A Fan's Notes

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Another NFL season kicked off last week, and the opening spectacle in Kansas City was most unprecedented, in more ways than one. Commentator Victor Wishna expounds on the situation in this month’s edition of “A Fan’s Notes.”

If all you knew about Sunday’s win at Arrowhead was the final score, you’d think the Kansas City Chiefs had done exactly what they were supposed to do. After all, the six-point margin was just a half-point off the Vegas line, and with four straight victories over San Diego, beating the Chargers had become routine.

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It’s been a week since the Olympic flame was lit in Rio de Janeiro, and so far these Games have gone more or less as expected — for better and for worse. Amid all the storylines and golden moments, "A Fan’s Notes" commentator Victor Wishna muses on a larger, urgent meaning for all of us watching back home.

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Just think, for a moment, about how many great sports stories begin with an open field, or an empty stretch of asphalt. Maybe a cornfield. An old sandlot.

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The proud parents watched from the stands, as their little boy stepped up to the plate for the first time. Mom, nervously pressing her face into her hands. Dad, holding up his phone to record every second. So what if TV cameras were already capturing the moment from six different angles? So what if their little boy was 27 years old? They’d been to just about every one of his games—so what if this one happened to be at Kauffman Stadium?

Ah, rookies.

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Flipping through the channels this time of year, you might catch one of the 27 rounds of the NBA playoffs. But around here, basketball season pretty much ends with March Madness.

Or, maybe not.

This weekend, this city of the Royals and Chiefs, and once Monarchs and Kings, welcomes some new sports nobility to town: The Kansas City Majestics are the first professional women’s basketball team in 20 years to call KCMO home.

Leicester City Football Club

Yes, the Royals are back, flashing the magic that made them World Series champs, Sporting KC’s cruising along at the top of the standings, and fans across Kansas City are feeling blue—in that good way that we’re almost used to by now.

Which is why I want to talk about Lester.

Who’s Lester? Exactly. But if you don’t know, then you’re missing the greatest underdog story in the history of sports.

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It’s hard to believe that the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship — the main event of March Madness — was, for years, boringly sane, with all of eight teams. Filling out a bracket probably wasn’t that exciting when the second round was also the Final Four.

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As sports fans, we wear our hearts on our sleeves, and our team’s name over our hearts. We’ll sleep out for days to get tickets, travel hundreds of miles to watch exhibitions, spend thousands of dollars, quit jobs and skip weddings to be at the big game or tournament—without necessarily even getting inside. We’ll stand in freezing cold, blistering heat, pelting rain. We’ll paint our faces, shave our heads, don moose antlers … just to show how much we care.

Yes, it’s crazy. But is it love?

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Wow. That was some game against the Patriots, huh? Twenty-seven to nothing at halftime. Tom Brady benched with nearly a whole quarter left. And how about Jamaal Charles?

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The year is winding down, and if this wasn’t already one of the greatest years in local sports history, here come the re-energized Kansas City Chiefs. The Royals took the crown, but as commentator Victor Wishna explains in the latest edition of A Fan’s Notes, this might really be “our time.”

So. how ’bout them Chiefs? No, really — if you'd asked a month or so ago, most would’ve said, “Uh…what about ’em?”

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It’s been nearly two weeks since the Kansas City Royals claimed their first World Series title in 30 years. Yet the glory hasn’t faded, and fans like commentator Victor Wishna are proudly still basking in it—while also peeking toward the future. Here’s Victor with this championship edition of “A Fan’s Notes.”

After that final moment that we’d anticipated for so long…

“Strike three called! It’s over! They’ve done it. The Royals are World Series champions!”

After it was over...

After the last strike, the final out…

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It was a familiar scene on Wednesday: Once more, a team in ugly orange uniforms had come to the K for a series-deciding finale, and put up an early lead. But this time, the game, like Johnny Cueto, was nearly perfect. The Royals grounded the Houston Astros to claim their rightful place as hosts of the American League Championship Series, which starts tonight. The specter of last year’s heartbreak lingers, but its exorcism continues. 

Yet most of all, best of all, this is fun again.

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Sports fans understand inertia; after all, it’s Red Thursday, Blue October is just around the corner, and we’re not moving from the couch. But what about the teams we’re watching? How much does momentum matter? Commentator Victor Wishna propels us through the theories in this month’s edition of A Fan’s Notes.

With August at full burn, it might be hard to imagine that autumn or winter will ever come… unless you’re a diehard football fan, in which case one of the most important parts of the season—training camp—has already begun. Commentator Victor Wishna goes camping in this month’s edition of “A Fan’s Notes.”

Instead of jetting off to desirable, sunny destinations like Arizona or Florida before the season begins, NFL teams sneak away on decidedly less glamorous excursions—if not to obscure rural locales, as most used to, then at least to the margins of their markets.

  At Tuesday night’s All-Star Game in Cincinnati, the Kansas City Royals will field four starters and as many as seven players altogether—all-time Royals records. Sure, it’s just an exhibition, but as “A Fan’s Notes” commentator Victor Wishna sees it, there’s a lot more on display.

  

“Take the crown”…“Win the cup”…“Raise the trophy.” Sometimes the sports fan’s ultimate dream—a championship—does come true. But old trophies can lose their shine, and even the thrill of victory has a statute of limitations, as Victor Wishna explains in “A Fan’s Notes.”

By now you’ve probably heard: The Chiefs won the Super Bowl!

Fantasy sports used to be the province of stat geeks, the kind who made a hobby of analyzing every last box score. But today, it’s a mega-industry unto itself that’s only gaining momentum, from the stadium to the statehouse. Commentator Victor Wishna explains in  “A Fan’s Notes.”

We sports fans love sports because they are at once games of skill and games of chance. Lacing a line drive past a diving third-basemen—that’s skill. But then, the wind pushes it just foul. Such are the chances.

But what if, you know, you’re just pretending?

  

  The last time the Oakland A’s came to town, the result was one of the wildest come-from-behind victories in Kansas City sports history. Tonight’s rematch at the K marks an historic comeback of another sort, at least for one longtime fan favorite. Commentator Victor Wishna explains in “A Fan’s Notes.”

In the history of Kauffman Stadium, only a handful of men have stepped up to the plate more often than William Raymond Butler, Jr. His 2,422 appearances include seven home openers, one All-Star debut, and, of course, the bottom-of-the-ninth in Game Seven of the World Series. Tonight, he’ll be there again for the first time since. And, for the first time ever, this home plate won’t be home.

The Royals have started this year with the same intensity that electrified the city in October. It’s as if they don’t realize the season ever ended. Which makes it even harder to believe that Billy Butler, the man known as “Country Breakfast,” is now an Oakland Athletic. It’ll be tough to see him in that green-and-gold, only in part because no one looks good in those colors. The A’s will come in here looking to avenge their Wild-Card humiliation. But for Butler and fans, the sure-to-be-bittersweet reunion calls for a warmer brand of payback.

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If you find yourself stuck in downtown traffic this weekend, then you’ll know that college basketball has once again taken over our town. In this March edition of 'A Fan’s Notes,' commentator Victor Wishna gets to the heart of the madness, with a look at the one tournament that started it all.

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 No one would ever call Kansas City a hockey town. Oh, there’s plenty of ice, look around, but hardly any of it is indoors. Let’s just say this isn’t the best place for aspiring Zamboni drivers.

The only NHL franchise in our history, your Kansas City Scouts, lasted all of two losing seasons in the 1970s. A series of minor-league teams followed, culminating in the present-day, double-A Missouri Mavericks, who arrived at the Independence Events Center in 2009, and now may have that which eluded hockey teams here for decades: a future.

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  Football is a game of inches—and, apparently, pounds-per-square-inch. By now, you’d have to be living way off the gridiron to not know about “Deflategate”—or “Ballghazi,” depending on the major media outlet covering the story, which is all of them.

A Fan's Notes: Are We Not Entertained?

Dec 11, 2014
Greg Echlin

The late, great George Carlin had a classic bit on the differences between baseball and football. One’s a game, he explained. The other is, well, more like war. After all, baseball is played in a park, football on a gridiron. The aim is to blitz and sack the opponent, to break through the line with traps, bombs, even a shotgun. The object in baseball? To go home, and be safe.

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The outlook wasn't brilliant for the Royals at the end.

The score stood three to two, with only one chance to extend
This magnificent, magical season. And from where we sat,
With Bumgarner in, hope was dim as K.C. came to bat.

Hosmer: down. Butler: out. Is this how we’d end the story?
Would the heroes of ’85 not pass on their glory?
Gordo stepped to the batter’s box, locked in, and snapped his gum,
And thousands—make that millions—pondered just how far we’d come.

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The greatest week in Kansas City sports history played out on a grand stage. Seventeen million viewers saw the underdog Chiefs snuff out the New England Patriots’ dynasty on Monday Night Football, while Arrowhead’s fans reclaimed its Guinness-Book record for world’s loudest stadium.

Of course, that was a mere preamble to Tuesday, when the Kansas City Royals let loose one of the most exhilarating playoff games of all time, the kind of reality TV that even non-sports fans couldn’t resist.   

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Labor Day, envisioned as a national tribute to America’s workers, has really come to mean one thing: “Get back to work. Summer’s over.” There’s a parade, a picnic, a telethon, and then the focus turns to fall. Swimming pools close. Any schools that didn’t start class weeks ago are finally in session. And, of course, no more wearing white.

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Last week in a coffee shop, I saw two young men, each with single name emblazoned on his chest. The first one read, “Jesus.” The other? “LeBron.” Because, hey—every savior deserves his own T-shirt.

The biggest sports news of the summer is the second coming of NBA superstar LeBron James—specifically from the Miami Heat back to the Cleveland Cavaliers and his native northeast Ohio. The national media has been giddy over his maturity and grace in trading the Sun Belt for the Rust Belt and a mere $42 million over the next two years.

A Fan's Notes: The World Cup Comes Home

Jun 18, 2014
FIFA

Before Monday night’s match between the U.S. and Ghana, I’d always found the World Cup just a little bit irritating. Especially when I was young, before I became the cultured citizen of the world that I am today, I didn’t see what was in it for me, an American, from the middle of America.

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It’s happened again: the dominant sports story has nothing to do with sports. Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling—sorry, this is the last time I hope to mention his name—remains in the headlines for bigoted comments that were caught on tape, twice—the first time secretly; the second, on CNN.
For citizens of conscience, this is an easy case: as the NBA presses forward to banish Sterling from the league, some may debate the penalty, but not the transgression.

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The year got off to a promising start for the Royals and their fans. In January, the teen pop singer known as Lorde won Grammy Awards for Best Performance and Song of the Year for her hit “Royals,” which she claims was inspired by a picture of George Brett that she saw in an old copy of National Geographic. When she performed in Kansas City a few weeks ago, the Royals presented her with an autographed Brett jersey. Lorde, born 11 years after the team’s last playoff appearance, called it “one of the coolest things” she owns—and she owns two Grammies.

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We are on the verge of what every sports fan dreads worse than the agony of defeat: the occasional lull. The Winter Olympics, timed so perfectly to counter the post-Super Bowl hangover, are winding down, while March Madness and Royals Opening Day remain just out of reach.

Fortunately, I’ve found an antidote, not to mention the perfect answer to two weeks of ice dancing: The bulls are coming to town!

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