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!

A ROYAL VISIT TO WASHINGTON

For the first time since Richard Nixon was president, the Royals played a series in Washington D.C, The highlight, of course, was handing pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg his first loss as a Major Leaguer. The last time the Royals had played in D.C. was during the 1971 season, before the second Senators franchise relocated to Arlington, Texas and became the Rangers. (The original Senators had relocated to Minnesota after the 1960 season.) 

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Nationals Park opened in 2008. A beautiful new ballpark in Southeast D.C., it replaced antiquated, multi-purpose RFK Stadium, where the Nationals played their first three seasons after moving from Montreal in 2005. Note the Caoitol dome over the left field wall in the distance. 

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A closer look at the dome. Due to some buildings that have gone up beyond left field, you have to be up high to see the Capitol building. A beautiful site! Several Royals players and staff members took a field trip to the Capitol and had the chance to visit with Missouri Senator Kit Bond. Bob Davis also had the chance to catch up with Kansas Senator Sam Brownback.  

 

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The beautiful Presidents Club serves those with the seats right behind homeplate. Along the wall of the entrance hall are photos of presidential first pitches through the years. Here President Truman does the honors.

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An entire wall of the Presidents Club displays a photo of Dwight Eisenhower’s Abiline (KS) High School baseball team. Ike is shown here in uniform along the top row on the right. 

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One of the fun traditions the Nationals started when they came to D.C. is the Racing Presidents. Every game it’s a competition among the likenesses of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt.

THE COUNTDOWN IS ON!

Even though it’s two years away, you get the feeling it will be here before we know it. The 2012 All-Star Game in Kansas City will be huge for this region and this franchise.

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Commissioner Bud Selig officially announcing the All-Star Game, Home Run Derby, etc all coming to Kansas City in July of 2012! Denny was the emcee of the big announcement. Royals Chairman David Glass is to the right of Denny.

2-2.jpgAfter the announcement, the skies opened up and we got quite a bit of rain, delaying the start of the game with Houston. During the rain delay, Denny had the chance to interview the Commissioner. Mr. Selig talked about his friendship with the man who founded the Royals franchise, Ewing Kauffman. The Commissioner reminisced about his earliest memories as a young baseball fan. And, no, Denny did not convince Mr. Selig to ban the DH. But he gave it another try!

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 After an 85 minute rain delay, out came a couple of rainbows! At the end of the rainbow? The 2012 All-Star Game! The first for Kansas City since 1973. And the third such event in Kansas City history.

Tour of First Place Cities

Anytime you can visit two teams that are in first place at the time you’re playing them, and split six games, you’ll take it. The Royals did just that on their trip to Minnesota and Cincinnati. 1 of 3 visiting the Twins, 2 of 3 visiting the Reds. In April I gave you a look at the Twin’s new ballpark, Target Field . Here are some images from this trip: 

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Other than visiting the new baseball park and the new college football stadium at the University of Minnesota, you can do almost anything in this city without going outdoors. There are “skyways” connecting almost every major building throughout downtown Minneapolis.

 

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The hearty Minnesotans have beaten Mother Nature. When the Royals are in Minneapolis and it’s rainy or cool…we can walk from our hotel over several blocks into any number of stores or other business without bringing a jacket or an umbrella. A maze of skyways makes people into human hamsters…but when the weather is not inviting…everyone is grateful!

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This is Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati…on the banks of the Ohio River. It opened in 2003. I worked here from 2004-2007 and made many great friends. 
 

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My son John lived in Cincinnati from kindergarten through third grade. He had the chance to see old friends and see his two favorite teams do battle. We had lunch at one of my favorite Mexican restaurants in Northern Kentucky, right on the Ohio River, across from downtown Cincinnati.

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John and I joined here by Reds broadcaster Marty Brennaman. Marty is a one-of-a-kind broadcaster and person. Like Denny, Marty is a Ford Frick Award winner…I’ve learned a lot from both Marty and Denny. Some of it even about broadcasting! Seriously they’re two of the best announcers in the game.

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I worked with, and “replaced” the most beloved person in the history of Cincinnati. The late Joe Nuxhall is most famous for having played in the big leagues at the age of 15, youngest to ever do it. But the Hamilton, Ohio native (who spent one season with the Kansas City A’s) was a Reds pitcher and broadcaster for more than 60 years. A statue of Joe stands outside the ballpark. The street the stadium sits on was renamed “Joe Nuxhall Way” after his death. The signature on-air sign-off used after every game by “The Old Lefthander” adorns the side of the ballpark. “Rounding third and heading for home.” We miss you Joe.

 


 

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