas City sports other than Lamar Hunt and Ewing Kauffman.
Maybe I’m forgetting someone, and if so, I apologize. But they literally saved a major professional team from extinction or relocation, and turned it into perhaps the greatest turnaround and success story in Major League Soccer.
That team was playing in front of what usually felt like a few hundred rabid fans and 75,000 empty seats at Arrowhead Stadium before Patterson’s group took over, and was playing in a terribly awkward and shrunken field squished into a small independent league baseball stadium before what is now Children’s Mercy Park opened in 2011.
It is now working on five consecutive years of sellouts, a consistent winner with three members of the U.S. men’s national team, a terrific home atmosphere and a real place in Kansas City and nationally that the franchise just never could muster in its first 10 or 15 years of existence.
You can argue the answer of this question on what I would of as semantics, like, is George Brett or Tom Watson or Derrick Thomas or Frank White more important than executives we don’t directly cheer for.
There would be an interesting case for someone like Carol Marinovich, who in some real ways saved KCK, and made that part of town a center for Kansas Speedway and Sporting and the T-Bones. Len Dawson should be in the discussion, not just for the Super Bowl title but his career in sports media after.
On a different level, John Schuerholz and Dayton Moore and Carl Peterson have each left forever impacts on Kansas City.
But in terms of tangible legacy, from a 30,000 foot view, it’s hard to compete with someone who not only saved a team from dying or leaving, but pushed it into prominence.
If you haven’t seen it, Sports Illustrated’s Michael McKnight wrote this terrific piece on his quest to hit a home run in a major-league stadium.
It’s long, a little strange, and absolutely wonderful.
But to your question ... slow-pitch softball changes the equation, just because of #math, and it’s harder to hit the heavier ball far.
Standard softball rules — which they use in the celebrity game, by the way — put the fences 220 feet from home. That’s roughly half the distance to the Kauffman Stadium wall in center, or two-thirds down the lines.
If you’re going to give me a few weeks to practice, I believe I could do that.
If you’re going to make me do it right now, cold, with the only exercise I’ve had in the last few months some four-mile jogs and chasing toddlers around, then I probably need the fences closer.
If history that’s now more than 20 years old can still be an indication, I have a boom-or-bust approach, with surprising power. Once, in junior high, with this hot blonde in the stands, I went big fly. The blonde and I had ice cream after the game. We kissed. She’s now my wife.
It was like my own little Roy Hobbs moment or something.
One thing I would guarantee: I would have at least a few swings that would be flatly embarrassing, so I’d hope that it could just be me and the pitcher there, and that the pitcher would sign a non-disclosure agreement.
Now, I actually and honestly think I could not embarrass myself in a three-point contest.
I was a bit of a volume shooter in my day, which was before the term “volume shooter” was invented, which is a shame, because it’s a label I’d have worn with pride.
The three-point contest format is a nice fit for my skills, too, because there’s no defense to worry about, no screens to run around, and it allows streaky shooters to find a rhythm.
It’s why I remain one of the city’s great Pop-A-Shot players, at least in my mind, and there’s nothing you’re going to do now or ever to change my mind.
I probably don’t need to point out the absurdity that thinking a program might finish 75th or so out of 128 qualifies as bullish, but that’s what happens when you follow Turner Gill with Charlie Weis.
But, yes, I do think they’ll better.
They have many of their best players back, and the context of the program is such that you’d expect more internal improvement than a typical program.
What I mean by that is David Beaty’s recruiting has generally improved every year — first from what Weis was doing, and 56th in the country this past year, according to Rivals.
That means better talent aging out inferior talent, and better coaching with more time to work with that better talent. I think Beaty was probably overwhelmed in the beginning — because who wouldn’t have been? — and now has a better idea of what’s required of him and what he requires of others.
This is probably a dumb thing to say about a team that ranked 114th in points surrendered, but I thought the defense was good enough last year. Teams made bowl games with worse defenses, but KU’s unit wore down late in games, and was consistently put in brutal situations by the offense.
So if the offense can make some progress, sure, maybe there are three or four wins in that schedule somewhere.
Again, the absurdity of the standards here are clear, but this is what Beaty walked into: a situation where three or four wins by his third season on the job would be undeniable progress.
They are conflicted.
As a dad, I find him ugly, overbearing, incredibly selfish, and actively making his son’s life more difficult than it needs to be. All of these go against every fiber of what I want to be as a dad. When I think about it in those terms, of a father and son, it makes me frustrated at the example and empathetic toward for the son.
I think about this: if Lavar Ball was a regular dad, his son would be one of the most popular rookies in a while. He got exposure at a college powerhouse, and not a place like Duke or Kentucky that polarizes people. His shot is jacked up, but his game is gorgeous — fast, fluid, a terrific passer with vision to see scoring opportunities where others just don’t.
Instead, when they think of Lonzo Ball, many people simply get angry at his dad.
I don’t see how this helps Lonzo.
Now, if I can remove the dad hat, and think of it just as a basketball fan, I believe Lavar Ball is playing (and probably winning) a game most don’t realize is happening.
He is a carnival barker, and there is no reason to believe he gives even the tiniest damn about whether you or I like or hate him. The point, it seems to me, is that you and I know who he is, and have an opinion about who he is. The point, it seems to me, is to build his family shoe brand in a way that will make him and his family money.
In that way, I suppose I have to respect the ambition, and the gumption.
I also believe he is exploiting an awful deficiency in our society, where the loudest and most absurd voice often wins.
Logically, there is absolutely no reason for any of us to care about the thoughts of an old former college benchwarmer who says he can beat Michael Jordan and his college freshman son can beat a two-time NBA MVP.
Saying something like that should disqualify you from anything but stand-up comedy, except we keep putting him on TV, and we keep talking about him. Now, he is undeniably entertaining if you hear his words with the right filter. He is genuinely funny if you take nothing he says as anything more than the loud boasts of an old man who wants to be heard.
But it seems to me that a lot of people are taking him seriously, for reasons I don’t quite understand. You can say this is “First Take” or whatever making a star out of a loon, and I get that, but “First Take” is only supplying what its audience will watch and react to.
For reasons that the Internet does not have enough space for, we are a society that wants to watch and react to absurd carnival barkers, taking seriously a message that I don’t believe the messenger believes, but is only being put out there in a sneaky brilliant strategy for attention and money.
But I do keep coming back to Lonzo Ball. He’s talented enough to make it on his own, no matter what his old man says. But it’s unfortunate the old man is making that harder than it needs to be.
Chicago may be my favorite city in the country to visit. It’s either Chicago, San Diego or New York.
Especially this time of year. People in Chicago lose their minds when the weather’s nice, because it comes directly after it’s been oppressively cold and windy for what seems like forever.
Any bar with outdoor seating is packed from noon on Friday through the weekend. Lake Michigan is hopping, Cubs games, biking, running along the beach. Just a terrific place, and I’ve gone this long without mentioning the food.
So that’s an easy call for me, but here’s the list, at least off the top of my head and for the purposes of this question let’s use the definition of Midwest found here on Wikipedia: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Ohio and Wisconsin.
1. Chicago. See above.
2. Grand Rapids. I’m using this as a bit of a stand-in all parts of Michigan that are on a lake, and I come at this with a bit of a bias because my wife’s family takes us to that area for a week every summer. It’s gorgeous, particularly if you can get where the bugs aren’t, but that’s a struggle everywhere. Very laid-back, not overly touristy, good food, lakes, what more do you want?
3. Minneapolis. Underrated all around, but the summer is the best time. Downtown is nice, walkable, plenty to do, enough energy. And you may have heard there are 9,999 lakes or so in the state.
4. Milwaukee. Sort of a JV Chicago. It’s great!
5. Lake Geneva. Just like with Grand Rapids, this is a stand-in for a lot of the state, in particular Door County. Very similar to the parts of Michigan I’m referring to, though Lake Geneva is a different tax bracket.
The line for me is sometimes hazy between sports I watch for work and sports I watch for fun* but if there was a way to do it I would guess I watch as much Premier League as anything else that’s not in some way for my job.
* Which I recognize is awesome.
Again, this is all make-believe, because if I had a real job I’d still watch the Royals a lot, and the Chiefs, and Sporting when I could. But, clearly, Premier League soccer has essentially nothing to do with a sports columnist in Kansas City.
I love it on a lot of levels, including just the spectacle, but also the skill and the culture and the crazy stuff that always seems to happen with the personalities and absurd scale of that league in that country. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, this is a good briefing.
But, really, that’s about it, unless you’re talking about the Olympics, World Cup, and especially international basketball.
Because I looooove me some international basketball.
I wish the NBA and NCAA each adopted international rules. All of them.
Thanks for reading. This week I’m particularly grateful for good friends and open summer nights to have fun with them. My favorite response from last week was from a college sophomore who said she was grateful for her pledge mom helping get her out of a destructive relationship.