Sam Mellinger

Mellinger Minutes: Royals open, college basketball closes, Chiefs & some civic ranting

Royals pitcher Brad Keller had his final dress rehearsal before opening day

Brad Keller allowed four runs in the third inning against the Milwaukee Brewers in his final spring training start before the 2019 Royals season opener. He spoke with reporters at American Family Fields at Phoenix, Ariz., on March 23, 2019.
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Brad Keller allowed four runs in the third inning against the Milwaukee Brewers in his final spring training start before the 2019 Royals season opener. He spoke with reporters at American Family Fields at Phoenix, Ariz., on March 23, 2019.

The Royals play an actual, real, counts-in-the-standings baseball game on Thursday and since your boy procrastinated too long on getting an Over-Under ready let’s try a new game.

Royals Pop Quiz*

*I’m not married to the name, FYI.

Here’s how it works. Ten questions, each with an answer and corresponding point total we can use to judge how well the 2019 season goes for the Royals.

We are realists here, so we’re not judging by a playoff appearance. We are judging by progress. By how well The Process 2.0 moves along. The idea is to be competitive by next season and a contender sometime after that. Some pieces are in place. Many more need to emerge.

This is a quiz based on those parameters. A perfect score is 100 and because baseball is a game of failure anything over 50 is passing and 75 is pretty good.

Or, at least, that’s the goal for a game we’re making up as we go along. Pencils ready, let’s do this thing.

1. Kyle Zimmer and Bubba Starling show varying degrees of promise. What happens with them this year?

a) lol are you serious nothing.

b) one of them becomes a decent big-leaguer.

c) both of them become decent big-leaguers.

d) hot damn they’re actually pretty good.

2. Jorge Soler is back at it. What does he accomplish?

a) gets hurt again and we’re asking this same question again next year.

b) stays healthy but kind of stinks.

c) he’s a good player! But the ballpark is an awful fit, so the Royals end up flipping him at the deadline or over the winter.

d) he breaks Mike Moustakas’ franchise home run record.

3. Who is Ryan O’Hearn’s closest Royals comp?

a) Mark Quinn

b) Emil Brown

c) Mark Teahen

d) Danny Tartabull

4. What is Whit Merrifield’s future?

a) regresses to a nice utility player.

b) he’s a good player, obviously, but the team around him stinks.

c) he’s so good the Royals trade him and his tradeable contract for prospects.

d) he’s so good the Royals keep him to hit at the top of their 2020 AL Central championship lineup.

5. Hunter Dozier, Billy Hamilton, Jorge Bonifacio, and Brett Phillips are all employees for the Royals. How many are good enough that the team would be missing something without them in 2020?

a) zero. They range from nobodies to bar tricks.

b) one, but it’s Bonifacio, and does he really fit?

c) two, and one is Dozier, who is a better athlete than people realize and is a nice fit at third base.

d) three, including Billy Hamilton, who is unlocked and set free by the Royals’ big stadium and philosophy — so they trade him because they have newer models in the minor leagues.

6. Speaking of the minor leagues, the industry thinks the Royals’ farm system stinks. Where does it rank in a year?

a) below 25, still — they keep whiffing on good athletes who can’t play.

b) bottom half, with a group complimented more for depth than potential impact.

c) somewhere around the middle, but the industry picks up on guys like M.J. Melendez and Khalil Lee and others.

d) Royals scouts and officials were right all along, suckers.

7. Who’s the manager next year?

a) Mike Matheny, because Ned was fired.

b) Mike Matheny, because Ned had enough losing.

c) Ned, because this thing is really coming around and he wants to keep doing it.

d) Ned, because holy cow they really might be ready to win.

8. Brad Keller was one of baseball’s best-ever Rule 5 picks last year. How was the encore?

a) let’s just say the Diamondbacks don’t feel silly for giving up on him anymore.

b) he’s fine, but not missing bats is catching up with him.

c) he’s good enough to be a reliever, but not a guy you want in the eighth or ninth inning.

d) he really brought that changeup along and you can see him starting playoff games.

9. Club officials say one place they can and will get better from the first time around is in developing starting pitching. How are they doing with that?

a) Ian Kennedy is the best starter on the team so you tell me.

b) if they ever get to another World Series Game 7 they’ll probably start Guthrie again, even though he now works in the LDS Church.

c) they have like three or four No. 3s and a bunch of 5s.

d) Keller’s a horse and some of these prospects look like they could be even better.

10. Mellinger wrote that column where it sounded like Adalberto Mondesi was about to be one of the game’s best players? Is he stupid?

a) yes, of course he is.

b) it’s still possible if he finds better plate discipline, which at this point is a little like saying Mellinger will lose weight if he finds better plate discipline.

c) all the tools are there and we just saw it every night for a whole season.

d) he’s already a top 5 shortstop and that column should be in the Smithsonian if you ask me.

Answer key time. A’s are worth one point, B’s 4, C’s 7 and D’s 10. Six months or so until we have the answer.

This week’s eating recommendation is the brisket sandwich at Pigwich and the reading recommendation is Steve Serby and Zach Braziller with an excerpt from their upcoming Yankees book: Inside the Empire.

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

I’m assuming Adalberto Mondesi is too obvious. He hits 437-foot home runs and is faster to first base from the right side than Billy Hamilton is from the left. If he’s not too obvious, he’s my answer. I’m assuming he’s too obvious.

I’m also going to take a little liberty with your question. You’re asking about the major-league roster, which I’m going to take as a breakthrough on the major-league team. The Royals, like most teams, will use what will effectively be a 30-or-so man roster.

Guys will start on the big-league roster and know with 100 percent certainty they will play in Omaha at some point. Guys will start in Omaha and know with 100 percent certainty they will be in the big leagues at some point. Let’s not get too caught up in who’s on Thursday’s roster.

So there we go. Now let’s think about some candidates.

Jorge Soler is one. He OBP’d .354 before a season-ending foot injury last year, and for an organization that’s sometimes mocked for its lack of OBP, that’s an important piece. Dayton Moore has said Soler has more power than anyone in the organization since he got the job in 2006. Soler is probably the safest answer to this question.

Ryan O’Hearn is in the conversation. He hit 12 home runs and slugged .597 in 170 plate appearances last year. He slashed .313/.403/1.108 against righties, an absurd rate, and completely unsustainable but an absolutely important indicator that he can help win big-league games. O’Hearn might be the most interesting answer to this question.

There are more. Jakob Junis is capable of taking the next step and becoming a dependable starter. Richard Lovelady and Josh Staumont head a group of prospects that club officials think much more of than most of the industry. Jorge Bonifacio, Hunter Dozier and Brett Phillips have arguments. Bubba Starling will get a chance.

But here at the Minutes we are about taking big swings so the choice is Kyle Zimmer.

Spring training statistics are irrelevant but here is something from spring training that is relevant: he’s throwing 97 and missing bats and (ahem) staying healthy.

The talent has always been there, but combined with the promising outings one reason to believe is that Zimmer has tried something he hadn’t before. He spent time rehabbing with the forward-thinking crew at Driveline Baseball.

We could (and might) spend thousands of words on exactly what that means, and how Driveline’s philosophy counters and matches more traditional methods, but for now the shorthand is that Zimmer is seemingly closer to the big leagues than ever before.

The dream of him being a frontline starter someday might be dead, but there’s no question he can help a big-league team.

The Royals can be that big-league team.

Out of body?

The building will be full. Even if hopeful fans of local teams hadn’t bought up tickets months ago, North Carolina and especially Kentucky have enough people with enough money to fill the place.

That’s never been the issue.

The question is how loud the building will be, how lively it will be across the street, and on a different level how much it will connect with Kansas City.

We might expand on this in a column later in the week, but this is a bit of test for us. We like to call this a college basketball city. We’ve hosted more NCAA Tournament games than anyone else, and the College Basketball Hall of Fame provides a nice anchor for the argument.

TV ratings are always high here, and there’s no question that the Big 12 Tournament is a better and livelier event than most if not all conference tournaments.

It’s also true that much of that interest is in local schools, and that with three of those schools set but failing to play here this week it’s a bit of a letdown. Outside of a bigger city like Chicago, which has alumni from everywhere, there aren’t a lot of places where college basketball registers beyond local schools.

Kansas City has often presented itself as an exception.

Here is an opportunity to prove it.

Sort of. But not how I think you’re presenting it, and there’s a lot going on here, so let’s unpack.

First, the Tyreek Hill situation. No major step has been made public in the last week or so, which is very different than saying no major step has been made. I don’t know what the timeline is here and, more importantly, don’t believe those involved can be sure about the timeline.

This will hang over Hill and the team and (obviously and much, much less importantly) potential contract extension negotiations until we see a resolution. But I don’t think the Chiefs can confidently plan their future with or without Hill. We still need to be patient there, is what I’m saying.

Second, they are absolutely in a rebuild mode — but not the way that term is typically used.

They have an entirely different defensive coaching staff, and three of the four dominant personalities of the unit are gone. This defense now belongs to Chris Jones and Tyrann Mathieu. Someone who has not been a major contributor will be second on the team in sacks next season.

So, yes. The Chiefs are literally rebuilding their defense.

But that doesn’t mean “rebuild mode” in the typical use of the term. For a few reasons.

The first and most important is that the best defensive player on the Chiefs roster is actually Patrick Mahomes. The spaceship offense is a big reason the pass rush was so effective last year, and obviously the biggest reason that players on perhaps the league’s worst defense could say, “12-4, AFC West champs, must’ve done something right.”

The defense stunk out loud last year and the team was still (basically) a coin flip away from the Super Bowl.

Offense has never been this important in the NFL before, so unless the Chiefs are playing 11 guys who are all literally named Fred — please correct me if I’m wrong, but I can’t think of any good defensive players named Fred — they will be a force in the AFC.

There is nuance here, is the point, and we talked about this in a recent column. Andy Reid and Brett Veach and choosing the more difficult path. They are losing talent but gaining flexibility and draft capital. They are jettisoning good players in favor of fit and youth.

Shorter contracts for younger players will mean higher AAVs but in the long run should also mean less dead money. It’s harder in the short term but presents a greater potential payoff in the end.

Just want to leave this answer with one last point of emphasis. If you believe that Bob Sutton has held the Chiefs back the last two years then you must believe that replacing him is a step forward.

Over time, this will be shorthanded into “Sutton is a doofus,” which is unfortunate. The truth is that the Chiefs’ coaching staff the last few years was severely inefficient. Sutton was the top of the food chain, so it falls on him, but the point I’m making here is that replacing the structure with a new and more cohesive one remains the most important step the organization has made to improve the defense.

I believe they can have a better defense with less talent, in other words. And if Veach comes through on this ambitious plan with personnel, they’ll eventually have more talent, too.

Well, I think you’re saying “sports other than football” when you’re basically just talking about men’s basketball. Because Mizzou has been pretty good in non-revenue sports. Wrestling is the most obvious example. Women’s basketball is another.

I’d also caution against the labels. The Big 12 is generally better in basketball than football, but this year the SEC was better than the Big 12 in basketball.

Maybe some will push back against that, citing computer rankings or the conference challenge, but I do think history will judge the SEC better this year — higher seeds and better performance in the NCAA Tournament.

Right or wrong, fair or not, a single-elimination tournament charged with emotion and popular because of upsets is how the sport is most often judged.

I also wonder if the SEC will continue to be better than the Big 12 as often as not. There is just so much money in the SEC and it can’t all go to football.

Anyway, the question you pose is interesting because when Mizzou left the more logical conclusion was that football would be the one to make the sacrifice and that basketball would be propped up.

The Kim Anderson hire makes grand declarations difficult, and each of the last two years Mizzou has played without a first-round draft pick around whom the team was centered.

So as generally unimpressive as the results have been the last few years, I’m not sure it’s fair or justified to say Mizzou basketball can’t be as successful in the SEC as it was in the Big 12.

I believe in Cuonzo Martin. I believe in him as a coach and a man, and believe he has a sustainable, repeatable, logical plan to push the program forward.

The results need to come sooner or later because bad luck or not he’s going into his third year. He could not have expected a Porter on next season’s roster even with perfect health, so those explanations have expired.

I would bet on him getting there.

I want to say this as respectfully and honestly as possible. This question is nonsense, and an example of the most unproductive kind of dialogue. It starts with a fictional premise, continues with unnecessary name calling, then finishes with a bogus term and cherry picked facts.

For starters, there is no “KC media.” The people who do media work in this market come with different perspectives. There is no cohesive or agreed upon agenda.

I do not monitor what others around town say, so if you have heard someone say the Big 12 sucks, then please go to their weekly timesuck*.

*Bet it’s not as fun as this one, though.

Also, now might be a good time to mention that a while back I took a sort of news sabbatical and brother I have to tell you it’s changed my life. I mention this by way of saying I’m not exactly sure what the term “fake news” means anymore, or which political side has commandeered it to their purposes, but here are some true facts:

this was the second time and first since 1999 that the Big 12 did not have a team seeded higher than No. 3.

over the previous 10 tournaments, the Big 12 has fewer wins than the ACC, Big Ten and Big East.

in Final Fours, the Big 12 trails the Big East, Big Ten, SEC, and ACC over the last decade.

I don’t know of any honest person who would say the Big 12 sucks. The fairer reputation, at least from my perspective, is a balanced conference without both the bottom-feeding programs found in most leagues or the power at the top to make regular Final Four pushes.

The result is a fun league to follow, with the round-robin and generally competitive programs producing compelling trophy pushes, but also one that has consistently underperformed its consistently lofty computer rankings.

This will always be remembered as the season the streak died in the FBI’s shadow, but the details are stacked with nuance.

Kansas was the nation’s No. 1 preseason team, but where would the end-of-season roster have ranked? So much of the team’s promise was with depth, and the rare specific strengths of Udoka Azubuike and the athletic potential of Quentin Grimes. The first was injured, and the second never fully developed.

Silvio De Sousa’s suspension and Lagerald Vick’s absence only added to the drama.

The problem going forward is if Azubuike, Grimes and Dedric Lawson all go pro, the looming NCAA investigation could prevent or diminish KU’s usual reloading. A pending investigation is a de facto recruiting punishment. Ask North Carolina.

That’s where the answer to your question becomes relevant, and to me it’s more No. 1 than 2.

This group never really fit. The pieces didn’t complement each other. That was obvious by the end, but even at full strength would have been an issue. They didn’t have enough shooting even with Vick. They would have been at least one perimeter scorer too light even with Grimes playing like a lottery pick.

Lawson is an excellent passer, but without more threats on the outside, Azubuike on the inside, or more movement everywhere that talent didn’t shine as much.

Now, short of a bird flu outbreak there should be no excuses around KU basketball. Bill Self has a $50 million contract and every conceivable advantage over the rest of the league.

It’s his job to make it work, and he didn’t do it this year. He wasn’t bad, but he also wasn’t as effective as we’ve come to expect.

I do wonder if one of his takeaways from the season will be the need to be better at the three-point line — guard it better on defense and shoot it better on offense.

Nobody can know what the NCAA investigation will bring. Could be major, could be nothing. But at least for now, a season with 26 wins, a third-place league finish, and No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament is a pretty sweet down year.

A theme is developing here, where you guys ask an either/or question and my answer is neither, but here goes anyway:

Neither.

I don’t know what I expected when I called Self about this last week, but I do know I did not expect what he said. Didn’t expect him to pick up on the second ring, didn’t expect him to go right into the answer, and didn’t expect his words to be so committal and complete.

Other than John Calipari and Mike Krzyzewski there is not a coach in the country as adept at messaging as Self. He knows how to use public comments for his own purposes, and to improve the context in which he does his job.

Most often, that’s with his players. But the messages can also be for fans, boosters, the athletic department or anyone else.

And of course there’s some of that here. How could there not be?

But if Self wanted to stop short of the fullest commitment he could realistically be expected to make he could have handled this much differently. I have talked a lot with him over the years, on and off the record, and I am certain he would have handled this much differently if he wanted to leave himself an out pattern.

Here’s what I believe:

Self has always thought he would end up in the NBA someday.

he knows there aren’t but a very few coaches in the sport who have it better than him if you measure salary, ability to win, power within the institution, and credibility with fans.

few instincts if any are stronger in him than fighting back.

being remembered as the guy who left KU in the middle of an investigation or NCAA punishment would go against everything he’s tried to be about.

the investigation, then, makes is less likely that he’ll leave — not more.

Also, here’s one more thing I believe:

If the Lakers call and offer him the chance to coach LeBron that column will be his I Could Give A (Bleep) About North Carolina moment because I don’t think he could turn that down.

But I would now be much more surprised at Self leaving than I would if an overzealous prosecutor hadn’t literally made a federal case from a “crime” that is not just victimless but centers around unpaid workers getting a tiny-teeny-microscopic-too-small-for-a-mouse crumb from the billions of dollars they help generate.

K-State played like dogs against Loyola-Chicago, and an opportunity like that for a Final Four cannot be missed without a lifetime of frustration.

The Wildcats also got a hell of a break facing UMBC instead of Virginia, but they had to win two other games to get to the Elite Eight. That’s the problem with broad strokes, you know?

I’m feeling very Old Man Yelling At Clouds here, but it’s such a waste that in a time we have more information readily available than ever before we still require things to be on either extreme.

Everything has to be the worst or the best, and I’m not throwing stones here. I’m certain I do this more than I should.

But to me, the class of Barry Brown, Dead Wade and Kamau Stokes should be remembered fondly forever. They joined a program that had become wildly unpopular with fans, and left as the first in more than 40 years to be a key part of both a regional final and conference championship.

No matter what else, that’s all true. They fundamentally changed the direction of the program. They did that. That will always be true.

Here’s something else that’s true: they only made it out of the round of 64 once, and even their grand achievements will be remembered in part for what didn’t happen.

You can say they got a bailout with Virginia losing last year. I can say one more win in the tournament last year and they’re all legends. We’re both right.

That’s part of the fun of sports.

Lon Kruger, Dana Altman, Bob Huggins and Frank Martin combined for zero conference championships. Bruce Weber has two.

So we can all cherry pick.

Weber will not fully win over K-State fans until and unless he makes a Final Four, or at least regularly plays into the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend. He does not have his predecessor’s force of personality or charisma or recruiting connections to make K-State a national player. But there’s also not a single accomplishment Martin made that Weber hasn’t matched.

If K-State’s 2018-19 season is remembered as much for Weber’s mistake in keeping Barry Brown on the bench with two fouls as it is winning a share of the Big 12 regular season, well, this is life he’s chosen.

I don’t know why last year’s Elite Eight run should be “taken away” from Weber’s record, same as I don’t know why the program reset that some of his own mistakes necessitated should be taken away.

Both make up the man. Both are part of what he brings.

So, stock lost? Sometimes I take the wording of these questions too literally, but I don’t think he lost any stock. People who didn’t believe in him before still don’t.

Rephrase the question to opportunity lost, and that’s significant.

K-State is unlikely to be as good next year, even assuming Xavier Sneed returns. If he’s coaching a bubble team next year, it would be nice for Weber to be able to talk about a Sweet 16 run from a year ago.

I’m always going to take the over on Brett Veach and trades.

I haven’t studied the draft deeply enough to give you an intelligent answer on particular names to watch, but I do think that signing Tyrann Mathieu and Bashaud Breeland frees the Chiefs to concentrate on what is said to be a deep and impressive class of pass rushers and defensive linemen.

Those guys often take longer to develop, but that’s the clearest path I see for the Chiefs to build a solid defense.

Also, here’s a confession: I have never watched a second of Game of Thrones.

Well, technically that’s not true. I’ve watched part of the intro a few times, but it always looks so weird and way too sci-fi-ish for me. I’m not here to poo poo your show. I’m just here to tell you that when the world talks Game of Thrones I feel like football agnostics must feel during Super Bowl week.

Everyone sucks at picking a bracket and if you don’t suck at picking I would posit that you suck in general.

That said, I’m not sure I’ve ever been so wrong on a fundamental belief. To me, college basketball was down all around the country. There was Duke, a handful of pretty good teams, and then a bunch of mediocre Mikes filling out the bracket. So I expected lots of upsets.

That hasn’t happened, obviously, and the more I think about it the more I suspect my mistake was in misreading the sport’s fault lines. I thought there was a significant break after the best five or so, but maybe the break is after the best 20 or so.

If that’s the case, it makes sense that so many of the top four seeds remain in the bracket.

But what makes more sense is the idea that I’m an idiot, and anyone picking a bracket is just guessing.

Obviously I’ve now built up enough credibility to accurately predict the rest of the bracket so here goes:

America had its chance for Duke to lose, and it didn’t happen, so they’ll win every remaining game by at least 10. John Beilein has enough coaching chops and talent to take advantage of Gonzaga’s defense and make another Final Four. Virginia is going to blow the doors off Oregon (which has benefitted from a soft draw) but then lose to the Purdue-Tennessee winner (probably Purdue).

North Carolina is perfectly set up to win twice at Sprint Center this weekend and then lose to Duke in the most obnoxiously hyped national championship game in planet history.

Then, a few weeks later, none of it will matter because the Nike trial will get going and we’ll have a new wave of payments and accusations that Coach K and Roy Williams will swear they could never imagine.

I actually feel pretty confident about the last prediction.

Mitchell Schwartz is one of the most consistently thoughtful and enlightening athletes in town. Is Tim Melia under the radar? I’m not sure how this works. Dustin Colquitt? Because he’s great. Can Rusty Kuntz count? Because he’s a legend.

Alex Gordon isn’t under the radar, but he might qualify here because I think there’s a perception that he’s super boring and hard to deal with. I started covering the Royals a year after Gordon was drafted, so I’ve known him longer than most, but he’s always had a specific and interesting view of the world. He’s become even better as time has gone on and his production has dropped, which is the opposite of how it usually goes.

But the answer, for me, is pretty much anyone who lives at the high school level or below. Some of my favorite people I’ve met in this job have been high school athletes or coaches, and many of my favorite stories to tell.

There is no pretense, no brand to protect, no narrative to push, no contract to chase. They are in it for reasons that align closest to the reasons we all fell in love with sports.

They’re not all good people, and when egos become outsized on the high school level they tend to be even more obnoxious than in the pros.

But they often have the most interesting perspectives, and the most inspiring stories. You just have to look for them, which is a convenient segue to my semi-regular beg of you to please drop a line — smellinger@kcstar.com is the best way — if you know of anything.

I’m especially interested in situations where schools or governing bodies aren’t working in the best interests of kids, and of otherwise normal people overcoming extraordinary challenges.

Help me do my job, is what I’m saying.

Do we have an emerging regular section here about civic planning and local politics?

One of my biggest frustrations with Kansas City is that it thinks too small and has allowed cultural tendencies and inherent disadvantages to turn into concrete limitations.

There may not be a better example than exactly what you’re talking about. Thank god State Line Road doesn’t run through downtown or else you’d have a crater where the Kauffman Center is.

Literally every major civic improvement project comes with some form of state line thumb wrestling, which is a waste of time in the best scenarios and actively destructive to our best interests in the worst.

I’m not sure exactly what spawned this particular question, but think about it.

Local politicians goofed around on the airport long enough for Kansas to come up with some half-reared idea about building an airport somewhere in Johnson County.

As the expiration dates on the stadium leases approach we’re going to hear about how the next ballpark or football stadium should be at the Legends.

Snow removal, pothole repair, office construction, even where and when Google Fiber expanded. All of it comes with some level of silly state line pettiness. There are people who live in Missouri who swear all the bad drivers in the area live in Overland Park, and people who live in Johnson County who think the only good stuff in Missouri is the Plaza lighting ceremony and Chiefs and Royals games.

Let me promise you: horrible drivers live everywhere, and without all the stuff that happens in Missouri we’re basically Surprise, Arizona.

This is starting to get too deep and philosophical but having a state line go through the middle of town gives permission to the counterproductive and sometimes ugly instincts of tribalism.

If you spend all your time on one side of the line it becomes so easy to stereotype the other. I’m seeing a lot of this through the prism of parenthood now, but this is one of the things I love about places like Science City and the zoo, and that Wonderscope is moving to south Kansas City.

There are people who might never step foot in Missouri other than at the airport or Truman Sports Complex. I think a lot about how the demographic of Sporting KC fans mean that many who live downtown or in Brookside/Waldo have some of their favorite memories at the Legends.

The more gathering places we can create that attract people on both sides the better off we’ll be.

I’m Sam Mellinger and this concludes my TED Talk, I guess.

The Mount Rushmore thing has always seemed a little arbitrary, so I’m just going to list them, first the stuff I’ve done that I would highly recommend:

An afternoon at Wrigley, the view at whatever the Giants call their ballpark now, and a World Series game at Yankee Stadium. Lambau in the cold, Gillette Stadium with the Patriots on the ropes, and I’m sad that it is likelier than not that the Raiders will never again be good in Oakland.

College basketball in Lawrence, Durham, and Lexington. College football pretty much anywhere in the SEC.

The Olympic 100-meter final. Tiger when he’s good off the tee. NHL playoffs with an original six franchise. Serena’s forehand and Sampras’ serve. Vegas for the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Floor seats for two good NBA teams, bonus points for great point guards*.

*Watching Steve Nash against Russell Westbrook up close was an unforgettable experience.

The wish list: a major Premier League match or anything in Barcelona. The Masters. A sold out baseball game at the Tokyo Dome. The Indiana high school basketball tournament (I’m serious). The Kentucky Derby.

This week, I’m particularly grateful for an 11-year-old car that — after last week’s repair of a weird noise — has required a grand total of $65.48 cents in unscheduled maintenance.

Sam Mellinger is a sports columnist for the Kansas City Star, where he’s worked since 2000. He has won numerous national and regional awards for coverage of the Chiefs, Royals, colleges, and other sports both national and local.
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