Sam Mellinger

Mellinger Minutes: Royals stink, Hill case lingers, Soler’s hidden problem, Ned, NHL

Patrick Mahomes and Paul Rudd hit home runs at Big Slick softball game

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, in Royals jersey, got the loudest cheer at the Big Slick softball game Friday night. Watch how Patrick Mahomes played against celebrities including Ant-Man Paul Rudd and Selena Gomez.
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Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, in Royals jersey, got the loudest cheer at the Big Slick softball game Friday night. Watch how Patrick Mahomes played against celebrities including Ant-Man Paul Rudd and Selena Gomez.

If you are reading this you probably have some connection to Kansas City, and you’re probably a sports fan, and you probably follow the Royals more than any other team.

Which means you’re going to think I’m lying to you here but I promise it’s true:

It’s really hard to lose 100 games in one season.

Don’t yell at me! Please don’t turn away! Please let me finish!

Baseball games include so much random chance that the league’s worst team can beat the league’s best team on any given day without it being considered a big upset. What other sport gives us that?

The 1998 Yankees are widely considered one of the best teams of all time. They won 114 games in the regular season, then went 11-2 in the playoffs in winning the World Series.

The Devil Rays — this was before they were the Rays — were the American League’s worst team that year. They lost 99 games and finished 51 back of the Yankees. But on September 16 of that season — with Derek Jeter hitting second and Bernie Williams hitting third and Andy Pettitte on the mound — the Yankees lost 7-0 to the Devil Rays.

To lose 100 games you can’t just be bad. You have to catch the wrong breaks. You have to make up for good hitting nights with particularly rotten pitching nights. If the hitters and pitchers happen to click on the same night, well, you better be able to flub a few plays in the field.

In this century, just 26 teams have been able to put it all together and lose 100 or more games. That’s 30 teams playing 19 seasons — a total of 570 chances for the right team to vomit on itself in just the right way and less than 5 percent have had what it takes.

Credit where credit’s due: the Royals have pulled off this feat five times this century, and are solidly pacing to do it again.

Nobody else has done it more than three times. By the end of this season, the Royals could be twice as good at stinking as anyone else and even that could use some context.

The Astros basically tried to stink from 2011 to 2013, and the Rays haven’t lost 100 games since 2006.

The Royals are pacing for 112 losses. That would be the third-worst mark this century. They are doing it as a team, too, with a relentless grind. This week marks the two-month anniversary of their last series win.

They do not rank in the league’s top half of any offensive category other than triples, stolen bases, and sacrifice flies. They are 12th or worse in the league in pretty much every pitching statistic except home runs surrendered. That’s the look of a team leaving little to chance.

It’s a strange thing. Nobody expected this team to compete, and realistically they’re not yet good enough or close enough to what the group expected to compete will look like to meaningfully judge them by wins and losses.

So in that way, losing 112 would not be tangibly different than losing 92, except the Royals would get a higher pick and more draft money next year.

But, in the real world, optics matter and an unintentional tank is about the worst look a team can have. You can see it, too. The energy has started to drop in the last week or so.

The bottom of the order is overmatched, and the top is pressing way too hard to make up for it. They miss Hunter Dozier’s bat. There are times it appears that Adalberto Mondesi is striking out on two pitches.

The days when people talked about the Royals being better than their run differential seem quaint. The days when people talked about the bullpen being the only problem seem adorable.

I don’t know what the solution is. I don’t know when a change will happen. But I do know that something will change, one way or the other. The record, the players, the coaches, the manager, the front office. Something will change. It has to.

This week’s reading recommendation is my friend Barry Svrluga on his grandfather’s secret D-Day journal and the eating recommendation is the helmet nachos at Kauffman Stadium. Yes I’m still thinking about it.

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

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Probably not.

Some of that is that because it is literally part of my job to watch, but with the spirit of your question I’ll try to remove that as much as possible.

I love baseball. That’s part of it. I love the pitcher-batter battle, I love the athleticism in a good defensive play, I love that every game is as interesting as you want to make it — you can just wait for a home run, or you can know that this pitcher is having trouble locating his fastball and this hitter crushes fastballs and the runner on first could probably steal but he’s over there faking instead to mess with the pitcher’s mind and give the hitter a better chance at a fastball so this could be a big moment coming up but then again the wind is blowing in from left so he’s really going to have to barrel up and on and on and on you could go.

I know it’s not for everybody. But I do love baseball.

Specific to the Royals, I believe that Adalberto Mondesi is a star on the come, the most physically talented player the team has had in well more than a decade and that following his path will be one of the most interesting stories of this franchise in the next five years.

I believe that if one of my sons plays baseball — and if I could choose just one sport for them to play it might be baseball — I hope they play it like Whit Merrifield or Alex Gordon. I believe that Brad Keller is working out the kinks but has the potential to be an important part of the best version of the Royals’ future.

So, I can find reasons to watch.

I mentioned this on the Border Patrol yesterday, but to me the benchmark for hopelessness and irrelevant baseball will always be the 2004-06 Royals. Those teams were lost from top to bottom. The most popular guy in the stadium was the LEMONADE-LEMONADE-LEMONADE-WOOOOO guy, for crying out loud.

This team has some really promising parts, surrounded by some really awful parts. I never expected this group to win anyway, so I can filter out Billy Hamilton’s plate appearances, for instance, with the understanding that those will be taken by Bubba Starling or Khalil Lee soon enough.

All that said, I certainly watch them less than I did from 2012 to 2017, and absolutely understand why a normal person with a real job would be losing touch with the team.

This might be the most succinct way I can think to say it:

There’s enough there to keep me interested, assuming that this really is building toward something, but there’s not enough to demand the attention of a casual fan.

That’s the part the franchise has to fix.

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Look guys, let’s not get caught up in the 40-man roster right now. The Royals can make room on the 40.

If you’re granting continued health and production, then Bubba Starling will be up at some point this summer. The organization is vaguely planning on that. In September if not sooner.

I know this is a hot topic among fans, and the default is to yell at the Royals about it, but I absolutely understand the desire to let him have more than a good two months in the minor leagues.

Here are his OPSes from the last three seasons at Double-A and Triple-A: .534, .685, .664.

The best Bubba scenario ever does not include him saving the big league team, so why not let him have some success?

The Royals have wanted to see more hard contact from Starling, and in the last two or three weeks that’s come. But his command of the strike zone could still use some polish, and after this long, the Royals want to create the best situation possible for him.

I get the desire to see him up, because who wouldn’t be curious about that, but I understand where the front office is coming from here.

The result is probably going to be somewhere in the middle. He’s not getting promoted today or tomorrow or next week, but it will probably end up being sooner than the original plan.

You mention Hamilton or Merrifield being traded, and either is a possibility. The problem with Hamilton is finding a trade partner for an outfielder hitting .228/.307/.281. The problem with trading Merrifield is finding full value for a guy who’s established an All-Star level baseline with positional versatility and club-friendly cost control.

All that said, I don’t think a trade has to happen for Starling to play. He’s actually only two years younger than Hamilton, but he’s a possibility to be part of their future in a way that Hamilton just isn’t.

This team is going nowhere. If you have to throw a guy overboard to get a look at the future, then you throw that guy overboard.

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This is interesting timing. Our kids are 5 and 3, and we went to Sunday’s game too. I’m guessing the older one has been to 15 or so games and the younger maybe 10, but it was their first tailgate and I spent most of the day appreciating how good they have it.

We set up 90 minutes or so before first pitch. We played catch, we ate Cheetos, the kids tried their first Dubble Bubble* and some of us drank a beer and others of us a juice box. It was great!

*The 3 year old does NOT understand the concept of spitting gum out.

We sat in Section 119, Row K, behind the third base dugout. One section further down the line and we wouldn’t have been protected by the netting, and I have to tell you I’m a little conflicted about this.

On the one hand, the way the netting is now puts fans at risk. That is not an opinion. That is a fact. The risk is accentuated for kids.

But what if the solution is that kids can’t sit in the closest sections that aren’t protected? If an adult wants to sit there, and enjoys the view or the price of the ticket or whatever, then it feels a little big brother to tell them otherwise.

What I know is that it is impossible — not difficult, not improbable, but impossible — to have two young kids at a game and be ready for a rocket hit your direction on any pitch.

Hell, forget young kids. I have not met the adults who stay alert enough on every pitch.

I would not have felt comfortable sitting in those seats without netting and, indeed, one of the first things I did when we sat down was make sure we had enough protection.

One thing about the netting that’s often misunderstood is how transparent it becomes after a few minutes. I was being the annoying dad, trying to point out pitch sequences and batting stances to our 5 year old, and neither of us ever mentioned or really noticed the netting.

The Royals extended their netting to the far edges of each dugout, coming down at an angle so that a soft liner could reach some seats that would be protected from a bullet.

That seems like a pretty good setup to me, though if someone argued to go one section more toward the foul polls I’m not sure I’d argue with much passion.

I do want to say one more thing about taking kids to a game. The stadium staff is so good. I can think of at least five employees who went out of their way to make one or both of our kids smile, from the usher who sprayed their faces with one of those cooling fans to the security guards who high-fived them on the way out.

My wife and I both love baseball anyway, and going to games was always going to be part of our kids’ childhoods. But the staff at the stadium makes it even more enjoyable.

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My life would be a lot better if my kids blindly trusted me, but other than that I don’t think anyone deserves or should expect blind trust.

Dayton Moore’s time with the Royals is pretty wild to quantify. I would argue that there is actually no better argument to support a GM than “because they won a World Series,” but it’s also true that the run of success is a bit like an island surrounded by stink.

Pairing Trey Hillman and Jose Guillen was a mistake. With the definite exception of Sean Manaea (keyed the Ben Zobrist trade, which helped win a World Series) and the possible exception of Hunter Dozier (might be late blooming into stardom) the draft picks haven’t been good enough since 2009.

The Royals should have picked a path — win or develop — after 2016. That, to me, remains their biggest mistake because it was so plain to see in real time. The Matt Strahm trade has backfired. Lots of bad contracts.

There have been mistakes.

But I also don’t think it’s fair or helpful to pretend that 2014 and 2015 didn’t happen. It’s counterproductive to forget just how bad the organization was before Moore arrived. It’s willfully misguided to lose track of the challenge of building a winning baseball team in Kansas City.

Here’s a quick example. You might know that Kansas City is baseball’s third-smallest market. That doesn’t matter in a cap-controlled league like the NFL, but even with baseball now operating with what is essentially a soft cap it does matter for the Royals. The way local revenues are distributed the bigger money clubs have a significant inherent advantage.

Milwaukee is sometimes brought up as the counter to this. The Brewers play in baseball’s smallest market. They signed Ryan Braun to five years and $105 million, and Lorenzo Cain to five years and $80 million. They are currently 17th in payroll.

But the Royals have been in that range before, too, and besides here is a point you might now know.

The Brewers have not drawn fewer than 2 million fans since 2003. They have been above .500 in seven of those 15 seasons. They have drawn more than 3 million fans three times in that span, including for one team that finished below .500.

The Royals have drawn 2 million fans just three times since 1991. Their attendance for the World Series championship season would be the Brewers’ ninth-best mark since 2004.

It’s also true that the Brewers have not bottomed out the way the Royals have. Their worst mark in the period we’re discussing is 68-94. The Royals will almost certainly fly past that for the seventh time.

So this is not a defense of the organization, or an indictment of fans. You’ve heard me say a million times that it’s not up to fans to support teams — it’s up to teams to be worth the support.

But there are challenges here that don’t exist in a lot of places, and a front office that already overcame those challenges once has earned the benefit of the doubt to do it again.

That’s not a lifetime scholarship, and Moore and his assistants can be fairly criticized for a lot — including what we mentioned here above.

I don’t know if this next rebuild will take. The organization has a lot riding on these pitchers. Some top hitting prospects are struggling in Wilmington. The Royals probably can’t afford for Bobby Witt Jr. to not be a fast-moving star. We could go on.

But they do have some promising pieces in place.

I’m good with seeing how quickly and how well this goes. They don’t have forever, and it’s worth remembering that the last rebuild took traction at the last possible moment — if they didn’t turn it around in 2014 that group would’ve probably been fired.

Maybe they’ll go to the brink again this time. Maybe they won’t make it back safely. But I’m willing to see.

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Maybe, but not for that reason.

His OPS with runners on (.767) is worse than bases empty (.836) and that follows his career trendline. But two things about this.

First, he has exactly 16 extra base hits in 116 at bats with runners on base and exactly 16 extra base hits in 129 at bats with the bases empty. As it’s happened, he has 13 solo homers and he has 12 doubles with runners on. So he’s going for extra bases at a higher rate with runners on base, it’s just that those hits are more often doubles rather than homers.

Second, let’s be clear about something. The reason to be concerned about Soler is that he’s apparently lost the strike zone. He’s swinging outside the strike zone more often for the second consecutive season, and making less contact on those pitches for the second consecutive season.

He’s always going to strike out — basically every power hitter does — but a big chunk of his value comes from getting on base. He can’t do that with his current approach.

But, and not to pile on, the bigger concern to me is that an outsized portion of his production has come on the first pitch.

He’s hitting .375 with eight homers in 32 at bats (25 percent) that ended on the first pitch.

He’s hitting .221 with nine homers in 213 at bats (4 percent) that ended after the first pitch.

So much about big league hitting is about being unpredictable, and being able to adjust against how pitchers attack, and right now it looks like if you can get to the second pitch on Soler you can reduce the Hulk to Bruce Banner.

He retains a ton of potential, but if he’s not getting on base, and swinging this often outside the zone, he’s limiting a lot of what makes him valuable.

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A few years back I spent a day with Ned on his farm in rural Georgia. The place is, basically, his playground. He has tractors and trucks and deer stands and guns and bows and a lake he keeps stocked. He and his wife, Deborah, built their dream house with the perfect sunset view and outdoor cooking area.

On the visit I sat shotgun in his white Ford pickup, him showing me around and me doing my best to pretend I understood most of what he was saying about running a farm. Then he spotted armadillos.

He cursed.

He stopped the truck.

He looked around, then cursed again.

“This is his lucky day,” Ned said. “I took my gun out of the truck to go to the airport the other day.”

I wrote about that in the story.

What I didn’t include is what he said next:

“Truthfully, I wanted to see the look on your face when I blasted that little bastard.”

We laughed, him laughing at me, I’m pretty sure, and me definitely doing the same.

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I’ve been pretty consistent on this:

If it’s found that he abused his son, he’s gotta go, and the words he used in the audio leaked to KCTV are ugly, disturbing, and inexcusable.

Also:

We can’t know exactly what happened and, particularly without any real deadline, shouldn’t be in a rush to make a judgment.

I’ve written this before, but at this point, there is no possible outcome that would shock me — from proof that Hill had nothing to do with any wrongdoing to proof of the worst.

Everything is still possible: total innocence or a lifetime ban.

There are so many tentacles — The Star reported last weekend that there is no longer an active criminal investigation involving Hill or Espinal, but the child was still removed from the couple, and there is a history of domestic violence.

Again: nobody knows how this will end, though the most likely outcome is one that will leave questions unanswered.

All that said, at this point, it is hard to imagine he’s not suspended for at least a few games. That’s as much a statement on how Roger Goodell has punished players in the past. He’s shown he doesn’t need a conviction or even a charge. He’s shown a willingness to (at least in my view) over punish star players from the Cowboys and Patriots, two flagship franchises owned by powerful allies to Goodell.

But, as long as we all understand I’m just guessing here, I’d set the over-under at 4 1/2 games. Ezekiel Elliott got six games under the personal conduct policy without being charged. I’m guessing Hill gets four or six.

You’re asking if the offense will be better, and I’m not sure how anyone could be confident in that. They led the league in yards, points, touchdowns, and yards per pass.

Maybe I’m taking your question too literally, but I’m just not sure how they could much better, even without factoring that they had Kareem Hunt for 11 games last season.

But that’s not the point. They don’t need to be better. They actually don’t even need to be quite as good.

A little more consistent, I suppose, but the problem isn’t the offense. Hasn’t been for a while.

Should we talk about that?

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There’s a lot of backup quarterback syndrome here, you’re right about that. Chiefs fans have watched Bob Sutton steadily regress the last few years to the point of painfully predictable failures and maybe you’ll just have to grant them some space in assuming most anyone would be an upgrade.

At some point, we’re going to have to come up with a fair expectation.

My assumption is we’ll know it if we see it, that watching film and making thoughtful judgments will be more telling than statistics.

But, I also know how the world works. We’ll shorthand the improvement or lack of improvement to a statistic so if the Chiefs can be somewhere between 15 and 24 or so — bottom half of the middle third, basically — we’ll have seen some progress.

The personnel is marginally better, and I’m basing most of that on the safety position. I can’t imagine too many teams had position groups more overmatched than the Chiefs’ safeties last year.

My goodness, that was a gruesome train wreck.

The 2019 Chiefs will upgrade from an effectively absent Eric Berry to Tyrann Mathieu. That’s enormous.

They’ll also upgrade from Ron Parker to Juan Thornhill. Parker is a pro, and he gave it everything he had, but the Chiefs cut him in 2017 because he was done. The Falcons were desperate for safety help and they cut him in 2018, too. He then started 14 games for the Chiefs.

That’s bad, you guys.

So if the safety group goes from, conservatively, the 51st best in the NFL to even league average ... well, that’s a big deal.

The corners last year weren’t good. I wouldn’t argue that. But they also weren’t nearly as bad as they were made to look. They were let down by both the safeties and their defensive coordinator.

This is where I’d expect the most significant improvement, even if I don’t believe the corners have been significantly upgraded.

The other stuff is worth talking about, too.

The run defense stunk last year. What the Patriots did in the AFC Championship game is basically what some of us had been expecting teams to do all season.

This is where a scheme change could matter. Anthony Hitchens has been effective in a 4-3, and if nothing else should get more protection from his defensive line now. The Chiefs have steadily added beef and depth to that group, most notably with Frank Clark but also Derrick Nnadi and Khalen Sanders and others to go with the terrific Chris Jones.

The one part I worry about is the pass rush. That was one thing the Chiefs did well on defense last year. Clark is significantly better than either Justin Houston or Dee Ford, but what made the group work well last year was rushing as a group. You couldn’t double everyone.

In 2019, I wonder if teams will simply double Jones and at least chip Clark and take their chances. Spagnuolo will counter this with stunts, which is something Bob Sutton rarely did, and it may be enough. I just wonder.

We’ll talk plenty about all of this, obviously. But at this point in the offseason here’s where I stand:

The safeties needed a massive upgrade and they got it. I believe that group held the rest of the defense back, even with the struggles against the run, which I do believe can be helped with the scheme change.

The part I wonder about is whether Spagnuolo can match last year’s pass rush.

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I ... don’t know.

My suspicion — and I mentioned this on the SportsBeat KC podcast— is that those numbers are boosted by St. Louis being involved.

Two years ago, Blair wrote a story on what Kansas City watched. He found that Kansas City was 32nd of 52 metered markets for the Stanley Cup.

So my suspicion is that our TV ratings are boosted by lots of people in Kansas City being from St. Louis, or having family or friends in St. Louis, or simply feeling a vague connection to the NHL’s closest team being involved for the first time in so long.

What I don’t think is that this is any sort of proof that the NHL would work here. Beyond the problem with local ownership, or the expansion or relocation fee, or the millions in renovations to Sprint Center that would be needed, there just isn’t much hockey culture.

Look, there aren’t many people in town who would be more excited about getting a team. It would be great for me professionally, great for the city emotionally, and besides all that it would be fun. I’d love to take my kids to games.

But if we’re talking reality, I just don’t see it happening. You talk about city leaders downplaying the idea, but it’s also NHL people downplaying the idea.

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The NBA.

It’s a more popular league in general, obviously. If you collected Kansas City’s history in each sport and lined it out and started at the Sprint Center, basketball would reach the Appalachians, maybe more. Hockey would stop around Troost.

In general, the appeal of hockey would be almost entirely driven first by novelty and then eventually success.

The appeal of the NBA would be driven by each of those factors, plus a new way for people here to love a sport they’ve long loved anyway, plus the inherent star power collected in the team here and whoever is coming to town.

Now, what this doesn’t account for is whether the interest in the NBA would be twice the interest of the NHL, because I’m guessing that’s the difference in expansion fees.

Also: absolute best-case scenario, neither is happening anytime soon.

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Lot of thoughts on Toriano Porter’s column. My initial reaction was the same as a lot of what I saw on social media:

These people are literally raising millions of dollars for sick kids, who cares what color any of them are?

Then I thought about it more, and realized that reaction was largely coming from white people. That doesn’t invalidate those feelings, of course. But if we’re talking about diversity and inclusion I’m more interested in the perspective of minorities.

That’s the point, after all.

There is no bad guy here, and I don’t believe anything in Porter’s column suggests otherwise. The negative reaction from some seems to be fueled by people making sure everyone knows there is no bad guy. We’re all on the same page there.

This is a delicate topic, but one worth talking about. The discussion is full of landmines, but if we can all be adults and put aside the Can’t Wait To Be Offended Culture of our times here are some relevant questions or points:

- The celebrities involved are unquestionably almost all white. Would the event be stronger with more minority inclusion?

- Would Kansas City in general be stronger with more minority inclusion?

- Is the event’s demographic reflective of Hollywood?

- Is it reflective of an event started by suburban kids, with their friends?

- Is it reflective of the long racial divide of Kansas City?

I’m a white middle-aged man. I live in a neighborhood that is almost all white. This is a topic I never would have considered, let alone thought about writing, and you know what? Good.

That’s an important part of what journalism should be. Different perspectives. Different backgrounds. Challenge your worldview.

There is probably no way to write about this without the debate stepping away from the most productive parts, but to me the discussion would be better served if it was presented less as a judgment on an incredible cause and more as a reflection of society in general.

I don’t think anyone involved with Big Slick is trying to keep the event white, and I don’t think anybody who read the editorial believes there needs to be a quota of minority involvement in a fun weekend that does so much good for the people who need it most.

Maybe if we think about it the conclusion is that it’s a good cause, so who cares about anything else. Maybe the conclusion is that famous minorities with local ties should be more proactive about participating. Maybe the conclusion is that famous minorities with local ties should create a new event.

I don’t know. But thinking honestly and reflective about it can only help broaden perspectives.

When we get into talking about certain celebrities, the conversation turns muddy and unproductive. Don Cheadle posted on Twitter that he’s been invited for years but has always had conflicts. Janelle Monae hasn’t seemed to want much to do with Kansas City. We could go on, but doing so would confuse the point.

To me, this isn’t about Big Slick. They are literally doing the work of saints, and they should be applauded forever.

But there’s a bigger world out there, too, and the makeup of this one event is a reflection of a divide that remains in many parts of our country — including Kansas City.

If there’s a big event in town and a large portion of the population indeed does not feel welcomed, isn’t that worth listening to?

There’s no bad guy here, and if the takeaway for some is that Paul Rudd and his buddies are the bad guy then we’re not getting anywhere. If that’s the takeaway, then the column could’ve been written more clearly and the people reading could’ve been more open-minded and hopefully everyone could meet in the middle.

I believe we’re better if we’re all together, but I also don’t know what the solution is. I wish I did.

I do believe there will never be a solution if we don’t talk about it, or if the reaction when someone wants to talk about it is to pipe down and not focus on race.

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Hell of a kid, huh?

You want something more? His parents have stories of teachers telling them that Alex would score 98 or so on a test, but then go afterward to ask about the two he missed.

At one point in our conversation he said something about dealing with failure, and I’m sure I twisted my face into all sorts of contortions and blurted out, “What kind of failure have you faced?”

In my mind, I’m looking at a straight-A student, a three-sport varsity athlete, a kid voted to every leadership program available, the Homecoming King at a big high school who grew up with two loving parents and two role models for older siblings in a nice neighborhood and I’m thinking, FAILURE?

What is this guy talking about?

He paused for a moment, but then had a story. The first football game of his junior year he fumbled. Twice. So he spent the whole next week in practice carrying a football around at all times, telling his teammates to try to knock it away.

This is a common thing in football, made famous by the classic movie The Program when Darnell Jefferson takes his football to class.

But, anyway, most times you figure it’s the coach telling the kid to do it. Here, Alex wanted to. And he took it seriously. He said the ball was knocked loose a time or two when he was drinking water and a friend was joking around, but never other than that, and he didn’t fumble again the rest of the season.

It’s a small thing, for sure. But there’s a story in there, an example of how average can become good, or good can become great, or great can become exceptional.

Alana Vawter is the same way. She was in intensive care as a teenager, essentially on life support, and when she got out made a list of things she wanted to accomplish. Toward the top was attending Stanford. She’ll be there this fall on a softball scholarship.

Alex and Alana are standouts, obviously, but there are hundreds of kids around town who are similarly impressive. It’s easy to forget that sometimes. Easy to get lost in the bad news, or wrapped up in our own little worlds.

The Scholar-Athlete program is my favorite thing we do at the Star, and among the best. It’s fun to be a small part of.

One funny thing for me ... this is sort of my second run helping write some of the stories. The first came when I was covering high schools full-time. I was in my 20s. Single. Concerned with me first and most other things second. I enjoyed meeting the kids and their families and took writing their stories seriously, but that’s about as far as it went for me.

I stopped with Scholar-Athlete when I moved to covering baseball full-time, but asked back on last year. Part of it was because I figured Sam McDowell could use a little help, but most of it was I missed those stories. Missed getting to know these kids and their families and, selfishly, now that I have two kids of my own I’m looking for all the help and inspiration I can find.

On that point, I have to say, Ben and Jennifer Totta were of NO HELP to me. Alex has two older siblings who are impressive on their own. One just graduated nursing school. The other plays college football. Both are strong students, and positive citizens. I asked the parents how they did it, what they did, anything at all that might help.

“Really, we don’t know,” Jennifer said. “We don’t know.”

So, I still don’t have that cheat sheet I was hoping for. Guess I’ll need to do more than just write these stories to raise perfect kids.

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Well, first, for those who don’t know ... I had a GREAT time at the Royals game on Sunday:

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I’m usually pretty good at knowing what the responses might be to certain things, but I have to say this one threw me off a bit.

Didn’t realize that Banquets would be so polarizing.

Some of you lost respect for me. Some seemed downright angry. Others might vote me mayor if I ever run.

I would say that if we’re at ideal inventory at the Mellinger house the beer breakdown in the garage fridge is as follows:

10 percent trophy beer like, for instance, the last bottle of Saison Brett that I still can’t bring myself to drink.

25 percent beer for my wife. She’s into the Unita lime pilsner right now, but sometimes it’s Tropical Pale Ale, or Mirror Pond, or a Mexican beer.

30 percent domestics, which is mostly Banquet for me because it’s delicious, but can also include Miller Lite or Bud heavy or High Life or something like that.

20 percent drinkable crafts like Der Bauer or Oberon or Lil Helper or Dales or something like that.

15 percent heavy and dark and nerdy crafts like KBS or Prairie Bomb or Bloody Christmas or something like that.

When I’m running on all cylinders I’ll mix in a growler from my friends at Double Shift or somewhere, but that’s about where we’re at.

Sometimes I just want a beer that tastes the way beer tasted in the beginning. If that’s wrong then I don’t want to be right.

This week I’m particularly grateful for a week when the evenings might be cool enough for a little bonfire. It’s going to be 101 and humid soon enough and a lot of you people — I hope the disdain comes through when I say that: you people — who called me crazy for saying I like it cold are going to be complaining about the heat and now I’m triggered so I should just stop typing.

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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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