Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Memoirs of a Misguided Sports Fan

This past weekend was a fairly interesting and eventful few days on the Kansas City sports front. The Chiefs, with their seemingly popular new rookie class, opened up their preseason schedule against the Falcons in Atlanta on Friday. Meanwhile, the struggling Royals hosted the hated New York Yankees for four games in yet another David vs. Goliath style matchup.

This is how it all looked from my vantage point..

* * *

Let's start with Friday, which, at least when the weekend began, was the day most fans in this city (including myself) were looking forward to the most. It was amazing to see how quickly the hype and excitement surrounding the Chiefs coming into this season seemed to vanish. In my previous post, I mentioned a few things to look for during the game that might help clue us in on how much this team has really improved.

Well, if we were to use that as a basis, the results are mostly mixed. Branden Albert looked okay, but the ultimate goal of him improving is to see the offensive line perform better as a whole. That did not happen, at least while the Falcons first-team defense was still in the game.  In limited play, new addition Thomas Jones had little room to the run the ball between the tackles, and it wasn't until the second quarter when Jamaal Charles checked in that the running game really even got going. By then, the Atlanta starters were already out of the game, making the results less signifcant. Also, right tackle Ryan O'Callaghan whiffed on a block on the second offensive series, leading to a sack and fumble by quarterback Matt Cassel.

Cassel didn't look great at all Friday, either. His final stats (other than the fumble) may have looked up to par - six of eight for 25 yards - but you have to look deeper. During one series on third down, Cassel took a sack when he had an opportunity to throw the ball away and secure a very makeable field goal attempt. The sack led to the attempt by kicker Ryan Succop being much longer, and of course, he missed it. Playoff quarterbacks do not make those kinds of mistakes.

It was surprising to see that, at least to my knowledge, Cassel (or any of the quarterbacks) never even targeted receiver Dwayne Bowe on a pass attempt. Now, it's possible that was more of a product of conservative play-calling than anything else. Still, even in the first preseason game, it's a bad sign.

And we haven't even elaborated on the fumble play, which could have easily been avoided. The block was missed by the right tackle, which isn't a right-handed quarterback's blind side. So your guess is as good as mine as to why Cassel didn't simply step up in the pocket and roll to the outside, which he clearly had plenty of room to do, to try and make a play. Instead, he tried to rush his throw, but his arm was hit by Atlanta defensive end Kroy Biermann, and the ball was knocked loose before the tuck rule could come into play.

There were some encouraging signs to speak of Friday. Although first-round draft pick Eric Berry didn't make any big plays, he did seem to be around the ball on almost every play while he was in the game. The two second-round picks from the 2010 draft were the real stars, though. It was somewhat of a shock to see Dexter McCluster lined up as a running back more often than a receiver after the team made it clear he'd contribute primarily as a slot receiver in the offense. That didn't seem to matter one bit, though, after the ball was in his hands. It's pretty obvious to me that, if he can stay healthy, McCluster will quickly become a star in Kansas City. His quickness was absolutely unmatched by the Falcon defense as he repeatedly beat the linebackers to the outside on sweeps and pitch plays for big chunks of yardage. On the end of one run, McCluster took a big-time late hit by a Falcon defender but immediately popped back up with a smile on his face. Let's hope he can continue to do that into the regular season, when the wear and tear begins to take its toll on the players' bodies.

The other second-round pick, cornerback Javier Arenas (who is also known for his speed), shined as well. It looks like the Chiefs may have finally found a comparable replacement to Dante Hall in the return game. Arenas returned three kickoffs for 85 yards, including a 42-yarder. He also had a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown taken off the board because of a holding penalty called on rookie free agent Justin Cole. Not bad at all for a debut.

Overall, though, the team and its fans got a healthy dose of reality Friday. Maybe all those playoff predictions were a bit premature. Or maybe not. On the one hand, you got the feeling Friday that if the starters stayed in the game, the Falcons would have won by five touchdowns. On the other, it is preseason. Just as we may have put too much stock into a solid offseason and smooth (so far) training camp, we should apply that to our analysis of Friday's disappointment and avoid jumping to conclusions just yet.

* * *

Saturday was a change of pace, as I, for the first time since April visited Kauffman Stadium to see a Royals game.*

*On April 10th, after yet another Royals' loss, I left Kauffman with the worst feeling in the pit of my stomach and vowed not to give owner/soul reaver David Glass one more dime of my money until the team put a respectable product on the field. At the time, I figured my boycott would last until opening day 2011, when there should be more reason for optimism than there is currently. What I wasn't considering was the annual trip to Kauffman some of my extended family (who come in from out of town) and I have been attending for some years now. So I went.

There was definitely some electricity in the air, as would be expected with the Yankees in town. Now, these may not be your daddy's Yankees, but the new-look Bronx Bombers did not disappoint. After splitting the first two games of the series, the Yankees brought the bats on Saturday in a big way. Alex Rodriguez, the newest member of the 600-homerun club, led the way with three absolute monster homers against three different Royals pitchers. By the time A-Roid had rounded the bases on his second long-ball, at least half of the crowd at Kauffman had joined in for a loud "Let's Go Yankees!" chant. After the third homer - which landed in the left field fountains - I was completely in awe, as I'm sure the rest of the spectators on hand were as well.

It wasn't until after the game that it really dawned on me that I had just witnessed history, or something close to it. It's not every day you get to see a member of the 600-homerun club play ball, let alone blast three in one game. Obviously, in A-Roid's quest to join the elite group (there are now only seven members) there was a lot of talk about how big of a deal the 600th homerun would be, considering his use of steroids while in high school, which he admitted to a few years back.

It's sad, really. Baseball statistics are what allowed the game to stand out. Numbers in baseball seemed to matter more, or at at least most fans believed that to be true. Now, because of steroids, the numbers just don't seem to be relevant at all. They're not real. It's impossible for the casual fan to respect the sport anymore, and the game's popularity has taken a hit because of it.

As for the Royals, they were able to split the series (which seems like a miracle in itself) after a 1-0 victory Sunday afternoon. Former first overall draft pick Brian Bullington picked up his first major league win after tossing eight innings of two-hit ball against the Yanks. I could only think of two possible explanations for this happening:  Has Bullington finally, after eight years as a pro, figured out how to pitch, or was Sunday's anomaly simply a product of Jeter and co. having one too many drinks late-Saturday night on the Kansas City bar scene? I'll let you decide on that one.*

*The players are human, too, and I'm in no way knocking having a few beers at the bar on a Saturday night. But if that indeed did take place, the Yankees ought to be embarrassed after being shutout on two hits Sunday. I feel it's worth noting that during the game Saturday, I had a conversation with my uncle where we discussed the possible clubs and bars some of the pin-stripers may hit after the game. I commented to him that if the Yankees looked sluggish the next day, then we could safely conclude they hit the town hard the night before. Combine that with the fact that they probably didn't get the chance to do much after Friday's game because of multiple rain delays, and it's pretty obvious to me how they spent their Saturday night.

* * *

Sunday, as it turned out, was the highlight of my weekend. I actually wasn't able to watch the Royals game live, because a few friends and I made the somewhat spontaneous decision to head to St. Joseph to check out a Chiefs training camp practice.

We got to Missouri Western State University with over an hour to spare until practice was scheduled to start, so we decided to walk around campus and take it all in. It didn't take long (maybe two minutes) for us to find a way to disrupt the goings-on, as we were able to stumble upon what appeared to be a player parking lot (The 250-pound beasts getting in and out of the Escalades and Camaros were a dead giveaway.). After we walked past a sign that said "Chiefs VIP Parking - not open to the public", we decided to hang out by the front door of the building, which looked to be the cafeteria, presumably where the players were eating before practice.

Just as we were considering moving on, Cassel, Brodie Croyle, and (I assume) Tyler Palko came rushing outside to head to practice. None of them had the time to stop for an autograph or picture, but as Croyle explained (he was the only one we actually asked, and I don't think Cassel liked that all too much), they would have plenty of time after practice to chat and sign an autograph or two. It wasn't long after they hopped in Croyle's (it had Alabama plates) Avalanche that a security guard came outside and pointed us toward the practice fields. Off we went.

The practice was fairly uneventful. I was impressed with the fan turnout - my guess is the total number of spectators was easily more than half than the number of people who attended Sunday's Royals game. There weren't necessarily many plays of note. The highlight was probably watching offensive coordinator Charlie Weis move around on the rascal. I mean no disrespect to people who deal with disabilities, but an NFL coach telling 300-pound grown men what to do from the seat of his rascal is comedic gold.

I've never attended an NFL training camp, so to be fair, Sunday's practice may have very well been the most interesting Chiefs practice they've ever had. I mean, it's safe to say the Chiefs are the only team with a coach calling shots from his rascal, so we have that. But with no real point of reference (I may attend Wednesday's night practice), I can't be certain.

* * *

So, what did I learn over, what some might consider, a pretty fun and entertaining weekend from a sports fan's perspective? I found out the Chiefs, even with all the perceived improvements over the offseason, still look a whole lot like they did last year. I found out the Royals have the ability to be very good and very bad in a very short period of time, but overall, they still stink. We know now, and we may have known before, just how insignificant baseball numbers and records have become.

And in St. Joseph? Well, I'm still torn as far as what to take from that experience. I know now just how entertaining it can be to watch a grown man drive a rascal all over a football field. Right now, as sports fans in Kansas City, we have to take our happiness in small, sometimes minute doses, so I'll take it.

If I get any further than that, I'll let you know.

1 comment:

  1. Good piece. I wish I could have made it up to camp this year, it sounds like quite the experience. I'd obviously say not to put too much stock in one preseason game, but it's still disheartening to see Cassel lacking in pocket presence just as much as last year.

    I'm real excited about what McCluster brings to the table. Those linebackers didn't have a chance on those sweep/toss plays. He was lined up at running back a whole lot more than most people thought. It'll be interesting to see if that continues on into the regular season.

    As for the Royals, I'm done with them for now. Football is back. I'm sure it was a sight to behold watching A-Rod knock three out of the park. That could be the last time he ever does that, although I wouldn't be surprised at all if he has a few three-homer games left.