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Posts Tagged ‘Kalamazoo’

I heard the gripes not long after Major League Baseball announced that Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium would host the 2012 All-Star Game and all of its related festivities. No one’s going to want to come to Kansas City. Like so many other ballparks, Kauffman Stadium isn’t located downtown and getting from Point A to Point B is going to be a logistical nightmare. The influx of tourists is going to make it impossible to get around. Kansas City is going to get embarrassed and the obnoxious folks from the Eastern and Pacific time zones are going to make fun of our town.

New York Yankees star second baseman Robinson Cano added insult to injury when he didn’t pick Billy Butler – the only Kansas City Royals player selected for the All-Star Game – for the Home Run Derby after indicating that he would. All week, Cano was booed mercilessly by the Kansas City faithful, especially during the Home Run Derby, when he failed to get even one ball over the fence. The outcry over Kansas City’s treatment of Cano came from both local and national media. How dare our fans behave so poorly on a national stage, some of the locals said. How dare Kansas Citians act so disrespectfully toward Cano, some of the out-of-towners said. Kansas Citians took both responses to their actions personally. The worst fears of many Kansas Citians were confirmed.

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I’d never thought about Kansas City as a potential landing spot, nor did I know what to expect or have any preconceived notions of the region before I moved here. But, after 3 ½ years, Kansas City has grown on me; I love it in the Heartland and wouldn’t mind calling Kansas City my home for the foreseeable future. It’s a great place to raise a family. There’s lots to do here and activities are plentiful regardless of your interests, relationship status or age group. Jobs here may not be as abundant as they once were, but they aren’t ridiculously scarce either. There’s excellent cuisine, including out-of-this-world barbecue. The summers can be oppressive, but the winters aren’t horrendous. The cost of living is manageable. Most locals I talk to agree with me that Kansas City is a fantastic place that has a lot going for it. But, they still aren’t satisfied.

The term “flyover state bias” was foreign to me until I moved here; Kansas City gets overlooked because it isn’t on a coast, locals say. People from St. Louis look down on Kansas City because St. Louis is bigger and has a better baseball team, I’m told. Our sports teams will never get the attention they deserve because they can’t spend money like the teams in bigger markets and because everyone thinks Kansas City is some backwater, I’ve heard. The only sports fans in the region who don’t seem to have a negative outlook are University of Kansas basketball fans; but the Jayhawks always win and their program was started by Dr. James Naismith, the guy who invented basketball for crying out loud, and you really can’t beat that.

Before moving to Kansas City, I’d never lived anywhere where a sense of inferiority was both prevalent and justified. The folks of Yakima, Washington thought their part of the country was inferior, but they were right; Yakima’s in the middle of nowhere with high unemployment and crippling poverty. Kalamazoo, Michigan was a smaller city that had plenty going on and people there seemed to have a good understanding of what they were and what they weren’t; they knew where they fit in the pecking order. Binghamton, New York had several shuttered factories and quite a few broken dreams, but it was also home to a large public university and near several bigger cities, so most people there didn’t seem to feel trapped or doomed.

My sensibilities about where I live developed from growing up in New York City. New York has a lot to talk about: there’s plenty to do, its attractions are world class and it’s extraordinarily diverse. New York also has its downsides: plenty of crime, a high cost of living, filth and overcrowding. I, like most New York natives, think New York is the greatest city in the world. Of course, there are plenty of people who think New York is overrated and/or a pit of despair. However, New Yorkers don’t really care what others think of their city. If you like New York, great. If you don’t, that’s your problem. When someone argues with a New Yorker that another city is better, the New Yorker is convinced he or she will win the argument. That swagger is a big part of what makes New Yorkers who they are and it’s also why many others find New Yorkers to be insufferable. But, again, New Yorkers don’t care what you think of them or their city.

I wish Kansas Citians had some swagger; not to the level of New Yorkers mind you, but some swagger is a lot better than no swagger. I wish they talked down to those St. Louisans who boast about their great baseball team, their steel arch and their Gateway to the West moniker and tell them their barbecue sucks, White Castle is overrated and the fountains in Kansas City make it look prettier. I wish they thumbed their noses at the East and West Coasters who deride Kansas City as a cowtown that mirrors the backwoods locales in Deliverance, but on a larger scale, and asked them if they’ve even visited; I’ve yet to learn of someone from the coasts who’s visited who hasn’t been amazed by Kansas City’s beauty, modernity, entertainment options and hospitality. I wish Kansas Citians didn’t have that sky-is-falling mentality and assume Kansas City was always going to get the short end of the stick simply because it’s Kansas City; that tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy and there are plenty of examples of Kansas City not getting the short shrift that tend to get ignored by the natives.

*          *          *

The week of the All-Star Game festivities was a glorious one. The Weather Gods cooperated, and we got a one-week break from 90- and 100-degree weather, with temperatures falling into the 70s and 80s, which is uncommon in July. I heard nary a complaint from visitors about how spread out Kansas City is and, by all reports, the city did a great job of compensating, with plenty of shuttle buses to transport folks between Kauffman Stadium and downtown. Everyone I talked to raved about the food, particularly the barbecue, and the plethora of quality restaurants and bars. The two All-Star Game managers, Ron Washington and Tony LaRussa, went out of their way to praise Kansas City for the job they did. A few people who’ve covered multiple All-Star Games told me their All-Star experience in Kansas City rated in their top five. Many folks stood up for Kansas City fans, saying their booing of Cano showed how much they support their own and that their standing ovation for retiring Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones – who was playing in Kansas City for the first time in his long and illustrious career – a classy and savvy gesture. Over and over, I heard from out-of-towners that they were wowed by Kansas City.

*          *          *

More than anything, I wish Kansas City acted like the woman who knows she’s not the most attractive chickadee out there, but knows she’s pretty darn good looking in her own right. The woman who intelligently plays up her assets without coming off as desperate and ignores the naysayers; I don’t care that some guys are turned off by my flat backside because many more will love my shapely legs. Her confidence and lack of insecurities make her seem prettier than she actually is. If Kansas Citians are confident about Kansas City’s perception and place in the world, others will be too.

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I recognized Mom’s number when I opened my flip phone. I knew why she was calling.

“Hi Mom,” I answered. “I hate this move. I think it’s a terrible move.”

Mom tried to be diplomatic.

“Just give it some time,” she said. “Things could work out.”

I wasn’t going to give it any time and I knew it wasn’t going to work out; I’d never been more certain of anything in my life as a sports fan.

So, yeah, I wasn’t excited about Isiah Thomas being named president of the New York Knicks.

The Knicks are the reason I care about basketball. I came of age living and (mostly) dying with those talented and tough Knicks teams of the early- and mid-1990s that regularly went deep into the playoffs and regularly succumbed to those great, Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls teams, save for one NBA Finals appearance in 1994, during Jordan’s basketball hiatus. The Knicks were Wile E. Coyote; they’d keep coming up with ingenious plans to win it all, yet they’d always be leveled by an anvil or go careening off a cliff, the Bulls yelling “Beep Beep!” and sticking their tongue out as they raced to another title. But, I loved Wile E. One of the best birthday presents I got as a teenager was an Anthony Mason jersey. I begged Mom to take her Toyota Corolla through the car wash that Charles Oakley owned. Mom was also a huge Knicks fan; the Knicks won their only two NBA championships when she was a teenager. Knicks tickets at Madison Square Garden were hard to come by, so Mom and I had a seven-game New Jersey Nets ticket plan during the 1995-1996 season in part because it included seats for one of the Knicks games against the Nets at Continental Airlines Arena. I privately sneered at the Bulls hats, jackets and jerseys that filled New York City back then; it’s easy to root for the Road Runner, but you have to stick by your hometown team, even if they continue to buy products from Acme that keep failing them and don’t reach their full potential.

The Knicks didn’t have much of an identity once the late 1990s rolled around, but they were still competitive and capable of doing damage in the playoffs, culminating in a surprise NBA Finals appearance in 1999. The following season, Scott Layden took over as general manager and, after a couple of decent years, the Knicks hit an iceberg. It had been a decade and a half since the Knicks had bottomed out, and their lack of high draft picks didn’t allow them to rebuild with younger players. The Knicks kept signing and trading for veterans who were either mediocre or over the hill and none of the handful of young players they acquired panned out. Eventually, they did hit bottom, and it cost Layden his job late in 2003.

By the time Layden lost his job, I’d left New York City and was working as a sports play-by-play broadcaster and a news anchor and reporter for a radio station group in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Growing up, the Knicks were my second-favorite team behind the New York Mets, but they’d taken a backseat to the New York Giants, who I could watch every week at a bar a few minutes from my apartment, and Syracuse University, my alma mater, whose men’s basketball and football games were regularly shown on cable. I tried to watch the handful of Knicks games that were on television in Michigan but, as their record dipped, so did their national exposure. But my passion was reignited that day I was working in the newsroom and saw the Associated Press wire story announcing the Knicks’ hire of Thomas, which was followed by Mom’s phone call a few minutes later. The Knicks had stagnated under Layden, but going from him to Thomas felt like having a malignant tumor removed only to find out I had cancer. Thomas, one of the best point guards in NBA history and a good evaluator of amateur talent, had failed as a coach and/or general manager in several stops, even taking the time to run the minor-league Continental Basketball Association into the ground. I knew the Knicks were doomed.

Unfortunately, he didn’t prove me wrong. Thomas, who eventually added head coaching duties to his team president responsibilities, saddled the Knicks with bad contract after bad contract. Like New York Yankees or Brooklyn Dodgers fans of a certain age who can recite the entire roster of their great teams of yesteryear by heart, I can name most of the Knicks poor acquisitions and the beneficiaries of the terrible contracts under Thomas off the top of my head: Eddy Curry. Jerome James. Stephon Marbury. Steve Francis. It got to the point where I stopped getting upset about the Knicks’ losses because I knew continued futility would be the only way for Thomas to get canned. I was amazed the Knicks stood by Thomas even after an embarrassing sexual harassment lawsuit filed against him by one of the Knicks’ former female employees; it was a lawsuit the Knicks could’ve settled out of court, but they chose to fight it, leading to a lot of their dirty laundry being aired in a public forum. Some of my ire directed at Thomas began to be diverted to owner Jim Dolan, who seemed to have more faith in Thomas’ ability than he should’ve.

I was living in Binghamton, New York when the Knicks finally fired Thomas after the 2007-2008 season, prompting a celebration. Moreover, Thomas was replaced by people with excellent track records: Donnie Walsh, who’d built some really good Indiana Pacers teams, was named the president and Mike D’Antoni, who’d won with the Phoenix Suns, became the head coach. It was going to take a few years to rid the Knicks of all the bad contracts Thomas had saddled them with, but there was now a light at the end of the tunnel. New Yorkers have a reputation as an impatient bunch, but we had no problem accepting and watching terrible Knicks teams for a few years because we were confident the manure would turn into roses.

And that’s what made the first few months of the 2010-2011 Knicks season so wonderful. The Knicks had cleared enough salary cap space to finally sign some good players, led by standout center Amar’e Stoudemire. I was concerned about Stoudemire’s injury history – the Knicks couldn’t find anyone willing to insure his massive contract – but I still thought he was a good piece to build around. Besides, Walsh had put the Knicks in position to make more free agent signings over the next year or two, so Stoudemire was going to get more help. I followed the Knicks closer than I ever had as an adult, and their improved on-court product led to a ton of national television appearances, making it easier for me to keep an eye on them from Kansas City.

Then, the Knicks traded for Carmelo Anthony.

I’ve had a soft spot for Carmelo Anthony ever since he led Syracuse to their first-ever championship in college basketball. That was during the 2002-2003 season, Anthony’s only year in Syracuse orange. After years of resisting the urge to bring in a “one-and-done” – players who plan on declaring for the NBA Draft after playing one season of college basketball – Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim relented and landed Anthony, and it couldn’t have worked out any better. Unranked at the start of the season, Syracuse gained momentum as the year progressed, thanks to Anthony’s ability to gel with the rest of his teammates. Fellow freshmen Billy Edelin and Gerry McNamara handled the point guard duties that season and both proved adept at getting the ball to Anthony in spots that would allow him to score effectively. Syracuse was a balanced team with the ability to score inside or outside and a tight rotation of players who all knew their roles; Anthony thrived in this atmosphere.

Things have been different for Anthony since he was picked third overall by the Denver Nuggets in the 2003 NBA Draft. He’s developed a reputation as a player who is only capable of scoring and incapable of helping his teammates score or making those around him better. At Syracuse, Anthony wasn’t asked to set up his teammates, they had several capable rebounders and their 2-3 match-up zone hid his defensive shortcomings; all Anthony had to do was score. In the NBA, the team’s star player is expected to pass at least occasionally and it’s hard for any team to make a deep playoff run when their best player isn’t an elite-level passer, rebounder or defender. Anthony certainly made the Nuggets better, but their ceiling was limited because Anthony was limited as a superstar.

I was aware of Anthony’s reputation when the Knicks acquired him in February, 2011. Anthony made it clear he planned on leaving Denver after the season and that the Knicks were the only team he wanted to play for. It was unlikely Denver was going to be able to trade Anthony to any other team and Anthony was all but certain to choose the Knicks during free agency that summer. Walsh reportedly saw no need to trade for Anthony; the Knicks were already good enough to win a postseason series or two and they’d have to give up quite a bit to acquire Anthony in a trade. By picking up Anthony in free agency, the Knicks would be able to keep their core intact and add Anthony, which seemed like a win-win proposition. Walsh’s strategy made sense to me, but he was reportedly overruled by the meddlesome Dolan and the trade was made. I was incensed. Not only did Dolan ignore the recommendation of the general manager he hired to rid the Knicks of the mess Dolan helped create, but I knew there was little chance of Walsh – or his allies – sticking around after the 2010-2011 season.

Not surprisingly, the Knicks gave up several key players to get Anthony, were swept in the first round of the NBA playoffs and Walsh resigned after the season, although he remained with the team as a consultant. And the lockout-shortened 2011-2012 season saw the Knicks get off to a terrible start, in part because of the difficulties Anthony and Stoudemire had playing together. Both players like to operate in the post, creating a logjam that made it more difficult for both to score. And, Anthony performs better in a slow-paced, half-court game, whereas D’Antoni had installed an up-tempo, full-court style of play. The Knicks didn’t start to play as a unit until the emergence of Jeremy Lin, an afterthought who’d been claimed on waivers and had never stuck at the NBA level. But Lin, a point guard, proved to be skilled at making his mediocre teammates better and got his start during a stretch in which Anthony and Stoudemire didn’t play much together, since one or the other was out for various injuries or family emergencies (Stoudemire left the team for several days after his older brother died in a car accident).

Last week’s predictable first-round playoff exit for the Knicks – at least they won a playoff game this time, their first postseason victory since 2001 – ended a tumultuous season that saw D’Antoni resign and several key players miss lengthy stretches of the season. Anthony was in the middle of the tempest; his strained relationship with D’Antoni reportedly led to the latter’s resignation, and Anthony’s work ethic, desire to share the ball on offense and ability to stay in shape were questioned by his coaches, media and fans. The fact that Anthony carried an injury-riddled team the last month of the season and ensured the Knicks got one of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference seems like a footnote. Many Knicks fans felt duped: Anthony was supposed to be the superstar who would lead them to bigger and better things instead of an impediment to their long-term success. I can’t say I expected many associated with the Knicks to sour on Anthony so quickly, but I’m not surprised.

Perhaps a full training camp and a traditional, non-condensed schedule will help Anthony and the Knicks find their rhythm next season. And, the Knicks have an entire off-season to surround Anthony and Stoudemire with players who compliment them. I think the Knicks will be better next season than they were in 2011-2012, but I still expect them to disappoint. I am glad the Knicks are good enough to warrant my attention again and that they expect to win more games than they lose. But, I’m still wary of that anvil that always seems to fall from the sky.

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This week is one of my favorite weeks of the year. March Madness! The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament! College basketball games all day Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday! It’s a sports fan’s nirvana! Like most college basketball fans, I love the first weekend of the tournament because of its unpredictability. There are always a few upsets, a few games where lower-seeded teams from mid-major conferences – teams that only got in because they got the automatic bid that winning their conference tournament affords them – beat schools from the power conferences, like the Big East or the Atlantic Coast Conference. Us Americans love underdog stories and the best chance to see a David slay a Goliath in the NCAA Tournament is in the tourney’s first weekend, before the field is pared down to 16 teams from 68.

However, no one wants to see their team fall victim to a lower-seeded team. Upsets are fun and delightful and a great story until one happens to your favorite squad. So, fans of the Goliaths of the college basketball world love the Davids…as long as they beat all of the other Goliaths.

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I was worried as soon as I saw it on Sunday.

My beloved Syracuse Orange basketball team got off to a 20-1 start in the 2004-2005 season, only to struggle down the stretch before regrouping to win the Big East Conference Tournament, their first conference championship during my time as a fan. I knew they’d probably be a three or four seed and I was right; they earned a four seed. I was happy they’d be playing their first- and second-round games on Friday and next Sunday, respectively, in Worchester, Massachusetts. Syracuse, located right in the middle of New York State, draws quite a few of its students from the New England region, so I knew there would be plenty of Syracuse fans at their first two tournament games.

Then I saw the 13 seed we’d play in the first round.

The University of Vermont.

I knew about the Vermont Catamounts; they’d been one of the better mid-major basketball programs the last few years and I’d seen them play a handful of times on television. The state of Vermont isn’t known as a basketball hotbed, but it did produce Taylor Coppenrath, the Catamounts do-everything, 6’9” forward who was the nation’s second-leading scorer that year and one of the best players in the country, at any level. He’d led Vermont to their third straight America East Conference title and NCAA Tournament appearance, so I knew they wouldn’t be intimidated by big and bad Syracuse. Also, Worchester is closer to Vermont’s campus in Burlington than it is to Syracuse’s campus, meaning plenty of Catamounts fans would be able to make the trip to the game.

Everything was set up perfectly for David to slay Goliath. I worried about Vermont all week. I was living in Kalamazoo, Michigan at the time, but was less than two weeks from moving to Binghamton, New York for a new job. I decided to watch the Vermont-Syracuse game at one of my favorite hangouts – a place that had a room with eight televisions and would be showing every tourney game uninterrupted – and many of my friends and co-workers showed up to watch the game with me, the gathering turning into my impromptu Kalamazoo send-off.

The game was close from the start. Syracuse just couldn’t seem to get any traction offensively. Vermont wasn’t playing particularly well, but they just kept hanging around, which is exactly what an underdog needs to do. Syracuse was playing sloppily and committing too many turnovers; most of the turnovers were the result of careless play, as opposed to stifling Vermont defense. The Orange led by four at the half, but I still felt uneasy.

As halftime progressed, I noticed a few Michigan State University fans filtering into the bar. Kalamazoo’s about a 90-minute drive from Michigan State’s East Lansing campus, so the Spartans had plenty of alumni and fans in the area. The Spartans were scheduled to take on Old Dominion in Worchester, right after Vermont-Syracuse ended, and the winners of the two games would play each other on Sunday. So, Michigan State fans had quite a bit of interest in the outcome of Vermont-Syracuse. And, they’d rather see the Spartans face the lower seed on Sunday.

Coaches will tell you basketball games are often decided in the first few minutes of the second half and I knew Syracuse needed to start the half strong, grow their lead into double digits and put Vermont away. The second half opened with the two teams trading baskets before Coppenrath converted a three-point play to make it a one-point game. Syracuse was up by three when Vermont got the ball back and T.J. Sorrentine, the Catamounts pesky 5’11” guard and second-leading scorer, drilled a game-tying three from NBA range that nearly made my head explode; Sorrentine, Vermont’s best shooter, hadn’t hit a three the entire first half. But, shooters often need just one make to get them going and I feared for the worst when I saw Sorrentine’s three go through the bottom of the net. My fears proved to be correct, as Vermont hit a three on their next possession to take their first lead of the half. Syracuse, to their credit, didn’t allow Vermont to pull away, but the tables were turned. It now looked like Syracuse was the underdog and Vermont was the favorite; the Catamounts seemed to have all of the confidence Syracuse lacked and the Catamounts played with a lead most of the half.

My palms started to sweat as the game moved into the final two minutes. The contest was tied before Hakim Warrick, who’d been named Player of the Year in the Big East Conference the previous week, unleashed an emphatic dunk, giving Syracuse a two-point lead with 90 seconds left. On Vermont’s next possession, Syracuse inexplicably left Coppenrath – a great mid-range shooter – wide open on the right elbow and, not surprisingly, the senior buried a 17-foot jumper, knotting the score with less than a minute remaining. We need to win this game right now, I thought to myself. Syracuse followed by going to Warrick in the left post, his favorite spot on the floor. However, Warrick, perhaps a bit overeager, threw an elbow into the Vermont defender as he began to make his move to the hoop and was charged with an offensive foul with about a half minute left. The bar erupted in cheers as I screamed at all eight of the televisions. In the closing seconds, it looked like Vermont had the game won, but Germain Mopa Njila, the Catamounts Cameroonian forward who averaged less than six points per game but torched Syracuse for 20 points that night, stepped on the baseline just before hitting an acrobatic layup.

The game was headed to overtime. Now, I was certain Syracuse was going to lose.

I felt a little better when Gerry McNamara, Syracuse’s sharpshooting guard who’d been firing blanks all evening, stole a pass and went coast-to-coast for a layup and a two-point Syracuse lead with just over three minutes left in the five-minute overtime session. But, with two minutes remaining, Mopa Njila drilled a three to put Vermont back up and excite the Michigan State faithful once again. “Germain Mopa Njila with the game of a lifetime!” exclaimed broadcaster Gus Johnson. Why did he have to have the game of a lifetime against my team? I thought. I had less wholesome thoughts when Warrick turned it over on Syracuse’s next possession, followed by Vermont milking the clock and Sorrentine hitting a three from – no exaggeration – 30 feet out; he was a step or two in front of the half-court circle. A minute remained. A deafening cheer went up in the bar. The television cameras caught Vermont coach Tom Brennan with his arms raised in celebration. My head dropped into my hands, where it shook slowly; I wanted to crawl under the bar. Syracuse had a couple more opportunities after that, but it didn’t matter. They were toast after Sorrentine’s deep three. I slipped out of the bar as soon as the final horn sounded without saying goodbye to anyone; I didn’t want to watch Vermont celebrate. I haven’t seen most of the people who were there to see me off since that night.

This season, Syracuse is a one seed in the NCAA Tournament and a national championship contender; they will be the favorite in nearly every game they play from here on out [This was written before Syracuse center Fab Melo was declared ineligible for the tourney]. In a field with many Goliaths, they are one of the biggest of them all. And, hopefully, they will break all of the Davids’ slingshots in half.

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My first year as the radio pre- and post-game show host for the Kansas City Royals’ flagship station was a difficult one. I’d never done talk radio before, but now I was hosting a call-in talk show after every Royals game. I’d never followed the Royals closely, but now I needed to be an expert on them. I’d never covered a Major League Baseball team on an everyday basis before, but now I was learning how to do so on the fly.

And, I was dealing with listener criticism for the first time.

I came to Kansas City after four years in Binghamton, New York, where I was the radio voice of minor league baseball’s Binghamton Mets and of Binghamton University’s women’s basketball team. I’m sure there were fans who didn’t like my work, but I never heard from them. There were a couple of message boards and blogs that talked regularly about Binghamton basketball, but they focused on the higher profile men’s team. I wasn’t aware of any active boards or blogs that regularly discussed Binghamton media or the Binghamton Mets. Before Binghamton, I did sports play-by-play and news anchoring and reporting for a radio station group in Kalamazoo, Michigan. While there, one of my co-workers directed me to a message board filled with mostly negative comments about personalities at nearly every radio and television station in the area. There were a handful of mildly critical posts about my news-anchoring skills – I even responded to one of them on the message board, using my real name – but I was more concerned with my play-by-play than I was with my news reporting and anchoring, so I didn’t dwell on those negative comments for very long. My stay in Kalamazoo was preceded by a stint in Yakima, Washington where I was the radio voice of minor league baseball’s Yakima Bears, a short-season team with a 76-game schedule. If there were online forums or blogs devoted to Yakima radio or to the Bears, I wasn’t aware of them.

Kansas City was a completely different animal. For starters, its metro area is about 10 times bigger than Binghamton’s. And the Royals, like every Major League Baseball team, has several message boards and blogs devoted to it. There are also a few blogs and message boards covering Kansas City media. Generally speaking, message board and blog posts range from incredibly positive (I love the trade the Royals just made!) to incredibly critical (I hate the trade the Royals just made!) to incredibly uninformed or delusional (The Royals didn’t trade for Alex Rodriguez? Well, then they obviously don’t want to win!). Sometimes, a post that takes the middle ground on a topic can be hard to find.

I knew nothing about any Royals or Kansas City media message boards or blogs until Greg Schaum, my post-game show co-host my first year, directed my attention to some negative posts about me during the first couple of months of that first season. I was called out for pronouncing the name of the Royals ballpark incorrectly (I was calling it COWF-man Stadium my first few weeks, rather than the correct COUGH-man Stadium), for not being from Kansas City, for not being a Royals fan and for being clueless about baseball. Some posts were less tactful than others, but it was clear at least a handful of people thought the new Royals post-game show host was lousy and not credible.

The negative comments definitely stung, mostly because this was foreign territory for me; I’d never gotten feedback in such a hostile and condescending matter before. The rest of the season, I regularly scoured message boards and blogs for comments about me. Most of the feedback was still negative but, after a while, it no longer stung; by obsessing over what others were saying about me, I minimized its impact on my psyche. I also noticed there were fewer comments about me, negative or otherwise, as the season wore on. I interpreted the decrease of comments as a good sign, a sign that the fans were getting used to me, regardless of their feelings about my work.

As my tenure covering the Royals progressed, I became more knowledgeable and more confident in what I was doing and in my approach to the job, which also helped me deal with negativity directed toward me on the Internet. If I’m being true to myself and to my beliefs, I reasoned, I have nothing to worry about. I also joined Twitter, giving me a forum with which to interact with listeners and to show more of my personality. I think Twitter has helped listeners realize I’m a real person who loves talking baseball, even with those who disagree with me. And, people are less likely to be critical of someone they feel they know in some way – no matter how small – and someone who regularly responds to them, as I do on Twitter.

Occasionally, I still do a Google search for message board comments and blog posts about me. Sometimes, people call into my Royals post-game show to tell me how terrible or stupid I am. I actually like reading and hearing negative things about me from time to time, regardless of how off-base the comments may be, because it keeps me humble. If all I heard were positives, I don’t think I’d be as good of a broadcaster; I definitely wouldn’t be as thick-skinned. Besides, the negative comments and blog posts are often the funniest, especially when the author has no idea what he’s talking about, but thinks he does. Some people in media respond regularly to negative things that are written about them online, but I don’t. Most of the time, I think it would be a waste of time to respond and I think jumping on every negative comment or blog post makes one look paranoid and hypersensitive, two adjectives I never want to be used to describe me. I’ve chosen a field in which I’m a (very) minor public figure and I accept the good and the bad that comes with that. Also, if someone really wants me to respond directly to him, he can always call into my show or message me on Twitter.

More than anything, I appreciate the opportunity to work in a market where at least a handful of people occasionally discuss me and my on-air work in a public forum. I don’t aim to be controversial, nor do I say things on the radio simply for effect. But, I know I can’t please everyone all of the time. And, if people are critical of me, that means they’re listening. It would bother me a lot more if I were ignored.

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I was disappointed to learn yesterday’s New York Giants’ football game against the New England Patriots wasn’t going to be shown in the Kansas City market. But, as a Giants fan who’s lived outside of the New York City metro area for most of his adult life, I’ve become accustomed to watching them at bars that show all of the NFL games rather than at home, where I’m often stuck with games not involving the Giants. This time, I chose a bar that, according to the Internet, is frequented by Giants fans who live in the Kansas City area. But, even when I pick a place at random, I always meet a Giants fan or two. Usually, it’s someone else who’s also from New York City or the surrounding area. Often, it’s someone with at least a slight New York accent. And, at least for a few hours, it feels like home.

It wasn’t until the fall and winter of 1997 that I learned what it was like to be away from home. I was a freshman at Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York, about a 4 ½-hour drive from the Bronx neighborhood where I grew up. Upon my arrival at Syracuse, I was surprised to learn that it wasn’t a suburb of New York City. When people asked me where I was from those first few days, I would say “The City”. After all, what other city could I possibly be talking about? And, Big Apple suburbanites understand that when you say “The City,” you mean New York City. But, after having nearly everyone respond with “What city?”, I quickly dropped that habit, a defeat that disappointed me greatly.

I tried everything I could to maintain my New York City identity. I hung a subway map in my dorm room, next to my bed. I subscribed to The New York Times, even though I rarely read it, and I refused to even look at either of the two Syracuse newspapers (at the time, Syracuse had a morning paper and an afternoon paper). I listened to New York City radio stations online. The background image on my computer was a picture of Times Square. I did whatever was possible to prevent the New Yorker in me from fading away. But, at the same time, I wanted to prove I could survive outside of the five boroughs. I decided early in the fall semester that I wouldn’t return home until the Thanksgiving break, meaning I’d be away from my hometown for about three months. I didn’t want to be one of those freshmen, the ones who are running home every weekend; I thought my roommate was lame for returning to Long Island for a couple of the Jewish holidays.

I was incredibly anxious in the days leading up to my return home for Thanksgiving. By trying to prove I wasn’t homesick by not visiting sooner, combined with my attempts to maintain my New York City frame of reference, I became incredibly homesick. I wanted to go home and make sure nothing had changed, that I hadn’t missed anything. As it turned out, I hadn’t; New York City had undergone some subtle changes, but was more or less the same as it had been the day I left. My return to New York City helped me realize I could leave the city, but the city would never leave me; things may change while I’m gone, but there will still be enough that stays the same to remind me of the place I love and the place where I grew up. And, no matter where I went, I would always be a New Yorker.

After Thanksgiving, when I returned to Syracuse, I became more interested in the world outside of New York City. I began reading The Post-Standard, Syracuse’s morning paper, and paying attention to local issues. I interned in the promotions department for a radio station group in Syracuse, which gave me the opportunity to work radio-station events at various places throughout the region. I slowly came to the realization that Syracuse, New York was a pretty neat place and far from the worst city on earth in which to live and to get an education. I also began to realize that having a little bit of Syracuse, New York as part of my identity wouldn’t be a bad thing.

When I recall my four years living in Syracuse, I think about all of the great games I saw at the Carrier Dome and how much fun I had bar-hopping in Armory Square. Recalling my eight months in Yakima, Washington reminds me of the beautiful – and plentiful – apple orchards and the abundance of quality produce at the local farmers’ market. Thanks to two years spent in Kalamazoo, I know how to show people where I lived in Michigan by pointing to my palm and I appreciate the great craft beers produced by Bell’s Brewery. Four years in Binghamton, New York gave me an even greater appreciation of Italian food and a greater appreciation of craft beer, thanks to the 36 beers on tap at The Ale House, the best bar I’ve ever visited.

Asking me what I will remember about Kansas City assumes I will leave here one day. I do know I wouldn’t be opposed to making a city outside of New York City my home, which would have been unthinkable before I enrolled at Syracuse. But, wherever I am, I will always be a New Yorker, with bits and pieces of other places I’ve lived mixed in. And, I will always find a way to watch the Giants on Sundays.

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