April 2011

Kind Road Off The Field, Unkind On

The Royals trip through Texas and Cleveland was forgettable from a baseball standpoint.  Very little went right.  But in a week spent on the road, there are always things that get your attention:

Not too far from the Ballpark in Arlington you can find the historic Fort Worth Stock Yards.  It’s a great area that allows you to get a true Western flavor.  The food, music, shopping and atmosphere all reinforce the old Texas adage “Dallas is where the East ends, Fort Worth is where the West begins.”  Of course my friends in Dallas during my days at SMU used to like to say “Fort Worth has one thing Dallas doesn’t have…a major city within 50 miles of it.”  Actually, though, Fort Worth is a great town, and like every other part of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, it’s growing like a weed.  The Stockyards are definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area.

Here’s something great that started in Fort Worth (not Dallas)…Joe T. Garcia’s Mexican Restaurant.  Great food, and indoor/outdoor seating.  In beautiful weather like you’ll find in April, be prepared to wait in line if you want to sit outside.  But if you have the time, the wait is worth it!  Joe T’s opened back in 1935.  Warning:  it’s cash only! 

 Another attraction in the Stockyards area is the Cowtown Coliseum, which opened in 1908.  Not only is it the home of the Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame, but it’s still a busy place for a variety of events.  Elvis Presley performed here.  They have weekly rodeos.  It is also the home of the Fort Worth Sixers of the National Indoor Football League.  It seats 3418 people and was renovated in 1986.  It holds the distinction of being the first building in the country to house indoor rodeos.  Got a feeling they didn’t have air conditioning back in 1908.  Probably got a little toasty in there…

Here’s something you don’t often see when walking down the street: a kid on a Texas Longhorn.  But at the Stockyards, you too can be photographed this way (for a nominal fee…).   Besides being the mascot for the University of Texas (Bevo), and being the official mammal of the state of Texas, the Texas Longhorn is also the official symbol of Forth Worth.  And that’s no bull…

There was baseball played in Texas, unfortunately the results were not what we were looking for.  We have a great view at the Ballpark in Arlington, which has drawn some packed houses in the afterglow of the Rangers first-ever World Series appearance in 2010.  Denny had to find several paper weights, with winds gusting into the 30 and even 40 mph range.  All pertinent game-prep material was secured, and no important paperwork blew out the window.

While we watched baseball on Easter Sunday, my son John was back in KC enjoying himself.  My Aunt Maureen was good enough to play Easter Bunny and make sure that all requisit kid Easter “stuff” was taken care of.  So here’s the obligatory “cute kid pic”…

Ever wonder where the name “Cleveland” came from?  No?  Well here’s the origin anyway.  This is a statue in downtown Cleveland of General Moses Cleaveland, who founded the city in 1796.  Moses was a lawyer, politician, soldier and surveyor from Connecticut.  He founded the city while surveying the Western Reserve.  The name was shortened to “Cleveland” so it could better fit on the Indians uniforms.  Just kidding.  Although the actual story may not be that far off.  One popular explanation is that the editor of the newspaper the “Cleveland Advertiser” found the original spelling to be too long for the form they used when printing the paper, and so the first “A” was dropped.

A guy much better known than General Cleaveland, or Cleveland, was the late legendary Bob Feller.  Rapid Robert was the greatest pitcher in Indians history and a war hero.  He passed away this past offseason.  He was 92.  The native of Van Meter, Iowa lived an incredible life and the Indians have commemorated his nightly presence at their games by marking his seat in the press box.  A replica of his Hall of Fame plague sits just below where he sat.  Several mementos are under glass right on the spot where he trained his eyes on young ballplayers almost every time the Indians played a game.  I had the great honor, in the summer of 2010 of sitting in the seat right next to his and interviewing him during a Royals-Indians game.  We will be re-running that interview this summer when a rain delay allows us time to do so.

Feller volunteered for the Navy on December 8, 1941, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  The Cleveland great was the first Major Leaguer to volunteer for military duty after the attack.  He was understandbly proud of his service, but he didn’t brag about it.  He never once expressed regrete for almost four years of lost baseball time that he gave to his country.   He had an incredible memory.  To hear him tell stories of pitching to Lou Gehrig and Ted Williams was enough to give you chills.  The Indians put Rapid Robert on the cover of their 2011 media guide and are remembering him throughout the season. 

And finally we salute John Adams, lifelong Indians fan, and the man who has been drumming in the bleachers since 1973.  He celebrated 3000 games of drumming up fan support at old Municipal Stadium and later Progressive Field while we were there.  A very nice man and a huge fan, he misses only home day games, since his day job is 9-5 with the phone company.  And, yes, he pays for his tickets (his and his drum each need a seat, and he does get his for half price).  And the beat goes on….

Winning Road Trip!

After a winning opening homestand, the Royals kept the good times rolling with a winning first road trip of the year.  Was the weather dicey at times?  Yes, but April in Detroit and Minneapolis is supposed to be a little tricky.  And I’ll take a winning record up against those two tough teams in any weather…

 Upon arrival early in the morning  for the Tigers home opener the image through the bus window was not an inviting one.  For the Royals it was the second Opening Day (having opened the season at home vs. LA).  For the Motor City Kitties, it was their third opener (at the Yankees and at Baltimore).  Opening days are always festive and fun, whether you’re home or the visitors.   The hardy Michiganders didn’t let the  cold and rain bother them much, as there was plenty of tailgating all around the ballpark. 

Flash forward several hours and despite 43 degree temps, we were rain-free and ready to get the  home opener underway.  As is the case in every Major League city, Opening Day is a big deal here.  Among the ceremonies for this years opener, the Tigers honored the late Sparky Anderson, who as manager led them to the 1984 World Series title.  He passed away last November.  Sparky was a marvelous person and was the first manager to win a title in both leagues (something Tony LaRussa has since also accomplished).  Sparky also led the Big Red Machine in Cincinnati to championships in 1975 and 76.  He was always quick to defer all credit to the players.  The games in Detroit were exciting, and after losing the first one, the Royals bounced back and won games 2 and 3 to take the series.

After Detroit, it was on to Minneapolis, where the Twins are now an outdoor team.  We had a day off in the Twin Cities, and as I walked all around downtown the Minnesotans were enjoying unseasonably warm weather.  One thing about folks in the North Country, they don’t miss any opportunity to get outside when the weather cooperates.  Minneapolis has a very inviting downtown, with plenty of shopping and dining.

As I explored downtown I walked by the Metrodome, but before that I passed by the old Minneapolis Armory.  This building is just a couple of blocks away from the Twins former home.  Built in the 1930’s, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.   From the 30’s through the 70’s it was used for political conventions, concerts and even the old Minneapolis Lakers played some home games here, including all of their games during the 1959-60 season.   A native of Minneapolis, Prince, used this building to film the music video “1999” back in the 80’s.   It’s now mainly used as a parking garage, but at least they were able to  save this great old building from the wrecking ball.

  The Metrodome (now known as Mall of America Field) is now the exclusive home of the Vikings.  The Twins won the “good timing” award, opening Target Field just last season,  so that when the roof collapsed it didn’t have much of an effect on them (other than causing them to move their Winter Fanfest to the suburbs.  They had planned on having it in the dome).  Looks different without that puffy white roof above it.   The Vikings are still hoping to play there next season (if there is a next season).  Repair work continues…

Right in the heart of the downtown shopping district Mary Richards (the statue saluting Mary Tyler Moore’s character from the 70’s sitcom) is always there smiling and ready to throw her hat.  If you haven’t been to Minneapolis lately you’d enjoy it (especially in summer)….and especially with the new ballpark that opened in 2010.

Speaking of Target Field, it has proved to be a spectacular new home for the Twins.  I highly recommend a visit.  They lived a charmed life in terms of weather in year one last season (no rainouts, one rain delay, mild weather in April).  It’s proved to be a pitcher-friendly ballpark too.  The ball just doesn’t carry that well, as Joe Mauer’s ONE 2010 Target Field will attest.  But think about a trip up I-35 when the Royals go there, you’ll enjoy it.  The Royals split their 2 games in Minnesota, finishing their first road trip 3-2.

ROARING START

2011 got off to a great start for the Royals, playing well against two talented, high-profile, high-payroll teams.  Bottom line: fans were actually a little disappointed at a 4-2 start against the Angels and White Sox!  The first weekend of the season also meant a glimpse into what promises to be a promising future.

      On Opening Day, one of the greatest guys and ballplayers to ever wear Royal Blue had the honor of throwing out the first pitch.  Here Mike Sweeney walks off the field arm-in-arm with the man who caught his first pitch, George Brett.  Sweeney had signed a one-day contract days earlier so that he could retire as a Royal, the team with which he spent the vast majority of his outstanding career.  The sellout crowd loved it.  They had a great time, despite temperatures in the 40’s, and despite falling to the visiting Angels.  The days ahead would soften that disappointment.

     On the first Saturday of the 2011 season, following  a second straight victory over the Angels, Royals fans got a glimpse into what promises to be a bright future.   Appropriately enough, it was called The Futures Game, and it featured many of the organizations top minor league prospects.   The newly renamed AAA Omaha Storm Chasers battled the AA Northwest Arkansas Naturals on a big league field in front of a fan base anxious to see them come to Kansas City permanently.  It was a fun event and it gave fans the chance to see “live” many of the men whose names they’ve heard, but whose talents they’ve never witnessed in person.  It was great to see so many fans stick around for the minor league portion of the twin bill.

    One of the players the fans were anxious to see was Eric Hosmer, the slick-fielding, all-fields hitting first baseman who has quickly advanced through the Royals farm system since they made him the third overall pick in the 2008 draft.  With the giant Crown Vision in centerfield, it gave these young men a thrill to see their images on a larger-than-life scale, and gave the fans a chance to see what their future Royals look like.  Fans also got to see lefty Mike Montgomery pitch for Omaha and dominate the hitters he faced.  Mike Moustakous had fans who had never seen him play before chanting “MOOOSE.” 

The Royals had an amazing run of late success during the season-opening homestand.  I spent a lot of those late (and extra) innings in the camera well, just beyond the Royals dugout, waiting to interview whichever Royal turned out to be that days hero.  With games going 13 and 12 innings, that was a lot of standing.  But it was worth it!  It’s a great view.

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If it was a lot of standing around and waiting for me, imagine what it was like for Slugger!  Nobody loves Royals baseball more than he does, but after all those extra inning games, even he go5 a little tired.  Well…good things (usually) come to those who wait, and good news eventually came to the Royals popular mascot…

Another walk-off win!  As Yankee voice John Sterling used to say “The Melk-man delivers!”  Melky Cabrera with the game winning hit in the bottom of the 13th inning.  There are few regular season moments in baseball better than a walk-off win.  Melky signed with the Royals this winter hoping to re-ignite his career.  He came to camp in great shape, and started hitting from day one…and he carried that success into the first week of the season as well.  Four straight wins in their last at bat!

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