Sam Mellinger

Mellinger Minutes: Herrera's gone, what's next for Royals and worrisome about Chiefs

Royals’ Kelvin Herrera thanks fans after being traded to Nationals

Kansas City Royals closer Kelvin Herrera says goodbye to fans and teammates after being traded to the Washington Nationals on Monday, June 18, 2018.
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Kansas City Royals closer Kelvin Herrera says goodbye to fans and teammates after being traded to the Washington Nationals on Monday, June 18, 2018.

This is a baseball cliche, but not as much when it's true, so here goes:

Kansas City watched Kelvin Herrera grow up.

The Royals saw it from the inside-out, of course. They signed him on a whim as a 16-year-old for $15,000, and he said then that he would not let them down. The sentiment was pure, but also unnecessary.

The Royals would not be let down with such a small investment, no matter the outcome, but Herrera's rise mirrored the franchise's. He and Sal Perez were each signed on the first scouting trip the Royals made after Dayton Moore's hire sparked a reinvestment into Latin America. The total bill was less than $100,000 for the two stars. The return was incredible.

Herrera was never the centerpiece, but always part of the heavy lifting. He was at his best as the first letter in HDH, the Royals' collection of closers who effectively ended games after six innings, lifted the franchise to the top of baseball, and changed the way the rest of the sport viewed relievers.

He struck out nearly one out of every four batters he faced with a devastating combination of a high-90s fastball, Bugs Bunny changeup, and a slider he developed late that took him from good to great.

He was, always, among the most liked players in a clubhouse full of friends. Making the 2015 All-Star team changed him. He was always kind, easygoing away from the mound, but a little unsure of his place at the game's highest level. He saw making that team as validation, that people around the game saw him as more than a setup reliever.

Some may have looked at it as a gift from Ned Yost, the Royals' manager who chose the team that year. Herrera saw it as something more.

He is now among the game's best closers, and this is pacing for his most effective season. He leaves the only organization he's ever known for a playoff chase with the Nationals, joining a roster full of stars — Bryce Harper, Max Scherzer, Anthony Rendon, Stephen Strasburg and others.

Maybe he'll face Lorenzo Cain in late September, or even October, meaningful baseball again for two talents who deserve it.

The question in Kansas City is whether the Royals got enough in return. Kelvin Gutierrez is a 23-year-old third baseman with power potential. He is now the Royals' No. 8 prospect, according to MLB.com. Blake Perkins is a 21-year-old switch hitting outfielder with lots of athleticism but a bat that has not yet caught up. He is now the Royals' No. 15 prospect. Yohanse Morel is just 17 years old with a mid-90s fastball. A lottery ticket.

Conventional wisdom would've had the Royals wait this out. Forty-two days remain between now and the July 31 trade deadline, so patience may have created more of a market, and driven teams to part with higher-rated prospects. The Royals have rarely operated by conventional wisdom.

Moore and his assistants have been working on this and other trades for weeks, maybe months. Club officials had expressed frustration that teams weren't willing to trade more top-shelf talent, but they have also long ignored prospect rankings and trusted their own eyes.

Most of baseball didn't think they got enough in the Wil Myers trade. Cain never made a list of top 100 prospects, and he turned out to be the best player on the 2015 World Series champs. Herrera never made a list, and look what happened with him.

The Royals' self-trust has backfired at times, the same way conventional wisdom has backfired on others. But it also helped produce back-to-back pennants, and one of the most remarkable accomplishments in modern baseball history — a small-market champion, pulled up from the bottom.

We will see soon enough whether the Royals were right here. We will see soon enough more trades, with Mike Moustakas the most logical candidate, though the market is said to be cold and Royals fans likely to be disappointed with the return.

Losing weight stinks in the beginning, because you can't eat what you want and you're not yet seeing the results. But this is what a rebuild looks like. Herrera will be a free agent after the season, and in part because of him, the market for relievers has been trending up for years.

He deserves that. He's earned it. He's better off for this chance. The Royals hope the same can be said for their future.

This week's reading recommendation is my friend Kent Babb on Tina Ball's stroke and the Ball family dynamics, and the eating recommendation is the smash burger inspiration from Kenji Lopez-Alt, which I saw from Mitchell Schwartz. If you try it, pro tip: wallpaper scrapers are not dishwasher safe

Please give me a follow on Twitter and Facebook, and as always, thanks for your help and thanks for reading.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Is there anyone from this Royals run that will be more confusing to look back at than Alcides Escobar?</p>&mdash; mitchell wittman. (@mitchellwittman) <a href="https://twitter.com/mitchellwittman/status/1008721738337841152?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">June 18, 2018</a></blockquote>

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I see it differently. Not confusing, but illustrative. No player's individual story better represents the Royals' rise than Alcides Escobar.

There is a case for Mike Moustakas — Dayton's first official pick, lots of hype, then lots of struggles, then broke out like a bull in the 2014 playoffs.

A case for Alex Gordon — Kansas City's most hyped athlete in a generation, then a broken prospect, then a position switch because they were out of ideas, then the game's best left fielder for a period of three or four years.

A case, even, for Sal Perez — the first big leaguer created from a reinvestment to international scouting, a flawed but terrifically talented player, high energy, lots of fun, the single past Donaldson on a pitch 17 feet off the plate, and the World Series MVP.

But Escobar's is pretty incredible, too. He — and Lorenzo Cain, who has his own case here — would never have been with the Royals if not for a string of events he had no control over.

First, Zack Greinke had to remake himself as a baseball player, overcoming a social anxiety disorder that nearly wrecked his career to be baseball's best starting pitcher.

Then, the Royals had to stink so bad and Greinke had to be so fed up that he demanded a trade. Then, the Royals' first choice of trade had to blow up when Greinke refused to sign a long-term contract with the Nationals.

THEN — and only then — did the Royals talk to the Brewers, who offered a trade built around Escobar, Cain, Jake Odorizzi, and Jeremy Jeffress.

Escobar was part of The Core, and in the beginning his role was the example of just how much Ned Yost believed — Escobar would hit in pressure situations in 2011 because he'd need to succeed in pressure situations in 2015.

He played beautiful defense, and wasn't much of a hitter but ran like hell and would take neither a strikeout or walk. Other than his above-average speed, he is one of the worst candidates imaginable to be a leadoff hitter, but danged if the whole thing didn't work better when he was the leadoff hitter.

It made no sense — none. The world essentially knew he would swing at the first pitch — an ambush! — but the world kept throwing him first-pitch fastballs over the plate anyway. He hit the first pitch in the bottom of the first inning of the first World Series game in 2015 for an inside the park home run. He was the MVP of the ALCS that year, too.

The Royals are 44 games over .500 with Alcides Escobar leading off since last season, even though Alex Gordon and Ben Zobrist are better fits for the role because of their higher on-base percentages. The Royals try to explain the phenomenon.

He has played, over and over and over again, 405 consecutive starts after last night. From 2014 to 2016 — on teams beginning each season with World Series goals — no Royals player had more plate appearances.

Now, of course, he is not what he used to be. The flaws in his plate approach have been further exposed, the pitch recognition has not improved. He ranks 158th among 159 regular hitters in OPS. If not for the Royals' particular loyalty, he would almost certainly not be playing everyday, and the Royals' best version of themselves includes him not playing everyday as Adalberto Mondesi works his way into the big leagues.

You say confusing, and sure, I can see that.

But, more than that, what I see is the Royals' story told beautifully through a talented, flawed, exciting ballplayer who once made an All-Star team and won a Gold Glove and now has an uncertain future.

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Yeah, that was bad.

If I was going to be objective and not root for myself, I would recognize that the Royals are now 22-50, which is a pace for 112 losses. I would recognize that they just traded their nails closer and are likely to trade their best power hitter. I would recognize that Jorge Soler is hurt and unlikely to be as productive going forward as he's been thus far, that Jake Junis has given up 12 runs and six homers in his last two starts, and that saying the Royals have lost seven straight and 13 of their last 14 is true but also sort of missing the point because losing 50 of 72 on the year is pretty dreadful, too.

Most of all, I would recognize that this team needs to finish 41-49 to avoid 100 losses, and has given no indication that it is capable of such sustained mediocrity.

I would recognize that, yes, it's true that losing 100 games is difficult. Nobody did it last year, only one has done it in the last four, and only 23 this century. I would recognize that, yes, less talented teams have avoided 100 losses, in part because to lose 100 games you need to be more than bad — you need to be unlucky, lose the close ones, give games away that you every right to win, and generally spend six months searching for answers that never come.

I would recognize that all of that is true, but this group here is currently approaching the season's midpoint with the eye of the tiger. They have met every challenge so far, starting with the day before opening day when they lost their star catcher to a luggage mishap.

So, I want you to know I see what's in front of us.

But, dangit, I've gone this far. I'm going to stick with my stance until loss No. 100 which, by the way, at the current pace will come in game No. 144 — Tuesday, Sept. 11 at home against the White Sox if you want to get tickets.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">At what point does there need to be some accountability for the Royals historically poor season and rather bleak outlook moving forward?</p>&mdash; Brian Harrison (@Brianharrisonkc) <a href="https://twitter.com/Brianharrisonkc/status/1008767394070892544?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">June 18, 2018</a></blockquote>

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Couple points here.

First, and I know people get sick of me saying this but it's true: LOTS of folks wanted "some accountability" for the Royals in June and July of 2014. Lots of those folks quickly turned into the most positive Royals fans you've ever met, and lots are back here now wanting accountability again.

This isn't accusatory. Just the truth.

The Royals are a bit of an empty vessel right now. They're not going to fire the manager, but at some point I think it's going to be clear that both sides are better off moving on.

You can talk about firing the general manager, but even if we ignore the reasons that won't happen* I have made the case here a few times about why it shouldn't happen.

*Which include the thought of David Glass firing the guy who gave him a World Series championship and multiplied the franchise value by nine.

Basically, the case: if you fire Dayton Moore, you're going to want to hire someone exactly like him.

The Royals stink right now, and Moore and the people who work for him are responsible for that. Far too many of their specific player moves have backfired, regardless of the logic at the time, and they missed in the 30,000 foot view by not being more assertive about trying to rebuild or win after 2015.

But this same leadership group brought the franchise back from the ashes once before. You can ding them for certain mistakes, and it's true it took longer than it should've or they expected, but they won the dang World Series. That's pretty good.

There was a long time people said they'd be happy the rest of their lives if the Royals won a championship, or that all they wanted was for competitive baseball. Well, we've had that, and a team like the 2018 Royals was always going to be here.

Moore doesn't get a lifetime pass. But I do think we should wait more than 2 1/2 years after the parade* to talk about firing the guy.

*Drink.

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lol no.

Look, none of us know anything. Or, more specifically I guess, I don't know anything. A year ago, I would've told you there was no way that a defense that ranked seventh or better in points the previous four years would crater and even as I believe Eric Berry's absence accounted for an outsized portion of the blame, it still happened.

But the corners weren't good enough last year, and they're no better now. That's the simplest way to put it.

You can make the case that Marcus Peters hurt the team by freelancing too much last year, and there are certainly moments of film that would help you with the point. But he was also — by far — the best playmaker on a defense in desperate need of more.

Kendall Fuller is a stud, and I believe that slot corners are undervalued and under appreciated. But you still have to cover the outsides, and even as I will stand up for Steve Nelson because I believe he took WAAYYY too much of the blame last year, too many of the reasons for the defensive failures are still in place.

Washington will be sending cornerback Kendall Fuller to the Chiefs as part of the Alex Smith trade. These five Pro Football Focus stats show how well Fuller played in 2017.

Everything Bob Sutton does is predicated on pressuring the quarterback. The Chiefs didn't do nearly enough of that last year, and that was with Justin Houston playing just his second full season since 2012.

Dee Ford will, presumably, be healthy but even if you make the leap of faith that he'll play a full season he brings enough vulnerability against the run to limit his overall effectiveness. The linebackers should be better, but if Derrick Nnadi is being asked to do what Bennie Logan did last year and Dontari Poe before that, well, seems like a big ask.

I love what I've seen and heard about Armani Watts, but now we have a fourth round pick who's expected to play and be productive immediately at a position he didn't really play in college?

Eric Berry is an exceptional talent and mind, but these are a lot of problems to expect one man to fix.

Look, the Chiefs have a chance to be good. Like, really good. They were fourth in the league in offense last year, then added Sammy Watkins, and essentially add Chris Conley. There is reason to believe Tyreek Hill can be even better, and reason to believe Travis Kelce is still in his prime.

Patrick Mahomes will almost certainly make more mistakes than Alex Smith last year, but he'll probably also make more spectacular plays, and whatever comes out in the wash could be the most exciting Chiefs offense since 2003.

You can come up with a scenario in your mind in which the Chiefs stay in the top five in offense, climb closer to average in defense, and it's all enough to win the division again and perhaps — if you're REALLY into dreaming — not suffer another historic postseason collapse.

But you're absolutely right. The group of corners does not inspire a ton of confidence.

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Well, I asked Cliff Illig to describe his level of optimism. He said, "reasonably."

I do think Kansas City deserves a game, and more than just one. I believe geography, reach, culture, Arrowhead's capacity, Children's Mercy Park, Pinnacle, and what Illig's ownership group has done for soccer generally and in MLS should be enough for a central role in America's part of the World Cup.

So, in a vacuum, I'd say 80 percent.

We don't live in a vacuum.

Let's look at this with #math. Sixteen sites are expected to be chosen, from 23 cities. Mexico is expected to have three sites, and Canada at least two. That leaves 10 or 11 winners from 17 American candidates.

New York, LA, and Dallas will host games. New York will likely host the championship, and the other two will get semifinals. It would be a shock if Boston — we should probably just say Bob Kraft here — does not host.

Now, we're down to six or seven sites from 13 candidates. A 50-50 shot.

Orlando and Miami are unlikely to both be chosen. Same can be said for Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. Now we're at 11 candidates.

Atlanta has a crown jewel of a stadium, and a budding soccer culture. Seattle is one of the country's great soccer cities. The Bay Area is strong with soccer and the country's sixth-biggest market.

Now we're at three or four sites, with eight candidates.

Houston has a retractable roof, a history with international matches, and a stadium that's hosted the Super Bowl. If you're a Kansas City optimist, perhaps you hold out hope that FIFA won't choose both Dallas and Houston. The same consideration could hurt Philadelphia, and indirectly help Kansas City.

If you're hopeful, we're now at three or four sites and six candidates.

Cincinnati seems like a longshot for a lot of reasons, Nashville is a cool city with an NFL stadium but without a lot of the extras of the other contenders. Denver makes sense for a lot of reasons, but could altitude be a deterrent? If Mexico's inclusion means two high-altitude sites already, perhaps FIFA would want to limit more.

If all of this off-the-cuff typing turns out to be prescient, then yes, Kansas City will get a game or more.

Again, I think Kansas City deserves a central role, for a lot of reasons.

I just can't get this scenario out of my head: FIFA sees geography as a reason to have teams train here, at Pinnacle, eliminating the longest flights to matches in other (and bigger) cities.

At that point, Kansas City is stuck trying to pretend that hosting training is basically the same as hosting games. That would probably be done attempting to crap-talk some of the hosting scenarios and play up the training — "would you rather have Croatia and Panama for one game or Spain and Germany for a week?"

Thankfully, Kansas City has experience pretending ground chuck is a ribeye...

Arrowhead Stadium was one of 23 sites included in the joint bid’s official tendering to FIFA, including 17 in the U.S. FIFA will select up to 16 host cities across the continent, though that announcement is at least another year down the road.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Sprint Center is sitting empty 75 out of 92 nights in months of June/July/Aug. Why do so many people brag about how busy the arena is while arguing that a tenant would be a bad thing?</p>&mdash; Jeff Brown (@jbrown8891) <a href="https://twitter.com/jbrown8891/status/1008719961437679618?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">June 18, 2018</a></blockquote>

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I don't know.

This example isn't perfect, because even if we had a team — from now on I think I'm just going to call it the Kansas City Unicorns — they would not be playing right now.

But your point remains, and it drives me crazy.

This is an enormous pet peeve of mine, along with intentional intellectual dishonesty in arguments, people who can't wait to tell you they don't like something you like, people who save tables at Joe's, dealership repair costs, and weather so hot that pigs like me sweat without exercising.

I understand the facts. The Sprint Center makes money, and even if AEG didn't intentionally mislead people about its power and interest in landing the NBA or NHL we should have built it.

I also understand that, in most ways, not having 50 or so dates plus potential postseasons makes planning easier. Where maybe other cities have to wait for next year's schedule, Kansas City can jump to the front of the line for concerts or events.

But it's all so phony, this empty logic that ignores that arenas in New York and LA and Oklahoma City and Sacramento and Nashville and literally dozens of other cities somehow manage to have teams and concerts in the same building.

These shows book NBA and NHL arenas all the time, so they're used to waiting and working through the contingencies required.

I mean, I'm stoked that Sprint Center is doing well, particularly when it's more than 10 years old. I've watched basketball, monster trucks, the Black Keys, Jay-Z, Bruno Mars and a lot more there, and have enjoyed it all.

I accept that we don't need an NBA or NHL team for the building to survive, and if that's where the building operators and others left it, I'd have no beef.

But to pretend Kansas City and the building would not benefit from landing a team because you have to tell the Foo Fighters to hold on for a second is just absurd and not something smart people should expect even dumb people to believe.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">LeBron. Where? Why?</p>&mdash; Carrington Harrison (@cdotharrison) <a href="https://twitter.com/cdotharrison/status/1008717778864533504?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">June 18, 2018</a></blockquote>

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Well, he's not coming to Sprint Center, because Jeff Dunham is already booked for Dec. 29 and thank god or else the building would probably crumble.

Sorry.

I love LeBron. I believe he's the greatest athlete of the last 20 years, in any sport, though Mike Trout is chasing fast and powerfully*.

*He is 26 years old. Here is a partial list of players whose careers he's already matched or surpassed in WAR: Gary Sheffield, Harmon Killebrew, Mike Piazza, Vladimir Guerrero, Yogi Berra, Ichiro Suzuki, Dick Allen, Kirby Puckett, David Ortiz, Enos Slaughter, and Hank Greenberg.

I love LeBron because he was given the most ridiculous set of expectations of any athlete in my lifetime with the possible exception of Tiger Woods and has somehow met those expectations without a hint of off-the-court misstep. He prioritized USA Basketball, which I appreciate deeply, and set an example of playing within a team and always making the right basketball play.

But I don't know how to answer this. I feel like he's screwed no matter what.

If he stays, he's going to continue to be surrounded by a bad team, maybe drag it to another Finals or three, and then get thrashed by Golden State or Houston or the Lakers if they build another superteam. He'll be roundly criticized.

If he leaves, it's hard to imagine any team — even with him — being favored over Golden State in the immediate future. If he leaves and wins fewer than three or four titles he'll be roundly criticized.

So, I don't know. Seems like he's stuck.

If he cares about how he's remembered, staying in Cleveland is probably the best play. Recruit the best talent he can, but either way, he'll eventually be remembered for giving his all and bringing a championship to a city that hadn't seen one in a half century.

He deserves better, but that along with at least opening the discussion about whether Michael Jordan is still the greatest player ever is a hell of a career.

But, I don't know. He'll probably go to the Lakers, play with George and Kwahi, and lose in six to Golden State.

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There are a thousand ways to look at this, but in the simplest, grandest view, sure. Sporting is Kansas City's most successful professional team.

But best thing going sports wise in Kansas City? Depends on the perspective.

I was going to turn this into a list — a list? — but really there's no way to do this. Because Kansas basketball is the most consistently successful major sports team in the area, and it's not all that close, but there are many, many, many Kansas Citians who would tell you that the Jayhawks are not part of Kansas City and even if they were they suck and so does anyone who likes them.

Sporting is the most successful soccer team, but there are many Kansas Citians who would tell you that soccer is not a real sport and even it was it sucks and so does anyone who likes it.

But, well, screw it. Let's do a list. The first 10 things that come to mind when thinking about what's good in Kansas City sports.

If I did the list tomorrow, or after lunch, it would probably be different but I'm doing it now after breakfast — Raisin Bran Crunch, y'all — so here it is:

Patrick Mahomes to Tyreek Hill.

Eric Berry's return.

Daniel Salloi with a scoring chance.

Kelvin Herrera with a one-run lead.

Jakob Junis' slider (when it's working).

Kareem Hunt in the moment he's deciding between finesse and power.

Justin Houston against a right tackle.

Jontay Porter's sophomore season.

Drew Lock's senior season.

Allen Fieldhouse when it's close and late.

That's 10. I could do 10 more. Watch me.

Dean Wade when his confidence is right.

Bill Snyder when he wants to make a point.

Johnny Russell on the attack.

Graham Zusi when he can create.

Children's Mercy Park when any of that happens.

Sal Perez when the guy at first is taking too much of a secondary lead.

Danny Duffy when he's right.

Cuonzo Martin when he's pumped.

The sports complex parking lot an hour before kickoff.

The Cauldron when the other team's keeper has rabbit ears.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Hi Sam, long time first time. If I were about to publish a breakdown of Joe Montana&#39;s iconic drive against the Broncos on MNF in &#39;94, is that something you&#39;d be interested in?</p>&mdash; Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) <a href="https://twitter.com/RealMNchiefsfan/status/1008714950804672513?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">June 18, 2018</a></blockquote>

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I'm going off the rails with this answer, but it hit me when Seth — who's great, by the way, and if you're a Chiefs fan who likes X's and O's you should absolutely read his stuff — mentioned that drive turned him into a Chiefs fan.

It reminds me of a lot of things, but mostly that teams in all sports and at all levels have opportunities all the time to create forever memories.

That's amazing.

That's not something we should ever forget, or take for granted.

The 1994 Chiefs were OK. They finished 9-7, then lost a wild card game in Miami. The year before, they were a game — some would say a concussion — away from the Super Bowl. The year after they had the best team in the AFC before a gut punch of a playoff loss.

But there wasn't much to distinguish that 1994 team. Montana was 38 years old, and threw 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions. They scored a total of six points across two games sandwiched around the bye week. Neil Smith and Derrick Thomas split 23 sacks.

But there were better teams. The Chargers swept the Chiefs, and won the division, and made it all the way to the Super Bowl. The Steelers went 12-4, and had a mother of a defense built around Kevin Greene, Greg Lloyd, and Rod Woodson. The Cowboys were stacked with Hall of Famers and in the off year of three Super Bowl championships in four seasons. The 49ers were incredible, with Steve Young playing quarterback as well as it could be played, surrounded by Jerry Rice and Ricky Watters and Ken Norton and even Deion Sanders.

But the Chiefs had a high-profile game on a Monday night, won in the last minute, and a boy in Minnesota was hooked. Chris Jones was still in diapers. Neither of them knew what was ahead.

I love stuff like this.

And, yes, of course I'll read it.

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I refuse to accept just one.

College basketball adopts all international rules, including the three-point line, and resetting fouls with 10-minute quarters (and fewer timeouts).

College football lets the clock run more often, because these games shouldn't take longer than a drive to St. Louis.

In any sport, if a replay takes more than 60 seconds, the call stands.

In any sport, if a team asks for a review and wins, they can do it again and again and again until they get one wrong.

Officials and referees and umpires are required to do press conferences if asked.

College basketball gets officials under one umbrella, and puts limits on the number of games and miles each can put in.

All teams that take public money are required to sell a quarter of its tickets for cheap — $10 for baseball, $20 for the NBA and NHL, $30 for the NFL.

All tickets for kids 12 and under are $5 with a paying parent.

College athletes can make money off their dang likeness.

All league championship series must have at least one day game.

Any baseball player who turns into the fun police is fined $10,000 with the money going directly to local kids' programs.

That's all I have for now.

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If you have a story you think I should know about, I'm easy to reach, but mostly when I think of youth baseball I'm terrified.

Five or so years ago, I was talking to a scout before a game and he mentioned that his 12-year-old son had played more games than the big league team. This was in May, so the big-league team had played about 40 times.

The emphasis on more and more instruction earlier and earlier makes me uncomfortable. I don't have the answers, and I don't know anyone who does, and maybe this is naive but I just want the emphasis to be more on loving the sport than excelling at it.

The two can coexist, and do in the best circumstances, but I think adults can suck the fun out and turn games into something they were never supposed to be.

I don't care if your sixth-grade team won a state tournament. I care whether your sixth graders had fun, and whether they'll be baseball fans in 10 or 20 or 30 years.

I don't care whether your 13-year-old has a good curveball. I care whether your 13-year-old will need elbow surgery before his high school graduation, and whether you're harming his potential baseball future and — again — love of the sport for some random tournament championship in Wichita.

The lines are fuzzy on these things, and if kids are into it, that's great, they should play as much as they can with the best coaching we can provide.

But hopefully it's the kid's idea.

/gets off soapbox/

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I don't know Ed Werder personally. I think we've met a few times, but that's it. Even so, I don't believe he's sexist, or more specifically, don't believe he meant that women shouldn't be in sports media or that they don't deserve advocates.

I think he read a short thing on Twitter, and read it in a specific way that was not intended by the author, and it went from there.

That said, here we go. Sally Jenkins may be the best sports writer in the country. Doris Burke may be the best basketball commentator going. Jessica Mendoza is terrific on baseball. Jenny Vrentas is a wicked combination of writing chops, reporting chops, the creativity to think of good ideas and the brain to see them through.

Susan Slusser is one of the most badass baseball writers in the country. Brooke Pryor and Laken Litman are two of the best college beat writers around. Lindsay Jones is awesome. Charlotte Wilder. Candace Buckner. Lauren Theisen. Mechelle Voepel is like the godmother of women's basketball writers.

Mina Kimes, holy crap she's so good, and if it took me this long to get to her then I'm just going to stop because there's too many to name here.

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Oh, sure, this is different enough from the 20 things a few questions back.

A list!

I actually came up with 12.

12. Bruce Weber's best team at K-State. This is going one of two ways, you guys. He's going to back up a push to the Elite Eight with something stronger, putting some distance between him and the memories of Frank Martin, or the thing is falling apart and it'll get ugly.

11. Michael Porter Jr. Does he still count? Because he really might be an NBA star, unless his back goes Mike Sweeney and he's retired by 25.

10. Jontay Porter. You wanted predictive, so I'll say he's going to develop into a lottery pick next year.

9. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. The nation's No. 16 recruit according to Rivals is wanted by both Kansas and Missouri, a border war of sorts for a kid everyone describes as exceptional.

8. Bill Snyder's replacement. It's going to happen in the next few years, you'd think, this time for good and a seismic shift to a program that means so much to so many.

7. Bill Self's replacement. It's going to happen in the next three to five years, I think, with Self finally trying the NBA and Kansas tries to find its next Hall of Fame coach.

6. Kansas basketball's push. This really might Self's most talented team at Kansas, or at least the most talented since 2008.

5. The Royals, starting in about 2021 or so. The next push would be higher on this list but, yeah, well, you know. It's going to be a while.

4. Tyreek Hill. He's got another gear in him. He's going to be remembered as the Chiefs' best receiver since Otis Taylor.

3. Drew Lock. Has a chance to be a top 10 pick, and who knows, might catch some Heisman talk.

2. Sporting Kansas City's young core. This is exactly what Peter Vermes has always envisioned.

1. Patrick Mahomes. I am so flipped up in my mind that I believe both of the following are true: the expectations are absurd, and he really might be the single most impactful athlete Kansas City has had since George Brett.

This week, I'm particularly thankful for operational air conditioning. The world has made us all soft, and there are a thousand reasons, but none more than the fact that I can be upstairs getting the kids to bed and think, Man it's hot up here, go check the thermostat and say, NO WONDER IT'S 74 DANG DEGREES WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE.

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