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A Royal Journey

The Royals first three-city road trip of the year started successfully…with three wins in the first four games.  It ended with a 4-5 mark…but the team never stopped fighting.   This was the first of  three trips this season that take us to three cities.  The Royals played in Anaheim, Oakland and St. Louis..

The first game in Anaheim was also the Major League debut for “Mooooose!”…that would be Mike Moustakas.  He played his first big league game not far from Chatsworth High School…where he was all-everything.  He had upwards of 50 relatives and friends on hand for the three-game series.  Moose did not disappoint.  His first game produced his first hit.  His second game produced his first home run.  He actually had a hit, a walk and a run scored in each of his first four Major League games.

Here’s a performer that is particularly entertaining to ballplayers.  Ladies and gentleman…I give you….Batting Stance Guy!  His name is Gar Ryness (almost rhymes with Your Highness…but he’s not royalty).  Who is Gar Ryness?  As the New York Times wrote “Ryness has a singular talent:  an ability to perform comically dead-on impressions of Major League hitters upon request.”  He had the entire Royals team in stitches as they waited to start batting practice.  Check him out at battingpracticeguy.com.

Angel Stadium, aka The Big A.  Besides Batting Stance Guy, and the Angels, the ballpark has seen many other performers entertain here.  A beautiful venue.  While we were there, Taio Cruz performed a postgame concert.  A few days later U2 was in concert.  Royals Senior VP of Business Operations Kevin Uhlich helped oversee the renovation of this great ballpark, just as he did later with Kauffman Stadium. 

A very good sign you’re in San Francisco:  the cable car.  The San Francisco cable car system is the last of its kind in the world.  It’s the only transportation system you’ll find on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Across the bay in Oakland, the A’s continue to play at the Coliseum.  It’s had many names, but the current one is O.co (rebranding of Overstock.com.  For a few months it was the Overstock.com Coliseum).    The A’s are doing everything they can to get a new ballpark.  Their hope is to move to San Jose.  It’s a political football, because the San Francisco Giants consider San Jose part of their territory.  While it’s outdated in many ways, I like to think about the history…all those great A’s teams and Raiders teams that played on that field.

The former voice of the Kansas City/Oakland Athletics stopped by our radio booth.  Monte Moore.  What a nice man.  He moved west with the A’s when they left KC after the 1967 season.  Frank and Bob are among those who listened to his calls over the years.  From 1961 until 1977 he saw a lot of great ballplayers wear an A’s uniform.  During his KC days he also spent time broadcasting KU basketball, including one season with a center named Wilt Chamberlain.

As the final series of the long road trip opened in St. Louis, the Royals stretch before taking batting practice before game one.  It was a tight series, with each game ending with a 5-4 score.  The Royals took the first game, but could not take the series as St. Louis came back to win the last two games of the trip. 

One of the nice things about this series was the united effort to help those hit in Joplin by the tornado in May.  Aaron Crow and Mike Moustakas both wear Joplin High School Eagles caps for batting practice.  Both teams wore them during warmups….autographed them…then the caps were auctioned off to help those folks in Joplin.

Here are two guys who have seen a lot of baseball over the years, Mike Shannon and Jay Randolph.  Mike played nine seasons for the Cardinals.  Beginning in 1972 he entered their radio booth, where he still works today.  For many years Mike also did televised games with Randolph…who’s had a long, distinguished career doing  just about every sport you can think of and many of those sports at the network level.   In the pre-cable days, they were Cardinals television.

So Long Splitt…

The news that our dear friend Paul Splittorff had passed away hit everyone in the Royals family hard.  The winningest pitcher in Royals history will always be remembered as not only a great Royal but a great person.  I think it’s safe to say that anyone who ever met him considered him a friend.

I met Splitt before coming to Kansas City, when I was still broadcasting for the Cincinnati Reds.  The first thing Paul did was ask me what I needed to know about the Royals.  He proceeded to answer every question I had, and within a couple of minutes I felt like I had known him all my life.  That’s just the kind of guy he was.  And when I came to Kansas City he couldn’t have been more welcoming.  We’ll all miss you Splitt…and you’ll never be forgotten…

The Royals Senior Director of Team Travel/Clubhouse Operations Jeff Davenport did a great job to quickly have these patches with “Splitt” emblazened on them available within a couple of days of receiving the sad news.  These patches will be worn on the right sleeve of all the Royals various uniform tops for the remainder of the 2011 season.  Royals Vice President of Communications and Broadcasting  Mike Swanson will also have this logo on all Royals press materials for the rest of the year.

Royals Third Base Coach/Infield Coach Eddie Rodriguez shows me the patch on his sleeve.  All of us who knew Paul are aware that he would never want all this attention.  That’s just the kind of guy he was.  But in talking to those in uniform, they’re all proud to have it adorning their sleeve. 

 

 

 

 

 

Fellow Royals Hall of Famer Frank White was Splitt’s teammate for 12 seasons.  Those teams won a lot of games.  Frank has many great memories of Paul both on and off the field.  His best memory was when Number 34 helped pitch the Royals into the 1980 World Series.  As you can see here, Frank’s shirt has the “Splitt” patch on the sleeve as well.

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!

POSTCARDS FROM SUNNY SURPRISE

As the Royals were wrapping up Spring Training 2011, a “new beginning” with all the prospects we were lucky enough to watch (the ones who make up baseball’s NUMBER ONE farm system!!), a few images from Season 9 for the Royals in Surprise, Arizona….
Beautiful Surprise Stadium continues to lead the way as perhaps the most most beautiful setting in the Cactus League. Now nine years old, it still looks new.
This was a very common site, minor leaguers and major leaguers signing autographs for Royals fans. Eric Hosmer had just finished signing before heading to the clubhouse. He and so many other prospects were very impressive, before being sent to minor league camp. And the crowds for the minor league games were huge by minor league standards.
Royals Hall of Famer Frank White is always sought out by fans.  He was a big part of spring training, working here as a coach but also as a broadcaster.
As if 15 Major League Baseball teams holding Spring Training in one metropolitan area isn’t enough baseball, the Valley of the Sun is also home to an iconic college baseball program…Arizona State. My son John has decided he’d like to play there one day, a very lofty goal to be sure.  So I took him to a game, in which the Sun Devils beat Oral Roberts.

A very good crowd, especially for a non-conference game,ASU’s historic program has produced so many Major Leaguers, including Reggie Jackson, Rick Monday, Barry Bonds, and Royals Hall of Famer Larry Gura among many, many others. George Brett told me when he was in high school ASU wouldn’t give him the time of day.  Later after he had established himself as a big league star, George asked Bobby Winkles, the former ASU coach who at the time was a White Sox coach, “Am I good enough to play for ASU now?”
Of all the Cactus League ballparks, Scottsdale Stadium may be the most “festive,” located in Old Town Scottsdale. Of course this season it was extra special as its longtime residents, the Giants, celebrated their 2010 World Championship.  The other park this spring that created a huge buzz was the new home of the Dbacks and Rockies, also in Scottsdale, Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.  Spring training facilities have come a long, long way in the last decade.
No trip to Phoenix would be complete without a stop (or two) to In and Out, a West Coast burger joint with delicious hamburgers and cheeseburgers.  Boy, the lengths I go to bring you the best of the Valley!!
Palm trees do not grow naturally in Arizona, but there are thousands of them imported and they add that tropical touch that helps make it truly feel like Spring Training.  This is a glance at the Wigwam Resort in Goodyear, down the road from Surprise.  It’s a beautifully manicured resort, and many Royals fans stay there each March.  They’re renovating, including completely remodeling both swimming pools.  The last snag in the remodeling is the water slide, which has been under construction for more than three months now!  So I’m assuming once it opens, it will be a really, really, really great water slide!!

Paying his Debts

The Royals road trip to Minneapolis and Chicago did not go well on the field, but we always manage to enjoy our travels. Minneapolis had beautiful September weather, and three Target Field sellout crowds. Chicago is such a great city, no one ever tires of travelling there.

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… This is the worlds number one Notre Dame fan, White Sox broadcaster Ed Farmer. Ed lost a bet with Chicago reliever J.J. Putz, a Michigan alum. Ed had to wear Michigan gear Sunday, and walk through the clubhouse for all to see, since Michigan had beaten Notre Dame on the football field.

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Here Farmer’s partner Darrin Jackson displays the Wolverine helmet, signed by Coach Rich Rodriguez, that sat next to Ed througout the game on this day. If Notre Dame had won the game, Putz would have had to wear a Notre Dame football helmet during batting practice, but he dodged a bullet.

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…A beautiful day at US Cellular Field. But sunshine means a tough day for the broadcasters during a matinee in Chicago.

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Here Denny dodges the bright sunlight shining right at him the first couple of innings. He finds shelter from the shadows by backing off from the red hot countertop, working “without a net” so to speak.

LIGHTS… CAMERA…BASEBALL

The August West Coast trip was not a good one…except for the weather. Cool and crisp. Not enough wins…but there were items of interest as the Royals visited Oakland, Seattle and Anaheim…

booth.jpgRight next to our radio booth. With Don Free hard at work preparing for our broadcast, Oakland radio voice Ken Korach was pretending to broadcast a game from 2002! They were filming a movie based on the book “Moneyball“. Ken was playing himself…so he was perfect for the role.

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Of course Moneyball chronicled the job Billy Beane and his baseball operation in Oakland did winning on a tight budget and doing it largely through studying statistics. Here in a normally empty back little area of the Oakland Coliseum press box, the audio engineers make sure everything sounds great for the movie.

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……These are the “movie star” trailers just outside the stadium where they’re  filming. And YES…Brad Pitt (playing Beane in the movie) and Angelina Jolie and family were in the house. And, no, I didn’t get either one of them for the pregame show…

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We had a day off in Seattle, I did something I had never done on several previous trips to the Emerald City…visited the Space Needle. It provides great views on a beautiful day like this one.

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… What street ran right by the Space Needle? Denny Way of course. Denny Matthews cannot confirm if he’s ever been on Denny Way in all his trips to Seattle over the years.

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Near Denny Way is Stewart Street. Looked but did not find a Davis Avenue or a Free Way….wait a minute…the 5 Freeway (Interstate 5) runs right by the Space Needle …(lower part of photo).

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As we flew out of Seattle on our way south to Anaheim we got a breathtaking close-up view of (we think) Mount Ranier sticking up through the cloud cover. What a beautiful view.

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The best weather of the trip was in Southern California. The temperature at game time for the afternoon game was 76…..wow. No…not enough wins…but great weather…and great views on the West Coast.

HOT TIME, SUMMER IN THE CITY

It definitely felt like summer as the Royals made their one trip to New York this season. A couple of long rain delays meant spending extra time at the new Yankee Stadium, now in its second year.

Strange site next door, as the old park has been torn down. A park will be built on the spot where the old stadium was located. The park will include a ballfield where the old diamond was located.

 

Photo 1.jpgThe big story for Yankee fans and media when the Royals rolled into town was the A-Rod story. Would he hit home run number 600 against the Royals? The answer…NO! 

 

 

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When they opened the new Yankee Stadium last year, they moved all the monuments over from the old place. Here a couple plays kiss-cam in front of Babe Ruth’s retired number. Monument Park is definitely worth a visit if you go. Kissing is optional…

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… How hot was it? This thermometer was located in the 3rd base camera, adjacent to the Royals dugout. Ouch! Going on the field after the game was an incredibly steamy experience!

 

 

 

 

 

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Fortunately (or unfortunately) there are plenty of ways to cool off at Yankee Stadium. The media dining room provides a daily feast that would have made King Henry VIII say “no more….I’m full…really….” A disturbing trend in media dining rooms all over the country, soft ice cream machines.


Photo 5.jpg Did I mention that there are many, many choices of both healthy and unhealthy food in the media dining room? Yikes! And worse yet, the media can graze through the various buffets throughout the game. Fortunately for me the rain delays kept me busy during a couple of the games, helping keep my in-game grazing to a minimum. Of course there was plenty of pre-game grazing.

LIGHTS CAMERA ACTION!

The Royals had the Sunday night spotlight all to themselves (sharing it with the Angels) for the first time in 14 years. And while the Angels won the game (the only loss in the first six games of a winning road trip)…it was fun to see the Royals get back on national TV.

4-1.jpgWhile in Anaheim, the word came down that Joakim Soria would be the Royals All-Star representative. A very low-key, gracious guy, Joakim doesn’t really like a lot of attention. But when ESPN was interviewing various All-Stars, Soria was one of their guests (via satellite) before the game. Unfortunately he didn’t get into the game this year as he did two years ago at Yankee Stadium.

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Before the July 4th game that ESPN televised, Joe Morgan visiting with Ned Yost. Hopefully as the Royals well-stocked minor league system starts to turn out players nights like this will become more common. 

 

 

 

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Morgan, Jon Miller and Orel Hershiser on camera for Sunday Night Baseball. Miller is this years recipient of the Ford C. Frick award, given to one broadcaster each year, Denny won it in 2007. Jon is the radio voice of the San Francisco Giants, but has also broadcast the Orioles, Red Sox, Rangers and A’s.

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As the Angels played their final home game before hosting the All-Star Game, they put on a salute to America’s birthday, complete with a military flyover. 

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The Royals had a great time in Seattle, a place where they’ve really struggled the past several years. They went to Safeco Field having not swept a three-game series there since 1995. The Mariner Moose entertains the fans.

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The Royals did, in fact, sweep the M’s, taking 5 of the first 6 on their road trip. Delivering the knockout blow to the Moose and the Mariners with a 7-3 come-from-behind win in the final game, as Alberto Callaspo, Mitch Maier and Billy Butler went deep late in the game. The Moose was understandably overcome with grief. 

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OK, the Royals ran into a buzz saw in the White Sox. They had won 22 of 27 when KC rolled into town and bad guys took all three. But what a beautiful city, and what a great time of year to be there!

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