Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Stating the Obvious – Observations while watching RSTN

An examination of this collection of writings shows that it has been much too long since the Kansas City Royals have been a topic of discussion. Such omission is simply inexcusable, as I’ve yet to comment on the sweet swing of Billy Butler, or the bullpen that has turned into a team strength. Tonight, we fix that. Thanks to the wonder of television, we’ll hit the high points as the game goes along.

Royals vs. Yankees, July 25, 2007

Pregame – Big news regarding now ex-Royal Scott Elarton (… wait, it felt really good saying that. Let me try again – EX-Royal Scott Elarton… very nice) as he was released earlier today, after getting hit harder last night than most of Mike Tyson’s early opponents. In examining the move, manager Buddy Bell says that it’s hard to let someone go with high character like Elarton. I know a lot of people with high character… they haven’t been signed to big-league contracts.
Tonight, Gil Meche takes the mound for KC - a team needing a good showing on the mound, after Elarton’s hitting tee impersonation on Tuesday.

Top of the 1st – A pair of runners on base for Alex Rodriguez… not exactly an ideal first-inning situation. Rodriguez hears a chorus of boos on his way to the plate… I guess there must be several Yankee fans in attendance. Rodriguez has 34 home runs. The Royals’ team record for homers in a season is 36… Did I mention it’s July? Fortunately, the best shortstop-playing-third-base in the majors doesn’t get his fly ball out of the infield – two down. A fly-out by Hideki Matsui (a.k.a., Godzilla) ends the threat.

Mid-1st, VH1 – What’cha gonna do when Hulk Hogan heats up leftovers, brotha? Now he’s attempting poetry… After watching Idiocracy earlier this evening, I’m glad the Hulkster could fill my culture quotient.

Bottom of the 1st – Former-Royal Johnny Damon stands in left field for the Yankees. Damon is widely known for having one of the worst outfield arms in the league. In simple terms, the Royals should put up a big traffic light that turns green any time a ball is hit Damon’s direction. In other news, the Royals go down 1-2-3.

Top 2nd – A clip prior to the first batter of the inning advertises the Royals’ new all-you-can-eat seats, showing a man wearing a Calvin Pickering jersey heading toward the concession. Pickering was an overweight first-baseman who could never make it for the Royals… Is there irony in this advertisement?
A social outing last night resulted in the observation of a guy in his 20s wearing a J.J. Stokes jersey… in public. For those unaware, Stokes was a wide receiver out of UCLA that was hyped to be a future star and the new John Taylor to play opposite Jerry Rice in San Francisco. This was in 1995, and the hype lasted a few seasons, when people realized that being tall doesn’t mean you will be a good NFL receiver. Stokes last played for the 49ers in 2002… so this guy must be hoping for a big-time comeback from the former Bruin… keep waiting.
D’oh… a Melky “don’t call me Milky, I wasn’t in Me, Myself and Irene” Cabrera homer puts the Yanks up 2-0.

Bottom 2nd – A phone call discussing some of the Little Apple’s finest eating establishments of all time (yo queiro Amigos) distracts the author from his writing for a bit, but such subject cannot be tabled once brought up. A pair of Royal runners is stranded when John Buck flies out to deep left field… Stupid lack of wind.

Top 3rd – Either Meche has turned into a street corner human-statue act, or RSTN is experiencing technical difficulties. We’re back to seeing actual live movement (always a good thing in a broadcast sporting event) just in time to see a smooth double-play by Esteban German and Tony Pena, Jr. German may get knocked for his defense at 2B, but his backhand flip there was highlight-worthy. He certainly doesn’t make me long for the Jed Hansen days.

Bottom 3rd – Former third-baseman-now-rightfielder-but-occasional-first-baseman-or-centerfielder Mark Teahen is at the plate, with two out and German on first. He flies out to Abreu in rightfield, obviously just trying to remind himself of where he needs to go play when the Royals are back on defense.

Top 4th – Oh boy, it’s time for the Aflac duck to ask a question, which Paul Splittorff and Bob Davis promptly try to spoil by tossing out all their guesses for the solution. Would Alex Trebek ever toss out possible answers-in-the-form-of-questions on Jeopardy? Give the viewers a chance to think, fellas. Thankfully, they don’t have much time to discuss, as Meche disposes of three Yankee batters in eight pitches.

Bottom 4th – Billy Butler leads off the inning, batting in the cleanup spot. The 21-year-old is well on his way to cementing himself as the best hitter on the roster. Naturally, Butler strikes out this at-bat, because my predictions always backfire. As a result, I decline to comment on the following batter Ross Gload. The result? A double to right-center. Is my rooting the source of all that has plagued the Royals in recent years? I’d consider such an idea more seriously if the image of a lineup with Neifi Perez and Chuck Knoblauch was not imbedded in my mind. Another pair of runners is stranded with Buck at the plate… the Buck stopped there (sorry, I had to meet my bad pun quota).

Top 5th – Paul and Bob were going on and on in pregame about Royals fans being too hard on Elarton, yet they just mentioned that Damon had been to the plate four times by this point in the game last night… Isn’t the mere reference to stats from last night’s contest “being too hard” on Elarton? Meanwhile, Meche tosses another perfect inning.

Mid-5th FOX– Wayne Brady is now hosting “Don’t Forget the Lyrics.” Couldn’t he have just made a series out of his skit on Chappelle’s Show? Or what about the improv with Ryan Stiles? Has that well run dry? Instead he cracks poor jokes while people who shouldn’t make singing a common practice croon Barry Manilow lyrics.

Bottom 5th – A runner on first quickly turns into an inning-ending double play… All while I try to get Mr. Manilow’s lyrics out of my head.

Top 6th – For all the hubbub made of Meche’s contract in the off-season, he’s been a much better value thus far than San Francisco’s $126 million-dollar man, Barry Zito. Naturally, no one could talk of THAT absurd signing in the off-season, because if you mentioned the Giants, you were required to mention any and every word that came out of Barry Bonds’ mouth… Me? Bitter? No…
Ho-hum… Meche feeds on the Yankee batters like a chubby kid eating Oreo pudding at Bonanza.

Bottom 6th – Unfortunately, the KC batters are taking the same route the aforementioned western-themed buffet took in Manhattan. Dropping much too quickly. Gload picks up a two-out double, and outfielder Reggie Sanders follows. Sanders, the subject of multiple trade rumors and veteran currently on his eighth major league squad, singles to score Gload. Somewhere general manager Dayton Moore smiles as the 39-year-old’s trade value increases. A pitching change and an out follow, but the lead has been sliced in half, 2-1.

Between innings – Continued attempts to “Simpsonize” myself are thwarted as the web site is too busy. I just want to get one-step closer to having a Spiderpig… Is that too much to ask?

Top 7th – The natural order of things I root for reminds me that I’ve gotten too cocky regarding Meche’s pitching tonight, as he gives up two hits to start the inning. A sacrifice bunt sees Buck throw out the batter from the seat of his pants… the Buck sits there (I’ll stop, I really will). Melky picks up another RBI before Meche ends the inning. Yanks up, 3-1.

Mid-7th Comedy Central – The South Park episode where the kids get addicted to World of Warcraft is airing. As someone who had heard plenty of the MMORPG (don’t ask) talk while browsing in video game stores, I must laugh at the accuracy of such depictions.

Bottom 7th – Scott Proctor has taken the mound for NY. If he really wants to catch on in the majors, he should start calling himself Lieutenant, and demand that G.W. Harris (a.k.a. Captain Harris) be hired as his pitching coach. After all, we all know that six Police Academy movies were not enough. (NOTE – apparently folks in Hollywood actually believed that, as there was a 7th movie released… thank you for your infinite move wisdom,
KC getting runners on first and second leads to Mike Myers (not the Canadian comedian, not the mass murderer, the submarine pitcher) getting the call to the hill. A Teahen fly-out means the Royals have stranded more people than JetBlue tonight (Stating the Obvious – your one-stop shop for timely jokes).

Between innings – Apparently someone named Lindsey Lohan recently got her second DUI… Yeah, I’ve never heard of her either. Thankfully the media never blows things out of proportion.

Top 8th – For the 37th time we’re reminded that Rodriguez and Meche were teammates in Seattle. Meanwhile, I wonder if former Mariner/Royal Mac Suzuki sheds a tear not hearing his name mentioned with his former ‘mates. My pondering notion ends harshly, as Rodriguez wins the battle of the former teammates, pulverizing a baseball beyond the right-centerfield wall. Keep an eye on this Rodriguez kid… I think he may end up making something of himself in this league.
Meche’s night ends, having surrendered five runs, which means his success in the middle innings will be lost in the shuffle. Nevertheless, his outing would look much better if had some semblance of run-support.
Jimmy Gobble faces Mothra’s archenemy, and suffers the same fate as so many extras in the film – a severe crushing. Where in the world is Rodan when you need him?
Looks like Gobble is not the answer tonight, as the Yanks exit the inning with a 7-1 advantage.

Bottom 8th – A number of depressing thoughts drift through my head as I watch Butler and Gload go down to start the inning. The most prominent thought concerns the “kiss of death” I have given Butler by picking him up on both my fantasy baseball teams. I may as well sneak into his locker and replace all his bats with hula-hoops.

Top 9th – The RSTN camera pans to show all the scouts watching KC’s potentially trade-able players… Let’s just say there’s a reason these folks are scouts and not holding roles that are physically demanding. Reliever Octavio Dotel escapes trouble after allowing the first two batters to reach base. The scouts exit upon the end of his appearance. You mean they didn’t come to see reserve shortstop Jason Smith?

Bottom 9th – Mariano Rivera comes on to attempt to close out the 7-1 lead. Luckily, Rivera has never been much in tight situations like this (wow, you can actually FEEL the sarcasm in that sentence). With two outs, Jason Smith makes his name known, dropping a single into left and then swiping second (unopposed). That will show those scouts. The final is 7-1, as David DeJesus ends the game with a roller to first.

My return to Royals writing didn’t turn out to be as rosy as hoped, but I still must stress that the team is headed in the right direction. If the KC offense would end its vow to never give Meche run-support, this game could be completely different. Look for the bats to get going with Kei Igawa and his 6.67 ERA on the mound on Thursday night. And if they don’t? Well, it’s probably my fault.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Things I Don’t Understand – The National sports media

Imagine this scenario: You’re a fan of a small market baseball team that has seen its struggles in recent years, but is now climbing from the depths of obscurity and playing decent baseball. The team in question wins a game that brings them close to escaping the cellar, but said game was not televised. As a fan in this era, where information is at your very fingertips, you might assume you’d be able to see some highlights of the victory by turning into a network that advertises itself as the “Worldwide leader in sports.”

Now, imagine your disappointment when it’s finally time for the recap of the aforementioned game, yet the only “highlights” are three misplayed balls in the outfield by a guy who was playing third base last season.

As is common with most of the “hypothetical” situations used in my prose, such an event happened just weeks ago. Granted, the Royals are not world-beaters, and I don’t expect them to be the lead on Sportscenter, but any team should receive credit when they win.

Currently, I’m watching the Royals play the Red Sox in a scoreless game through two innings. With a win, the Royals would take this series from the American League East leaders. Before picking up my laptop to compose this rant, I was calmly sitting on my couch, thinking how I’d like to see the highlights tonight if the Royals could take their bats to a 212-year old Julian Tavarez. Then I realized, because they’re playing the media-darling Red Sox, even if Odalis Perez fought all laws of pitching aptitude and common sense and tossed a no-hitter, the “highlights” would still probably focus on “Manny (Ramirez) being Manny” as he trotted in the outfield.

As a result, an abundance of issues are swarming in my head, like sportswriters to the guy they know will say something controversial.

The most pressing issue concerns coverage on a national level in general. If you frequent sports programming, odds are you have heard the phrase, “The best player no one has heard of.” The moniker is often given to a good player on a “small market” team. Now, as the NATIONAL media, or the WORLDWIDE leader, shouldn’t it be the job of the folks on these programs to make sure we have heard of these players? Aren’t they failing if a fan has to look at a scorecard to figure out who someone on an All Star team is?

Case in point, first baseman Dmitri Young currently leads the National League in batting average. How did I come upon such a seemingly common piece of knowledge? It wasn’t from any national sports coverage. After all, Young plays for the last-place Washington Nationals, which means his team will probably only see screen time if it involves someone falling down (such coverage may as well be accompanied by Benny Hill music and laugh tracks). No, my knowledge of Young’s 2007 hitting prowess derives from the fact that I tend to trend towards nerdy when it comes to baseball, and is one of my most commonly visited websites. Anyway, instead of being known as a guy fighting for a batting title, most general sports fans who recognize Young’s name probably know him as “the guy who pinch-hit in the All Star game instead of Albert Pujols.” (Because we all know that deserved the abundance of media coverage it received.)

These days, instead of receiving the comprehensive coverage one might expect from a national outlet, it seems that the majority of airtime goes to: 1) the “large market” teams that are forced down our throats (the Yankees are struggling… let’s devote 15 minutes to discussing why); 2) stories blown completely out of proportion (Alex Rodriguez distracted someone trying to catch a pop fly? Sweet mercy, call the cops!); or, 3) contrived ideas that must seem good at some point, but no one cares about in the end (Who is “now”? Well… I am NOW changing the channel, so is it me?)

Those of you reading this who are unfamiliar with sports (sorry, is it rude of me to assume someone is reading this?), may not be clear on the terms “small market” and “large market” referenced earlier. Unfortunately, neither deals with a shady place in an overseas nation where one might purchase a magical monkey paw. In the sports world, “large market” refers to the teams in major cities with large fan bases and so much exposure in the media that the Amish could probably recite their starting lineups. Meanwhile, “small market” teams are the ones that receive media attention 1) if they’re in a championship game; or 2) if their stadiums spontaneously combust (note: as of 8 p.m., 7/18/07, such an even has never been recorded).

If one were to ask in important person in a national media organization why the large market teams receive so much more coverage, the answer would undoubtedly be because they have more fans. But, what if these teams have more fans, only because they receive more coverage (sorry to go all “chicken or the egg” on you here, but hear me out).

People are going to follow a team they can easily keep tabs on. If you live in Oklahoma (I apologize and hope it’s not in Ardmore… but I digress…) standard geographical pride would seem to point to picking a squad from Texas, Missouri or Colorado as your favorite baseball team. Yet, in a survey conducted by Sports Illustrated upon its 50th anniversary (yes, I do have the time to look these type of things up at this point of my life… I also have the Royals going on one TV, and the World Series of Pop Culture on the other, what of it?), 11-percent of the respondents from the Sooner state said the Yankees were their favorite baseball team – the second highest total in the state, ahead of all Texas teams, the Royals and the Rockies.

Granted, the Yankees were winning championships long before the Royals were considered a small-market squad, but I’m guess the abundance of teenagers you see wearing Yankees ball-caps were not around for Mickey Mantle’s glory days. Now if the Houston Astros saw as much TV time as the Yankees, don’t you suppose a few more Oklahomans might lean their direction?

Now my idea is not revolutionary, and I’m not suggesting a last-place club should be the top story on a sports recap show. It merely seems that more time should be devoted to the reason all the players in a particular sport have jobs… the games. If I have to choose between watching highlights of a Rangers-Mariners game and getting an analysis of Alex Rodriguez’s wife’s wardrobe decision, I’m going to choose the highlights. A small-market game should never take a back seat to a large-market “story.” That is, after all, the reason people are fans in the first place – the games.

***Ending note – Royals win, 6-5.