After a great Spring, the Royals got the season off to a good start, with a 3-3 trip to Chicago and Philadelphia, followed by a 4-2 homestand. The early returns on the rebuilt starting rotation look promising, keeping the Royals in just about every game. Some early images from 2013:
One sad story occured during the first Friday home game, as Toronto superstar Jose Reyes suffered a severely sprained ankle, on an awkward slide at second base. Former Royals coach John Gibbons, now back for his second tour as the Blue Jays skipper, says Reyes is already the face of the franchise. Not having him until around the All-Star Break will be tough on the Jays. It was great seeing our old friend Gibby again.
The injury created an eerie flashback to early 2012, when Yankee closer Mariano Rivera tore a knee ligament on the warning track at Kauffman Stadium. That injury ended Rivera’s season. And, like New York’s Brian Cashman last season, this year it’s Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos who has to piece things together for basically half the season without a major piece, his star shortstop. Anthopoulos met the Toronto media to talk about the injury the day after Reyes was injured.
The first homestand, of course, began with a fun home opener. Always much better with a victory, as Ervin Santana held the Twins to just 1 run over 8 outstanding innings. The weather was nice, 73 at game time. The Royals won 3-1, and wound up sweeping the Twins.
Before the Royals got home, they finished the road trip taking 2 out of 3 at Citizens Bank Park, facing a tough team and tough Philly crowds. This is year 10 for CBP, a beautiful ballpark that replaced the Vet back in 04. It’s about 2 miles south of downtown Philly. The skyline is visible over the wall in left center.
Across the street from our hotel is historic city hall in downtown Philadelphia. It remains the largest, the tallest and the most expensive of all city halls in the United States. The central tower reaches a height of 511 feet. It’s topped by a massive statue of William Penn, 37 feet tall. It has more than 700 rooms and is larger than the US Capitol (it’s the nation’s largest municipal building).
Of course Broad Street is perhaps the most famous street when it comes to Philly sports. The Flyers hockey teams in the 1970’s were known as the Broad Street Bullies. The street runs from downtown right to their sports complex, which includes not just Citizens Bank Park and the Eagles home, Lincoln Financial Field, but the Wells Fargo Center, home of the Flyers and the 76ers.
The first stop after we left spring training was Chicago, where we spent 6 days (and only played 3 games). Denny treated some of us to a Blackhawks hockey game at the United Center. The game was the evening of Opening Day…so we went right from one stadium to another.
It’s a big arena, the Blackhawks draw better than 21,000 per game. Of course the building is most famous for Michael Jordan’s exploits. Most of his Bulls exploits happened in this building, which replaced the old Chicago Stadium. On this night the Blackhawks and Nashville Predators were tied after regulation and it took not only an overtime period, but a shootout for the home team to come away victorious. Great night at “The Madhouse on Madison.”
While in Chicago we had to have some Chicago-style deep dish pizza. Don Free, Denny and I made a very cold walk about 6 blocks to the original Pizzeria Due. Former University of Texas football star Ike Sewell opened Pizzeria Uno being Italian for one) and one block away Pizzeria Due (Italian for two). He started his pizza empire in the 1940’s Sewell and his business partner franchised the deep dish idea nationwide and made lots of money…and lots of pizzas.
As the Royals wrapped up their 44th season, there was excitement right up to the final night. And Oh what a night!
Royals fans were treated to witness the first Triple Crown that the World has seen since 1967 (2 years before the Royals played their first game.) We had more than 30,000 fans there to witness this incredible achievement by Miguel Cabrera. Kansas City has GREAT baseball fans, BY FAR the most loyal in the Major Leagues. Give St. Louis the Royals results the last 20 years and the Royals the Cardinals record the last 20 years and yes Kauffman Stadium would be packed EVERY night, but not sure St. Louis or any other city would draw 1.7 million. And I speak from experience…I remember my 1978 Cardinals from my childhood. That team was not good… but they were only 10 years removed from a World Series appearance. Total attendance? 1.3 million.
Before being removed in the bottom of the fourth inning (and being given a standing ovation and a curtain call), Cabrera’s final atbat in a magical season ended in a strikeout by Luis Mendoza, who had a fine season in the Royals rotation. Tigers manager Jim Leyland was simultaneously monitoring our game, the Angels game (Mike Trout was chasing Miggy for the batting title) and the Yankees game (Curtis Granderson was chasing him for the home run title). He said afterwards it was the most stressful game he’s EVER managed, including Game 7 of the 1997 World Series.
On that final night Royals owner David Glass, a passionate baseball fan, joined Denny for an inning on our broadcast. He’s at a lot of the home games and he’s excited about the offseason moves the Royals baseball operations department will be making in the coming months.
My thanks to John Sleezer, the outstanding photographer from the Kansas City Star. He took this picture as Denny, Rex, Steve Physioc and Ryan joined me for one of the 162 roundtables we recorded for our Royals Radio Network pregame show. The hardest part about our lively discussions is getting 5 of us together in one place at the same time. Might sound easy, but it’s not. We have a bunch of social butterflies on our crew.
In September I was honored to interview Royals legendary groundskeeper George Toma, just minutes before he was inducted into the Royals Hall of Fame. The “God of Sod” is world renowned as the best. He not only took care of the fields for the A’s, Royals and Chiefs, but of course also oversaw the fields at the Super Bowl for many years. Congrats to a wonderful gentleman who always took tremendous pride in his work. As he told Denny many times, when trying to keep media from standing on the grass, “grass grows by inches, not by FEET!”
The Royals trip to Tampa Bay and Boston was forgettable on the field, but it’s never a dull moment during the course of a Major League Baseball season:
On our first morning in St. Pete, the hotel fire alarm sounded. It was not a drill. An electrical fire was under control very quickly, but they evacuated the rooms for about an hour. Although our hotel has a beautiful veranda (or as the Vinoy spells it “verandah”), we were not sitting there at that time by choice. As you can see it overlooks a marina right on the bay. And it was already hot. It makes Missouri humidity seem not so bad. After the fire department checked everything out, everyone was allowed to head back inside.
While the Midwest has suffered through a drought (until Labor Day weekend anyway), in Florida it rains virtually every day this time of year. Lots and lots of storms, rain and humidity means that having a dome is a good thing. Yes it would be great to have a retractable roof, etc. But in August the roof is a blessing!
You might be a Royals coach if…… Yes that’s Ned Yosts’ next door neighbor Jeff Foxworthy, paying the Royals a visit for the second consecutive year. He and Ned are hunting buddies all winter in Georgia, where they both live. Foxworthy was in uniform during batting practice and enjoyed getting a chance to explore Fenway Park, which this year celebrated its 100th anniversary.
That’s Royals first base coach Rusty Kuntz sitting next to an inanimate version of the Red Sox mascot “Wally the Green Monster” after a game. Rusty may be the most upbeat human being on the planet. A personality like his is a boost to everyones spirits every day during the marathon that is a Major League Baseball season.
On our day off in Boston, Steve Physioc and I headed over to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. Set right on the water, it’s a beautiful tribute to the life of our 35th president. This was the boat he sailed, Victura; he enjoyed the 26-foot sailboat his whole life. Worth the trip next time you’re in Boston.
I’m not much of a golfer. But this years Royals Charities Golf Tournament was the most memorable round I’ve ever played. I almost got a luxury car out of the deal! Maybe playing at the National Golf Club of Kansas City (aka “The National”) every year is raising my game. And if it’s not, at least it’s a beautiful place to play.
At the end of the beautiful 4th hole of this Tom Watson-designed course (on which a major water hazard lurks on the right side), this was the car available to anyone who could make a hole in one on this par 3 (as their website describes it “stubbornly guarded by a lake on the right.”) It’s around 178 yards to the pin. The car is a Lexus ES 350. But, alas, I’m not driving it.
This is how close I came to my first hole in one (and the car). I “lipped out.” Squeals were heard from witnesses sitting close to the green as my drive rolled around the edge of the cup. The truth is I was in a bit of shock…the last thing I would have expected. That helped mute any disappointment (a little).
Before the golf, the Royals completed a 4-3 road trip against two contending teams as the pennant race was heating up in August. We had a rain delay of more than three hours in the Saturday game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, but by Sunday all that humid, rainy weather was gone. Celebrating it’s 20th anniversary this season, this beautiful ballpark changed baseball, and really, all of sports. Look at all the new and renovated stadiums in all 4 major sports the past 20 years. It all started here, in 1992. And it still looks brand new.
Down in that sea of orange, which was out beyond the wall in left-center field, is the new Legends Park. All six Orioles in the National Baseball Hall of Fame are being honored with bronze statues being unveiled throughout this season. On the Saturday we were there, before the game, as they unveiled Eddie Murray’s likeness. Besides Eddie, ceremony participants included Jim Palmer, Earl Weaver, Cal Ripken and Ozzie Smith (yes…Ozzie Smith…can you believe he and Eddie Murray were high school teammates in L.A.? Imagine how great THAT team must have been!). They were under that white tent (you’ll have to take my word for it, as this was as close as I could get to the proceedings.)
Ok…self-indulgent time (again, since it is my blog after all). While we were in Chicago and Baltimore, my son John was on vacation in Michigan with his cousins. Here his cousin Jane (she’s on the right in both photos) showed off her computer-photo talents as she mixed a shot from this years vacation with John (he’s on the left in both photos) and then placed it on top of the 2002 (or so) versions of both kids. All together now….awwwwww.
Almost as cute is White Sox broadcaster and former pitcher Ed Farmer. On this particular night Ed was wearing the attire of a US Cellular Field hot dog vendor. (Their booth is next ours, so he modeled it for me through the window that separates us.) He had surreptitiously bought hot dogs for Manager Robin Ventura and his coaching staff, which were then delivered to the White Sox dugout right after the National Anthem and right before first pitch. Bon Appetit!
While July was a rough month for the Royals on the field, the All-Star celebration provided Kansas City with a Field of Dreams. And the West Coast weather was delightful (even if the scores of most of the games were not).
One of the most beautiful settings in all of baseball is Safeco Field, which recently celebrated its 13th anniversary as the home of the Mariners. The roof is open most days this time of year, temperatures are generally in the 70’s or low 80’s (we saw temps in the 60’s on the final day we were there). On this day Felix Hernandez aka “King Felix” was pitching. M’s were on a roll, sweeping the Royals then sweeping Toronto.
While the Royals were in Seattle, the Mariners inducted former pitcher Randy Johnson and former catcher Dan Wilson into their Hall of Fame. After the ceremony they shared first pitch honors. The Big Unit blossomed as a big leaguer while in Seattle. He pitched in the Kingdome from 1989 until 1997, maturing from a flame throwing tall guy who had no idea where the ball was going and scared hitters to death, to a flame throwing tall guy who usually knew where the ball was going and scared hitters to death. He finished his career with 303 wins. Dan Wilson was a Mariner from 1994 until 2005. He is considered one of the best defensive catchers in Major League history.
I just thought I’d drop this in to show you how nice it was in Southern California and, later, in Seattle. In my especially cruel moments I would send an image like this one back to the midwest, where the temps were north of 100 degrees, as if to say “read em and weep!”
The pool is a very inviting on a 77 degree day. It’s a temperature which allows you to comfortably get in the pool if you’d like, but you don’t feel forced to get in because of sauna-like conditions.
Of course the highlight of July for the whole Kansas City region was the All-Star Game and all the events surrounding it. The people of Kansas City did a magnificent job welcoming the world to town. My brother, Andrew and his son Charlie joined my son John and me (I took the picture) for the Derby and the game. We had a blast.
During Interleague play the Royals visited Houston. It is now an annual visit. With Houston joining the American League next season (to even the number of teams in each league at 15 apiece), the Royals will travel there every season. One of my passions is manned space flight. And as anyone who saw Apollo 13 knows, “Houston” is the place with which the the astronauts communicate. And “Houston” is the Johnson Space Center, home to mission control, as well as the place the astronauts do their training for space travel. I had been on the public tours a couple of times on previous Houston trips (and I highly recommend the public tours), but this time we were fortunate enough to get a special “insider” tour of the place.
The First place we visited was the “old” Mission Control. From this room those of us on Earth stayed in touch with astronauts walking on the Moon, or orbiting the earth. Norm Knight is Chief of the Flight Director Office. So he’s the “Big Cheese.” He showed us around the old and new Mission Control rooms.
Norm is in charge of all the flight directors. Gene Krantz was the most famous flight director in NASA history. If you remember the movie Apollo 13, he was the guy played by Ed Harris who wore a vest each day. I’m no Gene Krantz (or Ed Harris for that matter) but couldn’t pass up the opportunity to pretend I was important. Gene Krantz is long retired, but his steady hand helped guide the space program through many difficult moments, as well as during incredible, monumental triumphs.
The old mission control room is now retired, and is designated a National Historic Landmark. The crew of Apollo 13 gave this plaque to the flight controllers for all their help getting Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise home safely. The mirror is off the space craft and the plaque tells the controllers to “look in the mirror,” because those looking in this mirror were the ones who helped get them home. The flag you see in the reflection is hanging on the opposite wall. It’s from the spacecraft of Apollo 13.
My cousin Jeff Nunn (on the left) lives in Houston (he was our ride to the JSC as well as to Minute Maid Park. He once sat next to Gene Krantz on a plane. I once rode on an elevator with Bill Cosby, but I digress). Royals Media Relations Director Dave Holtzman, and Steve Physioc joined me on the tour. This is still in the old Mission Control, the place through which Neil Armstrong told the world “that’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Back to Apollo 13 for a moment. The command module from that historic mission is on display at the Kansas Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, KS. A priceless historic artifact. And that flag over Steve Physioc’s head is the one that is reflected in the plaque in the above photo.
In the new mission control, from which they direct the International Space Station, they have giant monitors to view what’s happening right now. This astronaut looks like he’s flying right over my cousin Jeff’s head. But a lot goes over his head. We were fortunate to go into the live mission control. Since 9/11 it’s been off-limits to the general public.
Another part of this special tour that is not on the public tour, is the Nuetral Buoyancy Labroratory. In effect, it’s the largest indoor pool in the world. But it’s not for Michael Phelps. It’s for astronauts. It is 202 feet long, 102 feet
wide and 40 feet deep. A mock-up of the International Space Station is down there. 6.2 million gallons of water. They go down in the water in full space suits. For space geeks like me…this is really cool.
Another part of our special tour was getting to go on the floor of the Space Vehicle Mockup facility. The Space Station mockup is here, as is the shuttle trainer. During the Shuttle era, a full Shuttle mockup was here as well. Our tour guide for this portion was a real live astronaut: Mike Massamino. He’s an impressive guy, very “down-to-earth.” Although he was far from down-to-earth during two Shuttle missions in which he helped repair the Hubble Space Telescope. He’s also a lifelong Mets fan. On his missions he took both a John Franco jersey AND homeplate from old Shea Stadium into outer space. He’s been on Big Bang Theory as well as the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. He has a great personality and sense of humor.
In the Shuttle cockpit mockup, the lower bay includes lockers for storage, as well as some of the seats used by astronauts during launch. Also included is…the “restroom facilities.” Dave is sitting on that particular “throne.” Not much room for modesty on the Shuttle. We all got photos on the “throne.”
See this vehicle? You won’t see it on the road. Unless you’re on the Moon or Mars at some point in the distant future. The Space Exploration Vehicle is being developed by KU alum and lifelong Royals fan Dr. Bill Bluethmann. It’s an enhanced version of the old Lunar Rover (a dune buggy-like vehicle driven on the Moon during Apollo 15, 16 and 17). This vehicle is designed for several days, far from the home. Astronauts can sleep in this, eat in this. They can also get out (in a space suit) and walk around. It’s already been tested in desert conditions, just to test the logistics.
Driving it takes some getting used to. It has a joystick like a video game (my son John would take to it immediately). We all took turns driving. They have a pretend “moon” area and a pretend “Mars” area to drive around in. This vehicle will go down into and out of craters. I was a little apprehensive to operate what amounts to a 2 million dollar vehicle. But after Jeff drove it, I figured I could too. After some quick stops and starts got my fellow tour-goers a little shaken up…I finally figured out how to drive the thing. As Dr. Emmett Brown said at the end of Back to the Future, “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”
Through the first third of the season, the Royals did not have a losing road trip. The records: 3-3, 4-3, 4-1 and 5-4. The 5-4 mark was the Yankees-Orioles-Indians trek. Our free day in Baltimore ended with a dinner that featured the seafood treat that the Chesapeake Bay made famous, and that made Baltimore one of the seafood capitals of the United States.
Despite the fact that Rex Hudler played ten big league seasons (and even played for the Orioles at one point), he had never been to a crab house, before we took him to one. We visited Mr. Bill’s Terrace Inn in Essex, Maryland (One of Ryan’s favorites, a few miles north of downtown Baltimore). Rex attacked the crabs with the same passion he approaches life: full-throttle. He loved them! Royals VP Mike Swanson, seated directly across from Rex, took this photo, which made its way on to the Royals telecast the next evening (much to Rex’s surprise!)
When the crabs were literally dumped on our table, it was a show-stopper. Everybody had to get a picture….before we “attacked” our dinner (which if you’ve ever eaten crabs is about how it is…hammer it to break it open, then start eating). As Royals TV director Steve Kurtenbach put it “you’ll never get fat eating crabs.”) Sammy Abramson, the man who brings you instant replay during Royals telecasts, Royals VP Mike Swanson and Ryan got photographic proof before we made an absolute mess of our dinner.
Rex and I donned the bibs. Rex had on a nice, new shirt. He still managed to get it dirty, which was also how he played baseball.
If you’ve never been to Baltimore, you have no idea how beautiful a skyline it has, and what a great waterfront it has. The Inner Harbor (not just “the harbor” as many visitors call it) is spectacular, with great views, great restaurants. It’s always buzzing, as is Little Italy, Fells Point, Canton and the whole waterfront area. It seems like you could eat at a different restaurant every night for a year, and not go to the same place twice.
The last day of the trip, the Royals clinched a winning series and a winning road trip. I actually had most of the day off, so I wandered around Progressive Field, the home of the Indians since 1994. Hard to believe next season will be its 20th. Great site lines everywhere you go. I spent a couple of innings down the left field line.
Behind the centerfield wall, the Indians honor their history (which goes back to the formation of the American league in 1901). They have a spot picked out to honor former Indian Jim Thome, who was with the Indians from 1991 through 2002 and then came back to finished 2011 with his original club.
Also just beyond those evergreens in centerfield, is Heritage Park. Replicas of the Hall of Fame plaques for such luminaries as Cy Young, Larry Doby (the first African American to play in the American League), Bob Feller, former Royals Manager Bob Lemon, and Tris Speaker among other greats are on display.
As the Royals wrapped up their successful trip to Chicago and Texas, the road record improved to 11-7. The good times started with a 3-3 trip to LA and Oakland to start the year, then a 4-3 trek through Cleveland, Minnesota and Detroit (including defeating the Tigers with Verlander starting to conclude that 9-day excursion) and then came the White Sox and Rangers. It went very well. And the New York trip started well, with a win that raised the road record to 12-7. Now we gotta work on getting more wins at home sweet home…
My hotel room in New York was so high-up, the people looked like ants. (Bringing to mind the old joke in which two people are waiting for their plane to take off. One guy says “Wow, we’re way up there, the people look like ants.” The other guy says “those ARE ants, we haven’t taken off yet!” But I digress. A rainy first day of the road trip finished with an impressive 6-0 win over the Yankees. If you can make out the fine detail in this photo, you’re seeing lots of umbrellas.
Danny Duffy’s season is over. Tommy John surgery ending his year in May. As sad as we are for Danny, he couldn’t be more upbeat. He knows the success rate of this now-common ligament-transplant procedure. He told me his goal is to be back pitching for the Royals next June. Before heading to California for his operation, he signed authographs for fans at Kauffman Stadium.
This is my friend Gary Cantwell, who I’ve known since my freshman year in college. He was the program director of KSMU, the campus radio station at my alma mater, Southern Methodist University in Dallas. As I showed him around Kauffman Stadium he freely admitted to people that HE was the one who gave me my start in radio. Let’s just say he didn’t receive many “thank you’s!” Of course when I was at SMU, our football team was making more in salary than the Dallas Cowboys, with whom we shared Texas Stadium at the time. Alas, there was no money left over to pay those of us who worked at KSMU.
The week before we went to Arlington, Texas, Josh Hamilton had the best week anyone can remember a ballplayer having. It included a 4-homer game. He hit 9 home runs, drove in 18, and hit 467. The night before we arrived, the bat he used broke in a game against the Angels. Before the bat was shipped to Cooperstown, Ranger fans had the chance to get their photo taken with the bat that “died a hero.”
Our hotel in Texas is connected to the golf course where the Byron Nelson Championship Classic is played. It’s a regular stop on the PGA Tour. Jason Dufner was the 2012 winner. The namesake of the tournament was one of the greatest of all time. In 1945 he won an amazing 11 consecutive tour events, and 18 tournaments that year. Overall he won 52 tour events and 5 majors.
I did not golf during our two-day stay in the Lone Star state, but I did check out the pool. After so many cooooold days on the road throughout April (and even May), it was nice to soak up a little warmth.
The Royals took 2 of 3 in Chicago, a city that is certainly somewhere on everyones’ list of their favorite road cities. This is the Trump International Hotel and Tower aka the Trump Tower. It was completed in 2009. You see it here right on the Chicago River. It houses condos as well as a hotel. Restaurants and retail space are also part of what is now the 11th tallest building in the world. It’s taller than the John Hancock Building, but does not stretch as high as Willis Tower (formerly known as Sears Tower). I took this shot on the team bus as it was taking us to US Cellular Field.
As the first homestand wound down, All-Star Fever was beginning to heat up! When you add the exhibition schedule to the regular season, the players’ journey is 194 games….so looking at it that way, we’re about a quarter of the way through! Here are some of the things we’ve encountered on our journey through 2012:
Number 5 came by the booth, in his role as the Ambassador of Kansas City’s All-Star Summer. George Brett was a 13-time All-Star as a player. Normally whenever he pays us a visit, the inning flies by and 3 outs are recorded in 7 or 8 pitches, leaving us very little time to talk with him. This was a rarity: six Royals batted, three got hits and one scored (Billy Butler on a Humberto Quintero double).
A great sight: Royals catcher Salvador Perez watching batting practice…walking without crutches. It’s still going to be awhile before we see him again crouching behind homeplate, but his rehab is going great and he should be good-as-new before too long. It was such deflating news we received in spring training that Sal would be lost for 3 months or so…but the Royals still expect him to be one of the best in baseball. And, oh by the way, he won’t turn 22 until May 10th.
A breathtaking sight: A fly-over by a Stealth bomber on Opening Day at Kauffman Stadium. The crowd that day was 40, 230…the largest crowd since the renovation in 2009.
The Royals opened the season in Anaheim. Here are your 3-4 hitters for the next several years in KC: Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer. Yes Cabrera/Fielder may be the most dangerous 3-4 in baseball right now, but there will come a time when these two will be feared by opponents in a similar way (at a price well south of the 400 million dollars those guys having coming their way).
Before we opened against the Angels, the Royals played an exhibition game at beautiful Petco Park in San Diego. And you probably know these Hall of Famers: Denny with Padres TV broadcaster Dick Enberg, who for years was the lead announcer for NBC Sports, before moving to CBS. When Denny started with the new Royals club in 1969, Enberg was the radio voice of the Angels.
Did I mention we were in San Diego? Having worked in both leagues and having travelled to every city in both leagues there are a lot of things to like. The American has Boston and Seattle among other great places to go. The National League has San Diego…ahhhhh. What a place. We were fortunate to visit two years in a row.
Here I am with Mark Stephen. The first baseball game I ever broadcast was in April of 1987 with this guy (he wasn’t much of a dresser back then either). That first game was the Calgary Cannons (our team) visiting the Las Vegas Stars, in Pacific Coast League play. Mark is a native Calgarian, and these days is the radio voice of the Calgary Stampeders of the CFL. Mark and his family visited AZ for spring break and took in a game between the Royals and Angels.
My son John was very lucky. He made TWO trips to spring training this year. Here he is with my (young) aunt, Melinda McGrath. Melinda has become a Royals fan. She’s a lifelong fan of Missouri’s “other” team (who knew Missouri had another Major League team?). She was one of about 20 of my relatives who visited Surprise in March.