April 2006

A Royal Mess

   Sweeney Its only 15 games into the 2006 season for Kansas City but the Royals are already under siege from the local media and fans.  Three times in the last 4 years they’ve lost at least 100 games.  The Royals have already clinched a losing record for the month of April.  That makes 16 times in the last 17 years they have ended the first month of the season without a winning record.  No other team in baseball lost 11 games in a row last year.  The Royals have now done it in back-to-back seasons. 

   Its not like the Royals are without any talent.  Team captain Mike Sweeney is a tremendous power hitter and off the field he’s a humble down-to-earth person.  He’s like a right-handed version of Jim Thome.  He had four hits in the first game of the series and just missed hitting two homeruns.  It was a game that both teams desperately wanted to win.  The difference, in my opinion, was that the Royals looked like a team "hoping" to win and the Indians played like a team "expecting" to win.

   One of the best things about playing Kansas City is coming to Kauffman Stadium.  Its practically a relic by today’s standards but, it has aged better than any park of its era.  Opened in 1973, Kauffman Stadium is already the 5th oldest stadium in the American League behind Oakland, Anaheim, New York and Boston.  Its located just off the freeway and sits adjacent to Arrowhead Stadium (home of the Kansas City Chiefs) so there is plenty of parking.  The park holds  close to 41,000 and has a very intimate feel.  The grounds are always immaculate and what makes the park unique is the water fountains that span the outfield area just beyond the fences from left field to right field.  Ballpark concessions include the famous Kansas City barbecue and if the Royals get twelve hits in a game every fan can redeem their ticket for a dozen Krispy Kreme donuts.

   Royals Manager Buddy Bell certainly has alot of hard work ahead of him but, he has been through all of this before and is the perfect man for the job.  Buddy understands the demands of the game and just how difficult it can be, especially for young players.  He has great patience with players but, he’s not afraid to undress someone if they don’t play the game the correct way.

   Making matters even worse for the Royals is the fact that the Central Division is home to some of the league’s best players and pitchers.  In their recent 3-game series against Chicago the Royals managed just 1 run and 11 hits.  Its going to be very difficult for Kansas City to avoid losing a hundred games for the 4th time in five years.

Something New Every Day

   One of the best things about the game of baseball is that its never the same game twice.  Every day you show up at the ballpark there is a chance you will see something you’ve never seen before.  Personally I’m still waiting for my first no-hitter.  I am one of the few Indians fans who actually admits that he did NOT attend or even watch on television, Len Barker’s perfect game in 1981.  The Tribe will be celebrating the 25th anniversary of Barker’s gem with a figurine giveaway on May 13th when the Indians play host to Detroit.

   I didn’t see Andre Thornton hit for the cycle in 1978 but, I did see Travis Hafner accomplish the same feat 3 years ago against Minnesota.  I also missed Albert Belle’s single season franchise record setting 50th homerun in 1995 but, I was at the microphone when Jim Thome broke that mark seven years later.

   I was also calling games for the Tribe when they used a franchise record 32 different pitchers in 2000.  I’m sure you remember Dave Burba, Charles Nagy and Chuck Finley but, do you recall Cameron Cairncross, Andrew Lorraine and Kane Davis?  Charlie Manuel never got enough credit for the job he did keeping that team in the playoff chase through the final day of the regular season despite the revolving door at the clubhouse entrance.

   Despite all of the various injuries the 2000 team suffered I never saw anything like Wednesday night in Baltimore.  The Indians lost two pitchers to injuries in the same inning.  Matt Miller re-injured his elbow in the 6th inning and two batters later Rafael Betancourt walked off the mound with a strain in his upper back.

   Not many people watching the game realized the Indians almost lost second baseman Ronnie Belliard one inning later.  When Victor Martinez threw down to the bag after the pitcher had finished warming up, Belliard jumped high in the air to grab the throw and he rolled his ankle when he landed on the base.  Being a hard-nosed player Belliard simply had the ankle taped up and he was back in the line-up Thursday afternoon.

   Now its off the Kansas City…and watch out for the banana peel.

On the Road, Again.

Greek2   The season is now officially under way and we are about to settle in for the long grind.  The Indians won’t have a day off now until April 24th, which is actually a good thing.  Playing every day is what the players are used to so having multiple off-days in a short period of time makes it hard for them to settle in to a routine.

   The Tribe will spend Easter weekend in Detroit before going to Baltimore and then Kansas City to wrap up the road trip.  The Motor City has become the center of the big event sports world the past few years.  The Tigers hosted the All-Star game last summer, the Lions hosted the Super Bowl last February and the NCAA Final Four is coming in a couple of years too.  Downtown Detroit is not the most breathtaking place in the world but, it can be a fun town.  Greektown is located near Comerica Park and is a collection of Greek restaurants and pastry shops.  At the center of it all is the Greektown Casino which is one of three major casinos in Detroit. 

   Two things you must do if you come watch the Tribe in Detroit. 

  1. Eat before the game at Pizza Papalis in Greektown.  The best pizza in the midwest and quite possible some of the best ‘za in the country.  Try the original crust with sausage and banana peppers.
  2. After the game stop for a night cap at the Old Shileleagh.  This Irish tavern has live music upstairs and the atmosphere is always lively.  Years ago it wasn’t unusual to walk in after a ballgame and see former Indians pitcher Charles Nagy behind the bar serving customers.

   Have a happy Easter weekend and enjoy the time with friends and family.

Charging from the Gate!

Caseyandwedge   Perhaps no team in baseball needed a fast start more than the Indians.  After the past April struggles under Eric Wedge the Tribe seemed determined to make sure it didn’t happen again.  Moments after the final out of the first game was recorded in Chicago I could almost hear the shrieks coming from Cleveland, "HERE WE GO AGAIN!"

   Monday night I watched the NCAA basketball championship game (yawn) with the Tribe coaching staff at Ditka’s Restaurant in Chicago.  I can honestly say that not a single one of them was concerned about what happened the night before.  The reason?  This team has a quiet confidence and a firm belief that they are ready to take the league by storm.  The players sat quietly and watched as the White Sox celebrated their World Championship by raising banners, passing out rings and hoisting the trophy on consecutive days and then spoiled the party by taking 2 out of 3 from Chicago.

   It sure was great to finally come home and see a sold-out Jacobs Field for the Home Opener.  The fact that Mother Nature cooperated by halting the rains made it more enjoyable for the fans that braved the elements during the early afternoon hours.  Casey Blake joined Travis Hafner(’04) and Travis Fryman(’02) in the home opener grand slam club as the Indians pounded Minnesota 11-6.

   One of the highlights of the home opener was Casey Coleman throwing out the ceremonial first pitch.  Casey is fighting a courageous battle with pancreatic cancer and fired the ball just off the outside corner and into the waiting mitt of Indians Manager Eric Wedge.  Afterward Casey spent an inning in the booth with us and he is determined to return to WTAM by June.  I wish him well and ask that you keep Casey and his family in your thoughts and prayers.

   Did anyone happen to see Tom Hamilton decked out in a tuxedo for opening day?  He was asked to wear the penguin suit by the front office while he announced the starting line-ups down on the field.  He took quite a bit of abuse from the boys on press row.  The comments ranged from, "Hey Tom, who’s the best man?" to, "Hey Tom, isn’t it a little early for prom season?"  You have to have a thick skin in this business and Tom certainly does.

   Finally…Indians Media Relations Director Bart Swain invited me to join his fantasy baseball league.  Bart and 10 guys he went to Ohio University with all descended upon Chicago for the annual draft last Saturday night and it was a riot.  Bart has won the league 2 years in a row and has talked more smack than Ali, Deion Sanders and Hulk Hogan combined.  I took over a team that finished 10th out of 12 last year so I have some work to do.  Its a "keeper league" so I signed Travis Hafner to a long term deal and drafted Aaron Boone.  Thanks to their exploits Bart is now chasing me.

   PS – Anyone ever heard of Al Cypert?