Monday, February 25, 2013

Pray they're wrong about the snow and right about the Royals... A sober look on a snowy day at the Burpee catalogue and the Royals in 2013...

With more snow on the way thoughts naturally turn to spring and baseball. The second question most people ask after, “Have you ever seen anything like this snow?” is “How do you think the Royals will do this year?”

Of course, it’s February, spring training has just begun, so the question is full of hope.  It’s part of the rhythm of our lives, the way humans have learned to cope with the seasons, as long as they insist on populating these ridiculous climates. It’s the same with gardening. You look in the seed catalogue and all you see is potential.

The Burpee Ultra Big Boy. Yields bushels of 8 to 10-pound redder-than-red fruits with tender flesh, all meat, no seeds, perfect for slicing, canning, cooking, salads, salsa… stores for months… disease resistant, deer resistant, cat resistant, heat resistant, snow resistant, never needs water… utterly foolproof.

You pore over the seed catalogue in February and all you see is potential. You don’t see wilt or bugs or drought, or your own inability to control the urge to water, water, water. You don’t see the weeds, the dead plants, the bottom end rot. You see bushels of 10-pound ultra tomatoes and big flat slices on big fat hamburger patties.

It’s the same with baseball in February. All Aristotelian potential.

The Royals? Well, let me offer a simple, sober, admittedly one-dimensional, analysis of the situation.

Baseball is a hard game. It’s every bit as hard as growing Rutgers tomatoes through a Kansas City summer. Because its statistics are accumulated across a huge number of events, and because the game is so difficult, its numbers are pretty consistent, pretty sober, indicators.

We don’t like to think of life in these terms. We like the idea of improvement. We like to imagine a breakthrough is just around the corner for us, just 100 more situps away. We like to believe – we have to believe – this will be the summer the garden flourishes, the tomatoes are all perfect, the beans don’t dry up, the squash bugs don’t appear.

So, I’d say in a nutshell the Royals of 2013 are all potential. In baseball, that ain’t ever good because the numbers rarely lie.

To be competitive, the Royals need their first baseman, third baseman, second baseman, centerfielder and right fielder to hit significantly better than they did in 2012. Significantly better.

In the case of the right fielder and the second baseman, two of the five potentials, that would mean accomplishing something their significantly large body of work suggests is out of reach.

Because the first and third baseman have logged far fewer at-bats, their respective ceilings are pure speculation. Scouts think their ceilings are pretty high. For the Royals to be competitive this summer, the scouts will have to be right and the two players will have to accomplish breakout years.

The center fielder is a question mark because both his small body of work and the scouting reports are modest in their estimates. And, he will have to stay healthy, which is the one worrisome trait emerging from his brief time in the major leagues. So, three of the five will have to realize a good deal of their potential  right now for the team to be competitive and the other two will have to cheat their numbers and accomplish something logic says is out of reach.

In the real estate business, you’d say that’s a lot of blue sky.

Here’s one way to look at it. For those five key players to each hit .300, they’d have to raise their collective batting average 250 points, an average of 50 points each. That’s a lot of blue sky.

Now, two players, the shortstop and the catcher, will have to maintain a high level of play from last season for the Royals to be competitive. Their respective bodies of work are also brief; it is difficult to know if last season was indicative of their skills or not.  For the team to be successful, you have to hope last season was not an anomaly for either. Can the catcher hit .301 again and the shortstop hit .293?

The shortstop has close to 2,000 plate appearances across five years and his cumulative batting average is .263. He would need to play roughly 40 points above that to produce the same season. The catcher has less than 500 major league at-bats but his average is .311. Chalk him in.

Of the seven unproven key players, only one appears a solid bet to produce competitive numbers based on history.

The left fielder and the designated hitter have a pretty large body of work and they played about even with it last year. They are the only two of the nine everyday players you can pencil in for 2013. The left fielder will probably hit in the neighborhood of .280 or .290 with a decent slugging percentage and generally good production. The designated hitter, the only other proven major league player of the nine, will hit once in every three at-bats, show significant power to the alleys, show a high slugging percentage and ground into more double-plays than most fans like.

In fact, if fans had their way, he’d have been traded years ago. Think about it. The only legitimate all-star, the only everyday player on the team likely to be a starter on any actual first division club in the major leagues, would have been traded by fans long before now.

So, if you look at the coming season from a sober perspective, you realize this spring, hope indeed springs eternal in the Royals’ breast. This is, perhaps, the most hopeful team in baseball. And, I guess I’m about as hopeful about a playoff spot in 2013 as I am the weather scientists are wrong about today’s big snowstorm.


Then again, if Major League Baseball has its way, we’ll eventually see three-fourths of its teams in every division in the playoffs every September. I say September because that’s when the playoffs will have to start. It works for the NBA, you know.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Peace and quiet, even in the city, a good reason to enjoy 12 inches of snow... the great ice storm of 2002 reminds us peace and quiet are not the same thing and at least trigger fingers were also stilled

Cutting through this white fog of silence, a cardinal. In the frozen tree by the window, he sings crisp notes of love or territory, but with less joy than a week ago when the temperature was sixty degrees. Today, it is twenty degrees and yesterday’s snow is piled up a foot deep beneath a gray sky lit by weak morning sun, hidden but luminous, so the world below feels like the inside of a fish bowl. The big burr oak and the bleached white sycamore stand nearly motionless, swaying only slightly in the sky. The blue spruce is heavy with snow, globs of it, caught in the branches top to bottom. A single junco ventures out on the blue spruce mountain peak scratching for berries.

Here, in the middle of the city, dead silence. The hum of traffic is gone. For now, no fire engines or ambulances. No small jets or propeller planes roaring overhead in landing patterns aimed at the old airport by the river. No police helicopters or rescue helicopters bound for the hospital chopping up the air. No dogs and no children. No trash trucks grumbling. Not even shovels scraping driveways and sidewalks.

The city will wake soon. A city can stand silence only so long. I’ll do the same eventually, lace up boots, pull on long underwear and heavy coat, push open the back door and take the handle of the snow shovel leaning next to it against the house. I’ll be out there soon enough, pushing snow, clearing a path down the brick sidewalk to the car, then clearing the driveway and uncovering the car – though I have no plans to go anywhere.

This morning is a bit like the morning in 2002 after the great ice storm. That morning broke just as quiet, but not so peaceful. Peaceful and quiet are not the same. That morning a large sycamore lay sprawled across the icy grass of the front yard. Power was off and no telling when it would come back on. The house was cold and getting colder. Menace has been in the air the night before. Electrical transformers were exploding – a blast of lightning in the sky then the sound of a gunshot.  Fire engines and ambulances were background noise deep into the night. More frightening was the sound of trees cracking ominously in the wind then the distant rushing noise as they crumbled in long gusts to the ground. Then, suddenly, not in the distance but in the front yard and loud as a freight train.Nothing you could call sleep arrived even into the early hours.

It was quiet that morning, not even the sound of the furnace coming on, but it was not peaceful. And, yet, even in the aftermath, the morning was strangely beautiful, brilliant sun, deep blue sky, everything, every branch, every rail, every sidewalk, every blade of grass, shimmering in ice lit from behind. And, then, the tree saws started their incessant growling up and down the block.

This morning broke with both peace and quiet. Ah… there… the first shovel scrape. Humans have arrived, their natural urge to go, to move, to dominate nature – even if there is nowhere to go to – has won. More scrapes. Now the sound of a spinning motor and, of course, the sound of spinning tires. The digging out has begun and the quiet is gone. The quiet is gone, but not the snow.

And, for at least one day, the people of Kansas City seemed at peace with each other. The last report on the Kansas City Star's homicide page was three days and two hours ago. When the headlines describe the snowstorm of 2013 as fierce, brutal, dangerous, and paralyzing, and the reports scream that everything from airports to highways are closed, take comfort. Apparently, Kansas City's itchy trigger fingers were also paralyzed -- at least for a few hours.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Listening to AM sports talk radio in Kansas City this morning... wondering if I had stumbled into the restroom at Kelly's Westport Inn at closing time

Listening to 810 AM radio this morning while waiting out a Fleetwood Mac tune on XM. Too lazy to change channels on the XM radio, I just stuck with the default station arcing across the air in Kansas City.

What the heck. A lot of big stuff is happening in sports right now in Kansas City. KU faces a crossroads moment tonight. MU pulled off a brilliant upset last night. K-State played like champs Monday night.

Baseball is in the air. Spring training is in full swing. The World Baseball Classic starts Saturday. News seeps out every day about the Miami connection to performance enhancing drugs. News also seeps out every day of the NCAA investigation into Miami athletics and one particular coach now located down in Columbia.

Just a lot of stuff going on. To say nothing of the terrible news about the four-alarm fire last night on the Plaza, which you suspect would transcend the boundaries of news to sports for most people.

And, for fifteen minutes I’m listening to three guys – I think three but maybe more – discuss – well… that’s not exactly the right word for it – blenders.

That’s not a new sports term for a ‘glue guy’ or a ‘team player.’ That’s blenders, as in those glass and plastic cones that sit on ultra-sharp blades with terrifying motors you use to make salsa and – apparently, vegetable and fruit smoothies.

I don’t know who these three guys are, not even their names. I have no radio attachment to them at all. Consequently, I’m not really interested in their opinions of blenders. That’s true even though no opinions of blenders were actually expressed. I’m not sure what was expressed. The ‘conversation’ barely rose above the level of static.

To be honest, I don’t think they actually finished a single sentence during the time I listened.

The 'segment' started with a loud rapper not in the background and a guy who was apparently talking with a mouth full of undigested peanuts, competing at exactly the same volume for attention. Either one could have been understood alone, but together they sounded exactly like two people yelling into your ear at the same time. I mean, it was just brutal. And, what came out of the car speakers didn't get better once the rapper was finally podded down. In fact, instead of two people talking over each other, now there were three. Or, as I said, maybe more.

After a few miles, I had that long forgotten AM radio moment. You know the one, the moment you say to yourself, ‘Why the hell am I listening to this nonsense ’ When I say 'nonsense', I literally mean non-sense. Without sense. Incoherent. Or, something more colorful. Fleetwood Mac was, at that precise moment, over on XM, and Eric Clapton was on. And, I was no longer too lazy to push the button.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Ethical carnivorism

My wife is a vegetarian. Has been for several years now. And I'm extremely proud of her because of it.

Being a vegetarian, even in the 21st Century, is very difficult, for a couple reasons. Try this: next time you go to Applebee's, see how many menu items you can spot that don't have meat in them. Some restaurants are getting better about offering vegetarian options (Burger King even has a veggie burger on the menu, believe it or not), but at most of these places vegetarians are left out in the cold. Much of the time, when we go out to eat, Jamie ends up with a side salad and a baked potato. And she has to ask the waiter to hold the bacon on both.

The hardest thing about being a vegetarian, though, is perception. When someone finds out Jamie is a vegetarian, they're stunned. No kidding - they're shocked. And I'm not talking about strangers, I'm talking about acquaintances, co-workers, even close friends and family. People have tried to talk her out of it. People have told her she's stupid for not eating meat. People have tried to convince her it's against the Bible's teachings to not eat meat.

People ask her why she's a vegetarian, and it's a complicated answer. But essentially, it was an ethical decision. Jamie loves animals, and she made a conscious choice that she'd rather not eat them.

And after decades of eating meat, Jamie stopped cold turkey (she even stopped eating cold turkey) and hasn't eaten meat since.

Jamie's my hero. She's the strongest person I've never known. I'm not that strong. I don't think I could ever stop eating meat.

But I think I've come up with a more ethical way to eat meat. Check it out:

The life of an animal has a certain value. Is the life of a rhinoceros more valuable than the life of an ostrich? Is the life of a beetle more valuable than the life of a walrus? A dog's life more valuable than a cat's?

I don't think so. I contend each life has the same value.

In order to eat meat, though, you must end a life, or consent to the ending a life.

Therefore, it would be better if that life could feed lots of people instead of one or just a few.

So I give you the Large Animals Only Diet.

Take a cow, for example. An average-sized cow can feed a whopping 1,400 people! By comparison, people who enjoy shrimp often eat 10-20 in one meal. It's obviously better to end one life to feed 1,400 than to end 20 lives to feed one.

Here is a simple list of "Good" and "Bad" options on the animal spectrum.

GOOD: Beef. It's truly what's for dinner, and it's the wisest option for Large Animals Only eaters. A butcher shop can get 1,400 eight-ounce servings of beef out of one cow.

GOOD: Pork. A pig can feed up to 200 people. And the varieties found in pork is impressive: ham, pork roast, ribs, and mother freakin' BACON.

BAD: Chicken. That sucks. Chicken is delicious. Fried chicken is possibly the greatest-tasting food on the face of the earth. But a chicken only feeds 2-5 people, so it's off-limits in the Large Animals Only Diet. However, there's another poultry option...

GOOD: Turkey. A turkey can feed anywhere from 10-25 people - not bad for a bird. And turkey is widely available; you can get a turkey sandwich pretty much anywhere.

BAD: Tiny Seafood. In addition to shrimp, clams, mussels and oysters are terrible choices in this diet system. If you value animal life, killing a dozen of them for your dinner is not a good thing to do. But if you need seafood...

GOOD: Large Fish. Tuna, salmon, swordfish and even large catfish are good choices and can feed large amounts of people each.

BAD: Lobster. A news story I read several years ago is really what sparked this idea for me. The story was about a gigantic lobster caught by a fishing boat. Experts estimated the lobster was alive when Abraham Lincoln was in office. What did they do with the ancient crustacean? They ate it. It troubles me to think that the lobster I get in my surf-and-turf could be a hundred years old. And besides that, one lobster usually only feeds one or two people.


As I wrote at the beginning, I'm not very strong. There's a good chance that next week I might run across an all-you-can-eat buffet and eat a holocaust's worth of crab legs. But I'm definitely going to be conscious of the above rules from now on when I eat.

The next time I'm at a restaurant, if I've narrowed down my menu choices to chicken wings or a hamburger. I'll take the burger. Medium rare, please.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

This is the end

We're living through it, folks. The end of the newspaper business as we know it.

There's no way to stop the rapid death of printed newspapers and the slow decline of journalism overall, so we might as well embrace it as a moment in history. Within a few generations, newspapers as they exist today will cease to do so.

Two recent developments provide evidence of their demise. Okay, this first one is not recent - it happened in May 2012 - but I just heard about it recently during a January 2013 '60 Minutes' report (watch it here). The New Orleans Times-Picayune cut back to 3-day-a-week print publishing. Of course, the owners of the Times-Pic spun the story linked above to focus on "beefed up online coverage," but the real story is the loss of a true daily newspaper. I've been there before: my former employer, the Kansas City Kansan, cut back from five days a week to three, and we spun it the same way. Of course, it was easy to see through the guise. Within a year, the Kansan's print existence came to an end.

The saddest part: New Orleans became the first major metro area without a daily newspaper. How much longer can Kansas City and the KC Star avoid this fate?

The other development: The Washington Post is considering selling its downtown-DC headquarters, including its world-famous newsroom, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.

Bernstein (left) and Woodward in happier times for the newspaper business.

This doesn't necessarily indicate anything about the fate of the Post. Presumably, the newspaper will be able to put out the same product in another space than it does in its current one. But the reason behind the possible move is the real problem. The newspaper employs 600 people now, down from 1,100 ten years ago. A smaller staff means smaller papers. Smaller papers mean less satisfied readers. Less satisfied readers mean a smaller circulation. Eventually, that leads to the death of a newspaper - and don't think a paper like the Post, considered one of the best in the world, would be exempt.

For the record, I still subscribe to two print edition newspapers: The Kansas City Star, and the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal. In my little KCK neighborhood of about 25 or 30 houses, I think there is only one other house that subscribes to the Star. Twenty years ago, I'm sure nearly every house on the block took the Star, the Kansan or both.

The only other surviving subscriber in the neighborhood? An elderly widow in her 70s who doesn't own a computer.