Grown-ups?

“Baseball was made for kids, and grown-ups only screw it up.”

In light of recent events, those words from Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Bob Lemon may be particularly prophetic now more than ever. And that isn’t exclusive to baseball; it’s sports in general.

Two events involving youth athletics have caught my attention recently. First, on Feb. 11, the Jackie Robinson West Little League team from Chicago that won the national title last season was stripped of its championship because team officials (Apparently Little League teams have those now) knowingly played kids from outside of the team’s residential boundaries. Then, just this week, a story out of Tennessee about made me sick.

In case you missed that last one, here’s what happened: Saturday, the varsity girls basketball teams from Riverdale and Smyrna high schools met in a district playoff game. Because of how the bracket was set up, the winner of that game would advance to play the No. 1-ranked team in the state. It must be a double-elimination tournament, because the team that lost was set to play a much more “beatable” opponent in the next round. As such, the coaches from both schools allegedly instructed their players to lose.

Let me say that again: The coaches (allegedly) INSTRUCTED their players TO LOSE!!!!

Are you kidding me?

According to The Tennessean, a referee from the game filed a report with the Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association noting that Riverdale “intentionally missed 12-of-16 free throws” and Smyrna “wouldn’t get the ball across the half-court line to get a 10-second count or to make us call an over and back violation intentionally.” Apparently it got so bad that at one point a girl from Riverdale stood in the lane and actually signaled to the official to call a 3-second violation on her.

As a result, both schools have been placed on restrictive probation for the remainder of this school year and probation for the 2015-16 school year by the TSSAA.

First of all, I’m not going to say the student-athletes are void of all guilt. They still bought into what their coaches were asking them to do and made fools of themselves and their schools in the process. Perhaps I’m just more competitive than most, but I can’t think of any scenario in which I would intentionally lose anything. In the words of Herm Edwards, “You play to win the game!”

That said, what are these coaches thinking? What kind of messages are they sending to these girls?

Sports at an amateur level are supposed to teach you about, among other things, overcoming adversity and trying your best no matter how long the odds are. Essentially these coaches not only taught the girls to “always take the path of least resistance” and that going at something half-hearted is OK because it might just work out in the end, but also told them they weren’t good enough to beat the team that awaited the winner. I don’t know these two teams. Maybe they weren’t. But athletes at all levels overcome unspeakable odds every day, but only if they have the right attitude. The coaches robbed them of what I would call a pretty great opportunity.

The girls on these basketball teams, as ill-advised as they were, were just following instructions of their coaches. That’s something else sports are supposed to teach you; to take instruction and work as a team. Now they and their schools are paying for the idiotic actions of adults that are supposed to be mentoring them.

Back to the Jackie Robinson West Little League team. The kids on that squad were an inspiration last summer. They were a group of kids from an impoverished part of Chicago who played with class and great skill to achieve great things. But, because of some poor choices made by the adults they were entrusted with, those accomplishments have been wiped away.

I realize these are two pretty extreme examples. There are great, well-meaning adults involved in youth athletics all over the world. Those people deserve more praise than they get. But to those who put their own interests in front of the kids, it’s time to get out of the way. You’ll only screw things up.

Getting into the spirit

I’ve decided that Valentine’s Day should be a “holiday” only for people under the age of 13.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those single people who dreads Feb. 14 like the plague. I think it’s kind of a silly holiday created to sell flowers, chocolate and teddy bears, but for those who get into it; more power to you. I think I’d feel the same way even if I were in a relationship.

I say it should be reserved for kids because it was just a much simpler and, frankly, more exciting holiday back in elementary.

At my school, we always made Valentine boxes in the days leading up to the big day. When Feb. 14 rolled around, we got to spend the whole afternoon doing fun stuff.

Typically, we exchanged Valentine cards with the entire class (often times these included candy, which was an obvious plus.) It was always fun picking out which Valentine cards I wanted to give out in a certain year. The choices were plenty. You could go with Michael Jordan themed cards that said things like, “Valentine, you’re a slam dunk!” or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cards with phrases like “Cowabunga, Valentine!” accompanied by a picture of my cartoon heroes eating pizza. What’s not to love?

After we opened the cards from our classmates, we usually spent the afternoon watching a movie and eating our candy. Even now that sounds like a pretty great way to spend the day.

I realize that, as an adult, the day is supposed to be a day to show the person we love – our “Valentine” – how much they mean to us. It’s a nice thought to have a day set aside for such displays. That said, I feel like most couples would know how their significant other feels about them even if they didn’t receive a heart-shaped box of chocolates on Feb. 14.

I’m not a total Scrooge, though. I’ve even come up with a great way to get into the spirit of the holiday as a single person. (No, I’m not going to go around referring to it as “Singles Awareness Day” or wearing all black in some sort of silent protest.)

What better symbol of Valentine’s Day is there than Cupid? This year, I decided I should bring that character to life.

Now, most of the images we get of Cupid are of a winged baby. Who ever said it has to be a baby? I think an adult man with a beard could play the part just fine. So, in celebration, I’ve decided exactly what I’m going to do.

You might even see me spreading my Valentine’s Day cheer. I’ll be the guy running around town in a diaper shooting a bow and arrow.

Super hyperbole

By the time you read this in Monday’s paper, the Super Bowl will have already happened. Either the Seattle Seahawks or the New England Patriots will have hoisted the Lombardi Trophy and someone will have proclaimed they’re “Going to Disney World.” (And, in light of recent events, be thankful it’s Disney World rather than Disneyland.)

Every year, I look forward to Super Bowl Sunday. As a big fan of the NFL, what’s not to love about the two best teams playing on the biggest stage in American sports? Even though my team, the Vikings, hasn’t played in the big game during my lifetime, it’s always an exciting time.

That said, the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl might be my least favorite time of the season, and it has nothing to do with anticipation.

Every year it just seems the national media has too much time on its hands and, with the Super Bowl on the forefront of most fans’ minds, goes crazy on some irrelevant storyline. This year might be the worst yet.

It started a day after the conference championship games with the start of “Deflategate.” (Seriously, can we stop referring to every controversy as “whatever –gate?”) For anyone unfamiliar with the story (which I’d find difficult to believe considering the national news led with it a couple days last week), the story is that 11 of the 12 footballs the Patriots used in the AFC championship game were under-inflated.

By league rules, the football must be inflated to 13-15 pounds per square inch. Upon testing, those being used by New England were only 11 PSI. If the Patriots did this on purpose, it’s cheating. That is a big deal to football fans. That said, this DOMINATED the daily sports news cycle for a week. It definitely wasn’t THAT big of a deal. Frankly, I was sick of hearing about it by day two.

The story finally changed on Tuesday when Seahawks star running back Marshawn Lynch, known for his aversion to the media, didn’t answer any questions at Super Bowl Media Day. League rules state that players and coaches have to make themselves available to the media. Lynch has been fined for violating this rule on more than one occasion. The guy just doesn’t like speaking publicly.

In a show of his disdain for the rule, Lynch showed up for his required five-minute media session Tuesday. Rather than answer questions, he responded to each with, “I’m just here so I won’t get fined.” At the end of his five minutes he said “Time” and walked away from the podium. The following day, he responded to each question with “You know why I’m here.”

This had members of the national media debating all week about Lynch’s “responsibility to the fans.” Some said his performance was “unprofessional” or “disrespectful to fans.” Are they right? Maybe. I understand the argument that it’s “part of the job” whether he likes it or not. It certainly wasn’t a surprise, though. He hasn’t really talked to the media except for rare, one-on-one occasions during his entire career.

That story finally died down Friday when league commissioner Roger Goodell gave his annual “State of the League” address. In my opinion, he managed to say less in 45 minutes than Lynch did in his three appearances during the week. But, he talked so we could move onto a new story.

Anyway, in a (very) roundabout way, I’m just saying all of these stories were needlessly beaten into the ground. I realize there needs to be a narrative established so non-football fans might take interest in the largest TV event of the year. But, as a football fan, I don’t need that.

Now that those two weeks are finally almost over (I’m writing this on Saturday), I’m looking forward to watching some football.

When imperfection is perfect

Thursday I went through my typical routine when I know that I have blog coming up.

I checked the marker board in our newsroom to see what day my next installment was due. As usual, my first thought was, “Hmmmm…. what can I write about?” It’s a question I wrestle with every week and a half or so but, for whatever reason, whenever I actively try to generate ideas, my mind goes blank.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy the blogging (and column-writing) portion of my job. Sports writing can be pretty straight-forward sometimes. With day-to-day game coverage, you watch the game, try to pick out something interesting about it and — using that as your angle — tell the story of what happened. Blogging allows us to be a little more creative and inject our own thoughts and ideas into our writing.

The problem, for me anyway, is that I have been working as a journalist for nearly eight years now. My brain has been hard-wired to keep myself and my opinions OUT of the story. Although I have been writing blogs and columns for nearly as long, I still don’t have nearly as much practice at it as I do reporting.

As I’ve said before, as journalists (writers, reporters, ink-stained wretches; whatever you prefer to call us) we tend to be our own harshest critics. For some reason, I find myself being especially critical of myself on blogs and columns. Even when I’m generally happy with the way it turned out, there’s always something I find that I wish I would have said differently, something else I should have included, etc.

Lately, I’ve been making a point to read more columns and blogs. It’s something I did a lot of when I was a wide-eyed 22-year-old fresh out of college, but have done less and less for some reason. I try to read all of our staff blogs here at the Daily Globe and, aside from that, I have primarily read things written for other newspapers or websites.

Over the weekend, I was cruising around on social media and with a few random clicks, I stumbled upon a blog written by one of my best friends. I’ve known this guy since elementary school and have kept in fairly regular contact with him even though we’ve, at times, essentially lived on opposite ends of the country. I had no idea he had a blog.

I was intrigued. He is currently enrolled in the Experience Institute in Chicago. The blog is attached to its website and contains writing about his experiences and what he’s been learning during his time with the institute. I would describe it as a sort of discussion on self-discovery (mostly in regards to careers and the like) while also dispensing some pretty valuable advice. The guy is incredibly smart.

To my knowledge, he had no prior experience in writing aside from the typical assignments in college and high school. I was very impressed by how good his blogging was. Each entry was insightful, thought-provoking and entertaining. I sent him a text message Sunday night telling him I’d been reading his stuff and how much I liked it. He said that blogging, and writing in general, is still a skill he’s working on.

We exchanged messages back-and-forth for a while, first discussing blogs and eventually moving onto other things. But, what I got out of the conversation, is that even someone who, to be honest, surprised me a little bit by his blogging ability, said it was still a work in progress.

My friend isn’t a journalist and blogging is something he really just does on the side. With no background in writing, he has no reason to be critical of himself, yet his ability still isn’t exactly where he’d like to see it.

One of his messages read, “Just takes practice, like anything else” in regards to his own writing. Whether you’re a (somewhat) seasoned journalist or writing for the first time, practice probably won’t make perfect (at least in our own minds.) In this case, I now realize that’s a good thing.

No time for tanking

Vikings’ losses have put me in a bad mood for about as long as I can remember. But Sunday afternoon, I was feeling extra salty.
Not only did they blow a decent lead and lose a game they should have won for the second week in a row, but a conversation among fans that I absolutely detest started popping up on social media. It happens every time the team is bad (you’d think I’d be getting used to it in light of recent years). Inevitably, people who call themselves Vikings fans start saying they want the team to lose to “get a better draft pick.”
After Sunday’s choke job, I saw people on Twitter celebrating the fact that we’d lost and suggesting we should lose this week against the Bears to move up a couple spots. Apparently people have visions of Amari Cooper dancing in their heads this Christmas. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist). Every time I hear or read these types of comments, it gets my blood boiling.
Yes, I would love to see Cooper — a wide receiver from Alabama — wearing purple next year. I think he’s going to be a great NFL player. But, when it comes to the draft, there is no such thing as a guarantee. It’s all speculation. That is why I think tanking to move up a couple spots or rooting against your team is just plain stupid.
The most obvious example might be the 1998 NFL Draft. It seems funny now, but at the time there was a legitimate debate between folks who claim to be experts on whether the Indianapolis Colts should select Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf with the first overall pick. The general consensus at the time was that they were both bound to be studs in the NFL. Sixteen years later, one might be the greatest quarterback of all time but the other has a rap sheet that is much more decorated than his short-lived career. (That same year, Minnesota drafted Randy Moss at No. 21. That worked out OK.)
If the season were to end right now, the Vikings would be picking eighth. A loss Sunday could move them up no further than seventh. A win could push them all the way back to No. 14. The difference in those spots isn’t worth being legitimately upset with your team for winning. (I heard people call into KFAN and blast the Vikings for beating Washington in Week 16 of 2011, moving us down from No. 2 to No. 4.)
Right now, with the 2014 season almost over, perhaps the most impactful rookie has been Dallas Cowboys offensive tackle Zack Martin. He was selected 16th overall and was the fourth player taken at his position alone. He’s been much more successful than the three that went before him. Rookie Odell Beckham Jr. of the New York Giants was the third wide receiver taken at No. 12 overall. He might become the biggest star taken last May.
On the defensive side of the ball, St. Louis Rams tackle Aaron Donald is the frontrunner for Defensive Rookie of the Year. He was taken 13th overall. If it isn’t him, it should be linebacker CJ Mosley of Baltimore, who was selected 17th. Notice, however, that No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney isn’t on that list. (He was hampered by injuries all season, so he could still pan out. But he could forever be plagued by injuries like one-time NBA “sure thing” Greg Oden.)
All I’m saying is this: the likelihood of drafting a future star seems just as high at No. 7 overall as it does No. 14. Cheering against your team for draft position seems completely preposterous to me.

Feeling the Christmas struggle

There are plenty of good things to say about the Christmas season. The gathering of families and friends, the lights and music and, of course, the general air of cheer and happiness most people have this time of year; it’s all enough to put me in a good mood.

You’ll notice, however, in that list I didn’t include anything about gifts. That wasn’t an accident.

Don’t get me wrong. There are few better feelings than finding that “perfect” gift for someone. On the other side of it, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who sincerely doesn’t enjoy receiving presents. My problem is, when it comes to the whole gift thing (either side) I’m just simply not good at it.

I’m not good at gift-giving. At all. I know people always say “it’s the thought that counts” and I hope that’s the truth, because most of the time my confidence that I’ve actually found a good gift is pretty low. That always leads to me stressing out over what I should get certain people on my list.

A lot of times, not having a clue what to get usually results in a trip to one of my least favorite places on the planet: the mall. I don’t dislike any one mall in particular. It’s all of them. Shopping is definitely not my thing so wandering aimlessly from store to store not really knowing what exactly it is that I’m looking for usually leads to a great deal of frustration.

I tend to overthink things, so I hate “settling” on a gift for someone. I want it to be thoughtful, practical or at least a source of good entertainment. Even looking for a $2 “Secret Santa” gift had me at the store for much longer than I’ll publicly admit before I finally gave up and “settled” on something.

Perhaps some of my troubles in finding good gifts come from the fact that I’ve got to be a pretty annoying person to buy for myself.

I’ve never been the type of guy who wants a whole lot of “stuff.” When I have a little extra spending money, I’m much more prone to spend it on experiences rather than some sort of tangible item. I’d rather take a trip, buy tickets to a ballgame or concert or even just go out for a nice meal than just buy something for myself.

Each year, I dread getting the inevitable request for a Christmas list. It isn’t that I don’t want anything, but most of the things I can think of are usually expensive, big-ticket items that I really can’t afford to buy myself. Because of that, asking other people to get it for me always makes me feel a little guilty, if not even a little selfish.

Still, somehow the people who buy me gifts manage to come up with great ideas and I’m yet to be disappointed. Perhaps the same lightning bolt of inspiration that seems to hit them will find me in the coming days. In the meantime, I’ve got some shopping to do.

The realities of a fantasy problem

They say the first step to solving a problem is admitting that you have one.

Folks, I have a problem.

I sit here Tuesday afternoon at my desk, knowing full well that I didn’t get enough sleep last night. I used to have some issues with insomnia and, though that’s mostly cleared up now, on rare occasion I still struggle to fall asleep at night. Usually these nights happen when I have something weighing heavily on my mind. Sometimes these things are important, other times they’re quite trivial but I can’t seem to stop my mind from racing. Last night, it was fantasy football.

See? I told you I have a problem.

I’d say without a doubt fantasy football is my favorite hobby, as it is for millions of players around the world. For those who aren’t familiar with how it works, you have a certain number of people in your league who choose real professional football players to be on their team. (Usually this is done through a draft). For certain statistical categories in your players’ real game each week, you get points. (For example: If I have Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles on my team and he rushes for 100 yards and a touchdown, he earns 16 points for my team: one for every 10 yards he gains and six for the touchdown.) Each week you compete against another team your league to create a win-loss record.

I’m in a couple different leagues, but the most competitive is definitely a 12-team league that I’m in with some friends that are mostly from my hometown. The league started way back when I was a junior in high school and, aside from a few people, has remained mostly intact. It’s a lot of fun with guys who all know their stuff, but that can also make things very stressful.

In fantasy football, the regular season lasts through Week 13 of the real season with the playoffs taking place in weeks 14-16. I entered last week — Week 12 — in control of my own destiny for one of the last couple playoff spots at 6-5. A win in Week 12 would all but guarantee me a place in the six-team postseason field while a loss would mean I’ll need a win and some help in the final week of the season. In other words, it wasn’t a “must-win” game, but it was close.

Going into Monday night’s games I had a 24-point lead on my opponent. In the games that evening, he had the Buffalo Bills’ defense and Buffalo wide receiver Sammy Watkins while I was using New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram. The odds were on my side as defenses don’t typically put up big numbers and Ingram has been hot lately. When the games finally ended, the Bills had destroyed the New York Jets 38-3 with their defense putting up a massive total of 24 points. Watkins didn’t do much, though, so my chances were still good. Unfortunately, Ingram ran into a stout Baltimore Ravens defense and rushed for only 27 yards while catching two passes for 15 yards. That equated a meager 6.2 points.

I waited until after the games had ended to check the score and — to my horror — I came up a little short. Three-tenths of a point short. He beat me 116.5-116.2 and put my playoff hopes in doubt.

I went to bed racking my brain for waiver wire pickups or trades I could make to better my chances in Week 13. This lasted well into the wee hours of the morning until I finally fell asleep.

With three games Thursday and the last not until Monday night, Week 13 will be a tense one for me. It’s going to be a long week.

Preparing for winter

Cold ‘nuff for ya?

Sorry. Just had to get that out of my system. The last two years I’ve been in Kansas during the winter months and, therefore, have been pretty limited in my opportunities to utter that most Minnesotan of phrases. But, I think the unseasonably chilly temps definitely qualify as a time when it applies.

The frigid weather also signals the beginning of the winter athletic seasons for area high schools and at Minnesota West. I must admit, the transition from fall to winter sports has always been the most difficult for me. At work, I know it’s time for me to start focusing on things like basketball, hockey, wrestling and gymnastics, but in my NFL-obsessed personal life, I can’t pull myself away from football — a fall sport. After all, when mid-November hits things are just starting to get good.

As I try to push myself into winter mode, there are some things that I’m looking forward to, however, along with some things I’ll need to re-adjust to.

In Kansas, things were quite a bit different in the winter season. Sure, there was basketball and wrestling. I think that’s pretty much the case everywhere. There was (somewhat obviously) no hockey, no gymnastics (that’s a fall sport there) and there is boys swimming and diving along with bowling. I look forward to covering hockey again. While its replacement sport in Kansas — bowling — was more fun to cover than one might think, it still doesn’t compare to being at the rink. Now, after two years away, I just need to remember how to dress properly for two-plus hours in the cold.

One thing I’ll have to adjust to is thinking of high school basketball in terms of halves rather than quarters. Minnesota made the switch from quarters to halves when I was still in high school and through years of following high school basketball along with a few years covering it, that had pretty much become the norm for me. When I moved, it took a little while to get used to the quarter system again. Now that’s become the norm and I’m sure I’ll find myself botching the proper timeframe at least once early in the season.

While I don’t know if I’m ready to experience another full-on Minnesota winter — the last two years I was only hope the week between Christmas and New Years Day, spending the rest of the season in the typically warmer area south of here — I’m sure it won’t take long for the feeling (“not-feeling?”) of numb extremities and chattering teeth to feel commonplace again. Bring it on.

Oh deer

I’ll be the first to admit, the recap I wrote about the Sheldon vs. Spirit Lake Class 3A playoff volleyball game for last Tuesday’s edition of the Daily Globe was far from the best story I’ve ever written.
As journalists and writers, we’re all our own harshest critics. There have been times where I’ve read one of my stories in print and lost sleep because I felt I could have done a lot better on it. This wasn’t one of those stories. In fact, it might have been the first time in my career where I read through a story, didn’t think it was very good and was actually (kind of) OK with it.
You see, the circumstances under which I wrote that particular story were highly irregular (not to mention ones I hope I’m never forced to repeat.)
Let me explain.
I’d left Spirit Lake at about 8:30 p.m. Monday night, thinking I’d be back to the office at around 9:15 and would have absolutely no trouble hitting our midnight deadline. In fact, I was actually thinking it might be a somewhat early night. I was driving down I-90 about 12 miles east of Worthington as I have plenty of times before when I saw what looked like a large flash of light right in front of my car followed by a loud bang. At the same time, I felt something hit my face. Oddly, I don’t recall really being startled or anything like that. The first thing that crossed my mind was, “What just happened?”
When I finally got my bearings and noticed that my airbags had deployed, it finally dawned on me what had happened. I’d hit a deer.
I pulled to the side of the road, turned on my flashers and got out to assess the damage. It’s safe to say my car wouldn’t have gotten me back to Worthington. (Not legally, anyway. The headlight on the driver’s side is very much smashed in, along with a good portion of the fender and hood.) By the time I made the necessary phone calls, the tow truck driver arrived and got me back to town and was nice enough to drop me off at the office, it was after 11.
A quick aside: I owe a huge thanks to Daily Globe sports editor Doug Wolter. It was his night off, and he went in to do some work on the section so that by the time I got back, I basically had only my story and photos to worry about. He also waited around to give me a ride home. Also, thank you to the tow truck driver from Mark’s Towing and Repair, who was essentially pulled out of bed to come pick me up, as well as — if they’re reading this — the two different guys who stopped to ask if I needed help. (Not to mention my parents, who were willing to put up with my, umm, frustration, over the phone and are allowing me to use one of their vehicles for the time being.)
Anyway, I eventually got back to the office and got the story done, but it was far from perfect. A time-crunch and a mind that’s scattered on all sorts of different things will do that to you.
Perhaps the biggest thing weighing on my mind that night and even still a little today is: Could I have done anything to avoid it? I keep replaying the whole incident in my head, trying to remember if I — even for a second — took my eyes off the road. Did I look down to fiddle with the radio? Did I glance up into the rearview mirror or look into the passenger seat to grab my bottle of Diet Coke? The truth is, I don’t think I did. When people say, “it just came out of nowhere,” that’s what it really is like.
Looking at my car afterward, I did feel somewhat lucky to be completely unharmed. This time of year, the deer are on the move. Be careful on the roads, because it can happen in a flash.

A cynic’s guide to the World Series

The World Series begins Tuesday, and just as we all predicted in April, it’s the San Francisco Giants squaring off with the Kansas City Royals.
As sports fans, most of us are suckers for underdog stories. I’m certainly as guilty as anyone. That’s why over the past couple weeks, like many, I’ve been in awe by what the Royals have accomplished.
Admittedly, I was rooting for Kansas City before the playoffs started. I lived in Kansas for two years, about 100 miles from Kauffman Stadium. I have plenty of friends down there who are diehard Royals fans and going to a game in KC is a lot like it is in Minnesota. They’re a small-market team with a beautiful park and a friendly fanbase. (I know they’re friendly because I went to numerous Twins games there and wasn’t shy about cheering for my team. I never got my lights punched out.)
On top of all that, they hadn’t been to the playoffs in 29 years! To put that in perspective, the last time the Royals took the field in the postseason prior to 2014, I was about three weeks away from being born. That’s a long time.
It’s hard not to cheer for a team like that.
But, unfortunately this blog isn’t a love letter to the boys in blue. Instead, it’s a cautionary tale to those like me who have become temporary Kansas City fans this October (as well as any true Royals fan who happens to read this).
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but what’s happening with the Royals has been done before; and it wasn’t that long ago.
In 2007, many baseball fans — myself included — got wrapped up in a month-long love affair with the Colorado Rockies, and there are plenty of similarities between the two squads.
Like the 2014 Royals, the 2007 Rockies had to take a winner-take-all game to even get into the divisional round of the playoffs. KC had to come back from a four-run deficit against Oakland in the American League Wild Card Game. It did and eventually won in 12 innings on a walk-off hit. Colorado — which, like the Royals, finished 89-73 that season — had to win a one-game playoff against San Diego. That game went 13 innings and ended on a play at home on which I’m still not sure if Matt Holliday ever touched the plate.
Once the Rockies were in, there was no stopping them. They took three straight against a Philadelphia Phillies squad that was loaded with MVP candidates before sweeping a best-of-7 series against an Arizona Diamondbacks team that, again, looked like a lock on paper.
The Royals have done the same. After they beat Oakland, I didn’t think they stood a chance against the Los Angeles Angels, who feature players like Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton in the middle of their lineup. They won in three. Next up was the Baltimore Orioles, a team that had just beat up on one of the best starting pitching staffs ever assembled in Detroit. (No matter how good your starters are, without a bullpen you’re always vulnerable.) Again, I thought KC would lose. Again, it swept.
Both teams essentially won eight straight do-or-die games as heavy underdogs to reach the World Series. But if history repeats itself, that’s bad news for the Royals. Colorado went on to get swept by Boston, a team that boasted a ton of playoff experience.
Kansas City is preparing to meet up with a San Fran squad that has won two world championships since 2010 and is playing for a third. At first glance, the Giants lineup looks much more formidable with the likes of Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey and Hunter Pence.
Now, I realize bringing all this up makes me sound pretty cynical, and that’s a fair judgment. Being a fan of mostly Minnesota teams since age 5 will do that to a guy. The truth is, I just want the hopeless romantic in all of us cheering for the underdog this October to watch with a guarded heart.
That said, I’ve been wrong before. Go Royals!