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.

 

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#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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Testing THT’s Fan Experience Index in Kansas City: Part 1

In late June, as a regular Fangraphs reader, I stumbled across the Hardball Time’s Fan Experience Index, which rated the fan experience of every team in Major League baseball. The ratings didn’t show the Royals in the most positive light, as Kansas City ranked 27th overall in fan experience, according to THT’s ratings. I wasn’t necessarily sure how I felt about this at first: I didn’t grow up in Kansas City, so a lot of my fandom comes from a more recent lens. However, here’s a list of the ballparks I have been and seen games at over my lifetime:

  • Kauffman Stadium (Kansas City Royals, obviously)
  • AT&T Park (San Francisco Giants)
  • Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum (Oakland A’s)
  • Dodger Stadium (Los Angeles Dodgers)
  • Petco Park (San Diego Padres)
  • Coors Field (Colorado Rockies)
  • The Kingdome (Seattle Mariners, pre-Safeco Field)
  • Busch Stadium (St. Louis Cardinals)

I have visited the grounds of Wrigley Field (Chicago Cubs) and Fenway Park (Boston Red Sox), but never actually seen a game there, so I didn’t list them. While the amount of parks isn’t numerous, some of the parks I have listed were highly ranked in Asa Beal and Michael Wentworth’s rankings (San Francisco, Colorado, Los Angeles and San Diego ranked 1, 4, 5, and 6, respectively). And to be honest, while a lot of those parks were great, I didn’t necessarily feel that their fan experiences were 20+ spots better than Kauffman Stadium and the Royals.

So, I decided to make a two-part series post where I respond to the supposed “fan experience index”. In this first post, I am going to look at the rankings directly, and either confirm or refute their ratings based on my own experience as a Royal fan. Since I follow the Royals regularly, as well as go to games, I feel I have a pretty good accurate view of what the Royals fan experience is like, and whether or not Beal and Wentworth are spot on, or are letting their “West Coast” and “bigger city” biases get the best of them (which they admit in the article that they’re based in the West Coast).

In part two, I am actually going to recap an experience of a game at Kauffman Stadium on July 25th against the Tigers (a day game). This will be “actual” experience, and based on this recent visit, not only can I examine Beal and Wentworth’s claims of Kauffman even further, but also examine my own, and see where I was on, and where I may have let my own biases as a Royals fan come through.

So, let’s begin part 1 of this “Royals Fan Experience” analysis by directly responding to the late June article posted on the Hardball Times.


THT’s Fan Experience Index Criteria

I really admire what Beal and Wentworth are trying to do with this “fan experience index”. In reality, only one team can win the World Series, so while winning is important, winning is not the only reason fans come to the ballpark. There are a variety of factors and reasons that sway a baseball fan into deciding to pay for a ticket and come to a game in person instead of just watching it on their couch or laptop (because nobody likes to pay for cable these days). Thus, Beal and Wentworth come up with nine criteria that in their words ” judge the experience of being a baseball fan outside of your team’s World Series chances in a given year.”

Here are the nine criteria they list:

  • Affordability (18 percent)  — is attending your team’s home games financially feasible?
  • Ownership (18 percent) — is ownership committed to creating a positive on-field product while also maintaining an atmosphere in which a wide variety of fans feel welcome?
  • Game Day Experience (18 percent) — how enjoyable is seeing your team in person?
  • Ballpark and Broadcast Accessibility (15 percent) — how easy is it to get to games? To hear a broadcast in your native language? To feel welcome at the stadium? To access insider information?
  • Broadcast (15 percent) — how good are the TV and radio broadcasts of games?
  • Spring training facilities (9 percent) — how is the experience of seeing your boys in spring?
  • Laundry (5 percent) — how stylish are their jerseys and hats?
  • Social Media (1 percent) — do the franchise’s social media and marketing team add any fun?
  • Mascot (1 percent) — because why not?

I think those criteria are pretty fair, though I’m sure you could argue the weights they give to each individual category. Some may say affordability should be worth more, while others may argue that Spring training facilities should be less, if not inconsequential. Nonetheless, in this post, I will share Beal and Wentworth’s ratings, and whether I think the Royals rating from them should be higher or lower and why. All their ratings are on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the highest and 1 being the lowest. And thus, their aggregate rating (an average of all the criteria) is a number out of 10.


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Affordability: 6. My rating: higher, but barely.

THT rated their affordability as a 6 out of 10, which I can understand if you’re not in the Kansas City area. If you simply buy tickets off the Royals website, the deals aren’t great, and it probably does merit a 6 rating, maybe lower. The cheapest seats at face value are around 11 dollars, which for a team that is near the cellar of Major League Baseball, seems like a steep price to pay.

That being said, the Royals are the master of specials, and also not “enforcing” the specials. What do I mean? I can buy student night tickets for “student” prices (which are $5, which I did for the Tigers game tomorrow) without having to actually prove I’m a student (i.e. not use a student email, id, etc.). It’s a loophole, but I think the Royals don’t go too hard in enforcing it because they need to get rid of tickets, especially this season where they aren’t quite the “hot item” they were from 2013-2017 (Now if you try to buy it at the box office, that’s a different story, as you will have to show ID). Also, you can find deals aplenty out there on StubHub or other coupons, as I was gifted a “season discount” package where I could get 4 free games (albeit with a $3.50 service charge per ticket) and 8 1/2 price tickets. And scalper prices are pretty reasonable as well, as you can get tickets in the $5-10 range in the parking lot the day of.

In terms of concessions, parking etc., I will probably go into more details about those items in my second post. That being said, I never found the prices too egregious when it came to concessions or parking (it’s $15 day of but you can get it cheaper if you buy it online), and again, much like tickets, there are plenty of days where there are concession sales. Fridays are dollar nights, where certain items like hot dogs and peanuts are only a buck each, which is something I know AT&T would never dream of doing.

If I had to rank the affordability of Kauffman (pregame of course; this is subject to change), I would probably rate it a 7. It’s gotten more expensive as the Royals have gotten better, but they don’t sell out every game, which means you can get cheap or fairly price tickets the day of. Hell, you can even get a good selection of tickets from the box office the day of a game, which is something that would be difficult to do at AT&T or Dodger Stadium. I think that counts for something, and I think there will be even more deals and affordable ticket deals in the second half as the season winds down.


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Ownership: 4. My rating: lower.

4 is pretty low, but I still think David Glass merits a lower rating. The guy was on the cusp of making the Royals the premier professional sports organization in Kansas City. He has the advantage of playing during the best season in the Midwest (the Summer, where everyone in the Midwest wants to do shit outside because they know what winters are like), and other than Sporting KC, they actually have a championship title to boast (unlike their NFL neighbors the Chiefs). And yet, not only did he and management fail to capitalize on this run, but they also have made things more expensive, a drag considering the Chiefs are already such an expensive product in the Fall and Winter months.

I appreciate that Glass didn’t go full Jeffrey Loria and totally blow it up after their run. That being said, he definitely could have done more to maintain the competitiveness of this squad so they wouldn’t have bottomed out three seasons after their first World Series title in 20 years. Another key aspect of this rating is also how the organization maintains an “environment in which a variety of fans feel welcome.” I struggle a bit with this one, as it is similar to the Chiefs, in terms of they cater to the traditional White, middle-class family in the KC Metro area. You don’t see a whole lot of cultural nights, or even a whole lot of diversity in fans to be frank (my friends made note of this once when watching the Royals game, remarking “You know, if everyone just judged KC based on Kauffman alone, they would think we were the whitest city in America”).  Now, I will say that I think the Royals do a much better job in this regard than the Chiefs: they don’t have the racist props; they really embrace Kansas City’s Negro League roots, especially when it comes to Buck O’Neill; and they do a great job with the KC Urban Academy. But compared to other ballparks and other organizations? Glass and the Royals still have a long ways to go. I give them a 3.


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Gameday Experience: 7. Accessibility: 3. My ratings: TBD

I’m going to go into these ones more in-depth in tomorrow’s posts. I feel a fresh experience in response to these categories would be more relevant anyways.


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Broadcasters: 5. My rating: higher.

The Royals television team consists of Ryan Lefebvre and Rex Hudler in the booth, with Jeff Montgomery and Joel Goldberg as pre and post-game hosts (Montgomery does fill in on occasion in the booth). The radio team consists of Denny Matthews, Steve Physioc, and Steve Stewart. I tend to listen to more radio than television, as I do not have cable, I subscribe to the At-Bat radio (it’s not blackouts and only $20 for the year), and I like to do a lot of things while following games (the life of a teacher, I guess).

I enjoy the radio broadcasts for the most part. Matthews is a vet who has been with the Royals since the organization started in 1969. Matthews reminds me a bit of Jon Miller for the Giants, though he doesn’t have the pizazz for big moments like Miller. But I respect Matthews for his balanced, unbiased, and no-nonsense approach to the game, which makes the Royals games enjoyable to follow on the radio. Believe me, if you listen to some of those Yankees broadcasts on WFAN, it will make you sick how “homer” they are. Physioc and Stewart have their moments on the show, but Matthews is really the star of Royals Radio broadcasts.

As for TV, I have grown to like them more year by year. Lefebvre is fine, but it’s the combo of him Hudler that really make the broadcasts worthwhile. Lefebvre plays a great straight man to Hudler, who will go on tangents and have a lot of “catchphrases” that already have become the stuff of legend amongst Royals fans today. I know Hudler had a tough time initially, as he is a relative Royal outsider, and many people, especially the older generation, felt he was just off his rocker. Thankfully, Kansas City has warmed up, especially 35 and under fans, who seem to appreciate his goofy style more so than old-school Royals fans. Tonight, KC showed their appreciation for the duo with a special T-shirt night for fans, as evidenced in the tweet below:

As for the pre and post-game team, Goldberg has become something of an icon for Royals baseball and it’s easy to see why: he’s always there when Salvy is dumping water on players. I’m kind of lukewarm on Goldberg. He’s perfect for his role, has great energy, like Guy Fieri on “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.” But like Fieri, if you get anything more than a few minutes of Goldberg at a time…well…he just doesn’t hold up well.

Overall, I would rate the Royals broadcast team a 7. I don’t think they’re elite (there are a lot of better broadcasts teams out there; as much as I hate the Dodgers, they’ve had some of the best), but they’re definitely better than the middle of the road grade they were given by THT.


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Spring Training: 10. My rating: lower, barely.

I have only been to Surprise once. I was in high school on Spring Break playing in a baseball tournament of my own and from what I remembered, it was a nice ballpark and a fun experience (Ruben Gotay hit a game-winning home run, and we heckled the hell out of the Padres’ Robert Fick). Plus, it is in Arizona, which is infinitely better than the humidity of Florida Spring Training spots. That being said, I remembered it being a pain in the ass to get too (I remembered we got lost going there and went to the wrong stadium by accident initially; this was pre-GPS days and there are a ton of MLB facilities around the Surprise area). Furthermore, it was a nice ballpark experience, as nice as a good Triple-A park, but nothing noteworthy. So, I would probably give it a 9.

Maybe the Royals Spring Training facility in Surprise is my trip for Spring Break in 2019?


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Laundry: 7. My rating: higher.

I love the Royals uniforms. I like the hats and the uniforms, and that they don’t try to do too much. I get that their look resembles the Dodgers, but people only say that because they both have blue and white. The Cardinals and Reds both have red and white, but you don’t see people complain or complain about it, right?

I also love the Royals powder blues, which they wear for Sunday games. I do wish they would go full boar with the powder blues and also have powder blue pants, a cry to their old school days in the 70’s and 80’s when they were a powerhouse in the American League and had a legitimate rivalry with the Yankees. I also liked their gold outline jerseys and hats, which they wore primarily in 2016 after they won the 2015 World Series (which most teams do anyways). However, I feel the Royals could get away with the gold more often, just because of the “Royalty” motif of their nickname.

The dark blue road uniforms are the only ones I’m down on and prevent me from going higher than a 9. They just look like Spring Training uniforms, and if they wanted to do a solid blue look, I felt they could’ve gotten a bit more creative with the jersey design. Overall though, I think the Royals uniforms are underrated and don’t get as much love as they deserve, mostly because they always get compared to the Dodgers.


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Social Media: 2. My rating: higher.

I admit: the Royals twitter handle is really positive. Like overly positive. I’m pretty sure the Royals twitter is handled by an intern who doesn’t want to piss off Dayton Moore and have to sit through another “anti-porn” seminar, or is a retired mother from Overland Park who has nothing better to do than tweet how much she loves her Royals. I do think though that 2 is pretty unfair. They are pretty responsive to tweets, and they seem pretty active on social media, even if it is a bit vanilla.

If it’s just based on the Royals social media, the rating probably would be around 4. However, I’m giving it a couple of more points (6) due to the affiliates who are just great, especially the Wilmington Blue Rocks, who post GIFs like a madman possessed by Four Loko. Yes, Wilmington’s only the High-A, Carolina League affiliate of the Royals. But that doesn’t stop them from being turned up on Twitter to the 100th degree, which merits a follow from Royals fans who are active on the Twitter-verse. Now if the Royals Twitter can get some help from these guys in Delaware.


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Mascot: 8. My rating: higher.

It’s a lion, who is considered “Royalty” of the jungle. He’s dressed in a Royals uniform. The hairs on his head look like a crown. He loves to wave the Royals flag, especially after a victory. And his name is Slugerrr…that’s right, with not one, not two, but THREE R’s. (That’s how we do in Kansas City! F your spelling!)

Look at the Giants’ mascot. A seal. The A’s? An elephant. The Rockies? A deformed, deranged Barney.

The Royals have a lion…lions were the stars of “The Lion King,” which kicked ass. Barney sucked. Nobody watched Operation Dumbo Drop. And you think people would go watch a movie called “The Seal King?”

I rest my case. Give Sluggerrr a 10.


ALCS - Baltimore Orioles v Kansas City Royals - Game Four

Aggregate rating: 4.99. My rating thus far: 7.28 (with 7 categories)

So, my rating of the Royals is about 2.29 higher than THT’s ratings. Now, I didn’t weigh them just yet, so this is simply a raw average for now. If they took my rating, that would put the Royals fifth in between the Dodgers and Rockies. I like Kauffman and the Royals better than both those teams and their ballparks, personally, but I know I am a Royals fan, which colors my view a bit (plus my family cheers for the Giants so that also colors things as well).

Of course, this rating isn’t totally complete. I still have two categories to consider (ballpark experience and accessibility) so this rating could change after tomorrow’s game (which is why I didn’t weigh it; I feel those two categories are weighed so heavily that including the weights with this initial rating would be unfair, not to mention complicated). I do worry about accessibility since I definitely prefer the “mass transit to the ballpark” options of San Francisco and Oakland which Kansas City is devoid of. However, I can tolerate driving and parking if the commute is tolerable, which will be interesting to see during a day game during the week.

Let’s hope Kauffman Stadium and the Royals have a good one in store for Wednesday afternoon.

Who is Heath Fillmyer? And can he help this Royals rotation?

The dreams of an undefeated second half came to an abrupt end four games after the All-Star break (I know I’m kidding), as the Royals wasted a 3-0 lead in the seventh and 4-2 lead in the ninth to lose 5-4 to the Detroit Tigers at Kauffman Stadium Monday night. (This Reddit thread will let you know who fans feel is responsible for the loss.) However, there were a few bright spots in the loss: the Royals had 13 hits, a sign that their offense is coming around; Brian Goodwin, acquired in a trade with Washington over the weekend, was 2-for-2 in his Royals debut (albeit as a pinch hitter); and rookie Heath Fillmyer, making his second big league start, was superb, going 6 2/3 innings, with six strikeouts and only 3 hits and 1 ER allowed.

Fillmyer’s performance has been the second-most-talked-about story from yesterday’s loss (as Brandon Maurer and his 14.25 ERA, unfortunately, has usurped all the Royals fan comment headlines). And it’s easy to see why, especially when one checks out the highlights from his start.

There’s been no question that the Royals starting pitching has been an Achilles heel for the club this season. While Danny Duffy has started to turn a corner after a rough start, the Royals staff has struggled to not only stay healthy but also consistently effective as well this year. Ian Kennedy, Jakob Junis, Erik Skoglund, and Jason Hammel are all examples of starters who have flashed some solid starts but have either failed to string effective ones together or stay off the disabled list. So, to see Fillmyer, recently acquired this past Winter in a trade with the A’s, to demonstrate promise in only his second Major League start is definitely cause for excitement amongst Royals fans, especially as Dayton Moore, Ned Yost, and the Royals organization try to figure out who will be part of their rotation plans in the near future.


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Who is Fillmyer and what has he done so far as a pitcher?

As stated before, Fillmyer, who originally played shortstop in junior college his freshman year, came over in a deal this winter along Jesse Hahn from Oakland for Ryan Buchter, Brandon Moss, and $3.25 million in cash. The deal was a bit of a dump for the Royals, who wanted to shed Moss after a disappointing 2017 campaign in Kansas City. Hahn was expected to be the prize of the deal and would booster the Royals rotation, as Hahn experienced some success with the San Diego Padres and A’s rotations in the past.

Unfortunately, Hahn hasn’t done literally anything yet as a Royal, as he was shelved on the disabled list early in Spring Training due to UCL discomfort (he recently has just begun a rehab assignment in Surprise, Arizona, the Royals Training facility). Thus with Hahn not pitching until just recently, the spotlight from this trade has been squarely put on Fillmyer, the 18th rated prospect in the A’s system according to Baseball America going into 2018.

Royals Farm Report had a pretty good little scouting report on Fillmyer shortly after the trade, which can be found here. Here’s a couple of key bullet points that Patrick Brennan wrote up on Fillmyer in the piece:

“Fillmyer works with a pretty slow, straight-forward, over-the-top delivery. Doesn’t feature a lot of moving parts and it seems easy to repeat. The arm speed looks really good, allowing for a sneaky mid-90s fastball that holds some good sinking action. From what I’ve seen, he commands this pitch really well, having a good feel for both sides of the plate…

“I like the chances that he ends up as a 4/5 starter in the major leagues. If not, I think his sinker along with his plus-secondaries can probably play in the bullpen…

“The Royals landed themselves a pitcher that will already rank high among the other arms in the organization. As mentioned above, Fillmyer was ranked the #18 prospect in a deeper Oakland Athletics farm system, so if we had to pin an early ranking on him post-trade, he’d probably find himself in the 10-15 range.”

So far this year, the results have been a little mixed in Omaha. In 13 starts with the Storm Chasers this year, he posted a 5.75 ERA, 4.64 FIP, 0.67 HR/FB ratio, and a K/BB ratio of 1.68. Those really aren’t great numbers, especially for someone in Triple-A. That being said, one could contribute his inflated numbers to his first experience beyond Double-A (he’s 2.6 years younger than the average Triple-A player), and the hitter-friendly environments of the Pacific Coast League. This is further evidenced in the high BABIP (.342) and abnormally low strand rate (62.5 percent). With more time, it may have been possible that Fillmyer’s numbers would’ve evened out a bit, especially considering the outings he’s showed before, as evidenced by his six-inning performance against Memphis earlier this year in the video below:

At the Major League level, some numbers look a lot nicer: six games total, two starts, 22.1 IP, 2.50 ERA, 0.81 HR/FB ratio. However, the advanced numbers aren’t so generous: 4.50 FIP, 1.30 K/BB ratio, .246 BABIP. If Fillmyer could credit inflated numbers due to high BABIP and hitter-friendly conditions, then the inverse could be true of Fillmyer’s performance thus far in Kansas City. Of course, Fillmyer’s sample is so small that it’s really hard to make any credible judgment of him as a pitcher just yet. We’ll need 2-3 starts before we can really make a solid, practical analysis of Fillmyer’s performance and outlook as a pitcher at the Major League level.


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What can we say about Fillmyer going forward?

There’s a lot to like about Fillmyer’s performance last night. It wasn’t exactly the best lineup hitting behind him, or defense (the Royals had Hunter Dozier at 3rd instead of Mike Moustakas; Drew Butera behind the plate; and Salvador Perez playing first). And yet, Fillmyer didn’t need much help as he pretty much cruised until he allowed two runners on in the seventh (and then promptly witness the bullpen tear his win to shreds). In the Royals sweep over the Twins, we have seen Duffy, Junis, and Keller all pitch well this season at some point, so while their wins and strong performances were nice, they didn’t shock Royals fans at all (it’s just surprising that they all came at once). Fillmyer’s, on the other hand, came a bit unexpectedly, especially considering the Tigers had a more established starter going against him in Francisco Liriano.

Fillmyer’s next few starts will be interesting to track. In addition to Hahn, Skoglund has begun his own rehab, and Kennedy may come back to the rotation at some point when he recovers. But, as evidenced by tonight, Fillmyer deserves an extended shot in the rotation for the time being, even with those other options available in the near future. As we have seen before in Omaha, Fillmyer has been a bit up and down with his starts, and no question his BABIP will rise in future starts, which will undoubtedly damper the ERA a bit. The only question will be how much will it rise?

It’s hard to trust Fillmyer because he’s not really an “elite” prospect by any means (BA graded him a 45 with High Risk). The K numbers don’t wow you, and he gives up too many walks, based on his numbers in the minors and even with the Royals. But, he definitely showed some confidence and poise in Monday’s start, and his moxie to convince Yost to keep him in shows that the kid at the very least is a competitor (even though it didn’t work; he gave up a hit the next batter and Yost promptly too him out on the second visit). Maybe Fillmyer’s future will be in the bullpen eventually (I could see those K numbers improving in fewer innings), but for the remainder of this season, I would rather see the Royals take a chance on a young prospect than take another look at Kennedy or Hammel at this point in the season (and I think many Royals fans would agree with me on this).