Friday, July 18, 2008

A Report From the Park.

And now you know why I almost never attend Royals games in person anymore.

I moved to the Chicago area five summers ago, and if I can't live in Kansas City, living in a city with one of the AL Central rivals is the next best thing - I'm guaranteed 9 or 10 Royals games a season here. And if I lived in the city proper, it's a good bet I'd attend the majority of them. But I live in Naperville, which is a little over 20 miles from downtown as the crow flies. It's a 30 minute drive with no traffic...and in Chicago there's no such thing as no traffic. Weeknight games require that I leave the house at rush hour, which almost guarantees the drive will take over an hour.

So I only make it to two or three games a year. Amazingly, in the five years I've lived here I don't believe I've seen the Royals win a single time. I've attended most of the games in the press box, and I can tell you that I have no idea what the mood in the clubhouse is after the Royals win, because every time I've visited the clubhouse it's after a loss and all the reporters are asking the players what went wrong tonight. I'm like the Grim Reaper. Players see me and they make a beeline for the trainer's room.

I vividly remember this game early in the 2005 season, before it was clear that the Royals were the worst team in baseball and the White Sox were the best. Greinke was brilliant that night, the Royals got a home run from Graffanino in the 7th...and in the eighth, the White Sox scored two runs on walk, a hit by pitch, and then with two outs, Andy Sisco and Ambiorix Burgos combined to walk three consecutive batters to force in the tying and winning runs. Immediately after the game ended, one of the White Sox beat writers in the row in front of me stared at his scorecard for a long moment, puzzled, then said to the guy sitting next to him, "how the hell did we win this game?" I did not jump down, grab him by the throat, and explain to him, "because you're playing the Royals, you moron!" But I thought about it.

So I did not attend any of the games when the Royals were in town last month. But my brother Roukan moved to the Chicago area late last year, and had never been to the ballpark. Roukan is the sort of fan that would follow the Royals religiously if they just tossed him a bone. He's not a fair-weather fan - he hung with the team for most of the 1990s - but at some point the 90+ loss seasons started eating away at his soul, and he gave them up. Nowadays when I talk to him about Alex Gordon hitting a bomb or Joakim Soria making opposing hitters cry, he asks me very politely to save the Royals talk for when they have a winning record in August.

But tonight was a beautiful night for baseball, the weekend is upon us, and best of all, Zack Greinke was on the mound. If ever there was a chance to introduce him to the park, it was tonight. I slipped on my #23 jersey over my Mexicutioner T-shirt, picked my brother up and headed to the park. Traffic was a nightmare, and we weren't able to pull into the parking lot ($22, folks, and they cram us in like sardines) until about 7:15. By the time we got to the gate and found a scalper to buy tickets from, it was about 7:25. (What, you think I'm going to give the White Sox my hard-earned money? Comfort to the enemy? Never!)

We heard a few scattered cheers during our approach, but no wild yelling, no fireworks to signal a home run - and it's hard to hurt Greinke much without the homer. We figured the cheering was just there to mark the end of the top of the first inning.

And then we came out of the concourse and into the stands, and saw the score. It was 4-1, Chicago. There were two men on. There were no men out. And as we watched, Nick Swisher grounded one through the hole into left to load the bases. By the time we reached our seats, Joe Crede had poked another ball into left for a hit. Alexei Ramirez hit a sacrifice fly - the #9 hitter made the first out of the inning - but the Sox were already leading, 6-1.

We might as well have left the park at that point. Zack Greinke had somehow surrendered seven groundball singles in a row - interrupted only by a hit-by-pitch to the inveterate master of the form, Carlos Quentin. And this all happened in the blink of an eye - despite facing 11 batters in the first, Greinke threw just 28 pitches. The Sox had four runs on the board by the time Zack had thrown seven pitches.

And just as we were thinking that Zack ran into some bloody awful luck in the first inning, he hung a curve to Quentin leading off the second for a home run.

We trudged through the next few innings, watching as Billy Butler hit a drive to the deepest part of the park that was chased down by Swisher. We almost left the game in the sixth, but then Butler came up again and hit a towering flyball that was a no-doubter from the moment he connected. With the game within three runs, we thought we'd stick it out and see if the Royals could pull off the miracle, but then Jimmy Gobble decided he'd had enough of this whole "throw strikes" concept and put the game out of reach. We left during the seventh-inning stretch; I'm not a big fan of the Los Angeles approach to fandom, but at that point I felt that the best thing I could do for the team was to get as far away from them as possible.

I'm sorry, Zack. This game was all my fault.

I hope to see many of you on Sunday - just to confirm, you should find me directly underneath the little tower that stands outside the entrance to Gate 3 at 12:15. But if the Royals lose again on Sunday...that's it. I'm not going back there until the Royals figure out how to win in this Godforsaken ballpark. And until I find an exorcist.

17 comments:

Mark LaFlamme said...

You made it to the seventh inning and that's somehow valiant? Sad, man. Unless your wife is in labor, walking out on your team when they're getting blistered is like walking away from a friend because he's losing a fight. Suck it up, for chrissakes.

Ron Rollins said...

Don't take all the blame on yourself, Rany. That doesn't leave any for Hillman as the worst manager in the Major Leagues.

And since Moore won't do anything about his incompetence, its showing me that he isn't up to the job as GM either.

There's a reason no Japanese manager has ever been brought to the states to manage a Major League team. Because its not the same brand of baseball. An American being successful in Japan is no guarantee of sucess in the states.

And Hillman is proving that every game, with every decision he makes.

He needs to go!!!

Anonymous said...

I agree that Hillman has to go. Only a manager from Japan coul have possibly lost that game last night. Japanese baseball strategy is far different than American strategy. A true manager would never make their ace give up seven runs in three innings. That's bad managing!
Besides, 97 games of improved baseball from a team with an obvious deficiency like offensive futility is more than enough of a sign that Hillman is a huge failure.

We all know the huge and dominant influence that managers have over the game and obviously Hillman is causing us to have a losing record. An American strategy would make us a winning ballclub regardless of personnel not pee(r)forming.

-Derek

Rany said...

Mark,

I think you're missing my point a little - I didn't leave because I couldn't take it anymore, I left because the Royals' track record of losing when I'm at the ballpark is starting to spook me out a little, to the point where I'm wondering if I'm part of the problem. I figured their best chance to make a comeback in this game was if I left. I took one for the team, in a sense. (They got the tying run on deck in the 8th.) Also, my brother wanted to leave, and I figured that if I ever wanted him to return in the future I needed to spare him any further carnage.

Anonymous said...

We dont want your brother back as a fan. Suffering through the bad times makes the good times all that much sweeter. Let me guess, his favorite football team is the Giants and his favorite basketball team is the Celtics.

N. J. Thomas said...

You know, I think I have the opposite luck of you. I've only started counting this in the past two season when I moved to KC, but I've been to the park sometime between once and three times a month. Last year, when they won like three games in April I was there for all of them.

In fact, I'm pretty sure I've only watched two losses in this time frame. Maybe I'm some kind of win god. That'd be pretty sweet.

GTripp said...

I feel Rany's pain, as someone who as also walked out on this team before the game was over.

(This game was also at the cell, back on 6/4...during Mark Teahen's home run streak)

I stayed at that one for 8 innings, but the Royals offense wasn't planning on being competitive that day (and Pena wasn't even in the lineup -- German was at short and Callaspo was at third), so I figured I wouldn't miss anything if I skipped the top of the ninth.

That didn't turn out to be true, because I missed a Teahen homer, but at least I beat the traffic.

I'm happy with the improvement this team has shown over the course of the season, but there are just those days where the Royals get down early and they just don't plan on making a comeback. That's fine, I guess, but I can't watch them if they aren't planning on at least saving face.

Anyway, I'm headed out to the game tonight. I saw them win in Milwaukee last year, so maybe they'll make it two in as many years for me.

Anonymous said...

What is it with people and their hatred of "fair-weather fans"?

I hear this all the time about how if you don't stay until the last inning of a horrible loss, then you are not a real fan. Huh?

Of course I'm not going to follow a team as closely when they are losing (or wear their team logo, or go as often to their games, or stay until the last inning). Why should I immerse myself in their misery?

Would you continue to invest in a mutual fund that lost 25% of your money every year? If your wife continually dated other men, would you stick with her? If your car continually broke down and left you stranded by the side of the road, would you keep it?

So why do you demand that I sit through long, boring, gut-wrenching losing? I don't get it.

Face it-people like winners, and its a lot more fun to hang around a winner than a loser.

FYI-I am a Royals (partial) season-ticket holder, so I am investing in the team.

Steve C. said...

Rany, you may be a source of bad luck when attending Royals games, but considering that it was already 4-1 before you even made it inside the stadium, I'm not thinking your presence affected the outcome.
Now, if Greinke had blown up AFTER you got to the game, that would make sense, but considering that it happened before you arrived, it's more likely that Greinke was due for a bad outing, and he's been terrible at the Cell.
Seven consecutive groundball singles? The only time I think we'll see that again is if a team trots out a blind guy at third and someone with a peg leg at short.

Mark LaFlamme said...

Comparing allegiance to a baseball team to management of mutual funds. So your dedication is dictated by fluctuations, surges and downturns? All fans should be like stockholders? I suppose some people take that attitude in all areas of their lives. If that beautiful bride puts on twenty pounds in five years, you are no longer getting the return you expected and have the right to toss her. Same with a lifelong friend who gets in a legal jam. Or a faithful dog that gets creaky in his joints.
I think fair-weather fans are scorned by some because it shows lack of character. You'll trash your team or ignore them for years until they win you the prize. Then you'll be out in the jersey, the cap, the beer mug and the vanity plate, insisting you were with them all along, stinking up the place while the truly faithful are trying to celebrate.

Keith.kueny@washburn.edu said...

Rany I kow exactly how you feel about watching the royals losing, and being frustrated then leaving early. I don't know how long ago it was, but we'll call it the night of the,"comeback." I went with my Alicia and my son Ethan. I was gettting so frustrated along with my son becoming more impatient. We left went to the plaza to eat while the royals were losing 11-3. I then told my wife, "what would you do if the royals won?" I don't remember her reaction, but i do remember checking my phone to see that the Royals did in fact min, 12-11. My gut hurt, and all night I went through the what ifs. It comes down to the fact, the Royals rarely if ever given us a reason to stay beyond the 7th inning.

steak said...

How else does it need to be explained that the past 15 years of Royals baseball is possibly the worst performance ever by a professional sports team over that span. We may not have set any single season losing records, but losing by large margins on a regular basis puts us near the top. Walking out in the seventh in an attempt at superstitiously willing the team to victory is perfectly justifiable. Merely going to a game to watch them is more than equivalent to what we get in return for our dollar.

Fans only have so many media by which to express our distaste for the poor product the franchise is providing. Walking out early is one of them.

Solid post, Rany. Nice to have a subjective blog inbetween the Bill James-ness.

And speaking of, can we get some data on the fewest number of pitches its taken to get through the batting order in one inning (or more than one even)? It was sadly comical to see the in-game performance stats pop up for Orlando Cabrera say "1st inning: single, run scored" ... in the first inning.

Anonymous said...

My specific analogy was concerning a wife who dated other men, not putting on weight. Specifically, I was referring to HER unfaithfulness. You then mention a lifelong friend and a faithful dog.

Let’s run with that. How faithful have the Royals been since 1993? Have they been faithful in putting a good team on the field? Hardly. Year after year they have talked about improvements to the team, and then traded away any player who got too expensive to keep. Where’s the faith in that?

I think GMDM is turning this whole thing around. I have “faith” in him and his program. But I will still walk out early in games that are clearly going to be losses. That’s because I appreciate good baseball.

You, on the other hand, seem to appreciate exceptionally bad baseball. Ummm, OK, have fun with that.

Keith said...

Rany I feel your pain. I live in the New York City area. I go to 2-3 Royals games per year in the northeast, mostly at Yankee stadium. I have not been to a game the Royals have one in 12 years. Even this year, Soria has only blew 2 saves. In the second one the Royals came back to win. The first one was the game I was at. Yanks 12-11. During this streak I have seen them lose at Shea, at Camden Yards and I think in Philadelphia too.

Isaac said...

Rany, I have something that may make you feel better. I am the one that is the source of bad luck for the Royals, yet I don't even have to attend the game. I just have to watch it on tv for my influence to reach the Royals. I also have said for years that the Ghost of Capitulation resides above the TSC and has prevented the Royals and now the Chiefs from winning. I originally thought that it could only focus on one team at a time but it appears that this is not the case.

Regarding leaving a game, I have never been able to do that when I go to a game. I have with games on tv, but not with games I actually attend. The one I leave is the one time they will have some incredible comeback and I will hate myself for the rest of my life for missing it.

You should be so lucky that it only takes 30 minutes without traffic to get to the game. I live in Ventura County which borders LA County to the north. Getting to a game in Anaheim takes more than an hour without traffic and LA is the king of traffic.

As far as your brother goes, I can't fault a guy for giving up but that is not me or anyone else that reads this blog. I have too much pride concerning this. I want to be able to say that I stuck through the hard times if the Royals ever do end up winning again. People used to call me a bandwagoner when it came to the Chiefs and I would say I'm not and I have proof. I'm a Royals fan. For me it's either the Royals or no baseball at all. I'd never be able to switch teams and I can't stop watching baseball, my favorite sport.

Anonymous said...

Grats on seeing a great game Rany!

skeptic said...

How about Pena as a pitcher? He had good movement on his fastball and he'd never have to hit.