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Posts Tagged ‘Kansas City Royals’

Sometimes, I pinch myself. Figuratively though, never literally. Fifteen years ago, I sat in the ballpark across the street and called a Red Sox-Yankees game into my tape recorder. The game was sold out; I rested my scorebook and notes on my right thigh and the tape recorder on my left thigh all while trying not to invade the personal space of those sitting next to me. A good chunk of my play-by-play from that game – Luis Sojo hit a walkoff RBI single in the bottom of ninth off Rod Beck to win it for the Yankees – wound up on my first baseball demo tape. That tape landed me my first baseball play-by-play job. Fifteen years later, I’m on the opposite side of 161st Street at the new Yankee Stadium, eight subway stops from where I grew up, being paid to call a playoff game featuring my surprising Houston Astros squad against the New York Yankees. Sure, it’s “just” a winner-take-all American League Wild Card Game but, in many ways, that raises the stakes. In a seven- or five-game series, losing the first game isn’t the end. However, losing the Wild Card Game is the end. Play six months to get into the postseason and it could be gone – Poof! – after one game, in which anything can happen; if you lose, it’s almost like you were never in the playoffs, the moment so fleeting.

The first pitch from Masahiro Tanaka to Jose Altuve is a ball.

*          *          *

The 2015 season is my 14th year broadcasting baseball – seven years in the minors, seven in the Majors, a play-by-play guy in 10 of those seasons – and I’ve never been involved in a postseason game. As a matter of fact, in only one of the previous 13 seasons had a team I covered finished over .500; the 2004 Kalamazoo Kings of the independent Frontier League. The Kings were in the playoff hunt until the season’s final week. The next year, the Kings won the league title, but I wasn’t there to see it; I’d moved on to the Binghamton Mets of the Double-A Eastern League by then. The B-Mets were in the playoff hunt until the season’s final day in 2006, but they split a doubleheader on that day to finish 70-70 & out of the playoffs.

What I learned this year was that, in the playoffs, the waiting is the hardest part. And the Astros had to wait longer than most to find out what was next for them. Going into the final day of the season on Sunday, there were four possible scenarios involving potential playoff or tiebreaker games in three different cities. After that day’s games concluded, the Astros were locked into the Wild Card Game in New York in two days, on Tuesday. Which meant a cross-country flight from Phoenix, arriving in New York – our third city on what was now at least a 9-day road trip – in the wee hours of Monday morning with a game scheduled for shortly after 8 pm local time on Tuesday. Being exhausted and sleeping through much of Monday morning did make the waiting any easier.

*          *          *

I was in the restroom when I heard it.

Colby Rasmus homered leading off the top of the second, a high, majestic shot to right; that appeared to be more than enough run support for Astros ace, and Yankees killer, Dallas Keuchel. I took my customary break when the top of the fourth inning began, turning the play-by-play over to Steve Sparks – my broadcast partner – which always mean a stop at the facilities. I’d just parked at a urinal when I heard the smooth, but booming, voice of Yankees radio broadcaster John Sterling over the restroom speakers announce that Carlos Gomez hit Tanaka’s first pitch of the fourth for a home run. Astros 2, Yankees 0. I’ve been in baseball long enough to know the game isn’t won until the last out is recorded, but I was confident the Astros were going to advance.

*          *          *

I woke up Tuesday morning feeling refreshed. The off-day Monday was needed to get over the grogginess associated with a late cross-country flight from Phoenix and to recharge my batteries after a 162-game regular season which included tension-filled games for most of the season’s final month. Monday was a great day to relax, go for a long walk & visit some friends & relatives in my hometown. Tuesday, it was time to get down to business.

I huddled at the desk in front of my laptop & iPad much of the morning. I updated my notes on the Yankees & made sure I had all the information I needed & wanted. Notes on the Astros’ postseason history and regular-season history against the Yankees were typed. This was my first time preparing for a playoff game, so I was learning as I went. Sure, I’d prepared for plenty of regular-season games, but this was different. How much work should I do for just one game? What information do I absolutely need & what information can be put on the back burner? By the time I closed my laptop & iPad, I felt pretty good about my preparation. I never get nervous for a broadcast if I know I’m prepared. I wasn’t nervous.

*          *          *

A two-run lead with Dallas Keuchel on the mound against the Yankees felt like a 10-run lead. Keuchel – who hadn’t allowed a run to the Yankees in the regular season – didn’t even allow many hard-hit outs. Alex Rodriguez did punish a pitch that George Springer ran down in the rightfield corner. The three hits Keuchel allowed – all singles – were harmless. He walked Astros nemesis Chris Young in the first inning, but that was the only free pass Keuchel allowed. The Astros got Keuchel another run in the seventh, when Jose Altuve poked a low-and-away pitch – a pitcher’s pitch – from Yankees reliever Dellin Betances into leftfield, scoring Jonathan Villar from second base. Keuchel handed a 3-0 lead to the bullpen – good most of the year, but shaky in September – when he departed after six innings.

*          *          *

I really wanted Caribbean food.

Houston is a great city with fantastic restaurants & plenty of ethnic food options, but finding good Caribbean food has proven to be difficult. Since moving to Houston, I’d heard of one Puerto Rican restaurant, which I tried & found lacking. Another Jamaican restaurant I read about on the Internet wasn’t up to snuff, at least not to me. A second Jamaican restaurant recommended to me by a friend had proven to be the real deal. So, Houston was 1 for 3 in the Caribbean restaurant department – a great ratio for a hitter, but not for my taste buds.

Growing up in the Bronx in a neighborhood filled with people from all over the Caribbean, I developed an appreciation for their food & culture. And I was confident I’d be able to find a good Caribbean restaurant near my Midtown Manhattan hotel for lunch before heading to Yankee Stadium for the game. A search on Yelp turned up a Puerto Rican restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen across town. Probably a 15-minute cab ride. Google Maps said it was a 30-minute walk. I was confident I could walk there in 20 minutes.

*          *          *

I felt a sense of calm when I saw Tony Sipp enter the game from the bullpen for the bottom of the seventh. The southpaw finished the regular season strong & matched up well against a Yankees lineup laden with lefthanded hitters and switch hitters. My calm was justified when Sipp worked around a one-out walk to Chase Headley, retiring the other three Yankees he faced in the inning. I was thrilled to see Will Harris enter the game in the eighth. Harris would’ve probably started the year in the minor leagues if it hadn’t been for injuries to other pitchers, but he never saw the minors in 2015, pitching well all year & earning the right to be the eighth-inning setup man in a winner-take-all playoff game. The Yankees went down in order against Harris, the ball not leaving the infield.

One more inning.

*          *          *

I haven’t been a full-time resident of New York City in over 13 years. Yet, getting back into The City’s routine, the hustle & bustle, is never an adjustment for me. As a matter of fact, I look forward to it. The streets were packed, as they always are around lunchtime in Midtown Manhattan. Office workers flood outside in the afternoons, seeking food. Many use their afternoon lunch breaks to smoke a cigarette or two, either in front of their office building or on their way to & from lunch (New York City has the most stringent non-smoking laws in the country, & public sidewalks are just about the only place where it’s legal to smoke outside of one’s private residence. For now).

The City’s geography is always in my head as I traverse Manhattan. For a New Yorker, memorizing the north-south avenues in order is tantamount to knowing your multiplication tables. The Puerto Rican restaurant was on 51st Street, between 9th & 10th Avenues. I left the Astros’ hotel, on 42nd Street, just east of Third Avenue, & quickly made my way to Lexington Avenue, before briskly walking uptown. I use the traffic lights to determine my moves. A red light at 44th Street meant making a left turn & walking west to Park Avenue, where I barely made the light before a red at Madison Avenue forced me back uptown. I made it through the pedestrian plaza that’s become Times Square before shooting up 8th Avenue for a few blocks. Construction on 9th Avenue forced me uptown again. I finally made it to 51st Street, a residential block with one storefront – the Puerto Rican restaurant. The beautiful fall weather meant my walk across town at light speed didn’t cause me to break a sweat or to be out of breath.

*          *          *

Yankees closer Andrew Miller was his usual dominant self in the top of the ninth, retiring the Astros on a harmless fly ball & two strikeouts. As Astros closer Luke Gregerson made his way from the visitor’s bullpen to the mound, the Yankee Stadium crowd was trying to summon up the strength to cheer their team to a rally, but it was obvious their heart wasn’t in it. Sparks pulled out the t-shirt & shorts he wore when he covered the Astros’ Champagne-fueled celebration from the clubhouse in Phoenix just two days prior; it was his job to get post-game interviews with players & coaches during every Astros clinching celebration. I’d just gotten back on the air when Sparks motioned to me that he was heading downstairs to prepare for another postgame party.

*          *          *

I stood behind four other patrons waiting to place their order; there was barely enough room for the short line. The restaurant was dominated by the kitchen & food prep area on the right. On the left was a narrow area with three sets of tables & chairs. One table was occupied by two women who were finishing their lunch. It quickly became obvious I was the only person in the restaurant who wasn’t fluent in Spanish. I felt right at home.

I was in line for a few minutes when a restaurant employee approached me.

“You eat here?” He asked me in a thick accent.

“Yes, I’m going to have lunch here. Not to go.”

“Sit! Sit!” He implored, waving toward a table. “I take care of you. Gimme 5 minutes. You want soda?”

I answered in the affirmative as I followed his instructions. Five minutes later, he asked me what I wanted to eat. I never saw a menu, but I didn’t need one. I settled on baked chicken with yellow rice (arroz con pollo) with plantains. “Maduros,” I told him, meaning I wanted the soft, sweet plantains, rather than the hard, salty ones. The food came quickly & in the large portions typical of a Caribbean restaurant. When I finished, I walked to the counter, which separated me from a short, raven-haired woman. After glancing at the chicken bones & stray pieces of rice remaining on my plate, she asked me if I had a soda. I told her I had. “Eight dollars,” she said. An eight dollar lunch in Manhattan? It’s a miracle!

The walk back to the hotel was a little longer than the walk to the restaurant. A full stomach will do that to you.

*          *          *

When he was with the Astros in 2004, Carlos Beltran turned in one of the greatest postseason performances in baseball history. However, he spurned the Astros for the Mets in free agency that winter & many Astros fans still boo him whenever he returns to Minute Maid Park. So, I’m sure many Astros fans took an extra bit of satisfaction in seeing him strike out swinging to begin the bottom of the ninth. The next hitter, Rodriguez, also struck out.

One out remaining.

*          *          *

I always try to take a 20-30 minute nap before I head to the ballpark. Even if I just close my eyes & don’t fall asleep, I feel refreshed & am less likely to get tired later in the day. Given how excited I was, it was a little surprising to me that I was able to doze off so easily after I slipped out of my shoes, packed my briefcase, fluffed up two pillows & laid face up on top of the bedspread.

Whenever I wake up from my early afternoon naps, I’m like a bucking bronco when the gate opens, & today was no exception. I bolted out of bed, quickly slipped on my shoes & grabbed my briefcase before storming out of the hotel room. After checking out at the front desk, I expertly wheeled my briefcase through the endless pedestrian traffic on my way to the subway station. I happened to arrive on the platform just as the 4 train was entering the station, which, to many New Yorkers, is tantamount to winning the lottery.

After arriving at my stop, I briskly walked to Yankee Stadium. I couldn’t wait to unpack, get settled in & to start my day.

*          *          *

One of the things I love about doing play-by-play is the unpredictability & spontaneity; you never know what you’re going to see & you usually don’t know exactly how you’re going to call something until it happens. I rarely think about what I’m going to say before it comes out of my mouth. Even when I give speeches, I never write them down verbatim; maybe I’ll jot down some brief notes or bullet points if I write anything down at all. However, when the final out was recorded, I knew exactly what I was going to say long before I said it, a rarity for me.

I’d been thinking about Frank Sinatra’s version of “Theme from New York, New York,” which is played after every Yankees home game, win or lose. I used to work in Kansas City, where I covered the Royals; after their wins, they play Wilbert Harrison’s version of “Kansas City” at Kauffman Stadium. The winner of this game was going to play the Royals in the American League Division Series, with the first two games in Kansas City. If the Astros won, I knew what I wanted to say, & it would incorporate elements from both songs.

Brian McCann stood in for the Yankees, their final chance to extend the game. The drama was quickly extinguished when Gregerson got him to swing at the first pitch.

“Ground ball, right into the shift! Fielded by Correa to the left of second. Throws to first, in time! And that is the ball game! Start spreadin’ the news, the Houston Astros win the AL Wild Card Game, beating the New York Yankees three to nothing! Kansas City, here they come!”

A perfect ending to a perfect day.

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I’d just gotten back to my car after one of my first deliveries of the day when my phone rang. It was the Sports Information Director at The College of St. Rose, a Division II school in Albany. Thankfully, I’d already put on my seat belt because I almost leapt out of my chair. A few days prior, I’d heard that St. Rose’s basketball broadcaster accepted a broadcasting gig elsewhere, so I called the athletic director and left a voicemail. The college basketball season was starting soon, and I figured St. Rose had already pegged someone to do their games. There’s no harm in calling them, I reasoned, because I might get lucky.

And get lucky I did. By the time the SID called, St. Rose’s first game was a week and a half away. It was a beautiful fall Saturday in Binghamton, where I’d wrapped up my first season as the broadcaster for the Binghamton Mets two months prior. Could you overnight your résumé and demo CD to us on Monday? the SID asked. Of course I can! Anything would be better than using copious amounts of Febreze in an attempt to eradicate the sickening stale pizza smell that permeated my car after every one of my delivery shifts. The Binghamton Mets hired me seasonally, so I needed to find a way to make money from Labor Day until April. In mid-September, I took a job delivering pizza, which paid well, but was the definition of tedious.

A couple of days after overnighting my stuff to St. Rose, I made the two-hour drive to Albany for an interview. St. Rose hired me on a Sunday night. Their first game was Tuesday. Like many Division II schools, St. Rose played men’s and women’s basketball doubleheaders, with the women’s game starting at 5 pm – or 1 pm for afternoon contests – followed by the men’s game. I’d also agreed to call 1-2 high school basketball games a week for a small radio station in Sidney, a rural town 45 minutes northeast of Binghamton. That winter, I became intimately familiar with Interstate 88, which runs through Sidney and terminates in Albany. The radio station in Sidney covered five area high schools and they let me make my own schedule, which dovetailed nicely with St. Rose’s; the college games were usually on Wednesdays and Saturdays and the high school games were Tuesdays and Fridays. If St. Rose had road games, I would hop on the team bus once I got to Albany and travel another 2-4 hours with the teams, call two basketball games, get back on the bus for another 2-4 hours and then drive the two hours back to Binghamton in the wee hours of the morning. Upstate New York winters can be pretty harsh but, amazingly, I only had to drive through one snowstorm that season. All for $200 and a chance to call my second-favorite sport, after baseball. It’s a good thing I love hoops, because I ended up calling 75 basketball games that winter. My car died a few months later.

*          *          *

“What do you do in the off-season?” is one of the most frequent questions I’ve been asked in my baseball broadcasting career. The baseball season is a grind; games every day for 5-7 months, depending on whether you’re in the Majors or minors and whether or not you call spring training action. Every baseball broadcaster needs a break after a season but, for many, that break is very short, if there’s a break at all. Seasonal employment, like I had with the Binghamton Mets, was the rule for most of my baseball broadcasting career. As a result, I had to find employment at the conclusion of each baseball season.

My first baseball off-season was in Yakima, Washington after calling games for the Yakima Bears of the short-season Northwest League. I hung around Central Washington to work as an account executive for the Yakima Sun Kings, a minor league basketball team that played in the now-defunct Continental Basketball Association. And I was miserable. For one, I’d hoped to land a job calling football and/or basketball, but I wasn’t as aggressive when it came to pursuing those opportunities as I should’ve been. And, I realized quickly I wasn’t cut out to be an account executive. It didn’t help that the degree of difficulty selling the Sun Kings for a novice account executive was high. The Sun Kings, like the rest of the CBA, folded two years prior before being reborn the previous year. Yakima sat out the first season of the new CBA before returning under new ownership when I came aboard. There were many people who lost money with the old Sun Kings and many of those people took out their frustrations on me. Plus, as I mentioned, I wasn’t cut out to be an account executive; cold-calling and going in and out of businesses to persuade people to spend money with the team just wasn’t my thing (It probably doesn’t help that I’m not a big fan of salespeople selling me things unsolicited. I’m the guy who, when he’s in the store or on the showroom floor, politely declines assistance and grimaces at salespeople who come at him with their huge smiles and mindless small talk. If I need you, I’ll find you. Otherwise, leave me alone). Nearly every day I worked for the Sun Kings, I woke up with a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach, dreading spending another day trying to convince people to buy courtside signs and group tickets. I contemplated quitting daily and, on one occasion, cleaned out my desk in anticipation of walking before changing my mind. Stick it out until you get another job, I told myself.

You can imagine my relief when, after five months of misery, I was hired by a radio station group in Kalamazoo, Michigan as the voice of the Kalamazoo Kings of the independent Frontier League. I didn’t have to start my new job for another two months, but I was so eager to rid myself of my account executive existence that I loaded up my car and drove cross-country to New York City, my hometown, as quickly as I could. I was much happier back home, where I spent two months teaching SAT prep courses on Long Island before heading to Michigan. That awful feeling in the pit of my stomach disappeared and hasn’t returned since. After initially being hired in Kalamazoo just for baseball season, I wound up getting a full-time position, ending my need to scramble for off-season employment. Instead, I slid right into radio news reporting and anchoring and broadcasting high school and Division III college football and basketball once the Kings’ season drew to a close.

You would think I would’ve learned from my Yakima experience when I left Kalamazoo after two years for the seasonal position with the Binghamton Mets. However, I waited until August to seek off-season work and found myself scrambling to find something with little time left, which is how I ended up handing people boxes filled with warm pizza for two months. The following off-season, I planned on returning to The College of St. Rose, but I was able to land the women’s basketball play-by-play job at Binghamton University, which was Division I, as opposed to Division II, and a 15-minute drive from my home, as opposed to a two-hour drive. Needless to say, the switch was a no-brainer. That off-season, I also got back into officiating basketball, which I’d done in Yakima, and I started substitute teaching. I wasn’t exactly living like a king, but I did okay for a single guy with few obligations.

After four years in Binghamton, I was hired by the Kansas City Royals’ flagship radio station to be their Royals reporter and pre- and post-game show host, the latter show featuring phone calls from fans. Once again, I was a seasonal employee but I’d learned from my earlier follies. In the middle of the summer, I contacted every school within a three-hour drive of Kansas City that sponsored intercollegiate athletics and let them know I was available to call basketball games if the need arose. The most serious inquiry I received was from the University of Nebraska Omaha, a Division II school three hours away. Nebraska Omaha needed someone to broadcast their men’s and women’s basketball doubleheaders because their previous broadcaster recently accepted a position that made it difficult for him to call all of the games. However, Nebraska Omaha’s SID hedged on completely handing the reins to me, saying he could guarantee me all of the road broadcasts, but nothing else. Since I wisely left the door open with Binghamton University when I departed for Kansas City, I passed on Nebraska Omaha’s offer and returned to Binghamton to call women’s basketball that fall and winter before going back to Kansas City in the spring. The following off-season, Nebraska Omaha offered me their full-time basketball broadcasting position. I gladly accepted, calling their games for three seasons, which included the first two years of their transition to Division I. As a matter of fact, I was finally hired full-time by the Royals’ flagship station my final year calling Nebraska Omaha’s games, but I was able to make the schedules work, just like I did with my St. Rose and high school basketball schedules in Binghamton many years prior.

 *          *          *

The day I agreed to terms with the Houston Astros to be their radio broadcaster, I no longer had to seek employment during the baseball off-season. The Astros compensate me year-round, which means seven months of baseball followed by five months of inactivity, if I so choose. For the first time in my life, I don’t have to call other sports, or deliver pizza, or substitute teach, in the fall and winter. I would like to call basketball and/or football again, but I won’t starve if I don’t. In short, I’m blessed. And, after years of hustling for work once baseball season ended, not a day goes by in the off-season when I don’t think about how fortunate I am.

Years ago, I watched an interview of Bill Gates, one of the founders of Microsoft, where he mentioned that, every few months or so, he takes a “reading vacation”; he’ll hole up in some remote locale for a couple of weeks and read all of the books he hasn’t been able to get to. My off-season these days isn’t exactly a reading vacation, but I have more time for books. I finally read Wherever I Wind Up, the autobiography of Toronto Blue Jays pitcher R.A. Dickey, which was outstanding. I just finished Bleeding Orange, the new autobiography authored by Jim Boeheim, longtime basketball coach at Syracuse University, my alma mater. I recently ordered You Can’t Make This Up, the new autobiography of legendary broadcaster Al Michaels. As you can probably tell, I love non-fiction in general and autobiographies in particular. However, the best book I’ve read this off-season was Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s outstanding novel that’s been turned into a movie. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but there’s no way it can captivate as well as the book, but isn’t that always the case?

When the weather cooperates, I try to bike at least 20 miles a day; I bike during the season, but I can get in more reps when there aren’t any games. I also like going out for lunch; since I spend so much time at home alone during the day, it’s nice to be around other people, even if I’m not communicating with them. I also get to reacquaint myself with my four-year-old daughter, time I really treasure since we don’t get to spend copious amounts of time together during the season. Once November and December arrive, I start prepping for the upcoming baseball season. By beginning my prep early in the off-season, I can work gradually all winter and have a lot of work done before spring training begins, giving me an opportunity to focus on other things and preventing me from being burned out once it’s time to call games.

More than anything, I use the off-season to decompress and to recharge my batteries. By the time I leave for spring training, I’m excited about a new season and ready to get to work. And I’m thankful for all of the work that I’ve done and jobs that I’ve had – in baseball, broadcasting and otherwise – that have helped me get to this point.

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I’d heard about Twitter for months but it took me awhile to grasp the concept. You send out short messages called tweets? Who reads them? Why would anyone care? How is this any different from status updates on Facebook? Eventually, I joined Twitter reluctantly; I kept hearing about links to interesting articles that were showing up in people’s tweets, so I decided to see what all the fuss was about. I had no preconceived notions about how much, or how little, I would tweet.

I started by following people I knew and following people who covered baseball; the former for obvious reasons and the latter because I’m always up for reading something about the game I love and cover for a living. The baseball season was in full swing when I joined, so I started tweeting my observations about the Kansas City Royals games I was watching every night in my role as the Royals pre- and post-game show host on their flagship radio station. At first, my followers were all people I knew. After a while, more and more people I didn’t know started following me; those people were mostly Royals fans who wanted more information about their team. I figured I’d wind up with no more than 1,000 followers. There can’t be that many people interested in what I have to say, I thought.

It didn’t take long for Twitter to become addictive. If I was away from the computer or my phone for a few hours, I’d spend 20 minutes scrolling through all the tweets on my timeline that appeared during my hiatus. I’d wake up in the morning and check every tweet that was sent while I was sleeping. It wasn’t until my now-wife and I visited her family in rural Puerto Rico – where internet access and reliable cell phone service weren’t easy to come by – that I broke myself of my obsessive-compulsive Twitter behavior. I still check Twitter regularly, but I no longer fret over the tweets I might be missing.

It also didn’t take long for me to realize there were a lot more people interested in what I tweeted than I ever imagined. I currently have nearly 4,200 followers, more than four times my original estimate. I’m conscious of how many people follow me – and that most of them follow because I tweet quite a bit about the Royals and other Kansas City-area teams and happenings – but I don’t want to become completely beholden to my followers. Most people on Twitter are relatively anonymous, but I’m not; I’m on the radio regularly and easy to track down if one so chooses. And, because of my lack of anonymity, I have to be conscious about what I tweet. Many in my position choose to play it close to the vest and to only tweet about a specific subject or subjects, keeping the tweets relatively benign and unlikely to stir the pot. However, I couldn’t play it close to the vest if I tried; that doesn’t mean I tweet recklessly, but I don’t place limits on what I tweet about. Most of my tweets will relate to baseball or another sport and I try to be honest in my assessments, making critical statements when I deem criticism to be necessary. However, I tweet about lots of other topics: parenthood, politics, pet peeves, observations, news that may only interest me, etc. Like everything else I do, I want my Twitter account to be a reflection of me; I consider myself to be a sports fanatic who has a variety of other interests and concerns and I want my tweets to show that.

I enjoy answering questions and discussing a variety of topics with my Twitter followers; they learn a little more about me and I learn a little more about them, too. The majority of my interactions on Twitter have been positive, even my interactions with those whom I disagree. More often than not, I enjoy the back-and-forth with my followers and many have told me they appreciate that I’ll actually respond to them, whereas many others won’t. I will even respond to the handful of people who are harsh or unnecessarily negative toward me; I usually respond by retweeting those comments or responding to them in a way that allows all of my followers to view my response. I have yet to block someone for tweeting negative things or unsubstantiated criticism to me; often, such haters are so surprised you’d respond to them, they back off. Twitter has also allowed me to connect with others who cover baseball; I’ve arranged several radio interviews and developed a few contacts thanks to Twitter. Through Twitter, I’ve also gotten restaurant recommendations, reconnected with acquaintances I haven’t heard from in years and been offered free legal and medical advice from apparent experts in those fields (I’ve declined those offers).

Sometimes, I have to remind some of my followers about the free and voluntary nature of Twitter. I’m amused by the “no one cares” responses I occasionally get regarding my tweets from some. It cracks me up when I’m told to “stick to sports” or “stick to the Royals” when I tweet about non-sports or non-Royals topics. One of the great things about Twitter is it can be whatever you want to be; I will never understand those on Twitter who don’t get that concept. Besides, Twitter would bore me if I, and everyone else, only tweeted about work and/or followed the same boilerplate. By the same token, it amuses me when I see articles and blog posts about how to use Twitter. There are no hard-and-fast Twitter rules; tweet about what you want and follow, or don’t follow, whomever you want. Don’t want to reveal much about yourself? Fine. Want to use Twitter as your personal confessional? That’s fine, too. Want to follow only a handful of people who only tweet about a specific topic? Go for it. Want to follow thousands of people from a variety of disciplines? Make it happen. I think the universal and adaptable nature of Twitter is why its popularity continues to grow.

Okay, time for me to post this blog, so that I can tweet a link to it. Even if no one cares.

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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.

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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.

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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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Jonathan Sanchez hasn’t had a very good year.

A lefthanded starting pitcher in his first season with the Kansas City Royals, Sanchez has posted a 6.75 ERA in 11 starts. He’s struggled to throw strikes, walking 43 in 52 innings to go along with 58 hits allowed. Not surprisingly, Sanchez has had difficulty going deep into games, pitching into the sixth inning only three times and posting just one quality start – six or more innings pitched while allowing three or fewer earned runs – and even in that game, he walked four (including one with the bases loaded), hit two batters and was charged with two throwing errors in a Royals loss. Never a pitcher with great command, Sanchez had moderate success with his former team, the San Francisco Giants, winning 13 games for them in 2010 and helping them to a championship. However, the average velocity on Sanchez’s fastball is down this year by about three or four miles per hour – a significant drop, by Major League Baseball standards – and the Royals thought the diminished velocity might be the result of an injury, leading them to put Sanchez on the disabled list for a month. But, Sanchez’s velocity hasn’t increased since his return. Nor have the results changed.

Entering 2012, the Royals have posted losing records in 16 of their last 17 seasons, so their fans are accustomed to poor performances and lousy play. But, the ire directed by the fans toward Sanchez has been different than the ire directed at most other struggling Royals players and has been fueled in part by the way he carries himself. On the field, Sanchez is emotionless and dispassionate. In a few of his post-game interviews after his starts, the soft-spoken Sanchez has deflected attention from his lackluster results; in one instance, he suggested that the opposition’s success against him that day was largely due to luck. Oftentimes, Sanchez has reiterated that he’s pitching the same as he did in the past, when he was more successful, even though the results have been subpar. On my Royals post-game radio show and on Twitter, I’ve heard from several Royals fans who assume Sanchez doesn’t care. Some say his pitching has been lousy because he never wanted to play for Kansas City in the first place. Others say Sanchez would be more tolerable to them if he showed some emotion and showed that his struggles were getting to him. A few others have mentioned their disgust over the fact he rarely tweets about baseball on his personal Twitter account.

So, is Jonathan Sanchez apathetic? Does he not care about baseball? Is he mailing it in, since he knows he will make $5.6 million this season, regardless of how he pitches? All are legitimate questions. However, it’s extremely doubtful that Sanchez is simply going through the motions.

I understand why fans latch onto things like body language and post-game interview responses, especially when a player isn’t performing well; fans are trying to figure out why a player is struggling and those are the easiest things to pick on. Most fans aren’t going to notice issues with mechanics or pick up on things like significant drops in velocity or slight adjustments in batting stances. Many media who cover a team on a daily basis won’t observe such things on their own either, but media have the opportunity to get specifics and explanations from players and coaches. I also understand why fans sometimes see the struggles of a player or a team and pin them on a lack of effort or assume that the winning team simply “wanted it more.” But none of those things could be farther from the truth.

If Sanchez were pitching well, his lack of emotion on the mound would be considered a “game face” and a way for him to conceal his intentions to his opponents; Sanchez would be praised for having the same demeanor regardless of what was happening around him. And, his post-game press conferences wouldn’t be an issue; after all, if a player is doing well on the field, fans rarely concern themselves with what that player is saying to the media. But, the fact of the matter is, Sanchez isn’t pitching well and, as a result, fans and media alike are going to dissect his on- and off-field actions even more. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean those actions are indicative of his lack of success.

What if Sanchez took the opposite tack? Sanchez could bash water coolers with a baseball bat after a bad outing, angrily kick the dirt when he gave up a key hit, throw his glove against the dugout wall after a rough inning or be extremely critical of himself in post-game interviews. However, none of those actions would change the results of his pitching performances. And, while fans may initially rave about the fact that Sanchez seems to really care and seems to be accountable, that act wears thin if Sanchez’s pitching doesn’t improve. Then, Sanchez would be criticized for boorish behavior. Body language and interview skills are important for athletes, but performing well between the white lines is what matters most.

There are a handful of athletes who are gifted enough to coast and to have success in the Majors based on ability alone, but success for players who rely solely on innate skills tends to be short-lived. Baseball players who aren’t putting in their work are noticed by their teammates, manager and coaches and are likely to be called out by at least one – if not all – of those entities if they aren’t playing well and, sometimes, they’ll be called out even if they are producing. In order to get to the Major Leagues and to stay there, players have to constantly work to refine and maintain their skills because there are always others waiting to take their jobs from them if they slip. A player could set his family up for life financially with even just a handful of serviceable Major League seasons, so the monetary incentive is there as well (In Sanchez’s case, he’s a free agent after this season and even a mediocre 2012 campaign could net him a multi-year contract worth well into the millions of dollars). Over the course of a long season, players will get frustrated and some will struggle to put forth the same effort consistently. Not all players approach their on- or off-field actions with the same level of care and dedication. But, the idea that a player or a team is struggling because of a lack of effort or because they don’t care is patently absurd. Generally speaking, the team that plays the best on any given day will win. And, the teams that win more often do so because they have more talent, the right amount of experience and ample depth to withstand injuries and other issues that affect a team’s consistency over the course of a season. The gap between the most talented and least talented Major League Baseball teams and players is rather narrow, and even the most gifted will struggle if they’re unable to maintain a consistent level of play. A lack of consistency or a lack of talent isn’t the same as a lack of desire or a lack of concern.

I don’t know if Jonathan Sanchez will turn things around or whether the Royals will continue to give him opportunities to sort things out at the Major League level. I don’t know Sanchez well enough to have an opinion on his passion for the game. But, I do know it’s very difficult to become good enough even to be a lousy Major League player by being complacent or by lacking desire. Regardless, carefully studying Sanchez’s body language, interviews and tweets won’t be enough to determine his commitment to baseball. When you see a player or a team struggle to have success or to maintain success, it probably isn’t because they don’t care enough or don’t work hard enough. More than likely, that player or team simply isn’t good enough. And, right now, Sanchez isn’t good enough.

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Thanks to my job as a reporter covering the Kansas City Royals for their flagship radio station, I’ve developed quite a following on Twitter. Recently, one of my followers asked me if I was a fan of the Royals. I replied that, while I like to see the Royals succeed, I don’t consider myself a fan. My response led to a lengthy Twitter discussion about why I’m not a fan of the Royals; some suggested I was a traitor for not unabashedly rooting for the Royals and others assumed I don’t care about the Royals if I’m not a fan of the team.

I can’t help that I grew up in New York City rooting for the New York Mets, rather than in Kansas City rooting for the Royals. I suppose I could toss my past aside and pretend the Royals are the only team I’ve ever cared about, but that would be disingenuous. Even though I do a Royals post-game show and have many people who follow me on Twitter because I cover the Royals, I don’t hide my past or present allegiances. I learned about and fell in love with baseball thanks to the Mets and pretending otherwise would be ignoring a key part of what’s made me who I am.

When I first took the Royals reporter job, just before the start of the 2009 baseball season, I scoured the internet for information about the Royals teams of the previous few seasons, taking detailed notes that almost filled up an entire legal pad. Now, in my fourth season covering the Royals, I feel like know as much about the team as anyone who didn’t grow up following them could. I’ve gotten to know many of the players, coaches and executives – past and present – very well. I enjoy interacting with and talking to Royals fans and I feel I have a good grasp of the fan base’s mood. I like to see the Royals do well – it’s easier and more enjoyable covering a winning team than it is covering a losing team – but I still don’t consider myself a fan.

I am a fan of Syracuse University’s teams, especially football and men’s basketball. I am a fan of the New York Giants. I am a fan of the New York Knicks. I will celebrate the successes of those teams and brood over their failures. I will always wear merchandise with the logos and colors of those teams. No matter where I am or what I’m doing, I will always care whether Syracuse, the Giants and the Knicks win or lose. However, if I stop covering the Royals, I will no longer follow them closely. Sure, I’ll still be interested in how they do – I occasionally peruse box scores, rosters and schedules for teams I covered a decade ago – but I will no longer concern myself with their day-to-day activities. I no longer consider myself a Mets fan because I’ve spent the last decade immersed in coverage of other baseball teams, making it difficult for me to follow the Mets closely at the Major League level; this is true even though I covered one of the Mets minor league affiliates for four years.

Some say covering a team you aren’t a fan of is a good thing; it leads to more impartial coverage, they say. I think there are advantages to covering a team you grew up rooting for: you’re already familiar with that team’s history, you know what’s important to that team’s fans and you know how those fans think. And, seeing the inner workings and getting to know the on- and off-field members of a team decreases the chances of a fan-turned-media member becoming an unabashed cheerleader. Even the most plugged in fans are prone to speculation about the motives and character of a player, coach or team, speculation that often isn’t very informed or is based on what others have told them. On the other hand, media who cover a team are less likely to speculate because they have a better idea of what’s going on. And, when they do speculate, it’s usually well-informed speculation based on their intimate knowledge of and on- and off-the-record access to a team and its key players. Unlike fans, media who cover a team every day are less likely to run hot and cold about a team or player’s performance because they usually have a better understanding of the big picture. If you are a fan of a team, covering that team every day will make you less of a fan and more of a shrewd observer.

So, no, I’m not a Royals fan and I doubt I’ll ever really be a Royals fan. But, I do enjoy covering them and I hope they succeed in turning things around and eventually make it back to the World Series. Because, who wouldn’t want to cover a World Series?

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For as long as I can remember, my mom has kept a journal. Sometimes, she wrote in her journal daily, oftentimes, she wrote in it every few days or whenever the mood struck her. On several occasions during childhood, my mom tried to get me to embrace the same habit. My first journal was more like a log. I divided pages of a composition book into rows and columns where I wrote what I did each day: “went to the park,” “watch tv,” “eat at McDonald’s,” etc. When Mom told me I needed to add more substance to my journal, I moved from a log to writing a short paragraph about what I did each day: “Today, I went to the park. We had lunch at McDonald’s. After that, I watched tv.” I still wasn’t grasping the concept of writing about my feelings and inner thoughts and I eventually gave up because I thought journaling was a pointless exercise.

As childhood morphed into adolescence, I wrote sporadically in journals or in Word documents, usually if I was going through a difficult time and wanted an outlet for my feelings, but I never achieved any consistency. I even started a few blogs as an adult, but none of them lasted very long. Thanks to Mom’s tutelage, my attention to detail and my voracious reading habits, I became a very good writer, but I was the last to realize I was a good writer; I had no confidence in my ability to come up with ideas and to put words on paper on a consistent basis outside of assignments for school. I didn’t understand that, in order to become the best writer I could be, I simply needed to write something, anything, on a regular basis. I didn’t understand that, like anything else, the key to tapping into my writing potential was to practice. Instead, I became a perfectionist when it came to my grammar and my ideas; nothing I wrote would ever be good enough and, no matter how good my ideas were, I thought there was no way I’d be able to properly articulate them on paper – or in a Word document.

During the 2011 Major League Baseball season, under orders from my boss, I started blogging regularly about the Kansas City Royals, the team I reported on and hosted a pre- and post-game show about on the team’s flagship radio station; the blog posts appeared on the front page of the radio station’s website. I was pleased with how most of the blogs turned out, but they were easy to write, since they didn’t have to be very profound and they were Royals specific. In May, I came up with the idea of blogging about how the public perception of some baseball players differs greatly from how baseball evaluators see them. As I started to write, I realized such a post would be quite an undertaking and much longer and more involved than any of my other Royals blog entries. Perhaps I could write something and post it on my own, personal blog?

After many stops and starts, a few changes in direction and several revisions, How David DeJesus Helped Me Find My Voice was written. And Radio Guy Diaries was born. I hadn’t set out to create my own blog, but I quickly seized on the potential of the medium. I decided to try and post regularly and, unlike previous attempts to journal or blog, I found myself filled with ideas. I worked on my second post, Have You Paid Your Dues? for most of the following week, finally able to articulate something I’d been thinking about for a long time. I liked the idea of blogging about whatever I wanted because it allowed me the freedom to write about whatever came to mind. I’ve always had high – sometimes, too high – expectations for my writing, so I didn’t feel I needed any self-imposed restrictions or rules, beyond making sure I wrote something every week. Blogging would be a more effective tool to get me to write than a private journal would be, I thought, since the blog’s public nature would force me to write new content frequently.

As the weeks rolled on and the blog posts started to mount I began to realize that, for the first time in my life, I was enjoying the writing process. Some weeks, ideas and content came easily and I was done with my post with several days to spare, like with Mikey, My Failed Baseball Career and Dress To Unimpress. Other weeks, I have trouble coming up with something to write about until a day before I’m scheduled to post, like with The Path, A Critical Look At Criticism and 9/11 & Me: It’s Complicated. Some posts start as a few paragraphs that are abandoned, only to be picked up again weeks later and developed fully, like with Never Far From Home and Syracuse Is Going Where? I have yet to feel pressure or writer’s block; I always feel like I’ll be able to come up with something coherent and somewhat interesting and/or entertaining.

I’ve intentionally chosen not to focus on the same topics or subject matter for every post because I thought that would limit me and there are lots of areas I’d like to explore with my writing. I would probably gain a more consistent and loyal following for Radio Guy Diaries if I narrowed things down more, but a consistent and loyal following isn’t my chief concern; sure, I want people to read what I write, but I don’t want to feel that I have to write about something – or that I have to avoid writing about something – simply because of what I think my audience desires.

Looking back at 2011, I’m proud of the steps I’ve taken in my career. It’s been a blessing to watch my daughter continue to progress and grow during her first full calendar year on this earth. I continue to marvel at the beautiful, strong and loving relationship I share with my girlfriend. And, yet, when I think about 2011, nothing makes me prouder than Radio Guy Diaries. I’ve enjoyed sharing a bit of myself with the rest of the world on a regular basis. May 2012 be filled with even more success and plenty of blog posts.

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