Webb: Hosmer, Moose, Cain, Esky, et al, will always be Forever Royal

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royals world series

The 2015 Kansas City Royals wiped out decades of frustration by defeating the New York Mets in five games for the title.

June 26, 2014. That day is one of a handful that stand out when I think about the Kansas City Royals of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar.

Two days earlier, I watched from the press box as the Royals struggled, as everybody does, against Clayton Kershaw. I was there to interview Davey Lopes, the first-base coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers and a Washburn University alumnus, for The Ichabod magazine.

Though my interview was done an hour before the game began, I stayed for the experience and as a reminder of how fortunate I was to cover sports at newspapers for more than a decade. I remember being impressed that nearly 30,000 people attended a game at Kauffman Stadium in late June.

A couple of days later, I went straight from work to Dick’s Sporting Goods in Leawood to buy a basketball for my daughter, who mentioned earlier in the week that she wanted to learn how to play basketball.

Rushing to the checkout line, I did a double-take as a looked to my right. Is that? Wait … Dayton Moore? What in the world is he doing at a Dick’s Sporting Goods?

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A decade after inheriting a mess, Dayton Moore has built one of the classiest organizations in baseball.

After hesitating, I approached Moore as he neared the checkout line. “Excuse me, are you Dayton Moore?” Obviously, I knew the answer. He hesitated, almost as if he was afraid to be approached by somebody during a recent Royals slump. “Yes, yes I am.”

Those of you who follow me on Twitter will be surprised by what I said next. “I just wanted to tell you thanks for bringing winning baseball back to Kansas City. I know you’re a busy man, so I’m going to get out of your way.”

Moore reached out his hand to shake mine, looked me directly in the eyes, and said, “Thank you. I really appreciate that.” It was as if he needed to hear it.

After interviewing a number of athletes, coaches and sports executives during my career in newspapers, I knew the vast majority of them typically don’t want to hang around and chat. But as I started to walk away, Moore held firm his handshake and asked me what my name was.

We spoke for about five minutes. He stopped short of apologizing for the recent slump, though I could tell it bothered him. I wondered how many times in the past several years he had a conversation with fans that was far less complimentary.

The other thing I remember about that conversation is that after learning I was there to buy a basketball for my daughter, he brought his son over and introduced him. Same firm handshake and steady eye contact.

Since that point, I’ve been a huge Dayton Moore fan.

END OF THE DROUGHT

Three months later, as I walked the sideline at a high school football game in northeast Kansas, I tried to check the score of the Royals-White Sox game on my phone. The reception in Waverly wasn’t cooperating, but the public address announcer provided updates throughout the evening.

With each update, in the midst of a competitive game between two good teams, the crowd erupted. The loudest applause came at 9:51 p.m.: “Final score: Royals 3, White Sox 1.” For the first time in 29 years, Kansas City was in the playoffs.

The following Monday, I spent an hour at work trying to get into the portal for playoff tickets. When I finally did, I had two choices: Purchase tickets for the Wild-Card game or Game 3 of the American League Division Series.

Knowing my work schedule was hectic that week, I opted for the ALDS, even though there was no guarantee the Royals would be there. Three years later, I still kick myself for not picking the Wild-Card game.

As my wife and I settled in at home on Sept. 30 for the Wild-Card game against Oakland, I was as nervous as I’ve been in years. Nerves became anger when manager Ned Yost replaced James Shields with Yordano Ventura in the sixth inning of a game the Royals led 3-2.

By the end of the inning, my blood pressure was through the roof and face bright red as I screamed at the TV that Yost had to be fired as soon as the game ended.

My wife opted for bed not long after that, kissing my forehead and whispering, “I’m sorry, honey” in the seventh inning. I decided to stay up, though I changed the channel and followed the rest of the game on Twitter.

What unfolded in the eighth, ninth and 12th innings also rank among my favorite memories of The Core. I’ll never forget hitting the refresh button to see fellow Royals fans post updates full of exclamation points as Billy Butler ripped a single into right field to cut the lead to two and Hosmer scored on a wild pitch.

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Salvador Perez’s 12th-inning single during the 2014 Wild-Card game ignited the Royals run in 2014-15.

I didn’t see Jarrod Dyson’s stolen base in the ninth inning, not live anyway. I switched it back to that channel after reading what happened on Twitter. I didn’t see Hosmer’s triple live. I did catch Christian Colon’s single and stolen base, but missed Salvador Perez’s game-winner. What I did see was the entire dugout pouring on the field in a sea of blue when I switched channels for the 100th time that night.

In the meantime, I woke up my wife twice, first when Nori Aoki tied the game, and again on Salvy’s hit.

A couple of days later, I woke her up again with a loud scream on Hosmer’s blast in the 11th inning of Game 2 of the ALDS. I had a 5K the next morning, got about three hours of sleep and ran my personal best, partly because the adrenaline from the previous night served as fuel.

FROM OUT OF NOWHERE IN 2014

The rest of that postseason is a blur. My wife and I attended Game 3 of the ALDS. I’m always going to remember jumping for joy on Alex Gordon’s two-out, three-run double in the first inning. “I’ve never seen you like this!” she said. “You’re just like a kid again!”

This team often made me feel like a kid again, when I’d hit rocks in the driveway, complete with personal play-by-play of walk-off homers in the World Series.

Other memories of the 2014 postseason:

  • Calling Gordon’s go-ahead home run in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on Twitter (1 out of 100 ain’t bad).
  • Cain’s circus catches in the ALDS and ALCS.
  • Moose’s homers and incredible catch in ALCS Game 3, which I attended thanks to a friend.
  • Escobar’s double in the ninth inning of ALCS Game 2.
  • Following ALCS Game 4 on my phone during a grad school class and tearing up when the Royals won.
  • Ventura carving up the Giants in Game 1 and Game 6 of the World Series.

Above all, I’m going to remember the enormous pride I felt in this team, even as they lost Game 7 to the San Francisco Giants.

FINALLY, THE TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN

The Royals were so good during the regular season in 2015 that I don’t count any regular season games among favorite memories, though Johnny Cueto’s first start at the K, a shutout, was electric.

The lasting memory of the ALDS against Houston will always be the eighth inning of Game 4. I’d just returned to my desk from a workout during lunch with the Royals trailing 6-2. As had become superstition, I wasn’t watching or listening to the game. I resorted to refreshing mlb.com and Twitter for updates.

I didn’t get too excited until Hosmer’s single made it 6-4 and had to contain myself when I saw the 6-6 on mlb.com after refreshing the page. Two days later, the iconic moment was Kendrys Morales’ three-run blast in the eighth to put the Astros away.

My wife and I went to Game 1 of the ALCS, a night we’ll remember because of Edinson Volquez’s gutty performance. The next day, I spent most of my afternoon yelling at the TV as the Royals rallied for five runs in the seventh inning.

Game 6 on Oct. 23 brought a range of emotions, from being absolutely furious at Yost for allowing Ryan Madson to pitch to Jose Bautista to pure joy on Cain’s mad dash from first to home on Hosmer’s clutch single and Wade Davis’s ice-cold comeback from second and third and nobody out in the ninth.

Four days later, I woke my wife up again when Gordon homered off Jeurys Familia in the ninth inning to tie the game, and once again when Hosmer won it with a sacrifice fly in the 14th.

What I’m always going to remember about this team is the way they ALWAYS came back. In Game 4, they jumped all over Daniel Murphy’s error, scored three runs and took a 3-1 lead in the series.

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No play exemplified the 2015 Royals more than Eric Hosmer’s dash to the play to tie Game 5 in the ninth.

The next night, after being dominated by Matt Harvey, they did what they do, obliterating another deficit with enviable resolve and Hosmer’s brazen sprint home. Three innings later, Colon, who barely played, broke New York’s heart with the go-ahead single. Escobar and Cain put the Mets away with a run-scoring double and three-run double.

And, of course, perhaps the best memory: Davis striking out Wilmer Flores to win it all as my wife and I hugged and celebrated. I’m always going to remember my dad calling me after every out in the bottom of the 12th inning. We shared the World Series when I was 9 in 1985 and again when I was 39 in 2015.

A BASEBALL TOWN AGAIN

Perhaps the most telling moment with this group didn’t involve The Core. I’m never going to forget waking up on a cold January morning, grabbing my phone and seeing that Ventura died in a car accident.

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RIP, Ace.

As I gathered my thoughts and tried to make sense of it, I tried to keep it together. I walked down the stairs to tell my wife, and as I started to speak, began to sob. I cried for hours that day, as if I’d lost a member of the family.

And that’s what I’m going to remember most about these guys. They’re family. They grew up with us. They’ve had some lows. But, my goodness, have they had some highs.

There will be never be another team like this. They Royals will win another World Series in my lifetime, maybe several, but none will be as special as the one in 2015. This group made Kansas City a baseball town again. Forever Royal. Thank you, fellas.

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Webb: Time to accept end of Royals run

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No player epitomizes the Royals demise in the past two seasons more than Alex Gordon, who has gone from an All-Star to a .211 average and .638 OPS.

Several hours after the Royals flailed their way to a fourth straight loss and 34 innings without scoring a run Sunday, I grabbed my iPhone, tapped on the YouTube app and typed in “2015 World Series Game 1.”

I spent 30 minutes scrolling through various points of that game, from Alcides Escobar’s inside-the-park home run to Alex Gordon’s game-tying homer, to Eric Hosmer’s sacrifice fly to win in the 14th inning.

As Royals fans, we’re always going to have 2015. Flags fly forever.

A day later, as I watch the Royals slog through another game with no heart or emotion, I can’t believe this is the same team that won a World Series less than two years ago.

There are five stages of grief, and we’ve gone through them all in the last week as the Royals of Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain succumb to a slow, mind-numbing death:

Denial: “So, Minor blew a game (again). We’re coming off a Hosmer walkoff and can get right back in it in Cleveland.”

Anger: “How do you not score a frigging run against Ryan Merritt and Mike Clevinger?” Followed by, “Why the hell is Eric Skoglund starting a big game in the major leagues?”

Bargaining: “Eh, Cleveland is white hot, and we’ve still got the Wild-Card. This team will get hot again.”

Depression: “We’re at 40 scoreless innings and counting, including six again Austin Pruitt and his 5.72 ERA. It’s over.”

Acceptance: “Instead of cussing and yelling at the TV, I’m calmly writing this blog and intrigued that the Royals could set the big-league record for consecutive scoreless innings (48).”

I often told myself years ago as the Royals bumbled their way through lost decades that I would never be spoiled if they started winning again. I would appreciate having a team you can take pride in. I failed miserably. I’m spoiled. Watching this team fail sucks.

It’s another good lesson to enjoy success when it’s happening. I should have enjoyed it more when the Royals had a string of miraculous comebacks to win a championship.

The 2016-17 Royals also are a great example of just how hard it is to win like they did in 2014-15. It takes talent. It takes heart. It takes discipline. It takes luck. And it takes strategy.

The latter two have been awful the last two seasons. The heart-breaking death of Yordano Ventura. Injuries to Moustakas, Cain, Gordon and Wade Davis probably cost Kansas City a playoff spot in 2016. That’s terrible luck.

General Manager Dayton Moore’s strategic moves have been nothing short of awful: Signing Gordon to a long-term deal, signing Joakim Soria to any length of deal, signing Travis Wood, trading Davis for Jorge Soler. For every great move he made from 2013-2015, the balance has come due.

But the lack of heart … that hurts. The fans deserve better, especially when we know it’s going to be a long, slow rebuilding process (let’s hope it’s not 30 years this time).

[Prove me wrong again in writing your obit, Royals. I think I’m right this time, though.]

Webb: Ventura will always throw fire

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World Series - San Francisco Giants v Kansas City Royals - Game Two

Yordano Ventura will always be remembered for “Let’s throw fire.”

“Let’s throw fire.”

Those three words became Yordano Ventura’s calling card during a career and life that was far too short, yet long on promise. I still can’t believe he’s dead at 25 years old, a shooting star who often burned so brightly but was gone in the blink of an eye.

As I woke Sunday morning and grabbed my phone, I couldn’t believe what I was reading: “Reports: Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura dead at age 25.” Perhaps I didn’t believe it at first. Maybe I was in shock.

When it became apparent that it wasn’t just a rumor, I didn’t throw fire. I threw water, as in a stream of tears, sobbing for a good 15 minutes. Yordano Ventura, the sometimes-frustrating, always-entertaining, firestorm of a pitcher is gone.

The lasting memory of Ventura will be the dominating performance in Game 6 of the 2014 World Series. With the season on the line, the 23-year-old throttled San Francisco to force a Game 7. He threw seven shutout innings, capping a World Series in which he pitched 12 1/3 innings, allowed two runs and had a 1.46 ERA. Without the heroics of Madison Bumgarner, he likely would have been the MVP as a rookie.

After an impressive rookie season (14-10, 3.20 ERA), the expectations exploded. Ventura didn’t handle it well the next two seasons, often struggling. He was about to be demoted in 2015 before Jason Vargas’ injury forced the Royals to bring him back before he reached Omaha.

He also started slowly last season before heating up during the summer months.

But the promise was always there. As a Royals fan, you didn’t miss a Ventura start. There always was a chance he’d dazzle, torching hitters with a triple-digit fastball and embarrassing them with a knee-buckling curve.

One of the last starts of his life was one of the most electrifying. On a hot day in late September, “Ace” mowed down the White Sox in the only nine-inning complete game of his career. Ventura often couldn’t find the strike zone, but on this day, he threw 72 strikes in 106 pitches. It was the kind of performance we hoped he’d deliver consistently.

Ventura also will be remembered for being temperamental. He wasn’t liked across baseball, drawing the ire of opponents after plunking them with 95-mph heaters, staring down hitters and igniting a couple of brawls.

As frustrating as he was, however, he was one of us, Forever Royal.

I’ll remember the exaggerated leg kick after blowing away a hitter. I’ll remember him staring down Troy Tulowitzki after freezing him with a filthy curve in Game 6 of the 2015 ALCS. I’ll remember that he spent the day after the heartbreak of losing Game 7 of the 2014 World Series playing softball with children. I’ll remember that electric smile.

Above all, I’ll remember “Let’s throw fire.”

Webb: So, So, Soria, Royals

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Some folks say Joakim Soria has been unlucky all season. Coughing up the go-ahead run 11 times in 60 appearances is a trend, not bad luck.

Baseball is a team sport. Blaming one player typically is short-sighted. In 2016, there’s been plenty of blame to go around for the Kansas City Royals. The offense is among the worst in baseball. The starting rotation has been mediocre to awful much of the season. The Royals just have not been good enough in clutch situations.

BUT, no player has hurt his team more than Joakim Soria. Yes, Alex Gordon has been terrible in the first year of a big contract extension. And, yes, Chris Young and Kris Medlen have done virtually nothing. But Soria has been atrocious.

After another meltdown on Sunday in yet another crushing loss, Soria has given up the go-head run 13 times this season. THIRTEEN. The “Mexicutioner” has been just that to his team, allowing the go-ahead run in more than 20 percent of his 60 appearances.

Of those 13 games, the Royals have lost 11. ELEVEN. If they win five of those games, Kansas City would be tied for the second wild-card and contending with Cleveland in the Central.

General Manager Dayton Moore has done a wonderful job in Kansas City. He’s taken a perennial loser to a world championship and perennial contention. But to say his offseason, including signing Soria, Gordon and Young, has been awful would be an understatement.

The Royals are not going to cut Soria loose. He’s still owed nearly $20 million and signed through 2018. My guess is Moore brings in another reliever next season (Greg Holland, please) as insurance for Soria and releases him early in 2018 if his performance holds steady, as I expect (Soria’s been average to bad for a while now).

A quick breakdown of Soria’s one-man assault on Kansas City’s season:

April 8: Royals 4, Twins 3 | 1 IP, 2 H, 1 ER | 1-0

After entering the game in the eighth, Soria serves up a one-out homer to Byung Ho Park. The Royals rally in the bottom of the inning on Salvador’s Perez RBI triple and Omar Infante’s sacrifice fly.

APRIL 17: Athletics 3, Royals 2 | 1 IP, 1 H, 1 ER | 1-1

Soria enters a tie game in the eighth, giving up a leadoff triple to Billy Burns and a sacrifice fly to Josh Reddick.

MAY 10: Yankees 10, Royals 7 | 1 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 3 ER | 1-2

Moments after Lorenzo Cain’s third homer of the game pulls Kansas City even, Soria falls apart after Ben Gamel reaches on an error by Alcides Escobar. Brett Gardner follows with a go-ahead double, Starlin Castro is hit by a pitch, and Brian McCann rips a two-run double.

JUNE 2: Indians 5, Royals 4 | 2/3 IP, 2 H, 2 R | 1-3

The Royals take a 4-3 lead to the ninth, but Carlos Santana singles to start the inning, scores on Francisco Lindor’s one-out triple, and Mike Napoli wins it with a sac fly.

JUNE 22: Mets 4, Royals 3 | 1 1/3 IP, 1 H, 1 R | 1-4

In a 3-3 game in the sixth, Soria coughs up a home run to some guy named Matt Reynolds. Not Mark Reynolds. Matt Reynolds.

JUNE 29: Royals 3, Cardinals 2 | 1 IP, 1 H, 1 R | 2-4

After the pitching staff shut down St. Louis for nine innings, Soria surrenders a leadoff homer to Stephen Piscotty to tie it in the 10th. The Royals eventually win 3-2 in 12.

JULY 15: Tigers 4, Royals 2 | 2/3 IP, 1 H, 0 R | 2-5

The only game on this list in which Soria wasn’t charged for the deciding run. After Luke Hochevar gives up a homer to tie the score at 2 and the next two baserunners reach, Soria walks Cameron Maybin and somehow strikes out Miguel Cabrera. But he fails to glove a comebacker by Victor Martinez, allowing two runs to score.

JULY 17: Tigers 4, Royals 2 | 0 IP, 2 H, 2 R | 2-6

In a 2-2 game in the ninth, Soria gives up a leadoff single to Tyler Collins and a long home run to Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

AUG. 5: Rays 3, Royals 2 | 1 IP, 3 H, 3 R | 2-7

Soria blows a 2-0 lead quickly in the eighth, as Logan Forsythe singles and Kevin Kiermaier walks. One out later, Brad Miller launches a three-run homer.

AUG. 30: Yankees 5, Royals 4 | 1 IP, 3 H, 1 R | 2-8

Tied 4-4 in the 10th, Soria gives up back-to-back singles to McCann and Chase Headley before recording consecutive strikeouts. Despite getting ahead 0-2, he walks Gardner, then falls down on a grounder back to the mound, allowing the winning run to score.

SEPT. 3: Tigers 6, Royals 5 | 1 IP, 4 H, 2 R | 2-9

Kansas City leads 5-4 in the eighth when Cabrera singles to start the inning and scores on a home run by Justin Upton with two outs.

Not exactly pretty. Four times in these 11 games, the Royals have led when Soria entered. They’ve lost each of those. Win those games, and they’re tied with Baltimore for the final playoff spot.

SEPT. 7: Twins 6, Royals 5 | 2/3 IP, 2 H, 2R | 2-10

Kansas City leads 4-3 in the seventh when Soria gives up a leadoff single to Brian Dozier, who steals second with one out. Miguel Sano doubles to tie the game, and Eduardo Escobar singles off Matt Strahm with two outs for the go-ahead run, which is charged to Soria.

SEPT. 13: Athletics 5, Royals 4 | 1/3 IP, 2 H, 1 R | 2-11

The Royals lead 3-2 in the eighth when, for some reason, Yost summons Soria with runners on first and second and two outs. Because that’s what garbage do, Soria coughs up a two-run double to Yonder Alonso and an RBI single to Marcus Simien.

Webb: Mrs. Webb on Mr. Webb, Part II

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Lifelong Kansas City Royals fans since we were kids, going to The K is one of our favorite date nights.

Ernie: What was it like watching the Royals during playoffs last year with me?

Shana: So fun. One of the few things we can agree on about TV. It was so fun. We both love that team, and we both thoroughly enjoy watching them, so to share that together made it so much more exciting.

Ernie: I’m surprised you didn’t say intense.

Shana: Yeah, you do get just a little bit intense. The whole thing was intense. Of course, it’s the playoffs, so it’s going to be intense. It was surreal when we won the World Series.

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Probably need to tone it down a bit during Royals games.

Ernie: How would you describe me during games on Twitter?

Shana: Honestly, you’re aggressive, borderline on being abusive [laughter].

Ernie: So that’s not who I am in real life?

Shana: No. There must be some other side of you because that is that way it comes out there.

Ernie: How would you describe my workout routine before I got Epstein-Barr Virus in April?

Shana: Awful. It was awful. It was way too much of everything. You overdid everything. Then when you were finished, you would talk about your workout like you didn’t do enough. It was definitely an addiction.

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Geo’s pizza, my second favorite after Shakespeare’s in Columbia, Missouri.

Ernie: What would you say are my biggest vices?

Shana: You don’t have many. If you could run right now, I think running is a vice for you. I think you’ve made giant steps away from it. Your other biggest vice was food. And not even like too much food. It was more the standard American diet addiction; the grease, the cheese, the fat, anything that was fried and bad for you, processed. I think you really struggle to stay away from those things. Everybody has vices.

Ernie: I’m surprised you didn’t say soda.

Shana: That’s right. But, I’d say writing is a positive vice for you.

Ernie: How would you describe my writing?

Shana: You like to tell a story, especially in newspapers where writers don’t always need to tell a story because they don’t have time. You find the time to get that five-minute interview, and that interview gets you just enough information to make it something heartwarming, something that makes the parents of the kids that just played feel so good. They get to relive memory of the night before. I think it’s always important for you to tell story. Even the stuff you wrote at Washburn … you always made it into something people could either relate to or feel something from reading it. It wasn’t just the facts.

[She should be my agent]

Ernie: Do you have a favorite story or blog of mine?

Shana: The one you just wrote about Fathers Day was really good, and one you wrote about your dad was really good, too.

Ernie: What don’t you like about my writing?

Shana: Sometimes I think your blogs end abruptly. I think there’s more to the story and it just ends.

[Whatev …]

Ernie: How do I typically respond to that kind of criticism?

Shana: Not well. I enjoy when you involve me in your writing. I guess in my mind you’re like, “Edit this,” and you get irritated when you say I don’t like this sentence structure. But I think it’s worth it. You go back and reread it, and make the changes that are necessary.

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San Diego stayed classed for us during the summer of 2015.

Ernie: What are two of most fun things we’ve done together?

Shana: Our trip to San Diego. We just had so much fun. A road trip is always good time. Seeing the ocean, being in California … that was so much fun. The other, there’s a tie. One is when we go to Royals games. I think both of us find that it’s a fun place to be. The other was a date we had when you lived in Topeka. You had that apartment across from Gage Park, and we rented a couple of movies, but it was summer and really nice out. So we went out on deck and we just sat out there and drank beer and talked about philosophy and so many aspects of life.

Ernie: That was the day you helped me pack up stuff to move.

Shana: It was so great to spend that time with you. We didn’t have a care in world. We just talked. It was a really nice night.

Ernie: At what point did you think this is somebody I can marry?

Shana: It was only after you suggested it. We were both set against it, but then you were like, eh, maybe it’s OK. And I thought, “Well, he knows what it’s like to go through a divorce. He didn’t want to get remarried again. Maybe I need to at least entertain the idea.”

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Of course she likes Dad. We’re a lot alike and look alike. It helps that they don’t talk politics.

Ernie: My dad is about as Republican as you can get. How do you explain that you guys get along so well?

Shana: Your dad and I get along so well because we respect each other. I’m sure we can get into heated discussions, but he doesn’t bring politics up because, at the end of the day, he doesn’t want to have an argument with me, and I don’t want to have one with him. I respect him very much. I think he’s an awesome person. I just think it comes down to respecting each other.

Ernie: What’s my best physical feature?

Shana: You’ve asked before and it’s difficult for me to answer. I’d have to say your eyes. You have really nice eyes, but also they kind of show who you are. You have very soft, caring, emotional eyes.

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Nailed it.

Ernie: You once said I remind you of Robert Downey Jr. How in the world?

Shana: You’re kind of snarky like he is. You both have darkness to you physically: dark hair, dark eyebrows, dark beard. He’s got this witty intelligence, and that’s definitely what you have. … He does have a little more hair than you.

Ernie: What are my worst traits?

Shana: Your obsessiveness, which we’ve discussed. I guess that’s the bones of it all: you think in every situation you have to prove yourself to whomever else may be involved. It doesn’t matter if it’s your boss, friend, family, other people on Twitter, or even yourself. It’s like you’ve got to out-do your own goals; like you’re trying to prove to yourself. It’s kind of sad and sick because you don’t have to prove yourself to anybody.

Ernie: Do you know if the Royals won?

Shana: No, but I can find out.

[Grabs her phone]

Ernie: Don’t bother. I’m sure they lost. It’s a road game.

[They did]

Tis the season, Clark

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Crazy like Clark on Christmas? Not quite … but I do love it.

 

I’m not Clark Griswold. I don’t have the time, energy or insanity to dig up a 20-foot tree or staple 10,000 Christmas lights to our house. As an introvert who treasures privacy, I’d rather sleep in Cousin Eddie’s RV than invite the entire family to crash in our place for a week.

But, man, do I love Christmas. It’s why I’m sitting here, at age 39, watching (and DVRing) “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” It’s why I’ll do the same thing when “Frosty the Snowman” is on.

My father instilled the Christmas spirit in his sons from a young age. I suspect he spoiled us and continues to spoil his grandchildren because he wants Christmas to be what it wasn’t for him as a kid.

Some of my fondest memories are Christmas as a boy. Our parents did not have a lot of money while we were growing up, but I suspect they spent most of what they saved on my brother and me for that special day.

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From right, my brother, father and I on Christmas in 2014.

One or both of my parents worked at craft shows during the season. If both were working, we stayed with an aunt and uncle or neighbors. Sometimes, mom stayed at home while dad worked our booth at a mall.

That was a perfect setup for surprise on Christmas morning. My brother and I often would fall asleep before dad got home on Christmas Eve. We’d go to bed with a few presents under the tree and wake up to a living room full of gifts, wrapped in my dad’s trademark newspaper pages.

One of my earliest memories is going to bed with a couple of presents under the tree and waking up to a slew of Army-themed gifts (I wanted to be G.I. Joe), including a train set that wrapped around the room.

A few years later, it was a giant toy G.I. Joe fighter jet and classic Kansas City Royals jacket.

But my favorite Christmas as a boy was at age 12 in 1988. My brother and I had been begging for a Nintendo for months. It was a must-have for kids in those days, but we knew the price ($99.99) likely meant we weren’t going to find it under the tree.

On Christmas morning that year, neither of us expected a Nintendo. As always, we woke up to more gifts than expected. As always, we took turns opening the gifts, with my father playing the role of Santa. 

As we finished opening all the gifts, mom and dad asked, “Did you get everything you wanted?” Grateful for what we had, we said, “Yes.” My dad replied, “Well, there is one more thing.”

He walked into the bed room and came back with one last present, a rectangular object wrapped in, of course, newspaper. Dad set it between my brother and I, and we slowly peeled off a piece of newspaper, revealing the Nintendo logo. We jumped for joy, exchanging high-fives and hugs.

 As it turns out, our parents purchased the Nintendo before they bought any other gifts. As the kids would say today, our parents did a magnificent job trolling us for six weeks.

All these years later, I think about that Christmas and the others while we were growing up. It’s why, like my parents, I spend more than I budget every year. It’s why I take such great joy in making that day a big one for my wife.

My fondest memory of Christmas as an adult was the first I spent with my wife. A year before, just weeks before our first date, my wife posted a list of ideal presents, her 12 days of Christmas, on Facebook.

xmasshana

My lovely wife reading a Christmas card I designed for her in 2011.

I’d had a crush on her for a long time and wrote all of those items down, hoping one day to fulfill a rather reasonable list that included flowers, jewelry, dinner and tickets to a ballgame. Twelve months later, she held a card that I’d designed listing her 12 gifts, all with checkmarks.

I’ve never seen a person cry that much from pure joy, which rejuvenated my love for the season. Clark Griswold, and my dad, would approve. 

Lasting memories: Royals and rocks

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Thirty years in the making, a champion for the ages. The 2015 Kansas City Royals

Thirty years in the making, a champion for the ages. The 2015 Kansas City Royals.

As a boy growing up in rural Missouri, I spent hundreds of hours hitting rocks from our driveway into an open field across the highway. I must have delivered the game-winning hit thousands of times in Game 7 of the World Series, usually a long home run to right field at Kauffman Stadium.

I thought about that Sunday night when Christian Colon, who spent most of the season in the minor leagues, rifled a singled to left field to drive in the winning run for the Royals in Game 5 of this year’s World Series.

I also thought about all of those amazing comebacks throughout the playoffs this year. Down four runs in the eighth inning of Game 4 in the American League Division Series. Trailing 3-0 against David Price in the seventh inning of Game 2 in the American League Championship Series. Rallying from an eighth- or ninth-inning deficit three times in the World Series.

My wife and I at Game 1 of the 2015 ALCS.

My wife and I at Game 1 of the 2015 ALCS.

An unbelievable run by a tough, gutsy team few outside of Kansas City believed in was the stuff of dreams. “Is this real?” My wife and I must have asked each other that 10 times as the Royals battered the Mets for five runs in the 12th inning.

Sharing that moment with my wife, a lifelong Royals fan, too, brought back another childhood memory, one I cherish more than any.

As a 9-year-old in 1985, I lived and breathed baseball. I read every box score in the newspaper when I woke up. I played baseball most of the day, then went to Little League practices or games. I fell asleep listening to Denny Matthews and Fred White discuss the intricacies of the 4-6-3 double play.

Throughout 1985, I woke up and asked my dad the same question every morning: “Did the Royals win last night?” I vividly remember crying when he told me they had lost … on the second day of the season. He laughed. “There are 160 games left, son.”

I remember jumping for joy several months later when George Brett, an idol to so many of us, circled the bases for a three-run, inside-the-park home run against the California Angels. The Royals moved into first place that night and won the division a few days later.

I remember being devastated after an extra-inning loss to the Blue Jays in the ALCS, and rejuvenated when Brett willed his team back into the series with a performance for the ages (4-for-4, two homers, game-winning run) in Game 3. Several days later, Kansas City advanced to its second World Series.

Those memories, however, are a distant second to Game 6 of the 1985 World Series. It’s one my dad talks about to this day. The Royals trailed 1-0 in the ninth inning. Dad and I were in Oklahoma on one of his business trips, and I had buried my head under a pillow, tears streaming down my face.

My father and I at a game in 2013, before the Royals' memorable two-year run.

My father and I at a game in 2013, before the Royals’ memorable two-year run.

When Jorge Orta reached on a “single,” I lifted the pillow just enough to see the TV. Moments later, I was sitting on the edge of the bed with dad. Bases loaded, one out, Dane Iorg. The chance of a lifetime. One I’d played out so many times in our driveway.

“And there’s a looper into right field! Concepcion scores! Here comes Sundberg! He slides … we go to a seventh!” Both of us were jumping around the hotel room, two kids living out a dream.

The following night, on the way home while driving along I-44, we listened to Denny count down the final outs as the Royals hammered the Cardinals in Game 7, honking the horn while celebrating Kansas City’s first championship.

At age 9, I thought that was just the beginning. The Royals will do this every year. What they did for most of the next 30 years was lose. A lot. No division titles from 1986 to 2014. Twenty-nine years between playoff bids. From innocent boy to jaded, often angry on Twitter, man.

That all went away in one magical night. The Kansas City Royals, those gritty, relentless, confident Kansas City Royals, are world champions again. Don’t be surprised if you see a middle-aged man hitting rocks in his driveway tonight.