Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Free Zack Grienke

An open message to the Royal's brain trust:

Free Zack Grienke.

Let the boy play ball. No wonder he sometimes wonders if it is still fun. When you were a kid there was no designated hitter and you wouldn't have enjoyed the game either if you hadn't been able to hit.

Turn him loose. Let the juices flow.

Heck, let him play shortstop the four days between starts. I'd be willing to bet he's still the best shortstop on the club.

--Lofflin, just dreamin...

Saturday, March 27, 2010

You know you're a Royals fan when...

you're listening to
an interview with the general manager

and the radio talker asks him about the shortstop who was the team's player-of-the-year in 2008

who is hitting .514 in spring training -- two for four again today --

when the radio talker asks the general manager if the shortstop has earned the utility infield job this spring with his great start

and the general manager replies:"... well, I don't know..."

The utility infield job, for goodnesssake!

And the shortstop who apparently has the job sewn up?

He's hitting .222 this spring with an on base percentage roughly half the "utility" guy's on base percentage after hitting a lusty .245 last season and playing short like a sleep walker.

Oh, and the competition for the utility job? He's hitting .157 this spring with eight games to go.

Yep. You know you're a Royal's fan ...

-- Lofflin

“The way I see it is if you go out there and play hard enough and do what you’re supposed to do, everything works itself out.” -- Mike Aviles in today's Star.

Apparently Mike Aviles has never read Man on Spikes... and never met Mike Kutner...

Photograph by Jamie Squire

Friday, March 26, 2010

Heat-Moon revisited

Surprisingly, John and I haven't written much about William Least Heat-Moon on this blog. He is a favorite writer of both of us, and I think it's fair to say Heat-Moon has shaped my writing style, and maybe even my career, to some extent.

I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Heat-Moon in 2008 for the Kansas City Kansan. Heat-Moon was in KC promoting his newest book, "Roads to Quoz," his fourth major travel book following "River-Horse," "PrairyErth" and the classic bestseller "Blue Highways."

I set up the interview through his publishing house (via Rainy Day Books) and was given an hour to speak with the man. I kidnapped him and his wife from their fancy Plaza hotel and took them to lunch at a truly Heat-Moon type of place, Rosedale Barbecue in KCK. We conducted the interview. I uncovered some of Heat-Moon's hidden KCK roots. And then we took a drive.

Three and a half hours later, I returned Heat-Moon and his wife to their hotel.

The story I wrote contained very little of the original, one-hour interview. Most of the piece was about the driving tour that followed.

As a journalist, that was one of the most rewarding days of my career.

Shortly after my interview with Heat-Moon, the newspaper went belly-up and I was laid off.

I bring all this up because I began a new (albeit temporary) job a while back. One day at the lunch table I noticed one of my co-workers reading a tattered copy of "PrairyErth." We struck up a conversation about William Least Heat-Moon, and it's been a common topic for us ever since.

The conversations reminded me that I'd been meaning to re-read Heat-Moon's classic, "Blue Highways."

So this week, I began to do exactly that.

I encourage any of our readers to pick up a copy and read it. You should be able to find it at any local library or bookstore.

I'll close today with this nugget of wisdom from "Blue Highways," a strong statement that sums up my own thoughts about the Christian missionary movement, particularly as it was used against the Native Americans:

Take the land, take the old ways, Christian soldiers, but please, goddamnit, leave me my soul.

--Matt Kelsey

Monday, March 22, 2010

Thoughts on KU loss, Jenee and Jason, sports, weddings and the responsibility of students to do good in the world with what they learn..

I'm afraid
to write after Matt's surprising piece on trash day.

But, being a writer, write I must. Take this entry as a work in progress. Literally. I'll add to it later in the day. I do have a day job.

I'm still digesting the KU loss Saturday evening. I have to admit to feeling generally depressed after the final buzzer -- a freak snowstorm also contributes to my bleak view of the fairness of life. Here are several strangely related thoughts (I'll let you figure out if they are related and how):

1) I happened onto a JeneƩ Osterheldt column from early March yesterday. Don't ask how -- it has to do with when and where I do the daily crossword. It was about a young college graduate who was lucky enough to land a job right out of school. She graduated in special education and was able immediately to put the skills a whole team of people labored hard for four or five years to give her to work in the community.

But that wasn't what Jenee was happy about. Jenee was happy this young suburban woman had decided mid-year to resign her position in special education to concentrate on planning her wedding and "working on her marriage."

Now, aside from the hard fact that her marriage stands less than a 50-50 chance of taking, what rankles is the resignation. What about the children? She just walked out on a group of children who need her. She walked out so she can tend to what amounts to a self-absorbed, overblown, celebration of ... her! Special ed kids need consistency more than any others. But wedding and marriage planning trumped her responsibility to the community.

Now, as a man, I know I do not understand weddings, despite having been through three of them -- only one of which took. I do understand girls grow up dreaming of weddings the way I grew up dreaming about standing on the pitching mound in a major league ball park. I get it.

But, I don't get walking out in the middle of the year on the kids. Even to play major league baseball. (Can't believe I wrote that...)

But read the article for yourself. Tell me it isn't all about me, right down to the Dave Ramsey prosperity religion stuff. She felt pressure in college (from her parents, I presume) to find a career and, since she chose education, apparently she wanted a career helping people learn. Now she wishes she had gone in graphic design.

One thing I think college students miss today is their responsibility. As teachers, we have studied 20,30, 50 years to learn what we have to pass onto them in four years. We show up every day, do our best to teach, agonize over how to present difficult ideas, agonize over grades, agonize over how to show them what it means to be a citizen in a community, registrars get them into the right classes and rooms, financial aid officers get them money, the cafeteria feeds them ... they have a responsibility to go out into the world and do good.

That's what I said. They have a responsibility to go out into the world and do good.

No matter how much money they paid for their education, they owe us this.

I tried once to build this concept into the mission statement of the university where I teach but the phrase didn't make it out of committee. I know the idea that education is about doing good in the world flies against the consumer concept of education. The drive up window metaphor for education doesn't fit this idea. Imagine the kid at the drive up window telling you to remember you have a responsibility to eat that hamburger and get stronger from it so you can do good in the world because a cow gave its life and the staff inside prepared it lovingly for you. Sounds silly, I admit. But, dammit, higher education is not a drive up window and ideas are not hamburgers.

2) Jason Whitlock is the most inconsistent writer in big time journalism. Red Smith said it was impossible to write a column every day and not have a clinker once in a while. But Whitlock puts the great sports columnist's idea to the test. He writes well one day and terrible the next. This is more about the editor than the writer, in my opinion. His column today about the blame game in KU's loss is disorganized, unthoughtful, ragged and weak. It's really just a rough draft and apparently no one at the Star is deputized to tell him so.

First, he does exactly what he says he shouldn't. He hands out blame, though he waits until the last graph to do so. Then, inexplicably, he drops race into the picture -- arguing three teams were under-seeded in the tournament because they were predominantly white. I'm inferring this because he doesn't bother giving what could be an interesting idea more than quick jab. And, like the Missouri defense, he's all over the place. In basketball, this is good. In writing it is disrespectful to the reader.

3) The difference is amazing. While Kansas fans writhe over a defeat in the second round of the NCAA tournament, Missouri fans celebrate a defeat in the second round of the tournament. What does this mean? My guess is it speaks volumes about the media circus which surrounds college basketball these days.

I think one reason for KU's stunning loss of composure was the media. Here is a prime example. In the press conference after the first victory (If I were a college coach I'd only send the end of the bench boys out to meet the press for this exact reason...) Tyrel Reed was asked by a reporter if all he does now is look for the three-pointer. Reed, who appears to be basketball smart, was taken aback by this. No, he protested. Three's are what they've been giving me. I take what I can get.

The seed, however, was planted. Reed may have thought it denigrating to be seen as just a three-point shooter rather than a driver. He may also have thought if other teams think the three is all he has, they may overplay him outside and to survive he needs to drive once in a while. And, so, in the waning seconds of the crucial game with come-from-behind victory in his grasp, he turned down an open three and drove to the bucket where he was called for a charge. It was, by the way, the right call. You have to guess the reporter's question was squirming around somewhere in the back of his mind just before that ill-fated drive.

But, tears? Players collapsed on the floor? Comparisons to the emotions of losing a child? Fans too depressed to be civil at dinner? It was just sports. Right? It was just a game. Right?

-- Lofflin, too depressed to be civil at dinner...

Friday, March 19, 2010

Trash Day

-Photo via

Sometimes to hang on to sanity, you must seek out - or better yet, stumble upon - beauty in the little things.

Friday is our Trash Day. Usually I drag the barrel and the recycling bin to the curb Thursday night, because you never know what time the garbage crews will show up.

(Sometimes it's 6 a.m., sometimes the middle of the afternoon. But I am not criticizing garbage men and women. They have one of the worst jobs in the world. I couldn't do it. I wouldn't do it. They say New York City garbage workers make six figures. They deserve it. But I digress...)

But I procrastinated this week and I took the trash out Friday morning before leaving for work. The sun was peeking over the horizon. The air was brisk but full of promise for the coming spring. I placed my barrel and my bin at the curb and glanced down the block.

House after house, from my block to the corner, the garbage receptacles were lined up in a perfect, arrow-straight row. Garbage can. Recycle bin. Garbage can. Recycle bin. Garbage can. Recycle bin. All the way to the intersection.

And in its own way, the symmetry of early-morning trash was beautiful.

Of course, when I arrived home, the barrels were strewn about the neighborhood, and all symmetry was lost to chaos. But for a brief glimmering moment Friday morning, the stars - and the cans - were aligned.

-- Matt Kelsey

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A modern-day literary gem

As I've expressed before on this blog, I normally don't read modern fiction. Most of the books on my shelf were published before my lifetime. I don't really understand it. I just enjoy old books more. The closest I can come to an explanation is an anecdote about my musical tastes. When I was a kid, I listened to nothing but country music, because that's what my parents listened to. I was enamored over George Strait and Clint Black and Reba McIntyre and all the rest. Then one day during my high school years, shortly after I got my license, I was driving around listening to the radio. And it just hit me. The nasally, modern "country" music flowing through the speakers sounded phony and terrible. Since that day I never actively listened to modern country music again.

But I love old country and bluegrass. Hank Williams (Senior, of course). Bill Monroe. Johnny Cash. Flatt and Scruggs. Willie Nelson.

Yeah, that's the stuff.

My tastes in fiction have largely gravitated the same direction: older is better. Steinbeck. Pearl S. Buck. Charles Portis. John D. MacDonald. I love it. And conversely, I would rather, I don't know, get a root canal than read a Tom Clancy book.

But every once in a while I stumble upon something written more recently that strikes a chord. One example would be "The Kite Runner," a fascinating and heartbreaking book by Khaled Hosseini. A riveting thriller called "The Straw Men" by Michael Marshall kept me engaged. A handful of others.

Recently I found another one. It's "The Corrections," by Jonathan Franzen. It was published in 2001. And it's simply marvelous. It's a big honking mother of a book, over 500 pages, and I've taken my time getting through it. But I'm nearing the end, and I can't wait to finish it.

(Although, this book about a dysfunctional Midwestern family sometimes strikes a little too close to home - even though my own family, by comparison, is startlingly functional.)

Franzen's next novel, "Freedom," will come out later this year. And for the first time in years, I may actually have to go to the bookstore and buy it the day it comes out, rather than waiting until it shows up in the discount racks.

Now if only I could find a modern country music artist to engage me.

But I'm not holding my breath.

--Matt Kelsey

Friday, March 12, 2010

Thinking basketball with the Big 12 Tourney full on...

Another image ...
...from that 1978 Kings and Sixers match at Kemper Arena. Richard Williams posterized, Scotty Wedman looking on, a bit of Sixer sky-walking in progress. You forget sometimes what basketball looks like from the floor, how big it is. Watching on television is a good way to experience basketball but not as visceral as sitting on the hardwood with a camera to your eye. Which, of course, is nothing compared to taking a charge in the lane.

What I like about these two images I found in my trunk is how the arena looks behind the players. You can really get the feel for the Christians and the lions here.


Sunday, March 7, 2010

The country game; the city game; roots of basketball are everywhere -- enjoy Kent Babbs' piece on Kansas hoops today and remember Lucius Allen

Don't miss the wonderful story by Kent Babb in the Star today about basketball in the state of Kansas. The writing is just as graceful as a rainbow three pointer from the corner and the subject a real surprise.

What makes basketball such an interesting sport is the way it comes from so many very different places. Its Kansas roots are well documented in this story. The way it fits the rhythm of farm life, the way barn walls seem right for basketball goals, the way kids who find freedom from drudgery in the game love the warm confines of the gym in winter, is important to the game's lineage.

But rural Kansas is not the only place basketball has been loved. I also remember a stirring sight from a window on The Southwest Chief somewhere in New Mexico. It was dusk and the scrub grass seemed to stretch forever. Right in the middle of nothing was a basketball goal and two American Indian kids shooting hoops nearly by moonlight.

And, of course, basketball is also a city game. In fact, if you love basketball you will also want to read "The City Game" by Pete Axthelm. It, too, is beautifully written. And its accounts of playground stars will make your head swim. The Helicopter who could take a quarter off the top of the backboard. Connie Hawkins doing play-by-play even as he played. The grit and the muscle of basketball on asphalt tells the same story from a different world.

When I was a kid, we didn't know anything about basketball until we met the gym in junior high. In grade school, when winter came and it snowed, we all showed up at the playground behind our school building with snow shovels, bats, gloves and baseballs covered with electrician's tape because the asphalt ate the hide off an unprotected baseball.

When we discovered basketball, we made the winter switch immediately. We played on driveways where you could be 15 feet from the bucket on either end but just five feet away in the middle and we perfected shots where you had to leap off the retaining wall as part of the move. One of our best players had this kamikaze move where he would drive the middle then just lay out flat between the big guys and flip the ball up and off the metal backboard with no concern for what would happen when he lost air speed and crashed. What happened was simple. He went home with these big raw places on his elbows and knees -- and sometimes his chin .

When the weather got too bad, we moved inside. We loved the gym. The heat and light when snow and ice covered the ground felt like heaven. The wood floor was actually soft compared to the places we usually played. If the clock was turned on for games we were even happier. It was refuge for us when winters like this one seemed to stretch on forever.

The first great player I ever saw was Lucius Allen. Lou -- that's what we chanted from the stands -- honed his skill on the elementary school playground across from the high school. They say he was there everyday, all summer, getting his game together. I'll never forget how he could rise up from the middle right handed, hang in the air and move the ball to his left hand, then loft a soft teardrop into the nets as if he were tipping his cap to a lady. He went on to UCLA, where I watched on television as he and Mike Warren brought the ball up court for the great Alcindor to sky hook home. And, from there, to the NBA.

I rarely watch a basketball game that I don't think about the magic he possessed right there in the place I grew up. Made our asphalt seem special, it did.


Lucius Allen vs. World B. Free, Kemper Arena circa 1978... /Lofflin