Should O’Hearn be a mainstay in the Royals lineup? (and what does this mean for Duda?)

Royals first baseman Ryan O’Hearn was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dreary campaign in 2018. In 44 games and 170 plate appearances, O’Hearn posted a slash of .262/.353/.597 to go along with an OPS of .950 and wRC+ of 153 (53 runs above average). The former 8th-round-pick demonstrated considerable power in his late-season call-up to the big league club, as he hit 12 home runs, had 30 RBI, and posted an isolated slugging of .336, an insane number, despite the sample size. With the Royals embracing a youth movement going into 2019, it seemed like O’Hearn would be part of Dayton Moore and the Royals organization’s plans at first base for the future.

But then in spring training, the Royals re-signed Lucas Duda (who was traded in 2018 to Atlanta) to a minor league contract.

The move to sign Duda was not a surprising one and is defensible in many regards. With O’Hearn relatively unproven at the Major League level beyond his hot finish to 2018, and Hunter Dozier and Jorge Soler having their fair share of struggles with inconsistency and injury the past couple of seasons, Duda, in theory, would provide temporary insurance at the plate at the first base and DH spots should none of the three live up to expectations in 2019.

Well, as we know Dozier has been a machine at the plate, and Soler, despite strikeout issues, is also proving to be a mainstay in the RF/DH spot thanks to his power. The only one with issues has been O’Hearn, who got off to a rough first month of the season, as evidenced by a .167/.283/.333 slash, .616 OPS and 67 OPS+ in the first 26 games of the season (where he accumulated 99 plate appearances). Granted, Duda hadn’t been much better in April (.174/.304/.326 slugging; .630 OPS in 56 plate appearances) before he hit the 10-day injured list, but there was the fear that Duda, a veteran in the league, would start to get preference at first or DH over O’Hearn unless O’Hearn turned it around offensively.

Well, so far, with Duda on the shelf, O’Hearn has finally begun to showcase that 2018 self at the plate. In 24 plate appearances in May, O’Hearn is posting a .350/.458/.600 slash with a 1.058 OPS to go along with a home run and 5 RBI. What has been most impressive about O’Hearn’s start to May is his improved eye at the plate. After striking out 25 times and only walking 13 times in March/April, he has only struck out three times and walked four times, nearly double the BB/K ratio. While it’s a small sample size, and there’s plenty of baseball left to be played in May as well as the season, it shows that O’Hearn is improving his approach at the plate as he gains more Major League at-bats.

And that is why the Royals would be better off cutting Duda off sooner rather than later.


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Photo credit: Finger Lake Times

O’Hearn is not an elite prospect by any measure. Fangraphs rated him as the 18th best prospect in the Royals system going into 2018, and John Sickels of Minor League Ball rated him 17th in the Royals System in his 2018 Royals prospect rankings. Here’s what Sickels had to say about O’Hearn in his Scouting Report:

17) Ryan O’Hearn, 1B, Grade C+: Age 24, eighth round pick in 2014 from Sam Houston State University; hit .253/.330/.455 with 22 homers, 55 walks, 139 strikeouts in 479 at-bats in Double-A/Triple-A; a solid enough year but as with Samir Duenez it isn’t huge production for his position plus O’Hearn is older; could be a useful role bat along Clint Robinson lines. ETA 2018.

For those who don’t remember, Robinson was blocked in the Royals system by Eric Hosmer and struggled to get an opportunity at the big league level despite a decent skill set. Thankfully for O’Hearn, with Hosmer gone, and Dozier more of a mainstay at third base, he has gotten the opportunity to get at-bats in Kansas City that Robinson never did (though as mentioned in the article, Robinson is doing okay with the Nationals).

O’Hearn is mostly known for his bat rather than his glove, and unlike Dozier, he doesn’t offer much position flexibility. It’s pretty much first or DH for O’Hearn with lackluster speed (rated a 30/30 speed according to Fangraphs) and questionable defense (rated a 40/45 field according to Fangraphs). But the bat has always been there for O’Hearn, especially when it comes to power. Fangraphs gave him a 45/55 Game Power grade with a 60/60 Raw Power rating. In many ways, O’Hearn does profile as a younger, more cost-controlled Duda, which makes the re-signing of Duda this offseason questionable. (why get a rental of Duda when you can get a younger version way cheaper and with more controlled years?)

But as expected with a Duda 2.0, strikeouts are a problem for O’Hearn.

Even during his breakout campaign of 2018, the former Sam Houston State star posted a high strikeout rate. In 2018, he had a strikeout rate of 26.5 percent and a contact rate of 70.6, both pretty sub-standard marks in those respective categories. And this also was an issue in the minors, as he had a 23.9 percent strikeout rate in Omaha in 2018, and in 2017, he had strikeout rates of 25.7 and 26.3 percent in stints in Omaha and Northwest Arkansas, respectively. Granted, O’Hearn had made up for this deficiency with good walk rates (11.8 percent with the Royals last year; 11.1 in Omaha in 2018; 9.7 and 13.2 in Omaha and Northwest Arkansas, respectively, in 2017). But unfortunately, guys who struggle to make consistent contact, regardless of batting eye, in the minors like O’Hearn don’t have a great track record of prolonged success at the big league level (i.e. John Bowker for those who are Giants fans).

However, despite a flawed skill set, O’Hearn has done his part to improve on his approach. He has increased his walk rate (13.8 percent) and contact rate (75.9) while decreasing his strikeout rate (22.8 percent) and swinging strike percentage (12.3 to 9.2 percent). So even though the production wasn’t there initially in March/April, O’Hearn’s skill set was, and now in May, we are starting to see that production coming through now that his BABIP is corresponding upward (.375 BABIP in May compared to a .193 BABIP in March/April).

That isn’t to say O’Hearn is going to develop into an Eric Hosmer anytime soon. O’Hearn truly is a younger Duda in the sense that he profiles closer to a three true outcomes (walk, strikeout or home run) guy than a Hosmer or Dozier. He probably won’t ever hit for a high average (.270 may be best case scenario), and even though he will get on base, he is strictly a station-to-station guy, which doesn’t really gel with Ned Yost’s “run at all costs” approach this year. But O’Hearn will be productive, and hopefully, he can turn this hot start in May into consistent production this summer, which would solidify the Royals’ lineup at first (or at least against right-handed hitters; he’s 0-for-23 against lefties this year, which limits his everyday value).


There is some value to Duda and his skill set: he’s a veteran at-bat, and he can still showcase some power on occasion. But he’s nowhere near the 30 home run guy he was two years ago, and injuries and a declining skill set have ravaged him to a more regular DH/PH role. For a team in playoff contention, that kind of role would be needed. For a team rebuilding, however? Duda’s tools, especially with O’Hearn on the roster, is excessive. Yes, he’s only costing the Royals $1.25 million this year, and he is on a one year deal. And sure, eating $1.25 million is not easy for any club, especially a small market one like the Royals. But as long as he’s on the active roster, Duda will be doing more harm than good as he will be blocking someone more deserving in Triple-A, such as Nicky Lopez, who could offer some versatility in the infield with third-baseman Kelvin Gutierrez, who has also performed well in his call-up to the big league club, and is posting a .300/.317/.450 slash (though for this scenario to happen, the Royals may need to part ways with Chris Owings, who has become Chris Getz 2.0).

Duda still is on the IL, which means that this problem of “what to do with Duda?” won’t need to be handled immediately. But it will be interesting to see how Moore handles Duda when he is eligible to return. The Royals young players are starting to come around, and already have showcased some glimmers of hope, especially offensively, after a big 12-2 win over the Houston Astros on Tuesday night.

But this needs to be certain: O’Hearn needs to be a mainstay in the Royals lineup in 2019. If Yost continues to give him the opportunity, it’s possible that he could help make the middle of the Royals lineup one of the more effective (as well as surprising) ones in the AL Central by year’s end.

Can the Royals Surprise the AL Central? (Even if they right now are in last)

The Kansas City Royals, are 12-23 after their 5-2 walk-off loss to the Detroit Tigers on Sunday. To say expectations were low for this team going into 2019 may be an understatement: after all…this is a club that was coming off a 104-loss season, a far cry from their World Series championship run four years ago, and also lost their franchise player (Salvador Perez) to Tommy John surgery before the season even started. Safe to say, it’s not out of the question to think that most Kansas Citians were looking more forward to the NFL Draft and the Chiefs offseason rather than the Royals 2019 campaign.

Which is a shame, because even though this team hasn’t really performed record-wise, you can’t help but get that feeling that this is spunky Royals bunch who may be able to compete and surprise in the AL Central division. The 2018 Royals were a “no man’s land” bunch that was stuck in a time warp, thinking that it was 2016 and they still could compete for a playoff spot. That is not the case anymore: the Royals are in full rebuild mode, shedding veterans like Jason Hammel, Alcides Escobar, and Paulo Orlando for younger guys within the farm system like Ryan O’Hearn and Kelvin Gutierrez to name a few. And in the transition, we have seen the positive and negatives of Dayton Moore’s approach in 2019.

At the very least, it’s easy to think that this Royals team will entertain more than last year’s bunch. Let’s take a look at why there is room for optimism, even after a crushing series loss to the division rival Tigers over the past weekend.


The offense is already better than last year…

Last season, the Royals were pretty punchless at the plate. They ranked 24th in the league in wRC+ with 88, which is 12 runs below average, and also ranked 25th in wOBA at .303. While they were entertaining on the basepaths (they ranked 6th in the league in stolen bases with 117), it didn’t necessarily lead to more runs on the basepaths, as they ranked 26th in BsR (baserunning runs above average) at negative-7.4. Combine this with lousy pitching (they ranked second-to-last in pitching WAR), and it makes sense why the Royals topped the 100-loss mark in 2018.

Now, the pitching for the Royals is still an Achilles heel in 2019, as they rank 25th in pitching WAR (1.4) and 23rd in team FIP (4.60). But, the offense has actually been better than expected, even though they lost All-Stars Perez and Mike Moustakas from a season ago. They rank 16th in wRC+ at 99, just one run below average, and 11 points better than a season ago. Their .320 wOBA is also an improvement from last year, as it is 17 points better than last year, and ranks 17th currently in the league. When it comes down to understanding what Dayton Moore needs to fix, the offense is actually low on that priority list.

And what has carried the Royals offense this year thus far? Career renaissances from outfielder Alex Gordon, shortstop Adalberto Mondesi, and utility extraordinaire Hunter Dozier. Gordon has displayed an incredible approach at the plate so far in 2019 (9.2 BB% and 10.6 K%) which has resulted in a .390 wOBA and 146 wRC+ to go along with six home runs and 27 RBI in what may be his last season in Royals blue and maybe as a Major Leaguer in general. Mondesi still is a free swinger (27 K%), but he hasn’t let it hurt him too much, as he has a .346 wOBA and 116 wRC+ to go along with four home runs and a team-high 10 stolen bases.

However, Dozier is the biggest revelation of them all. Dozier’s numbers are insane: .455 wOBA, 189 wRC+, .346 batting average, .308 ISO, and seven home runs. And he is doing this while playing without a true position: he has rotated between third, first, outfield and DH this season. Dozier has always been a top prospect in the Royals system in the past, and injuries certainly have slowed down his development in the past. However, there were many fans that felt that Dozier would be better off in another organization and that he was done after another “disappointing” season in 2018. Well, Dozier has not only proven them wrong, but he is actually giving the Royals and the “loyal” fanbase hope that they have another franchise player on their hands in the mold of Eric Hosmer, Gordon, and Moustakas. Only the difference now is that they will have him for at least a few more seasons.


The Royals are a terror on the basepaths

It’s kind of the same deal from a year ago if you look at the whole picture: the Royals lead the league in stolen bases (34), but it hasn’t led to much baserunning runs (0.4 above average). But for a team that was so mediocre offensively a year ago, manager Ned Yost’s free-wheeling approach on the basepaths definitely is an advantage that separates the Royals from the rest of the league. The lineup is loaded with speed: Mondesi, Whit Merrifield, and Billy Hamilton are all guys who can swipe 40 or more stolen bases this year (they have 10, 6 and 8 so far, respectively). And on the bench, Terrence Gore, who was strictly pinch running material prior to this year, has actually shown some life with the bat (.416 wOBA in 21 plate appearances). With already four stolen bases, it’s possible to see Gore perhaps get 20-25 stolen bases despite not being a regular player, which is an extraordinary weapon for Yost to have.

The Royals are showing more pop in the lineup than a year ago, which is surprising without Perez, who hit over 20 homers last year and was a regular in the 4-5 hole. Now, while Gordon and Dozier have displayed improvement from a year ago, we are just over a month into the season, and it is possible that both those guys will experience some regression as we hit the dog days of summer. That being said, the Royals can make up for any Gordon and Dozier regression with their depth of speed, and they’ll be in better shape if Hamilton can pick it up at the plate (he has a .250 wOBA and 51 wRC+) as we enter the summer months. That may be hard to imagine (he is coming off a down year in Cincinnati), but considering how much Ned likes to run, Hamilton could help this Royals club (and his own stat line) immensely if he can creep his OBP up another 20-30 points in the next month or so (which isn’t an easy task…but it doesn’t hurt to dream about).


The AL Central still is questionable

The Indians may be in trouble: they’ve underperformed this year (18-14), and now they may not have ace Corey Kluber for most of the season. Though they took 2 out of 3 from the Royals this weekend, the Tigers are a Miguel Cabrera injury/trade away from hitting the skids and bottoming out, as they too are in clear rebuilding mode and emphasizing a youth movement. And the White Sox, though sporting some offensive firepower with Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson (who got in his own dustup with the Royals...gotta love the low-key Royals-White Sox rivalry), have a plethora of pitching issues that will keep them from being seriously competitive this season (they rank 25th in FIP).

As you can see, the AL Central is up for the taking, with the Twins surprising and leading the division at 20-12 entering Sunday. But, the Twins are coming off a down year, have a new, unproven manager in Rocco Baldelli, and are still mediocre when it comes to pitching (they rank 18th in FIP). Now, their offense is legit (6th in WAR), and their lineup is flat out dangerous with Eddie Rosario, Jorge Polanco, Nelson Cruz, and a rejuvenated Byron Buxton, just to name a few. But unless the Twins make a serious upgrade to their pitching mid-season, they will be vulnerable to the rest of the division.

And that includes the Royals…after all, their Pythagorean win-loss isn’t all that far off from the other teams in the division.


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Hunter Dozier is having a career year; and he could be the spark the Royals need this summer (Photo credit: MLB Daily Dish)

Realistically, the Royals will be a long shot to do anything in the division or make a run at the Wild Card. Their pitching is bad. And if you don’t believe me, think about this: Homer Bailey, who went 1-14 a year ago, is their best starting pitcher so far this year according to WAR (0.7) and FIP (3.77). The bullpen is a mess, as Yost has failed to find much stability in the late innings, and the Ian Kennedy “trying to be Wade Davis” experiment has gone through its fair share of ups and downs this year (he has a 0.84 FIP, though that will probably go up after giving up the game-winning homer today). Unless Danny Duffy regains his stuff after missing most of the year so far due to injury, this pitching staff has a bleak outlook for 2019. And as we know…it’s hard for a team to compete without much pitching.

But the Royals have a shot. This is more of a “glass half-full” club compared to a year ago, and it will be interesting to see how the Royals faithful get behind them. They won’t lose 100 plus games this year (as long as they stay healthy), but they are still a couple of years from seriously competing, which may deflate Royals fans who were spoiled from the 2013-2016 run of success. But if this team can get their pitching to inch toward average, and if the offense can continue to produce, it’s conceivable to see a “hot” May or June from this club, and if that happens, then it’s possible to see the fans get behind this team and push them toward unexpected success, just like in 2013 when the Royals surprised and won 86 games out of nowhere.

And we all know what 2013 set up for the next two seasons…wishful thinking, I know, but it’s worth dreaming about, right?

Aaron Hicks and being patient with the slow-developing prospect

Aaron Hicks of the New York Yankees is having an interesting season offensively. A former top prospect in the Minnesota Twins system, Hicks is ranked 122nd overall in Yahoo! Fantasy Leagues, as he has hit 17 home runs, scored 51 runs, driven in 47 RBI, and has an OPS of .851. The only blemish on Hicks’ resume is his .256 batting average, but when you take into consideration his sound plate discipline (he has a 13.6 percent walk rate and a 0.69 BB/K ratio), fantasy owners can live with the low average as long as they make it up in other areas on their team (similar to the Pirates’ Gregory Polanco, who is now mashing more than ever, but still has a low average).

What makes Hicks’ season so interesting is that he’s gone under the radar with not only fantasy owners (he’s only owned in 59 percent of leagues) but also in his own organization. After the 2015 season ended, the Twins, to make room for top prospect Byron Buxton, traded Hicks straight up for John Ryan Murphy, a catching prospect in the Yankees’ system. Hicks struggled initially in pinstripes in 2016, as he only hit .217 with a .617 OPS in 361 plate appearances and 121 games. Hicks’ underwhelming campaign in 2016 made room for Aaron Judge to come onto the scene in 2017, as Judge, Brett Gardner, and Jacoby Ellsbury all played 100 plus games in the outfield.

However, despite modest expectations going into 2017, Hicks played the best baseball of his career. Despite struggling with an oblique injury, Hicks hit 15 home runs, drove in 52 RBI, scored 54 runs, had 10 stolen bases, hit .266 and posted an OPS of .847. Unfortunately, he only finished 302nd overall in Yahoo! leagues, mostly due to the fact he only played 88 games and had 301 plate appearances overall in 2017.


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Despite the excellent season, it seemed like Hicks was going to struggle to find a role in 2018, once again. Ellsbury, Judge, and Gardner returned, as well as Clint Frazier, who was rated the 39th best prospect in baseball going into 2017 by Baseball America. And to make things tougher for Hicks, the Yankees also signed Giancarlo Stanton to a massive contract, and it was expected that Stanton would regularly patrol left, while Gardner and Judge, would patrol center, and right, respectively. Hicks seemed to be a fourth outfielder, perhaps an occasional DH player going into 2018.

However, Ellsbury got injured in Spring Training and hasn’t played since. Frazier has struggled with injuries as well, and now Judge has been put on the shelf for three weeks due to a wrist injury? As for Hicks? Well, he continues to mash, his season comparable to 2017 (his 123 wRC+ is only 4 points below his 2017 wRC+), but with more games under his belt (he’s going to pass the games played and plate appearances from all of 2017 in just a matter of days). While Judge and Stanton have stolen all the headlines for Yankees outfielders, Hicks may be the most underrated offensive star in pinstripes in 2018.

If there’s a lesson to be learned about Hicks, it’s the understanding of how some prospects take more time to develop. Hicks was a first-round pick of the Twins in 2008 and was rated as the top prospect in the Twins system in 2009 and 2010 by Baseball America. Hicks profiled very much like Buxton: good speed on the base paths along with good athleticism and a strong hit tool. However, things just never worked out in Minnesota, as he had a .225 average, .655 OPS, and 20 home runs in 247 games overall with the Twins over three seasons. Since coming to New York, Hicks has a .243 average, .759 OPS, and 39 home runs in 294 games.  Hicks’ home run stroke is what has developed the most, as Hicks’ HR/FB ratio has been 15.8 percent and 17.6 percent the past two seasons, respectively. The highest percentage Hicks posted in Minnesota was 11.1 percent, which came in 2015 (his last year in Minnesota).

Now, one can credit Hicks’ move to the lefty-friendly Yankee Stadium as a probable reason for his breakout, and you would have a case if you just judged him from last season, as he hit 12 out of his 15 home runs at Yankee Stadium in 2017. But in 2018, Hicks has been just as effective on the road as he has been back in the Bronx, as he has 9 home runs at home this year, and 8 on the road, a much evener distribution. Furthermore, one could argue that he’s been a better hitter on the road than at home, as he has a higher average (.270 to .241) and OPS (.866 to .834) away from Yankee Stadium in 2018. So, while initially, some people could credit Hicks’ development as a hitter to the “House that Ruth Built” (i.e. the short left field porch), 2018 has shown that Hicks is a strong overall hitter and not just a product of a ballpark.


At 29 years old, development came slowly for Hicks, whom many Twins fans felt was a bust in Minnesota, as he never lived up to those top prospect expectations while in the Twins system. Eventually, it came to Twins management having to decide between Buxton and Hicks, and they made the decision to go all-in on Buxton (understandable, though that strategy has had mixed results). That being said, Hicks is a prime example that some prospects develop slowly. Yes, there are the Mike Trouts and Aaron Judges who come out gangbusters when they reach the MLB level, but a lot of prospects sometimes take a few seasons at the MLB level to develop and then find success. Charlie Blackmon, Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas, and even to an extent Yankee teammate Didi Gregorius, took a few seasons before they currently found success as Major Leaguers. Consider Hicks another example of such a success story.

And not only is Hicks a success story for the Yankees, but it should also give hope to fans of teams who have prospects that haven’t necessarily hit their “stride” just yet. Some people have already given up on Buxton, Miguel Sano, and Billy Hamilton, to name a few. After all, they were top prospects expected to be perennial All-Stars, and all three listed above have experienced some serious lows this season (Buxton and Sano have seen time in Triple-A). But Sano is only 25, Buxton is 24, and Hamilton is 27. They still have time, and it’s plausible that 2019 may be the season they break out and finally show consistency, much like Hicks.

So, don’t give up on prospects, especially early on in their careers if they are struggling initially at the Major League level. It would be a shame for either a fantasy owner or even a Major League fanbase to miss out on a successful player because they gave up on the prospect too early. Look up north to Minneapolis, as Twins fans are probably kicking themselves in retrospect for parting with Hicks so early, especially considering Murphy is not even in their organization anymore.

 

#KCLife: An Appreciation for Rosedale BBQ of KCK

 

Note: A lot of these posts on #KCLife come from one of my previous blogs. I feel like baseball is the main aspect here, but I like to mix it up and also have posts that talk a little bit about the quirks of adjusting to Kansas City and the Midwest as someone not from this area. These posts will range from food and bars; to politics; to history and travel within Kansas City and the Midwest, in general.

“I grew up on Rosedale beef sandwiches…”

It’s a quote one of my friends told me about Rosedale BBQ in Kansas City, Kansas near the State Line of Kansas and Missouri. The area surrounding Rosedale BBQ is interesting, to say the least. It is on Southwest Boulevard in the Rosedale neighborhood of Kansas City, Kansas, and is right off of where 7th Street Trafficway (the gritty part of Kansas City Kansas that also goes through Armourdale and Central) turns into Rainbow Boulevard (which is a bit more bourgeois thanks to KU Medical Hospital and West 39th). It is located near railroad tracks, which might be abandoned (I don’t know, I have never seen active trains on it), definitely abandoned grain silos, the Rosedale World War I Memorial Arch (the stepchild to the more well-known Liberty Memorial) and two popular Mexican Restaurants (Taqueria Mexico and Sabor y Sol).

When you think about it, Rosedale BBQ, which has been around since 1934 and is one of the oldest BBQ places in Kansas City not named Arthur Byrant’s or Gates, is a microcosm of modern-day Kansas City Kansas: a dying railroad industry, old immigrants meet new, and a blue-collar approach to life that can border on slow or “dwelling in the past” to most people who are not familiar with the citizens of the area.


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When I first moved to Kansas City, I settled off 6th and Central Avenue in Kansas City, Kansas and Wyandotte County through the suggestion of a friend of mine (though people always remarked it was crazy, since it wasn’t really near any major entertainment districts and it had a reputation as a rough area around the metro). It was as if I were transported to a world that was part working-class Pennsylvania, part Chicano East Los Angeles. You had people who came from old immigrant families from Croatia, Slovenia, and Poland, who came to Kansas to work for the railroad industry and had brought with them their traditions and cultures which manifested in bars, restaurants and Catholic Churches around the area. And then time passed, the railroad jobs became scarce, the housing became cheap, and in came Chicano and first-generation American families from Mexico and Central America, bringing their own cultures and traditions to the KCK area, shaping it into the current KCK and Wyandotte County that is seen today. In my mind, KCK was an embodiment of the American dream slowly developing and shaping to the modern day world, only this story wasn’t happening in Los Angeles or New York or Miami, but in the Midwest in the heart of America, but on the Kansas side rather than Missouri.

As I lived in KCK for over two years before I moved to Midtown KCMO, I slowly uncovered more unique places to eat and drink: numerous taquerias; burrito windows open 24 hours on the weekend; Go Chicken Go; Salvadoran restaurants that specialized in Papusas; Pollo Asado joints that only sold half and whole chickens with beans, rice and tortillas; Italian delis in nearly abandoned strip malls; and no dining room-area Chinese places serviced by really sarcastic cashiers, just to name a few.

But at the end of the day, my favorite place to dine in KCK was Rosedale BBQ. Granted, I liked it because it was BBQ, and as a Californian, I really never knew what “true” BBQ was until I came to Kansas City. To me, BBQ was baby back ribs and dry beef and sausage my family would get every once in a while from Back Forty BBQ in Roseville. I never experienced real brisket or burnt ends or spare ribs, which is the only ribs to eat according to people in the Midwest outside of Chicago. But in all honesty, Rosedale represented that melting pot of KCK, that Midwest blue collar, working class identity meshing with the ever-changing demographics of Kansas City Kansas as well as the Westside Kansas City Missouri community right off of Southwest Boulevard.

To be honest, the food at Rosedale is good, better than it gets credit for according to Yelp, but it struggles with consistency. The beef can be moist and tender one day and chopped up and fatty the next. The hot BBQ sauce can be spicy and savory as well as the perfect complement to their crisp-fried crinkle cut fries. But on some days, the sauce is over-peppered, tasting as if somebody accidentally dumped way too much pepper in the jar by accident in the sauce, and was too apathetic or cheap to throw it out and simply make a new batch. The ribs probably are the antithesis of what any BBQ snob would prefer: they are untrimmed with a lot of fat and grizzle, fall too easily off the bone, and though they have a nice smoke ring, they may seem to dry to most rib purists’ taste.

But, Rosedale isn’t the place for BBQ artistry. Joe’s and Jack Stack and Woodyard are those places, establishments for backyard suburban BBQ aficionados who want to whet their appetite for real BBQ when the weekend cookout fare didn’t live up to expectations. Those places are for the tourists and the BBQ snobs of the surrounding Kansas City Metro Area who feel the need to justify their food choices and BBQ allegiances based on what was featured in the Michelin guide or what has 5 stars on Yelp. And no offense to those places. They are good, and I enjoy eating at those places on occasion.

However, they are not Rosedale’s.

For starters, they do not have Rosedale’s speed. Even when the place is busy, Rosedale churns out BBQ dinners and sandwiches in record speed. The cashiers don’t write any orders down and have a lingo that is unique to their establishment. (For example “beef deluxe combo, fries extra crispy”, a very popular order you will hear being yelled to the kitchen window consistently means beef sandwich on a bun with fries that are put in the deep fryer a little bit longer than usual). Even during a lunch or dinner rush, you can get your order and eat in 20-30 minutes. For the working man on the clock, Rosedale is the perfect spot that will get you back to work with some time to spare, perhaps to get or make a pot of coffee to avoid that afternoon post-lunch coma.

And secondly, no other BBQ place can beat Rosedale’s prices. You can get a slab of spareribs for around 18 bucks and 14 on Monday’s. A beef sandwich, fries, and an RC cola will usually ring you in just under 10 dollars. It is common to just get a few morsels of BBQ for around 15-20 dollars at more “popular” BBQ establishments, but at Rosedale, one can guarantee to be full not just in the stomach, but also decently so in the wallet or bank account afterward.

You see…that is why Rosedale is quintessential KCK: it is geared toward the working man in terms of area, speed and prices. People can geek all out on the kitchy-ness of a BBQ restaurant in a gas station or a place where presidents dine when they visit KC. But Rosedale is authentic and in an unapologetic way that seems to buck what is expected from other BBQ joints that are sprouting up all over the city. They are not into competitions. They are not going to be featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. And yet they still serve food fast at a low cost and continue to bring in a diversity of customers. Whether it’s in the old wooden booths or at the old-time counter, Rosedale attracts white working men still in their overalls from a long day of working in various kind of skilled industries, as well as Chicano families who are ordering a slab and a half to go along with a pound of fries (actual terms of the restaurant by the way). It is common to see businessmen in button-down shirts and slacks rub shoulders with 20-something hipsters in skinny jeans, cleverly designed T-shirts, and bottle-cap glasses. Rosedale attracts the kind of crowd you’d be hard-pressed to see from other BBQ places, and for the most part, they are Kansas City-people, either from KCK or the nearby Westside or Midtown. That kind of customer authenticity is not easily duplicated, and I believe it will be hard to duplicate from other places in the near as well as far-off future.


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When Rosedale BBQ opened in 1934 by Anthony and Alda Rieke and brother in law Tony Sieleman, it was known as the “Bucket Shop” and primarily sold buckets of cold beer and hot dogs. Their catchphrase was “Buy it by the bucket!”. As the story goes, after driving by and smelling the smoke from a BBQ joint in Shawnee, Kansas, they decided to smoke and sell ribs along with beer, and their ribs were so popular that they decided to go into selling BBQ full time as well as beer (hence, dropping the hot dogs from their menu). 82 years later, though the original owners have passed on (the grandchildren of the original owners still apparently have a stake in the place), Rosedale BBQ still sells BBQ and still offers beer by the bucket (though they do sell individual bottles as well), and remain standing in the Rosedale neighborhood and KCK as a pillar of stability despite major changes in the economic and cultural demographics of those respective communities.

And that is a good thing. We hear all this rhetoric about “Making America Great Again” from all kinds of “conservative” Americans, and places like Rosedale not only stand the changes of the times but embrace and welcome it. These businesses prove how asinine those civic statements are. We don’t need to make our communities “great again” as if we need to recapture some lost magic from 30-40 years ago when America was supposedly “better”. America is already great, our communities are great, and we just need to adjust to minor setbacks and issues to continue to make it great. Take in the new, and mix it with the old and make something fresh, but timeless. Rosedale’s certainly accomplishes that in my opinion in the BBQ industry not just in the KCK area.

A couple of months ago, I volunteered at a nursing home right off the Plaza through work. I met with an African-American lady named Alice in her early 80’s and as she sat down, I took a knee next to her since there were no more seats available. As I asked her about where she was from and where she grew up in Kansas City, she told me she was born in Kansas City, Kansas and grew up in the Rosedale neighborhood and went to school all the way through high school there (when apparently there was a Rosedale High School). As we talked a bit more about the Rosedale neighborhood, I asked her if she and her family had ever gone to Rosedale BBQ.

She laughed and paused for a few seconds before she answered my question:

“Oh yes! BUY IT BY THE BUCKET!”

What did the Royals gain (and lose) in the Mike Moustakas trade?

The Royals were in the national news on Friday night, and it had nothing to do with their game against the Yankees (it was rained out; they have a doubleheader scheduled for today). Late last night, the Brewers and Royals pulled off a trade, with the Royals posting this on their Twitter:

The trade was expected by Royals fans ever since the season began, really. The Royals expected to sign elsewhere when he became a free agent at the conclusion of the 2017 season along with Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer. However, while Hosmer and Cain signed with the Padres and Brewers, respectively, the market for Moustakas never materialized, and he ended up re-signing with the Royals while in Spring Training for a one-year, $5.5 million deal.

Moose re-signing ended up being a blessing in disguise for both the Royals and Moose. Moose is having another solid year (20 home runs, 107 wRC+), proving that 2017 wasn’t a fluke, and the Royals got to not only keep a fan favorite a little bit longer but also got something in return for his departure. In the end, though it came as a surprise in March, Moose coming back to Kansas City was a win-win for everyone.

So, what did the Royals gain and lose in the deal overall? Let’s take a look.


What the Royals gained in the Moose trade.

The Royals received two prospects in OF Brett Phillips and RHP Jorge Lopez, a pretty good haul considering how close the Royals were to the deadline. To give some context, the Brewers have a pretty deep farm system, as Baseball America ranked them 6th overall in their talent rankings going into 2018


Phillips is the crown jewel of the deal, as he was the 7th rated prospect in the Brewers system and the 80th best prospect in baseball overall by Baseball America going into the 2018 season. Phillips, however, was unable to break into a crowded Brewers outfield (which sports Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich this year), as he has only appeared in 52 games and accumulated 122 plate appearances the past two years in Milwaukee. This year has also been a little slow for Phillips in Triple-A, as Phillips is only posting a slash of .240/.331/.411 with an OPS of .742 and 6 home runs in 299 plate appearances in Colorado Springs. That being said, he has demonstrated success in Colorado Springs before, as he hit 19 home runs and posted an OPS of .944 in 432 plate appearances in 2017.

Patrick Brennan of Royals Farm Report had a pretty good write up on Phillips, and had this to say about the prospect on Twitter:

The other player acquired in the deal is Jorge Lopez, a reliever who has appeared in 10 games this season and has accumulated 19.2 IP and a 2.75 ERA and 1.48 whip this season. Lopez was drafted in the 2nd round in 2011 out of Puerto Rico and originally broke into the Brewers system as a starter. However, he transitioned to the bullpen last year, and so far the results have been mixed. While he has been decent with the big league club, he still struggles with command, as evidenced by 1.15 K/BB ration, and his ERA and WHIP numbers look worse in Triple-A as it was 5.65 and 1.50 respectively in 28.2 IP with Colorado Springs in 2018.

Ironically, much like Goodwin, I wrote a piece featuring Lopez prior to the 2011 MLB Draft. Here’s what I said about Lopez in the post:

“John Sickels has Lopez projected to go at the 49th slot in his latest mock supplemental first round draft. Lopez is a high-ceiling arm, with a nice frame and good stuff according to reports. While Puerto Rican prospects usually don’t have a history of going high in the draft (Luis Atilano was the highest pick from Puerto Rico in the history of the draft, as he went No. 35 in 2003), Lopez seems to be an exception to the rule.

According to a report by Perfect Game USA, Lopez is getting comparisons to Javier Vazquez. He still has a lot of room to develop as a pitcher (he’s six-foot-four inches, and 175 pounds), but already he sports a fastball that goes in the low 90’s and a good spinning curve ball that has gotten good reports from scouts. An excellent athlete (Lopez played volleyball, basketball and ran track in addition to baseball), Lopez used to be a shortstop before he converted to the mound full time.”

The shine of Lopez as a prospect has certainly faded a bit the past couple of seasons, as he was unranked in the Brewers system, a far cry from his days where he rated as the 59th best prospect overall by Baseball America going into 2016. However, Lopez should bring some much-needed depth to the Royals bullpen in the immediate future. It’s definitely possible he could develop into a solid setup man or perhaps a closer in the near future should the Royals part ways with Wily Peralta (also a former Brewers top pitching prospect).


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What did the Royals lose in the deal?

Obviously, the Royals lost Moustakas, which while expected, is still a tough pill to swallow for Royals fans. Moose was one of the first big prospects drafted by Dayton Moore, and from the day he was drafted, it was understood that the Royals’ future success would depend on him. Thankfully, he panned out and became a key cog for the Royals’ success from 2013-2017 along with Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, and Eric Hosmer.

In 934 games and 3,735 plate appearances over eight seasons with the Royals, Moose hit 139 home runs and had a career OPS+ of 98. However, Moose really developed and hit his stride as a player in 2015, his first All-Star appearance. If you look at his numbers from 2015-2018, Moustakas hit 87 home runs and had an average OPS+ of 114.3 in the four-year span, and he did this despite missing most 2016 due to a knee injury (he only played in 27 games).

With Moustakas gone, the hole at third will most likely be filled by a rotating door of players, with Hunter Dozier and Rosell Herrera being the most logical options to fill in immediately.  This season, Dozier has an OPS+ of 61, and Herrera has an OPS+ of 77, both far cries from Moose’s 111 OPS+ as a Royal this year. It will be interesting to see how Ned Yost will manage the position and who will emerge as the more regular third baseman of the two. Dozier is a former first-round draft pick who has struggled with the bat since getting injured a year ago, and Herrera was a recent waiver wire pickup who used to be a top prospect in the Rockies system but has a tendency to be too free-swinging and lacks power. Both certainly have potential, but they both have a lot to do to make up for Moose’s production at the hot corner.

However, the biggest loss from the Moose trade definitely comes in the clubhouse, as Moose developed as a more vocal leader during the past four years. Royals MLB.com beat writer Jeff Flanagan shared this tweet today about Moose:

There was a lot of great things to remember about Moose: the diving catch in the stands in Game 3 of the 2014 ALCS, the Moose antlers at games and crossing signs, the resting bitch face he seemed to employ 24/7. However, what made Moose great was that he showed that the Royals could draft good players, develop them, and see them win with the Royals, not some other club. The Royals have had a penchant for drafting and developing guys, only to see them win with their next club. Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye, Carlos Beltran, and Zach Greinke are just a few of the names who performed well with Royals initially, only to find more individual and team success with another club. Moose bucked that trend, and for a little bit, he showed that Dayton Moore wasn’t a complete jackass.

And Moose represented a lot of what Kansas City was about. He probably was the most relatable out of the Royals stars. He isn’t the happy go lucky guy like Salvy. He isn’t an incredible athlete like Cain. He isn’t a hunk like Hosmer. And he isn’t a local Midwest boy like Gordon. Moose is just…Moose, and I know I appreciated him for his no-nonsense, laid back personality.

And he was a Cali guy who embraced Kansas City, much like me. Maybe that’s another reason why I like him so much.

Anyways, Moose will be missed, both on and off the field. At least he will be back in the lineup with another former Royal in Cain. True Royals fans will appreciate seeing something familiar in October should the Brewers hold on and make the playoffs.

How to get through the rest of the Royals’ 2018 season…

“Do you consider yourself a masochist?”

My senior English teacher asked me that during a seminar-style class period where we had to discuss the topic of “relationships”. I went to an all-boys high school, and as expected, the seminar conversations were ripe with machismo and testosterone, especially initially. Despite that obvious roadblock though, my English teacher was able to navigate through our initial thoughts and tendencies and actually produce appropriate and worthwhile conversation amongst 20+ 18-year-old boys, ready to graduate and go to college. That 60-minute class could have easily turned into a “measuring” contest (i.e. who was the best at attracting the opposite sex) or a “venting” session (i.e. people bashing their exes). Instead, it turned into mature, thoughtful dialogue about relationships as a whole, why we seek them, and how we change or are shaped from relationships in our lives, even if they do not last for long. My conversations with my classmates from that particular day still ring in my memory, though I feel sheepish reveling the exact topics from my classmates that day, especially considering this is a Kansas City Royals and Fantasy Baseball blog.

But one bit I will share is the one above. I asked my English teacher, “I know why a relationship fails, and why we didn’t work. But I always go after the same kind of person. Why do I do that?”

And that’s when he dropped it on me: “Well…Do you consider yourself a masochist?”

I don’t think I had an answer then. I really don’t have an answer now. 13 years later since that class, I still wonder if I am actually a masochist when it comes to relationships, seeking ones that are doomed to fail out of some perverse subconscious enjoyment. I will say I am in a good relationship now, the best I’ve ever been, so maybe I’m not actually a masochist, but someone who needed more time to find the right person.

So what does this have to do with Royals baseball?

Well, I brought up that quote and that story because I got to thinking… is it possible that you have to be a bit masochistic to not only be a Kansas City Royals fan but a baseball fan in general?


Baseball is an odd game in comparison to other sports. There are no set time limits. The game from pitch to pitch moves slowly. The season runs a 162 games long, an insane amount of contests when you compare it to other major American sports. The game is mired in number, statistics, and analysis to the point where one almost has to have a love of math to enjoy the game nowadays. Opportunities vary for players on the field. In some games, the hits come in bunches, and a player is making play after play. In some games, he goes o-fer and doesn’t touch the baseball.

And opportunities for teams? It may be even worse. Only five teams from each division make the playoffs, only 33% (less than the nearly half per division as it is in the NBA), and two of those teams from each division have to play in a “one-game playoff” just to advance to the next round, where it is only a five-game series. In the NBA playoffs, each round consists of seven games, usually resulting in the best overall team winning each round (with some exceptions every now and then of course). But in baseball, there are only two seven-game series’: the Championship Series (Pennant) and the World Series. Often times, it’s not the best regular season team that wins the World Series…it’s just the best team in October. That can be infuriating for a fan who watched his team be successful over 162 games, only to see that success erased in as little as 1 to 3 games.

Some say that the baseball season is akin to “running a marathon, not a sprint”. I agree, but with some conditions: It is like running a marathon, but you have to carry cinder blocks on your shoulders while doing it.

And for the Royals and their fans this season, it’s been like running a marathon with cinder blocks that have 100-pound steel weights attached to them. In other words, this season has been an awful, painful, dragging slog to get through.

After a 7-2 loss to the New York Yankees in game one of a four-game series, the Royals are 31-71, 40 games under .500. With the July 31st Trade Deadline less than a week away, Royals fans are preparing for certain players to be wearing another team’s uniform in a matter of days. And speaking of fans, the tension with the club is at an all-time high, especially after Fangraphs writer, Dan Szymborski went on a Twitter tirade bashing General Manager Dayton Moore for not capitalizing on the Royals’ success in 2014 and 2015, and allowing the team to fall back to where it was prior to his arrival (i.e. one of the worst clubs in baseball) to the detriment of Royals fans.

As you can see from above, one can understand where I’m coming from when I say that it may be “masochistic” to be a Kansas City Royals fan. And there are still 60 games left to go this year.

How the hell am I, or any Royals fan for that matter, going to get through it all?


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It would be easy and understandable to throw in the towel on the Royals this season. And for the most part, a lot of people already have. Why follow a team that’s going nowhere this season? Why not spend time, money, and attention on other sports teams, activities, hobbies? If the Royals cause this much frustration, why stick with it, like a bad relationship doomed for failure?

I’m not saying you have to be masochistic to enjoy the Royals. As a matter of fact, I think there’s a lot to still enjoy with the Royals, even during this season.

I just don’t want Royals fans to grow pessimistic and jaded.

It’s amazing how easy it is to fall into those categories as a Royals fan. It’s easy to bash on Moore and blame him for all the Royals problems. It’s easy to bash manager Ned Yost and his lineup and bullpen decisions. It’s easy to bash the players and talk about how much they suck, or that they should be jettisoned from the sport immediately. It’s easy to bash on baseball and say the game is dying and that nobody cares about it anymore, especially in comparison to basketball and football.

But while it’s easy to do those things (and get into the habit of Randy Marsh finger pointing), it’s important to try to avoid it as much as possible (I get it…venting is needed from time to time). Instead, it’s important to remember the joy of 2014 and 2015. The positivity. The playoff games. The excitement. Blue adorning the city everywhere you traveled within the KC Metro. Those were good times. Good times for baseball fans. Good times for the Royals and Kansas City, overall. The parade at Union Station still is one of my best memories as a sports fan, period.

It’s important to remember because it helps give fans hope that it can happen again.  Just look at the difference between 2014 and 2015. Once the Royals got to the playoffs a second time, it seemed to be destiny that they were going to win it all. The Royals and the fans knew what it took to win, and they weren’t going to let it slip away a second time, as they proved by beating the New York Mets in the World Series in 2015.

So it’s important to hold on to hope. It’s important to not tune out on the Royals for the rest of 2018. And here are five things to remember that will help you get through the remaining 60 games of what some may say is a “lost season”


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1. Remember…2015 was only three seasons ago

Some may look at that statement and say “And look how bad we are after winning the World Series three years ago!” I get that, but you have to keep things in context, especially in comparison with other MLB teams. The Cleveland Indians have not won a World Series since 1948, good for the longest World Series draught currently. The Brewers, Padres, Nationals, and Mariners, have never won a World Series in their club’s history (49 years for Milwaukee, San Diego, and Washington; 41 for Seattle). The Royals, on the other hand, have two World Series titles: 1985 and 2015.

Yes, it sucks that the Royals are not competitive, and are in the process of rebuilding. It sucks that the Royals may not experience that playoff magic for at least a few more seasons. But compared to other clubs in baseball, at least we have those recent memories of success to comfort us in these down times.

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2. Remember the kids (in the farm system)

Much like a divorced couple or a relationship on the rocks, it’s important to remember the kids in all of this. Not your own kids (though if you have kids, certainly don’t neglect them), but the Royals prospects. There is a lot of talent coming up through the system who may be the next generation of Royals stars. Seuly Matias hit his Minor-League leading 28th and 29th home runs on Thursday night. Khalil Lee is starting to show promise in Northwest Arkansas. Recent first-round draft pick Brady Singer is the 67th rated prospect according to MLB.com. There are good things going on with Royals’ affiliates, which could mean good things on the horizon for the Royals organization as a whole in the next 2-3 years.

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3. Remember that there’s still some talent on the roster for the future.

Though he had a rough start Wednesday, Danny Duffy is finally turning it around as a starter this season in the Royals rotation. Whit Merrifield consistently proves to be one of the Royal’s strongest overall players, a great story considering he was overlooked for so long while toiling in the minors. Adalberto Mondesi is finally getting an opportunity to play every day, and he is finally developing into the infield mainstay many envisioned him to be when he first broke into the Majors as a 19-year-old. The roster has some players who can not only play this year, but could provide a nice foundation for the future for this Royals club as well. Yes, the farm system isn’t deep, and there are a lot of players on this roster that probably won’t be around when Spring Training hits next year. But the cupboard isn’t bare, and there are some players on this roster worth investing in as a fan for next season and beyond.

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4. Remember that even though there are struggles, the veterans aren’t mailing it in.

It would be easy to see Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez, Alex Gordon, and even to an extent Alcides Escobar, just throw in the towel on the season. After all, they were the main cogs during those 2014-2015 runs, and the roster around them is a far cry from those glory days. They could be out in the media, demanding trades, wanting to be on a winning team, hoping to snag one last ring in their prime. Instead, they have come to the ballpark and played hard as professionals. Even watching the game in person Wednesday, the veterans I listed above approached the game as if it were 2015, and they were in line for a playoff spot, not the first overall pick in the 2019 draft. That kind of professionalism and effort is not something we see all the time in baseball, and even Royals fans can attest to that. I mean, did you remember the 2005 Royals coming to the park every day like this squad here? And doing so even though all those veterans I listed above have gone through down seasons in 2018?

Yes, maybe they’re not doing well. Maybe a couple of them should’ve left a year or two ago. But they bring it each and every game, and that at the very least deserves some respect in the grand scheme of things.

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5. Remember…going to Kauffman Stadium is fun.

I talked about my experience at Kauffman Stadium in my last post. Going to a game at Kauffman is a great time. It doesn’t matter if you’re with a bunch of friends, tailgating a couple of hours before a game or going solo with a scorecard. There’s something about the stadium and the ballpark experience that make a day or night at the K special. It’s easy to forget that with all the losing going on. But don’t. Go to a game. Go to a game with friends. Go to a game by yourself. But just go. The specials are starting to happen in even greater frequency now, and tickets will only get cheaper as we head into August.

So don’t just settle for watching a game on television. Don’t settle for just listening to it on the radio on the way back to work as you’re stuck on I-35 traffic. Don’t just settle for following it on your MLB At-Bat app. Go to the K. Get a ticket. Sit in the cheap seats. Watch the Royals hit the field and hear the crack of the bat and the snap of the catcher’s mitt and the roars of the crowd.

A day at the ballpark in person captures you in ways that other mediums simply can’t.


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2018 will be a season that will either live in infamy (as the worst Royals team of all time) or will quickly be forgotten in Royals lore. I’m betting more on the latter. After all, nobody talks about the 2005 team (the current worst team in Royals history) with the exception of Royals fans comparing it to this year’s team. After 2018, people will only talk about the squad that season, future teams, or the 2015 team that won it all, and that will be a good thing. Think about Milwaukee. What years are they talking about other than the current season or the ones in the future? What years can they talk about when they had a parade in the heart of their city?

I’m not trying to sugar coat this Royals season or excuse this year’s poor performance by any means. It’s been a lousy year, plain and simple. There are players in this organization that need to go and management needs to make some changes in the organization (scouting, development or even the front office) if the club ever wants to be competitive again. 2018 has been a slap to the face of Royals fans this year. 2015 showed how all-in this city could be with the Royals and baseball. They deserved a better team than a bunch of band-aid free agent signings and short-sighted trades that ended up hindering the club for years to come.

But despite all that frustration…keep following the Royals. Keep going to Kauffman Stadium. Keep the faith in this club for the future. Don’t give up or ignore them for Chiefs football just yet.

Because that commitment will pay off. When the Royals turn it around…whenever that is…it will make the experience that much sweeter.

Maybe I’m not such a masochist after all…

‘A weekday afternoon game at Kauffman’ (Part 2 of the THT Fan Experience in Kansas City)

As a teacher on vacation in the Summer, I have the luxury of having days where I can afford to not do anything. Summer is a time where I can get appointments done, as well as start all kinds of projects before I begin work in August (this blog is one of those projects…though I expect to continue this blog even after I report back to school). Also, summer allows me to partake in events during the week that most normal, working people would find difficult to do, if not impossible.

The weekday afternoon MLB game is one of those events.

After writing my own analysis of The Hardball Time’s “Fan Experience Index” rating of Kansas City (which was 4.99 out of 10, good for 27th overall), I decided to make a trek over to Kauffman Stadium for a Wednesday afternoon game against the Detroit Tigers, the series (and homestand) finale. In order to really “analyze” the fan experience, I had to really judge the Kauffman Stadium experience in person and with the criteria THT used.

I had to travel and attend this game alone, almost like a semi-business trip rather than the typical “day at the K” I was used to and enjoyed in the past.

This wouldn’t be a time for drinking and playing cornhole or washers in the parking lot. This wasn’t a time to blast brews or down dollar dogs with buds in the Kauffman cheap seats while talking about where Mike Moustakas would be traded to by the Trade Deadline. This wasn’t a time to Snapchat every single picture at Kauffman. I really wanted to judge Kauffman seriously, fairly and truly see if it was better than the 4.99 rating and 27th ranking THT gave it.

And thus…in the corny Law & Order intro voice style…here is my story:


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Traveling to Kauffman Stadium

I live in Midtown Kansas City and left my house around 10:45, stopping by a CVS nearby to get some gum and seeds, knowing that I would need something to snack on, but didn’t want to spend near 15 dollars for two things I could get for 3 dollars at a convenience store. By the time I headed to the stadium on I-70 East, it was probably close to 11.

I understand that there aren’t a lot of “alternative” ways to get to Kauffman Stadium, but I found it pretty straightforward, and a lot easier than I last remembered. Of course, there were a lot of things to keep into consideration: it was a Wednesday afternoon game a time and day of the week where most people are working; and the Royals are in the bottom of the AL Central, meaning the demand is not there for tickets like it was from 2013-2017 (but no longer the worst team in baseball, woohoo). And, I was also getting there early, nearly two hours before first pitch.

So, it shouldn’t be surprising that I got to the ballpark in about 17 minutes, found parking easily relatively close to the stadium, and didn’t have to deal with any traffic issues. But believe me: I have been to other ballparks, and parking can be a pain in the ass even in the same situation. The Royals and the Truman Sports Complex do a pretty good job with their circumstances: big parking lots, multiple entrances, helpful, quick-moving attendants.

Nonetheless, I do wish that there were better mass transit or shuttle options to the park, especially from my area. I still think if the Royals want to improve attendance, especially for a day game like this, there needs to be some kind of transit or shuttle infrastructure in place that caters to younger fans who don’t want to hassle with parking and just want to catch an impromptu game at the ballpark. I get it. The tailgating culture is great. It’s nice to see fans with their tents up, grilling, playing cornhole, drinking brews, etc. But that’s something that fans can’t do regularly. I have friends who live in Seattle and San Francisco, and they just like going to the ballpark, no tailgate included. That’s how the Mariners and Giants make their money because younger fans will catch three-to-four games on a homestand because it’s easy to get to the park, not just one or two.

I think Kauffman is a great stadium, but they need more options to get to the park. If that can happen (and this is probably beyond them; this is really a city transportation issue), then I think we’ll see the stands fill up a little more (especially as more recent college grads are moving into the city), regardless of the team’s standing.


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Enjoying the pregame experience in Moose’s (most likely) last game as a Royal

My family was never much into tailgating. Maybe we’re West Coast like that. I remember one time we went to Candlestick Park and tailgated with one of those disposable grills. We grilled some Kirkland Polish Sausages and kinda just sat around in lawn chairs and didn’t say shit to one another. Then after we finished, my dad was like “All right, screw this, let’s get into the ballpark.”

I’ve always enjoyed getting to a ballpark early and just walking around and seeing everything about the ballpark. It doesn’t matter if it’s Kauffman Stadium or a Minor League park. There’s just something special about walking around, soaking in the Baseball Americana of a stadium. For as much crap as Kauffman gets for not being in the city (unlike most modern stadiums; Kauffman may be one of the last of its breed in the sense that it’s not in the heart of the city), the amenities Kauffman offers makes it an enjoyable experience before first pitch.

After parking, I walked over to Gate E, which is one of two gates open 1.5 hours before the first pitch. I passed by a Mike Moustakas banner on a light pole, and it made me think of this post on Twitter I saw before I left for the game this morning:

It made me sad to think it was Moustakas’ last game at the K, but I felt every Royals fan knew the writing was on the wall. I’m sure Ned Yost did as well, as he started Moustakas, even though the Tigers’ starting pitcher was a lefty.

Until about an hour before the game, only the outfield area of the stadium is open, which is fine because there are plenty of things to check out. Since it was a Wednesday, they had the “Music Showcase” where a band played in the outfield experience area before the game in a stage near some of the stands, as evidenced in this picture below:

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It probably wasn’t the greatest gig for the band. And though the area is nice and spacious, good for people to gather and listen, it is also near the “kids” area, which consists of a mini-baseball field, batting cages, a jungle gym, and even a miniature golf course. (Seriously…what other damn park has those things?) Considering the circumstances, I’m sure the band, whoever the hell they were, didn’t get the attention they were craving, but hey…a gig is a gig.

Speaking of the “kids” area, it’s obvious that the Royals, especially in the outfield experience, really are catering to a family environment. While they do have their areas for young adults, like the Craft and Draft section (which I will go into more detail in a bit), it’s obvious that the Royals are banking on the Johnson, Clay and Cass County families commuting to the game, and need attractions to distract their kids since a baseball game doesn’t have lasers and shit to entertain them. While I think these attractions are convenient for parents (I get it…not every five-year-old is going to be enthralled by nine innings of baseball), but it makes me wonder if these attractions are better or worse for baseball. I mean, this area made the Royals outfield experience seems less like a ballpark and more like a Dave and Buster’s. If baseball is really serious about keeping younger fans, I think the game of baseball itself has to be the focus, not frivolous distractions (yes, that’s the old man in me talking).

Outside the kids-heavy attractions, the fence by the fountains is adorned with a combination of bar patios and bronze monuments of legendary Royals. In the pictures below, statues of George Brett, manager Dick Howser, and Frank White are front and center, a nice relic to the days when the Royals were not just the hot ticket in the Midwest, but also a team worth following across the nation.

However, while I am critical of the “kids carnival” aspects of the pregame outfield experience at Kauffman, I do appreciate the Royals Hall of Fame, which I think is incredibly well done and put together. The one thing Kansas City has is great baseball history, as the Athletics once played in Kansas City before moving to Oakland (Northern California always stealing Kansas City teams), and the Monarchs were the “Yankees” of the Negro Leagues. The Negro League Museum on 18th and Vine is one of the finest baseball museums in the nation, period, and the Kansas City T-Bones, an Independent baseball team have a great stadium in Kansas City, Kansas, and draw great crowds (especially considering they share the metro with an MLB team).

Kansas City really is a great baseball city, but it often gets overlooked in comparison to more well-known baseball cities like St. Louis, Chicago, Boston, New York, and the Bay Area. I feel like the Royals Hall of Fame is an amazing testament to not just the Royals’ rich history, but Kansas City’s great baseball history overall, with all kinds of Kansas City baseball artifacts ranging from the Monarchs and Negro Leagues in Kansas City to the old Municipal Stadium that housed the A’s and Royals initially to the 70 and 80’s heydays with George Brett and Co. to their most recent playoff success in 2014 and 2015. Kauffman really did an amazing job with the Hall of Fame, and it probably is one of the best, if not best, attractions that Kauffman has to offer, especially for baseball fans who live in the Midwest and are traveling from Nebraska, Iowa, Oklahoma or South Dakota to watch the Boys in Blue.

‘Speaking of the Midwest, it is obvious that people in this part of the country love their local state universities. There were a few apparel stores open in the outfield experience, an in addition to the plethora of Royals caps on sale (from authentic fitted ones to adjustable golf-style hats), they also had Royals fitted hats that were in the colors of local colleges, including Kansas University, Kansas State, Mizzou, and Nebraska, as seen below:

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If anything these hats confirmed two things I learned while living here in the Midwest for almost 8 years:

1.) People in the Midwest (Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska Midwest) really care about their college sports.

2.) Colleges in the Midwest (Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska Midwest) really love to exploit their college for massive financial gain.


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Craft and Draft: Not for kids

About an hour before the game, the rest of the ballpark opened up, and I was able to mosey over to the other end of the stadium and stroll up to the Boulevard Craft and Draft, which is basically Kauffman’s answer to those who think Kauffman is just a “Kids Wonderland” in terms of attractions. The Craft and Draft basically is an embodiment of what every 20-something out of college these days demands out of their dining establishments: craft beers, artisan food, and nice mahogany furniture. Opened in 2015, this was the result of all those Millenial wishes:

I got to admit: the digs hold up pretty well. While I do enjoy the grungy aspects of the upper decks where it’s standard fare such as hot dogs, brats, and Miller Lite (I grew up on it with games at Candlestick and Oakland-Alameda Stadium as a kid), I’m always a fan of when ballparks focus on local products, as Kauffman does with Boulevard here. I mean, when you look at that tap selection (and they also have more behind the bar), and it makes you feel like you’re at the Boulevard Tap Room, not at Kauffman stadium for a baseball game.

The only drag about the Craft and Draft? It’s expensive as all hell. I got a Raspberry Jam Band (because…why not?) and it cost me 13.75 for a 12 oz. Almost 14 bucks! I know craft beer is more expensive, but holy shit…I see guys how blasted in this area all the time. How do they afford it?

(To answer this question, it’s because they have bank when it comes to disposable income…my girlfriend last night reminded me that not everyone has a teacher’s salary.)

 


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Lunch with a view

After finishing my “way too expensive and not satisfying enough” beer (I love Boulevard, but Jam Band is not high on the list of favorites for me), I bought a $1 scorecard and headed up to my seats in the upper decks, section 420 to be specific (yes, make your jokes now…either to the scorecard or the obvious weed reference). I wanted something to eat, but I decided to go to standard fare rather than do something fancy. After all, it’s a baseball game. If there’s one thing I think gets overblown, it’s all the fancy cuisine that they’re doing at baseball games. My mother talks about AT&T Park’s (the Giants) food all the time: the Crazy Crab Sandwiches, the Garlic Fries, the Ghiradelli ice cream. I am more like my dad in this end: a hot dog and a beer is good enough (though my dad doesn’t do the beer anymore; he became like Mormon or something after I left for college). I figured that there would be plenty of options in the upper decks, and I wanted time to prepare my scorecard before first pitch.

As expected for a Wednesday afternoon day game of a team 38 games under .500 going into Wednesday’s game, there were no lines in the concessions stands. I waltzed right up, bought Sheboygan brat combo (brat and pretzel bites) and a tall Miller Lite (had to get Jam-Band-taste out of my mouth). The total cost was $23.25 ($12.75 for the combo; $10.50 for the Miller Lite). I also ended up buying a big bottle of water from another stand for $7.25, so my total expense for lunch at the K was a clean $30.50. Yep, not exactly the McDonald’s Value Menu in the upper decks.

Despite the K’s poor reputation for food, I think the brat is one of the best things on sale at the K, and today didn’t disappoint. I also like the pretzel bites accompaniment, which was the first time I had eaten them at a ball game. Though it does come at a hefty price tag, if there are no other deals on tap (i.e. it’s not a dollar night), then I could make this a regular item for me at ballgames if I don’t eat LC’s BBQ before.

(Pardon the picture below. I had eaten a bite before I realized I needed to take a picture for the blog.)

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Just me, the Royals and my scorecard

It had been a while since I had scored a game at the ballpark. When I worked in South Dakota after Summer School ended, a buddy of mine and I would drive down to Denver for a weekend series, get a hotel, and not only watch all three Rockies games at Coors Field, but also keep a scorecard for all three games. It was nerdy shit I know, but for us, it was a heavenly experience because we both loved baseball, sabermetrics, and getting the hell out of the isolation of South Dakota whenever we had a chance. Thankfully, Coors Field was only a six-hour drive (when you’re in South Dakota, a six-hour drive is like a 2.5-hour drive anywhere else; you’re used to driving long distances).

However, I hadn’t scored a game since I left South Dakota and moved to Kansas City in 2013. Since I was by myself attending this game, I felt keeping a scorecard of what could be Moose’s last home game as a Royal would help me pass the time.

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Not only did it help me pass the time, but keeping a scorecard enhanced the baseball experience so much more. In fact, I think baseball is one of the few games where you can go to a game by yourself, and really enjoy it more solo due to the scorecard (much like Ramen is best-enjoyed solo at a restaurant). That’s not something you can do with football, basketball or hockey. Yes, those sports are more exciting, but it’s more exciting with friends, family, dates you’re trying to impress, or guys you feel comfortable slapping hands with. Those sports though decline considerably in enjoyability when you’re alone and don’t know anyone around you, or there are a bunch of empty seats in your section. Eventually, you get bored and are on your phone Twittering or Snapchatting midway through the contest.

That is not the case in baseball, as I remained off my phone except to take pictures for this post or double check a roster change (Kauffman, you have to step up your game when there’s pitching changes). You get to see which hitters are having a good game, and which ones aren’t immediately. If you keep track of pitch counts (like I do), you can see what counts pitchers are getting into, and that will explain whether or not they are having a good day or a bad one (Danny Duffy was not taking advantage of early pitcher counts, and he paid; Matthew Boyd, the Tigers pitcher, stayed ahead most of the day and that was a big reason why he kept the Royals off the board for most of the day). It’s also a great souvenir, a real-time artifact of the concentration, focus, and love you have for the game of baseball.

Some people may find it crazy, but going to a baseball game solo and scoring a game is a truly relaxing and enjoyable sporting experience. Because of this, I am thinking about making a habit of it, as I am toying with the idea of splurging on partial season tickets and scoring all those games if the prices go down for season tickets next season (wink…wink…Royals).


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Baseball is fun in the upper decks at Kauffman

Even though most of my focus during the game was on keeping score, it was fun to notice the little things in the upper decks. It’s amazing how even though there are a ton of empty seats around us in the section, people still make fusses over seating assignments (just find an open area; nobody is getting a foul ball here). I also was surprised by the diversity of the crowd, as there were fans of all ages and races in the upper deck section around me. There were families from Texas, a group of exchange students from Korea, a travel baseball team watching the Royals on a day off from one of their tournament games in the KC-area, students from summer programs run by Operation Breakthrough, and even a contingent of Dominican fans who went crazy every time Jorge Bonifacio came up to bat (“Papi Chulo” was their term of endearment for him; too bad he went 0-for-4). They even had a Dominican Republic flag they waved proudly during his at-bats, as seen in the photo below:

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If baseball in the lower decks is mostly families from the Kansas City suburbs, business people using the tickets given away at the office, or middle to upper-middle-class college kids on summer break using their parents’ season tickets, then the upper decks in an eclectic mix of folks much like Kansas City itself. It’s diverse, it’s different, and can be strange on occasion (there was a fair share of shirtless men; whether they should’ve been shirtless is a different story). But it’s comforting, especially for someone who identifies as a mixed-race baseball fan, where basketball and football are the more popular sports for people of my background (especially in my extended family, where it’s all about NBA basketball and the NFL). The Royals do have some diversity. They do have fans of different cultures who enjoy the equally diverse roster the Royals employ.

I just wish the Royals would promote this a bit more. If they put just half the effort into celebrating the fan cultural diversity as they did when it comes to celebrating the troops (not saying that they should celebrate them less…just want to give context because they really go full board into honoring service members at games), I think the Kauffman experience could even be more special for a wider range of fans in Kansas City, which is not only good for the city but good and strengthening for baseball overall.


So what do I think overall about the “fan experience at Kauffman”?

According to my last post, I rated the Royals in the 9 categories as follows:

  • Affordability: 7
  • Ownership: 3
  • Gameday Experience: TBD
  • Ballpark and broadcast accessibility: TBD
  • Broadcast: 7
  • Spring Training: 9
  • Laundry: 9
  • Social Media: 6
  • Mascot: 10
  • Aggregate rating: 7.29

I actually will lower the affordability to 6. Tickets are cheap, but here is how much I spent overall:

  • $17 on parking and tickets (thanks to $5 student night)
  • $44.25 for 2 beers, brat, water and pretzel bites.
  • $1 for a scorecard
  • $62.25 overall

And if I paid the original $11 for the seat (it’s normal price) it would be just a shade under $70. Maybe it’s just me, but over $60 for a game just seems like a lot, and I think The Hardball Times were pretty accurate in their original rating.

I also would rate the accessibility a three as well, as the lack of options makes getting to and out of the ballpark a pain in tough crowds. Thankfully, the crowd wasn’t too bad, so it was better than usual, but I felt that it should’ve been easier to get out of the ballpark considering the game was pretty much over by the seventh, and it was pretty sparsely attended, to begin with. It took me about 15 minutes to get out of the parking lot, which is almost as long as it took to get to the ballpark and park overall. And in terms of broadcast accessibility, while they do have a Spanish broadcaster, it’s not available on MLB At-Bat radio, and I can’t name off the top of my head what station is it on, which is not a good sign that the organization really reaches out to their Spanish-speaking audience. That’s another reason why I kept the 3 rating the same.

As for the ballpark experience, I would give it an 8, an improvement over the 7. It’s overly kid heavy, and if I had kids, maybe it would be a 9. And while the Boulevard Craft and Draft area impresses, it’s expensive, which sours it a bit for me, because aesthetically it’s really cool and I want to dig it more because I love Boulevard beer. Despite my disappointment with Boulevard’s establishment in the stadium, the Royals Hall of Fame is fantastic, and one of the best attractions I’ve seen in a ballpark I have visited personally. It is a great appreciation for the rich baseball history in Kansas City, one of the more underrated baseball cities in the nation.

With those updated ratings, the aggregate rating falls to 6.78, (unweighted because almost 4,000 words in, I’m too lazy to weight it). That rating is lower than Pittsburgh’s PNC Park but higher than Baltimore’s Camden Yards (which is surprising). Overall, I think that’s a fair rating for the Kauffman Stadium experience: it’s a beautiful park, a great place to watch a game, and has a lot of quirks going for it that I think go under the radar. But there needs to be an easier way to get to a game on a regular basis, and I think the organization still needs to do some work to address the changing diversity in their fanbase and Kansas City overall.

Going to a game at Kauffman is a wonderful experience. Going to a game solo and doing a scorecard in my mind is incredibly underrated, a practice that engages and relaxes simultaneously. And on a nice day in July? It just can’t be beaten. It’s nice to get home after a game, and still have an evening to relax rather than just hit the sack right away.

Kauffman isn’t perfect by any means. But Kansas City has a great stadium that offers a comparable experience to any other ballpark out there in Major League Baseball. I truly mean this as someone who has been to many. If you’re visiting Kansas City in the summer, and you enjoy baseball even a modicum, then you have to make your way out the K, or else you didn’t truly experience Kansas City in the summer.

And if you come alone…grab a scorecard for a buck.

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