The day I interviewed Al Molinaro

Al Molinaro died yesterday.

Interviewing him was just one of many great thrills of my time in K-Town. My turn had come up in our newsroom rotation to produce a “What ever happened to …” feature, a weekly staple in community newspapers like the ones for which I worked. The news editor maintained a sheet with story ideas, and one of them was to catch up with Molinaro. Problem was no one seemed to know how.

As I recall, I had hit several dead ends before I finally got a hold of a phone number that maybe was his. It was my last shot, and I called it early in the week. I was 99 percent sure the voice on the answering machine greeting was Molinaro’s. I left a message and asked him to give me a call, but I wasn’t so confident a retired Hollywood television star would return the call of some young reporter in Kenosha.

That Friday morning, with the deadline for my story looming and still no return call from Molinaro, I was turning my attention to a backup plan. ... Then, out of the blue, the phone rang at my desk, and it was Al Molinaro!

We chatted for about a half hour or so. It was kind of a rushed interview – as most phone interviews with celebrities were. I don’t remember much about the questions I asked or his responses to them. What I remember is what a gentleman he was and how proud he was of his Kenosha heritage.

When our interview finished, I hung up the phone, beaming. I cranked out my story, and it was published in Monday’s edition.

Thus, his 2004 interview with the Kenosha News is being referenced in newspapers across the country this morning.

The World Series: Game 3 goes to the Mets

The Royals didn’t get a win last night, and the World Series now stands at two games to one.

On the bright side, it means we’re one game closer to a Game 6 showdown in Kansas City.

The Royals looked like their usual selves early. After Noah Syndergaard knocked Royals leadoff hitter Alcides Escobar to the ground with a fastball up and ina ploy to keep Alcides from swinging at the first pitch – the Royals took a 1-0 lead in the first on a Ben Zobrist double, a Lorenzo Cain single to move Zobrist to third and an Eric Hosmer RBI on a muffed double play ball by the Mets. The Royals were capitalizing on mistakes again.

Then the Royals took a 3-2 lead in the second inning on singles by Salvador Perez, Alex Gordon and Alex Rios. After Gordon was called out sliding into third on Rios’ single, Ventura sacrificed Rios to third and he scored on a wild pitch. … At that point I turned to Kates’ and said, “This series is so over.”

Outside of Gordon being called out at third on a replay review, everything seemed to be going the Royals' way.

From Sports on Earth ...
For the first two innings of Friday night's Game 3 of the World Series, it looked like the Kansas City Royals were simply never going to be beaten. This had been a glorious Mets season, but the Royals were a buzzsaw that would vivisect and eviscerate anything unfortunate enough to cross their path. The Royals had outlasted the Mets in Game 1 -- while hitting Matt Harvey harder than he has been hit in a while -- and batted Jacob deGrom around in Game 2. But Friday was their greatest trick of all: They were murdering Thor.

Coming into this game, Mets fans were demoralized and shaken by the two losses in Kansas City, but they could tell themselves one thing: They still had Noah Syndergaard. Perhaps their best postseason pitcher, and definitely the one who threw the hardest, Syndergaard was the reason Mets fans weren't in total despair. Sure, the Royals hit a lot of fastballs, but they surely couldn't hit his, right?

And then seven of the first 10 Royals batters reached base. Every time Syndergaard got two strikes on a Royal, the batter would fight him off until he either walked or found a hole to hit the ball through. It was one thing to see this happen to Harvey and deGrom. But Syndergaard? Thor? It made you feel like it was hopeless. The whole reason Mets fans had any optimism in the first place was because they had all these power arms, and here, these relentless Royals, they were knocking them around three straight games. The Royals led 3-2, but it felt like a lot more, and that a lot more runs were coming. Sorry, Mets: You did what you could, but sometimes, you're the bug, and the windshield is wearing blue.

We were so wrong. It was all Mets the rest of the way. Raul Mondesi’s Major League debut was a dud. New York won the game 9-3.

I don’t even recall seeing the final outs. Phoebe and I dozed off on the couch sometime in the eighth while Kates was reading a book and Faye was playing “school.”

In other words …

I am as annoyed as ever with the national broadcast team. Maybe it’s my Royals bias and middle-age jadedness, but let’s all agree – as also noted aboveNoah Syndergaard did not “announce his presence with authority.” I didn’t think that when the pitch was thrown at Escobar and don’t think it had any significant impact on the game now. Here's another take from The New York Times.

Here's a great read about why the Royals owe Hall of Famer Robin Yount for hitting coach Dale Sveum. It's another one that that will have my fellow Brewers fans rolling their eyes again at what Milwaukee gave up to Kansas City ... Robin Yount is arguably my all-time favorite baseball player, and I loved watching Dale Sveum play in Milwaukee when I was a boy, too. I've been behind Ned since day one in Kansas City, and I thought the day he hired Dale -- within hours of his firing by the Chicago Cubs -- that it was a genius move. ... I also vividly remember watching the night Sveum's Brewers career ended when he broke his leg in an outfield collision with Darryl Hamilton. Sveum's replacement at shortstop was a rookie named Gary Sheffield.

I caught this commercial during last night’s game. I really liked it.

Here's a remembrance of the World Series comebacks by the Royals and Mets.


World Series off night trick-or-treating

We spent our off night of the World Series trick-or-treating tonight. Although, we almost didn’t get out the door.

Tonight was the night we’ve looked forward to for the last few Octobers. On the Thursday night before Halloween, The ‘Ville’s downtown businesses host a downtown trick-or-treat and the campus residence halls open their doors to let children knock on students’ hall doors for candy.

I arrived home from work ahead of 5 p.m., ready to meet the girls and head downtown. But they didn’t walk through the door until after 5:30 p.m. And saying they were a little crabby is an understatement.

Phoebe was in the most foul mood of all and wanted no part of putting on the fairy costume her Grandma S made for her. Many tears and kicking ensued, stoking memories of the infamous Homecoming Day meltdown years ago.

I tried to negotiate, pitching the idea of going to the Student Union for dinner. But Phoebe still refused to wear her costume.

Phoebe and I went for another round while Kates and Faye boarded the car in the garage. Finally I got her to go if I allowed her take one of her teddy bears. And I swiped her costume from the kitchen table on our way to the door, telling Phoebe I was bringing it in case she changed her mind.

So we skipped the downtown trick-or-treating and finally arrived at the Student Union to eat around 6:20. There, the girls continued to bicker and whine – which further frustrated Kates and I who barely ate anything. And we had gone to the all-you-care-to-eat dining area, so we hardly got our money’s worth.

And then, as we walked to the car, Phoebe had a change of heart. The clouds parted, a rainbow broke through, and suddenly she wanted to put on her costume to go trick-or-treating.

We got the picture of the girls together in their Fairy dresses. They filled their Halloween baskets with candy. Erase the hour or so between the time they arrived home from school and the time we exited the Student Union and we had a really great time.

*     *     *

In the meantime, us Royals fans are still feeling pretty good about our 2-0 lead and anxiously awaiting tomorrow night’s Game 3. We’re a fanbase caught between the impossible and entirely possible.
When the World Series comes to town, everyone talks about baseball. Everyone wears baseball on their shirts, baseball in their eyes. They sit next to you, waiting for you to bring up baseball, unless they snap and bring baseball up first. On the flight into the city, there are announcements about baseball. Driving into the city, there are baseball billboards, baseball banners, electronic traffic signs that end with messages about baseball. The walls of the city are festooned with baseball. The people are mad about baseball. Everything is baseball.

It's a living, delightfully suffocating experience. The deeper you dig, the more you realize there's nothing like it. It shows up unexpectedly where you live. It's about you. It's about the people around you. It's about where you live, happening right there. It's unambiguously good. It's all anyone can talk about, unless they're talking about the plans they're making around it.

There's nothing like it. When an entire section of the country can't stop talking about the same thing, it's always a tragedy or awful story. The happy, fun things are shared on social media until the next happy, fun things come along, but they're mostly disposable. There isn't a wellspring of this this this for everyone to enjoy at the same time, all around you, completely unavoidable.

When the World Series comes to town, everyone is sure thinking about the World Series.

The Kansas City Star’s Sam Mellinger notes that in six of the Royals' nine playoff wins, Kansas City has trailed in the fifth inning or later. “It's more than heart.”
This is not a fluke as much as it is the amplification of a season-long trend. The Royals had 41 comeback wins in the regular season. No American League team had more.
Comebacks are stacking on top of comebacks, enough that Royals manager Ned Yost comes up blank when asked his most memorable comeback before last year’s Wild Card Game.

And The Star’s Rustin Dodd writes about how the Royals’ frenzied hitting attack sank Mets ace Jacob deGrom last night.
As Kauffman Stadium pulsates and the cool breeze blows through this old stadium, the Royals’ offense can feel a little like a technically sound prize fighter, quietly dismantling an opponent. There is the consistent jab, the precise touch, the perfectly crafted right hook. Inside the Royals’ clubhouse, they call this display “frenzy hitting,” a never-ending line of hard contact and rattling bats and balls in play. …

If this World Series was supposed to be a referendum on the Mets’ power arms versus the Royals’ hum-drum attack, the early verdict suggests a precision knockout for Kansas City. In two games, the Royals have stared down deGrom and right-hander Matt Harvey, the Mets’ two front-line horses. In two games, the Royals have struck out just four times against Harvey and deGrom while nicking the starters for seven earned runs in 11 innings.
Meanwhile the national analysts are going crazy, overthinking the Royals. I find it funny and annoying. … Baseball is a game with millions of variables. The Royals are winning the game right now. Get over it.
The Kansas City Royals are the sort of team you find yourself trying to come up with excuses for why they just beat you, because you can't make sense of it otherwise. Everybody always thinks they're better than the Royals. Last year, the A's were more versatile, the Angels had more star power and front-line starting pitching, the Orioles had more home run thunder. Same thing this year: The Astros were younger and more new school (and came closer than anyone to beating Kansas City), the Blue Jays were too strong and too cool and too ready and the Mets, man, those Mets pitchers were just gonna blow them away.

The Royals' postseason record against those teams, after their 7-1 World Series Game 2 win on Wednesday night? 17-4. 17-4!
Game on.


World Series: Royals take two

Kauffman Stadium may never feel better than this, not in 2015, not in a lifetime. For the inhabitants of this ballpark, stocked with a generation of Royals fans choked by 29 years without October and taunted by a silver medal in 2014, the pinnacle may have come in a 7-1 victory Wednesday over the Mets in Game 2 of the World Series, when the lineup bloodied an opposing ace and incited a slew of standing ovations.

Savor this if you stood among the rain-soaked mass of 40,410 inside the stadium. Savor it if you joined the millions watching on television or huddling near a radio. Savor it if you spent years waiting for a Royals renaissance, because baseball might not be played again in Kansas City this season.

Baseball may disappear for the sweetest of reasons, because the Royals flew to New York on Wednesday night with a chance to spill champagne inside Citi Field for their first championship since 1985.

A couple weeks ago, after the Royals mounted that unbelievable comeback against the Astros in the Division Series, my mom asked whether I thought Johnny Cueto could pitch well enough in that series’ Game 5 to clinch it for Kansas City. I shrugged off any doubt and noted Johnny seemed to pitch his best at home.

He pitched the game of his life in that Game 5. Then, he was awful last week in Game 3 in Toronto. And he was a Met killer tonight in Game 2 of the World Series in Kansas City. So good, he pitched a two-hit, one-run complete game.

There’s not much more to say. Cueto was good. The Royals defense was good. The offense just kept movin’ the line.

As we watched tonight and Phoebe cuddle up to me on the couch, it occurred to me that we’ve done the same thing nearly every night since opening day. As usual, Phoebe and I watched as much as we could together before we had to yield to her bedtime – which led to us just moving the game-watching to my phone in her bed until she was snoring soundly and I could return to watching the game on our TV in the living room. Watching the Royals play – and play hard until the very last out – is now a staple in our daily routines. So routine that the significance of the World Series is almost an afterthought.

Meanwhile, the national media continues to be clueless about this Kansas City Royals team. From the moment last night’s game ended they pretty much had a win chalked for the Mets – all because Jacob deGrom was on the mound for New York. 

The Royals don’t care who’s on the mound.
The Royals now have a 2-0 lead in the series, and with the way they’re playing – handing the Mets a deflating loss last night and the offense landing some big punches tonight – I would not be surprised if they win this thing in five or even sweep it.

A better scenario, though, would be that they win one of three in New York, come back to Kansas City and win it all in Game 6. Because I’ve got a ticket to that game. … I may have to avoid wearing my lucky Royals T-shirt for a couple of those game to make it happen.

As we sat down to watch last night’s game, Kates gave me her nod of approval to try for a Game 6 ticket. I checked StubHub obsessively today. This evening, the tickets prices for the remaining games started going – not down as I had anticipated – up (I blame the excitement of last night’s game, and now everyone wants in on the action). I continued monitoring the prices during tonight’s game. When the Royals won tonight’s game, I pounced. … If the Royals get to Game 6, it will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If it doesn’t happen, I’ll get a full refund – and the Royals will be World Champions.

Good reads ...
Kansas City is the best baseball town in America right now

The bikers at the bar are talking about the Royals. The hipsters on the street are talking about the Royals. The cashiers at the supermarket in the middle of the night are chatting about Lorenzo Cain’s range in center field.
It’s everyone, and it’s everywhere. It feels like you can’t pass four people on any street in Kansas City without spying at least one Royals cap, if not more. 

This 88-year-old Royals fan, ‘Miss Frances,’ never misses a game at The K ... Quite a woman.

After decade of losing, Royals fans learning how to have fun ... This is a good read about KayCee, Moose Man and the cat guy at Kauffman Stadium.

Back to work for bleary baseball fans after epic (and late) World Series Game 1 ... A good one illustrating how we're all feeling after last night's classic.

World Series: Royals win Game 1

Holy moly, that Game One that just happened tonight -- or this morning.

The Royals won it in 14 innings in epic fashion. And we're only just beginning.
It was arguably one of the most pulsating, tense and unforgettable Game 1s in World Series history.

From the moment of the first pitch, when Royals starter Edinson Volquez began hurling two-seam fastballs unaware of the tragic news that awaited him after the game, that his father had passed away earlier in the day, to the Bill Bucknerish boot by Royals Gold Glove first baseman Eric Hosmer that gave the Mets a one-run lead in the eighth, to the dramatic game-tying homer by Alex Gordon in the ninth, and finally to Hosmer's redemption, a game-winning sacrifice fly in the 14th, it was all there. A night packed with drama.

And in the end, in what matched for the third time the longest game in World Series history, the Royals survived, 5-4, in a Tuesday game that lasted five hours and nine minutes, stretching into Wednesday morning.

Alcides Escobar kicked things off for the Royals by hitting an inside-the-park home run on the first pitch he saw. 

In the top of the fifth, I was tucking Faye into bed and watching the game on my phone when the Fox broadcast feed went out. Twitter rejoiced when Joe Buck and Harold Reynolds were canned for the MLB Network feed with Matt Vasgersian and John Smoltz doing the analysis.

The Fox feed came back for the bottom of the fifth.

Ben Zobrist scored on Eric Hosmer’s sacrifice fly to make it 2-3 in the bottom of the sixth. Lorenzo Cain stole second and scored on Mike Moustakas’ line drive up the middle.

When Hosmer made the error at first, I immediately thought of Bill Buckner. I wasn't the only one.

After that, I spent a large portion of the ensuing innings dozing to sleep and trying really hard to hold on for the ending no matter what team won.

Then Alex Gordon did something in the bottom of the ninth. I sat straight up on the couch. And my Twitter lit up.

The Royals had plenty more chances to win it in extras. Chris Young -- who nobody wanted last spring and has been huge in the clutch for the Royals -- held the Mets offense in check, striking out the side in the top of the 12th.

The game headed into the 14th inning as the clock struck midnight.

In the bottom of the 14th, Alcides Escobar singled on an error. Ben Zobrist singled. Lorenzo Cain was intentionally walked. Escobar scored the winning run on a sac fly by Eric Hosmer. The game lasted five hours, nine minutes.

The Royals showed their knack for comebacks again. How many more thrills can these guys produce?

And we have Game 2 in a matter of hours.

Speaking of stats. Tonight's game was so loaded with out-there stats ... it was a little silly. 

Kansas City is off the charts right now. School principals are telling their teachers and student to wear Royals blue on game days. Businesses are canceling meetings and scheduling employee watch parties instead. The electronic signs in front of schools, churches and businesses. Every conversation starts with Did you watch that game last night!? 

This is fun. 


Back for the World Series

Here we are again. The Kansas City Royals play tonight in Game 1 of the World Series.

Last year seemed like a dream. And now they’re playing in the World Series for the second consecutive season. After last year, this is exactly what the Royals planned to do – and us fans, too (even as the national media didn’t have a clue) – at the beginning of the season. …
For nearly three decades, the Royals weren't just bad, they were irrelevant. They were ignored by everyone, their supposed rivals, their division foes, both coasts. From 1994 to 2012, the Royals had a winning season once. That's nearly 20 years where the home fans saw their team lose more than it won every year. That hasn't happened once to, say, Yankees fans since 1995. Until last season, the Royals had the longest playoff drought in North American professional sports. Kansas City fans know nothing but misery and frustration … until last year. And they didn't even win the World Series last year. In fact, they lost it in a particularly brutal way: In seven games, by one run, at home, with the tying run 90 feet away. ...  

The Royals not only are underdogs throughout their history: They're underdogs this year. Even though they'd been to the World Series last year, virtually no experts picked them to win the AL Central this season. The 2014 run was considered a fluke, a one-off. As SI.com's Jay Jaffe noted, no one, whether they were analytically minded or more traditionally oriented, thought the Royals would be good this year. A Kansas City Star reporter noted back in April that not a single one of 149 prognosticators had them back in the World Series. More people predicted the Cubs, Mets and Blue Jays to make it this far than ever predicted the Royals. 

From The New York Times
Their loss to the Giants in Game 7, with the tying run at third base in the bottom of the ninth inning, became an instantly indelible moment in baseball history. If Salvador Perez had hit a home run against Madison Bumgarner, as he had done in the opener, the Royals would have won it all. Instead, he popped out to end the season.
“I got too excited,” Perez said this spring. “That’s why I swung at a lot of pitches up. But now I got experience. I know what happened. Maybe next time I’ll be more patient.”
The Royals were convinced there would, in fact, be a next time. They fought all season to make it happen, and did it in a way that exemplified their style of play. In Game 6 of the American League Championship Series against Toronto on Friday, Lorenzo Cain scored the winning run by running from first to home on a single. Then Wade Davis struck out two hitters with the tying run at third before winning the pennant by inducing a ground ball to third.
Speed, dominant relief pitching and defense — that was the formula that nearly produced a title the last time, and now the Royals try again.
In my dream world, I had hoped to be heading to tonight’s Game 1 at Kauffman Stadium. Throughout this postseason, I’ve had it in my head that I made it to the ALCS last year – and what a day that was – so, if the Royals got there, I was gunning for a World Series game this year.

Well, that didn’t go over well the first time I suggested it to Kates. She has parent-teacher conferences this week, which makes for a stressful few days for her. Then, Phoebe came down with a virus of some kind and I’ve stayed home with her the last two days. So that pretty much dashed any hope of going to tonight’s game.

Kates and I have come to a consensus now, though. I’m hoping for a Game 6 at Kauffman. Stay tuned.

Here’s some good reads and stuff as we get ready for tonight’s first pitch …

ESPN’s 30 for 30 Finally Reveals the Troubling True Story Behind Angels in the Outfield … In the great tradition of College Humor


Goodbye Grandma

We laid Grandma H. to rest this past weekend.

For the most part, I help up well last week. I had work and my routine to distract me.

We had been preparing for this day for years, really. Since Grandma had her stroke in January 2012. Her health had been in decline ever since. Still, it was still something of a roller coaster as my parents provided my brother and me with regular updates of her ups and downs.

It was only in recent weeks that it became apparent her body was shutting down and her life was nearing its end. Two Fridays ago, Mom called to let us know Grandma’s death was imminent. She was not eating and her body was showing signs of shutting down. Even then, my mom said, it could be days or weeks before Grandma passed.

But less than 48 hours later, Mom called again – on what was a beautiful Sunday morning – just as I was beginning to get Phoebe and Faye out the door for church. Kates had already gone several minutes earlier, as she does every Sunday morning, to practice with the choir.

Grandma had passed and the plans were in motion to arrange the funeral.

The funeral was Saturday.

Our extended family gathered at the church at 9:30 a.m. to begin to say our goodbyes. … All of the men in the family had worn red ties – in honor of Grandma’s love for cardinals – with hardly any planning. It was only Thursday that Ryan messaged all of us grand kids asking how we planned to dress, and I suggested the red ties. I had no idea all eight of the male kids and grand kids would follow through. It was touching.

I was content not to spend much time around her. Grandma’s poor health in recent years had changed her appearance dramatically. Preferring to remember her during better days, I stood in front of the coffin and looked upon her for only a few moments before moving on and catching Faye twirling around by the back pews of the church.

“Why is she in there?” Faye asked softly as I held her and paced around the sanctuary.

“Because she’s resting,” I answered.

Soon guests began arriving for the visitation. Grandma’s children – my parents, aunts and uncles – stood in the sanctuary nearby the coffin. Us grandchildren were content to stay out in the narthex, conversing and allowing those family and friends who knew us to greet us there.

Some of my favorite images of the day were made then. We reconnected with family friends who we hadn’t seen in years. The Roedls, Vails and Sentis were there, and we reminisced about our childhoods growing up around their homes – sledding on the huge hill below the Roedl’s home, playing the piano at the Vails and baby-sitting with their daughter, cub scouts with the Sentis. I greeted pastor Shermer, too, and it occurred to me later there were four generations of pastors of our home church in attendance.

Kates’ mom arrived to take care of the girls for the afternoon and keep them occupied with Kates and I attended the funeral with the rest of the family.

I hadn’t yet shed a tear for Grandma and figured I’d made peace with her passing long ago as her health declined. Then the funeral service began and the opening hymn was “Hymn of Promise,” which we sang at Grandpa H’s funeral. The memories and emotions began pouring into my mind steadily and then came like a flood I couldn’t hold back. By the end of the hymn, I was sobbing.
Aunt Dana, on my left, patted my leg, and Kates, on my right, held onto my arm as we sat down and I calmed myself.

Emotions got the best of me again when we sang “On Eagle’s Wings,” another sentimental hymn within our family. And especially when Mom delivered a eulogy, during which she described Grandma’s commitment to our family. Let alone all of the family gatherings we were expected to attend, Grandma didn’t miss any of her grandchildren’s activities while we were growing up. All the school concerts and church programs, and I vividly remember her always sitting in a lawn chair under a shade tree across the gravel road from the first base dugout to watch our little league baseball games. Suffice to say, I had more time with Grandma H than any of my other grandparents. … When Mom mentioned our family’s move to Kansas and the impact that had on Grandma, the tears rolled down my cheeks again, triggering the still raw emotions and guilt I carry for my family’s move back to the region almost five years ago now.

Then there was Pastor Jane, a close family friend who led our church through the latter part of my childhood, married Kates and I – and was there the night my grandfather passed very suddenly. I broke down again, knowing the memories she would share. Of Grandpa dying and the hole left in Grandma’s heart – which was mended one day years later when my Uncle Paul found, tucked away under a basement trestle, the Valentine’s Day card Grandpa had purchased for her on the afternoon he died.

I hadn’t shed a tear for Grandma until Saturday. When I did, a dam burst and years – decades – of shuttered feelings pushed out.

The service concluded and my cousins and I took our places as pallbearers. Then we joined the procession to the cemetery and gathered at Grandma’s grave marker where she’ll share Grandpa’s headstone. After a short service there, we returned to our vehicle and headed back to the church for a meal – another tribute to Grandma who was remembered fondly for directing so many meals there.
Our extended family gathered at Uncle Dave’s and Aunt Mary’s for the latter half of the afternoon. The kids had a ball playing and running around the house while the adults sat around upstairs, conversing over a football game. I was exhausted and in a daze.

Saturday night, Kates, the girls and I were back at Mom’s and Dad’s place. We reminisced about Grandma, our moves, and Mom and Dad pulled out a box of their childhood photos albums and scrapbooks, which spurred more reminiscing, laughter and good conversation.

Sunday morning, our extended family – again with little planning but feeling the pull to do it – attended morning church together. As we’ve grown and scattered throughout the Midwest in recent years, I can’t remember the last time our entire extended family, which once was a bedrock of that church, attended a worship service together. But this time Grandma wasn’t there, delighting one of us were off-key singing.

The church’s annual Harvest dinner followed the worship service.

We had one more goodbye. It had been an emotional and special weekend. I sensed that Phoebe was feeling it, too, the tears welled in her eyes as we hugged and said our goodbyes to my parents at the church doors.

We buckled up and started the long drive home again.


Back-to-back ALCS champs!

The Royals did it again. They knocked off the big, bad Blue Jays tonight in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series. They’re heading to the World Series for the second consecutive year.

I’m all smiles.

Making it more fun, we got to watch the game as an extended family tonight, with my parents and brother at my parents’ place in The Cheese State.

We got out of The ‘Ville a little before 1 with thoughts of making it to my parents in time to at least see the second half of the game. We made a pit stop in Marion, Iowa, for Culver’s and gas around 6.
As the first pitch was being thrown, Kates searched like crazy for a radio station broadcasting the game while I did my best to keep my concentration on the road. Eventually, we got the Royals’ radio broadcast going on my phone, but even that was spotty as we traveled in and out of network hot spots.

I managed to hear Ben Zobrist’s and Mike Moustakas’ home runs but missed Bautista’s shot for the Blue Jays to make the score 2-1.

We pulled into the driveway midway through the seventh, just as the crowd was singing “God Bless America.”

We settled in to my parents’ living room, confident the Royals were going to end it tonight. Only to be knocked down a bit when Bautista hit a home run in the bottom of the eighth inning to the game at 3-3.

Then the rains came with Wade Davis on the mound.

We waited out the 45-minute rain delay. And didn’t have to wait long after that for the Royals to work their magic.

Lorenzo Cain walked to lead off the bottom of the eighth. Then, Eric Hosmer hit a line drive to right field.

As I the play unfolded, I was on my knees in front of the TV, watching Cain wheel toward third base and shouting at the Royals’ third base coach Mike Jirschele, “Send him! Send him!” Jirschele, respected and skilled, always seems to know best.

Thank goodness he did. And thank goodness Lorenzo made it.

By the time Toronto shortstop Troy Tulowitzki gathered the throw and, with a poor grip, skidded his throw home, there was no chance of getting Cain, who slid across home plate, popping up with what would become the winning run in the 4-3 victory that put the Royals back in the World Series.

New York, you’re next.

Good reads ... 


Another Royal day for baseball

The Royals are heading to the American League Championship for the second consecutive year.

What a game. What a series.

I’m feeling relieved this one’s over and they’re moving on. All the emotions.

Random thoughts, reflections and observations from the day …

I turned on the Toronto radio feed in my office this afternoon to begin listening to the Rangers-Blue Jays game shortly after the first pitch. I was totally rooting for the Rangers, and early on it looked like they had it in hand with a 2-0 lead.

Then things got crazy in the seventh inning …

First there was this ...

Then there was this ...

And this ...

Oh by the way, here's that Chambliss home run. Against the Kansas City Royals.

And Kansas City Star columnist Sam Mellinger eloquently recalled some of the postseason's most memorable turning points -- the Denkinger call, David Tyree’s helmet catch, Bill Buckner, Steve Bartman, Michael Jordan's flu game -- in his column today: Cool comeback, Royals, but now it has to matter.

I was following the Blue Jays game along on Twitter and with the radio feed, but it’s only now that I had a chance to see the video replays. The Rangers imploded in that seventh inning worse than than the 1985 Cardinals, 1986 Red Sox and the 2003 Cubs combined.

With the Blue Jays win complete, I walked out my office around 7, like I do every Wednesday night and headed to pick up Phoebe and Faye from their church activities. On the way home Phoebe, like she does, started asking questions and processing the situation …
Phoebe: How many games have the Royals won now?

Me: Two. And the Astros have won two. So whoever wins tonight keeps playing, and the team that loses – their season is over. The Blue Jays won today.

Phoebe: So the Rangers lost?

Me: Yep, so they’re done. If the Royals win tonight, they’ll play the Blue Jays.

Phoebe: (after a sigh) But the Blue Jays are so good. Soooo freaking good.
We arrived home and promptly turned on the Royals game as it entered the bottom of the first.

Luis Valbuena hit a two-run home run in the second inning to give the Astros an early lead. I shrugged it off. The Royals had been down early in every game of this series. Ned Yost shrugged it off as the dugout analyst pressed him during his in-game interview, too, saying, “There’s still a lot of baseball left.”

Eric Hosmer came through with a big hit when the Royals needed it in the fourth, and watching Lorenzo Cain fly around the bases, from first to home without stopping, was a beautiful thing.

Hosmer’s hit propelled me from my couch seat to the floor. I stayed there, and Phoebe joined me in my lap. Neither of us moved from our spots for the next inning and a half.

Alex Gordon’s double to kickstart the rally in the fifth was huge.

Alex Rios’ double down the third base line to give the Royals the lead in the fifth was huge.

Phoebe and I, still sitting together on the living room floor, were clapping and cheering and could barely contain our excitement, while Kates was putting Faye to bed. When the fifth inning finally ended, I gave Phoebe a piggy back ride to her bed, and we proceeded to listen to the Royals radio feed – the great Denny Matthews and Ryan Lefebvre with the call – as we laid in her bed.

Alex Gordon and Ben Zobrist made some huge defensive plays in the top of the sixth, and Johnny Cueto was out of the inning in something like five pitches. Phoebe said, “Johnny Cueto is a good pitcher tonight.”

With Phoebe asleep, I headed back to the living room for the bottom of the seventh.

“Johnny be good tonight,” I posted on my social media feeds after he completed the eighth and it was clear his work was done. Outside of one pitch that went out for a two-run home run, he pitched the game of his life. The game the Royals badly needed from him. Eight innings of work, retiring the last 19 batters he faced.

In a desperation move, Houston brought in their ace Dallas Keuchel in the bottom of the eighth, and when Alcides Escobar singled, I said, “It’s not over yet.” Then Lorenzo Cain got on. And when Kendrys Morales launched a ball into the outfield seats, I launched myself from the couch and leaped a couple laps around our living room. … My colleague Katie, who lives down the street, sent a text to me immediately afterward, saying: “Pipe down up there. I can hear you cheering all the way down here!”

The ninth inning belonged to Wade Davis and the Royals. Houston didn’t stand a chance.

The Royals closed it out on a breath-taking Paulo Orlando catch. Kates had joined me on the couch during the bottom of the eighth and we enjoyed watching the postgame celebration together. "They're reverent," Kates said of the Royals.

One of my favorite things after a Royals win is to watch the celebratory Facebook status updates and tweets pour in from all of my Royals fan friends. Some highlights from tonight …

My friend Dionna, who lives down the street from Kauffman Stadium: We heard the fireworks and started cheering before we saw that amazing final out.

My friend and work colleague Jeff, who is Canadian: A quandary of loyalty: Toronto vs. KC

My friend Daniel, after such a frustrating September: These are the Royals I know!

My friend and former classmate and colleague, Carli, who now works in Arizona: When the Royals score 3 runs in one inning (twice) and you’re in a work-related meeting and can’t express your true feelings!

And my friend Ryan, referring to the Texas governor’s Twitter blunder before the Royals’ comeback Monday: Any words from the Texas Governor tonight?

Now I’m overdosing on the highlights by watching Sportscenter.

The Cubs advanced last night. The Royals advanced tonight. If the Dodgers advance tomorrow night, and this were 1991, and the Milwaukee Brewers were still in the American League and advancing in place of the Toronto Blue Jays – I’d have my ultimate baseball final four.

My heart is full tonight.


We're Peanutized

So there's a new Peanuts movie coming out. And the good people behind the movie have launched a neat little website where you can create your likeness as a Peanuts character. ...

I created our family as Peanuts characters. Left to right, that's Kates, Phoebe, Faye and me.

Here's the Peanuts trailer. ...

Let's do it again!

My goodness. The Royals did it again this afternoon.

It was almost like watching the 2015 American League Wild Card Game all over again.

Hope. Despair. Anger. Hope again. And finally euphoria. 

Today was do or die for the Royals. Game 4 in Houston. The Astros led the series two games to one.

I was scheduled to have the day off from work anyway – not because there was playoff baseball to be played, but because I was desperate for a “me” day and to work on some projects that weren’t connected to my day-to-day job. … As it turned out, Faye was running a fever for most of the weekend and still wasn’t well enough to go to school today. So it turned into a “me and Faye” day.

We turned on the game for the first pitch and I tried to get Faye to relax with me on the couch and fall asleep. … The Royals went up 2-0. The Astros tied the score at 2. And Faye finally fell asleep with her blankets on the floor in front of the TV about midway through the game.

In Houston’s half of the seventh inning, the Astros blew it open. The inning ended with the Astros leading 6-2 and the home crowd was absolutely roaring. The Fox commentators had pretty much written Houston into the ALCS and began talking about how the Royals roster might change during the offseason.

Oh sure, I was disgusted the Royals had given up so many runs and nervous that their season could be over in a matter of minutes. …

But this is the Royals we’re talking about. They fight and find a way to win when it’s necessary. We’ve watched them come back before …

In the top of the eighth, they loaded the bases and started chipping at Houston’s lead with five straight singles. They took pitches. They fouled off pitches. The Astros made mistakes. The Royals came all the way back.

I was doing all I could to squelch my cheering as Faye stayed sleeping on the floor and I paced the room. In my office, my colleagues had turned on the game and were sending their commentary via text messages. I imagine similar scenes were playing out throughout the Kansas City area ...

Then, Drew Butera, the Royals light-hitting catcher who had replaced the Royals’ MVP Sal Perez, had an epic at-bat to take a walk and keep the inning alive. Alex Gordon stepped to the plate next and grounded into a 4-3 putout but knocked in the go-ahead run.

Here's how it went down ...

The video highlights ...

Faye woke up after the comeback was complete and parked herself on my lap in front of the TV. We did the “Let’s go Royals” cheer and counted down the remaining outs. My parents called, too, and shared in our excitement.

The eighth and ninth innings, as we say, belonged to Wade Davis. And Eric Hosmer put an exclamation mark on the win with a two-run bomb in the ninth.

I will revel in this tonight – as I root the Cubs and Dodgers in the NLDS games – and look forward to watching a Game 5 at Kauffman Stadium Wednesday.

Here's what Sam Mellinger had to say ...
Again? This happened again? You could not help but be reminded of last year’s Wild Card Game against the Oakland Athletics, almost exactly 54 weeks earlier. A four-run deficit erased in the eighth inning — with Luke Gregerson on the mound for the other team, even — and if the Royals complete the deed on Wednesday, this one will fuel the same sorts of stories and awe. ...

The Royals had two hits and no life across seven innings. A close game blew open when Ryan Madson allowed an inherited runner and then two of his own to score. The Royals trailed by four. The Astros had hit four home runs, and the air in Minute Maid Park filled with cheers. At some point, the Texas governor’s official Twitter account congratulated the Astros on winning.

Moments like the one the Royals gave us on Monday are a blast precisely because they come from nowhere. This is what makes baseball so much fun. It is our most measurable sport, and it is also our most unpredictable. That’s a heck of a thing.

And here's a good read about how a gruff Royals manager came to win with the funnest team in major-league baseball.

In other news, the Cubs went up two games to one on the Cardinals at a rocking Wrigley Field tonight. I watched the first four innings, up to Starlin Castro's home run at home and ended up listening to the rest at Phoebe's gymnastics practice. It seemed like ever other Cubs batter had Pat Hughes making his home run call ... The Cubs knocked out six tonight! It's time like these that have me yearning to be back in Chicago.

Postseason baseball rocks.