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.
The Royals final road trip before the All Star break took them to three of America’s great cities: San Diego, Denver and Chicago. As has been the case too often this season many games were close, but the wins were not as plentiful as we would have liked.
There are many beautiful, new ballparks throughout the Major Leagues, but Petco Park in San Diego is hard to beat. Built in downtown San Diego not far from the water in the Gaslamp Quarter area, it opened in 2004. Hitters don’t like the large dimensions, but fans love it. And all those buildings you see beyond the outfield walls have sprung up the past 8 years, with many condo-dwellers having the chance to see baseball from their living room.
Nothing says baseball in San Diego like Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn. Tony is not only a part-time TV analyst for the Padres, but the Head Coach at San Diego State University. Among the guys who played under his Gwynn: Stephen Strassberg. Tony’s hall of fame induction was in 2007, the same year as Cal Ripken. That was also the year in which Denny Matthews received the Ford Frick Award. Tony is one of the true ambassadors of our game.
The water and waterfront is beautiful in this coastal community. The Seaport Village next to this marina has lots of restaurants, shops and great views of the water. Also nearby is the USS Midway, an aircraft carrier that was in service from 1945 until 1991. It’s a great spectacle to visit, as is just about anyplace in San Diego.
The 16th Street Mall in downtown Denver is a great area of restaurants and shopping. It opened in 1982. A free shuttle bus service….known as Mallride helps those who don’t want to walk up and down this great shopping district. Further down this road….maybe a mile….is the State Capitol building.
pionship ring. This one belongs to Gene Honda, longtime public address announcer for the Chicago Blackhawks, as well as the White Sox and the Men’s college basketball Final Four. Pretty impressive.
You never know who might show up in our radio booth or on our air….
You might be surprised to learn that comedian Jeff Foxworthy is not only Ned Yost’s neighbor near Atlanta, but also one of his best friends. They spend much of the offseason hunting together. While the Braves are Jeff’s favorite team, the Royals have become his “other” favorite team, thanks to Ned. Jeff is a super nice guy, and he was good enough to come by the broadcast booth and spend an inning visiting with Bob and Denny. He also took batting practice before the game. Ned says his swing has improved over the years (of course so has his bank account). Foxworthy says Ned is one of the funniest people he’s ever met….high praise from a pro…
Othere celebrities were in our midst in June, including a graduate of Shawnee Mission West High School and KU, actor Paul Rudd. Here he takes batting practice prior to the Big Slick Celebrity Whiffle ball Game that also involved fellow KC native Rob Riggle, as well as actor Jon Hamm.
Paul was in Clueless, Anchorman, The 40-year-old Virgin, I Love You Man, How Do You Know, among many other films. He was also a regular on the TV show Friends, playing Mike Hannigan, Phoebe’s boyfriend and later husband. He’s a lifelong Royals fan. He was at Game 6 of the 1985 World Series. Was not able to be at Game 7. He’s also a diehard KU fan, where he went to school.
Here was the Big Slick Celebrity Whiffle Ball Game, played on the Little K at Kauffman Stadium. Great crowd turned out before the Royals-Cubs game that evening. The contest benefitted Children’s Mercy Hospital. Besides Rudd, Riggle, and Hamm, celebrities included former Royals George Brett, John Wathan and Al Fitzmorris. Chiefs QB Matt Cassel was in the game as well, along with several local media personalities. Cassel and Jon Hamm were named the games MVP’s. It ended, appropriately enough, in an 11-11 tie.
Another June highlight was the induction of former Royals pitcher Kevin Appier into the Royals Hall of Fame. He becomes the 24th person so honored. “Ape” is the all-time Royals strikeout leader and was one of the better starting pitchers of his era. Kevin is never really comfortable in a suit. But for this occasion he was happy to get dressed up. Denny was master of ceremonies for the onfield induction, and then invited Kevin up to the radio to booth for an inning to talk about his fine career and some of his favorite memories.
My son John made yet another couple of appearances at Kauffman Stadium for the Cubs series. His Aunt Maureen was kind enough to bring him to one of the games. John always seems to be around for wins….ever year. The Royals record with him in attendance this season is 5-4. Maybe we need him at the ballpark more often! If it weren’t for all those darned school nights…and summer trips…and little league games…
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.
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.