Call this a few bonus chapter of my book, The Silence, The Series, & The Season of Sungwoo (which, by the way, I still have about 200 copies of so feel free to buy a few and hand them out for Christmas.)
I put this post over here on my personal blog because it is very personal to me. This, in many ways, is closure of an 18 month story. This, in many ways, is closure of a three year reawakening. This, in many ways, is closure of five years of finding my voice. This, in many ways, is closure to a 30 year journey.
I believe in the church of baseball. I’ve tried all the major religions and most of the minor ones. I’ve worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, trees, mushrooms, and Isadora Duncan. I know things. For instance, there’s 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there’s 108 stitches in a baseball. When I learned that, I gave Jesus a chance. (she sighs) But it just didn’t work out between us. The Lord laid too much guilt on me. I prefer metaphysics to theology. Y’see, there’s no guilt in baseball, and it’s never boring… I’ve tried them all, I really have. And, the only church that feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the church of baseball. —Bull Durham
I’ve written about it before, but baseball is in my DNA. From my earliest memories, I had a Royals cap on. I played baseball in the backyard of our old house on Van Brunt, whacking whiffleball dingers over the A-Frame roof. Dad began coaching my little league team when I was 5. Mom coached my sisters in softball. We were at the ball diamonds every night, it seems. It was the family business.
After practice at Lykins Park off of Independence Avenue, Dad would take me to “Burger Biggie”, a greasy burger joint off the Avenue where we’d eat cheeseburgers and ice cream. In retrospect, maybe cheeseburgers and ice cream wasn’t the best idea, but it was my alone time with Dad and it was sacred. He’d give me a couple of quarters to play the pinball and the Pac-Man machine. It was what I looked forward to every week.
As time passed, we moved to the Northland and continued to play baseball. Dad became the director of the North Kansas City Baseball League and thus started a 30 year career with the league. (As a non-paying side job, by the way. Probably the reason I have so many non-paying side jobs today.) As I got older, I continued to play baseball, but when I turned 14, the ability to make my freshman baseball team seemed to be less equated to my ability to field first and hit a ball and more about how fast I could walk/waddle around Macken Park. It was then that I figured umpiring would be more my speed. I needed to be around baseball. It flows through my DNA.
I grew up in a Catholic family. I was in the choir at the Cathedral downtown (the one with the gold dome); Sunday School, the whole bit. As a child I loved the spectacle of the Catholic church. The Midnight Mass. Easter Sunday. Catholics can put on a show. I simply lost interest in the spectacle as I got older, and stopped going to church every week. But one of the key themes has stuck with me — the idea of renewal and redemption — has always given me peace. No matter how effed up things get, it can all be wiped away and made new.
Baseball has always been my true religion. I go early to Royals games to see the spectacle and traditions of baseball. My favorite is to sit with a hot dog and watch them chalk the fields. For much of my teens and early 20’s, that was my job at Water Works, then WaterWell Park. Chalking lines. Dragging fields. The same process every time. Every day begins anew. Every day is fresh. You can completely remove and wipe away the previous day, the previous season and start fresh. Baseball is a lot like life if you let it be.
Let’s jump ahead here before I lose everyone. November 3, 2015, 3:30 PM. We’re sitting in the world’s longest traffic jam about two blocks past Crown Center. I’d been sitting there for an hour and made it a total of two blocks. Too much time sitting in silence. Both Kara and Brett were wiped and only the noise from sports talk was coming through the radio. (Kara and Brett know that I never ask to listen to MY station in the car, but when I do, it’s best to not flip it back to music.)
But mostly, the two and a half hour drive home (yeah it was 2 1’2 hours) provided me with way too much time to try to process what the hell just happened. The looks on the faces of these players who this city genuinely loves. The comeback victories. The improbability of it all. How the team and city has changed over the past few years. How much the last 18 months has meant to me, personally and how much it has changed me.
It provided me with some really deep introspection time which I’ll spare you all from. Like I said, it was a long car ride home.
But the bottom line is that these 2015 Kansas City Royals have provided closure on a number of threads in my life. Some of these threads were only weeks long – like how exhausted we all were staying up late, skipping work, losing sleep, eating like shit, maxing out credit cards for sweatshirts and playoff tickets. With us making it back home, finally, the focus now turns to paying all that shit off and taking a long nap. Maybe mixing in a salad, too.
Some threads were more recent. For me, this was the conclusion of a story that began 18 months ago for me when Sungwoo came to town. It launched this story into another stratosphere. A story that you wouldn’t believe even if you saw it in a movie (but maybe you will?) A story of pure love and friendship that was total and absolute. With that hug from Danny Duffy, that chapter is now closed.
A three year thread from when I had my surfing accident and, for all intents and purposes, should’ve died. That day changed me like no other day in my life and I’m still reminded of it nearly every day. Since that day, I decided to take more risks. Meet more people. Be bolder. It’s a strategy that has had good days and bad. It’s a strategy that took me to World Series games and to the top of the city but, at times, also made me feel very isolated and alone. Something I’m still coming to grips with.
Many of the threads are much longer. You’ve got that 30 year thread for the Royals. So many stories there. Now George Brett, Frank White and guys like Dennis Leonard and Greg Pryor can stand down. They have help carrying the torch now. They’ve reset the clock. They have renewal. A fresh start.
You’ve got a thirteen year old sitting at a parade in Crown Center with a KC-R crown painted on the side of his chubby cheek. That kid never did see the parade. Thirty years later, that same boy finally saw his parade as he looks over at his own 13 year old son, way too cool to have anything painted on the side of his cheek.
The poetry of religion lies in its parables and stories. The story of the drowning man who eschews a boat and a helicopter for a “true” sign from God. After he goes to heaven, the man says “why didn’t you send me a sign?” and God says, “You moron, I sent you a boat and a helicopter.”
Baseball has its own parables, and you’ve got dozens from this baseball team. The story of the three baseball players overcoming loss to carry their team to victory. The story of the battered and beaten catcher – the one who always seems to have rocks in his mouth – how he just wants to play a kids game every day. The World Series MVP. You’ve got the story of how down the city was on this team was for decades, and how they spent the entire afternoon on November 3rd thanking their fans. Don’t kid yourself, at some point in the last 30 years, we ALL lost hope in one way or another. And these guys were thanking US? You’ve got the parable of being 90 feet away then working to get 90 feet further the next season.
Then you’ve got the fable of Ned Yost.
A former major league catcher who never really was that successful as a ballplayer (career .212 hitter with 16 HR’s in six years). A gruff and grizzled baseball man who sat at the arm of Bobby Cox for years. And then, when he became a manager he was one who tried to push too many buttons and micromanage too much. He was fired by the Brewers two weeks from making the postseason. He got a second chance, but it was with one of the worst franchises in baseball. When he was questioned, he’d just frump back a dickish response to reporters, myself among them. But this man adapted and changed. He altered his management style to be one of continual support and delegation. Oh, sure, he was still a dick and grumpy, but his players saw a completely different guy. From the beginning he showed nothing but confidence for guys like Alcides Escobar and Mike Moustakas. You saw that strategy pay off in spades in the last two postseasons. He adapted and it paid off.
Because of my twitter account @thefakened, I’ve followed this transformation pretty closely. More out of fascination than anything. My dumb twitter account once tried to parody Ned and his mannerisms. That really only lasted a few weeks, but I also found that part of me embraced his no nonsense, curt communication style. The twitter account kept that spirit and, in many ways, it helped grow that voice within me personally. There is a simplicity with being short and curt and no-nonsense. There’s a freedom with being a dick sometimes.
Now Ned Yost is the two-time manager of the All-Star team. The two-time manager of the American League Champions, and, personally, a two-time winner of the World Series (1995, 2015). Ned Yost is going to get a statue next to Dick Howser at Kauffman Stadium.
No longer a bumbling dunce of a manager, I should probably do something to close out TheFakeNed thread as well.
The clock continues to tick. Hours after the parade ended, free agency began for Alex Gordon, Alex Rios and Jeremy Guthrie. The world continues to turn and day turns into night turns into day.
But you’ve really got to allow for the fact that this is a chance to change. You just saw 800,000 people cram into one place with about 6 porta johns and zero cheeseburgers and nobody punched anyone in the face. You just saw the Kansas City Royals win a World Series and back to back AL Championships. The Royals. The team that used to be the 2005 Royals. Surely that’s got to be a springboard to something, right?
There’s a list of shit that I need to do. Why haven’t I started on the list? We live in a world where the Royals won a World Series. That’s got to be inspiring, right? I need to lose some weight. I need to find a way to turn this writing/fart joke life into something other than a massive time suck. I need to clean out the basement. I need to write another book. I need to be a better person. It seems a little more possible today.
I’m not a very religious person now, but I do believe that there’s a reason and a purpose for all of this. There’s something at work. Maybe we’re all in a kick ass computer simulation. Maybe we’re just blinky lights flickering at random. I probably should’ve paid more attention in church. But I keep coming back to the renewal of baseball. New season. New game. New, fresh, clean start.
If baseball is truly in my DNA, then it’s got to also have the pre-programming to follow the built-in renewal of the sport. I need to do some of the things that 13 year old wanted to do. I need wipe away yesterday just like a drag over dirt. Rechalk the batters boxes. Sing the National Anthem. Meet for ground rules. I need to do better today.
I know that the Royals are the 2015 World Champions. They overcame everything to get there. They overcame the odds, the prognosticators, the fans, the cruelties of life, Joe Buck, Brett Lawrie, the Mets “defense,” and idiots like me on Twitter. If Baseball is my religion, I should really pay more attention to those cues. I should pay more attention to the renewal and the forward motion of baseball and pay more attention to how these guys did it right. Call it a fable or a parable or just a damn good story. Call it inspiration. Call it divine intervention from Babe Ruth and Buddah. Whatever you call it, it’s certainly a wake up call to do better.
The Royals are the World Champions and I’ve got a lot of work to do.
Amen, and Play Ball.