By Chad Rader
"If you dream a little bit here, Willie drags a bunt, steals second and maybe get to George and A.O. with a chance to tie the game."
Fred White brought 25 years of his calling a game as he saw, and what he thought, on the air. his broadcast could be about the game, recollecting a memory, chuckling about a beach ball tossed in the stands or envisioning aloud a potential Royals rally.
No matter who you were, Fred always had a moment to tell a story. He'd ask where you're from, and he'd have a story about an athlete or team from that area.
Like many, I listened to Denny and Fred for years, the centerpiece of my childhood Royals memories.
Fred White may not have been a national broadcasting icon, or even a great broadcaster in the sound of a booming, strong voice. But he was a local icon and truly cared about the area and the local teams, from Division II Washburn to the Big XII to the Kansas City Royals. Fred was great story teller, and just told his story of a game on the air. Or basically set up a Paul Splittorff or whomever his color man was, basketball or baseball.
He was the same in person. I worked with him at the Royals, just as he started his role overseeing Royals alumni, a perfect fit for him. If I ever needed a break, I'd stop by his office and ask "So Fred, tell me about the 1976 playoff team." Twenty minutes and four stories later, you felt like you heard a chapter from a secret, hidden book. Curt Nelson, now the Royals historian who oversaw the Royals Hall of Fame, would also stop in with me and catch a piece of the audio vault of Royals lore, perhaps some of which made the Hall of Fame in left field.
Many times, Fred would also stop by office and start out "Did I ever tell you about who K-State was to hire after Lon Kruger left?" Fifteen minutes later, you learned it was to be Eddie Sutton, but on a cross up, Dana Altman was hired. Or other insight - whether true, off the record or just in Fred's head - was entertaining nonetheless.
For me, it felt like I was able to step back to a magical time, when the Royals were perennial playoff bound, to hear tales about a game I remember when I was 14, staying up in bed listening to Fred and Denny call. Or behind the scenes of area local college athletics. Or life on the road or in the broadcast booth. Many I can't recall now, or if I didn't, don't need to recite. But all fun, and always good to hear from Fred.
And it always seemed like Fred was just hanging out, having a good time telling stories, on air, or in person.
I'm certain Fred could dream up a tale for a win tonight. "A Dyson bunt, a hit by Hosmer, and if the Royals can just get to Butler, well ..."
By Chad Rader
Kansas City didn't mess around trying to bolster its offensive line.
The Chiefs took offensive tackle Eric Fisher of Central Michigan with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Fisher stands at 6-foot-7, 306 pounds and should start at either left or right tackle, depending on the Chiefs conclusion with current left tackle Branden Albert.
Fisher was just the third offensive tackle selected No. 1 overall since the NFL merger (Orlando Pace, 1997; Jake Long, 2008). New Chiefs coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey selected Fisher over All-American Luke Joeckel, the Texas A&M offensive tackle many thought KC would select. Joeckel went No. 2 to Jacksonvile.
"Both of them are fine football players. You're looking at two fine players. (Eric's) overall makeup, we had a good feeling about," said Kansas City coach Andy Reid.
"You'll see he is focused. You just get that sense that he is with you. When we worked him out, he's no nonsense, let's get to work... He understood our offense well. He's not lacking for gigabytes. He has enough of that to hang with you."
Fisher, a first-team All-MAC selection, helped lead Central Michigan to a Little Caesers Bowl win as a senior. Despite playing in the MAC, Kansas City wasn't afraid to take him over Joeckel, who succeeded in the Big 12 and Southeastern Conference in his collegiate career.
"He's a Pro Bowl left tackle," touted NFL guru Mike Mayock on the NFL Network. "I put on the tape against Michigan State where he pitched a shutout, and against Iowa where he pitched a shutout. I thought he had as good a week as anyone in Mobile. It shut up the critics that he arrived."
Arriving at the podium in Radio City Music Hall with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell as the No. 1 pick left Fisher pinching himself.
"I don't know what's going on right now," Fisher told NFL Network following the pick. "This is so hard to process that I'm the number one pick in the NFL Draft, it's a dream come true. It's hard to believe right now."
But Fisher called his shot at the NFL Combine in Mobile that he'd be the top selection come Thursday night.
" I did. That was my goal. The fact that just happened, I have to say I'm proud of myself for going through the process," Fisher said. "I've had so much support, so many people that have impacted my life were behind me the whole time."
Kansas City went to the wire on the pick, but Reid stated it wasn't that the Chiefs were working on a last-minute trade.
"We didn't have any trade offers working. We're very happy with Eric. We targeted him and felt very strong about him. This kid is a person that's a football player."
With a potential trade of incumbent starter Branden Albert still looming, the future of where Fisher will play on the Chiefs offensive line remains open.
"That doesn't bother me where he plays, because he's a good football player," Reid said. "We'll put the best five up there. (At Philadelphia), we picked Shane Andrews as a tackle and he started at guard his first year. He eventually moved to tackle."
Chiefs fans hope that Fisher will emerge as a force at tackle for years, as since John Alt was selected in the first round in 1984, and played 13 Ring of Honor seasons in Kansas City, the Chiefs have selected six first-round offensive tackles, none playing longer than five years.
But none selected higher than Fisher. Or any player for that matter.
By Chad Rader
In 1998, Arizona fans went gaga when its good looking, young first base phenom Travis Lee made his MLB debut. In the fracnshise's first game, Lee batted third, went 3-for-4 and launched a homer in his first game, the hit and homer each the first in the D-Back's history. Lee went on to smack 22 HRs, and look like the fixture for Arizona, finishing third in the Rookie of the Year balloting.
It seemed like the sky was the limit for the sweet-swinging lefty Lee, an Olympian and the Golden Spikes winner in 1996 for the best amateur baseball player.
From there, Lee floundered with a .237 average and didn't hit 10 HRs in a season until two years later. By then, Arizona had used him to land Curt Schilling. Lee went on to a decent career, with a .258-20-90 year in 2001, then slowed fading off into the sunset with four teams in four years after.
1998 - Travis Lee: 22 HRs, 72 RBI, 71 runs, 8 SBs (3rd in Rookie of Year)
2011 - Eric Hosmer: 19 HRs, 78 RBI, 66 runs, 11 SBs (3rd in Rookie of Year)
This isn't to rail on Hosmer. He's just 23 years old, he has yet to read 1,500 plate appearances (1,213), a solid benchmark to gauge a player's future.
But also note that Arizona used Lee to land Schilling, who finished second in the Cy Young consecutive years, wing 45 games in two years and help lead Arizona to two straight playoffs, including the 2001 World Series title.
Who did Arizona stand at first base during their title year? A 37-year-old Mark Grace, who still hit .298-15-78.
Point being, first base is the easiest position to find a solid stick. If Dayton Moore gets the chance to sell high on Hosmer, he just needs to refer to Travis Lee and not be afraid...
By Chad Rader
Opening Day traditionally brings hope to fans, the signal of spring and smell of summer for many. Barbecue. Crack of the bat. Freshly cut grass. Always a great day.
There have been many memorable Openings Days. Unknowns such as Mendy Lopez or Sam Horn placing themselves in Royals history books. Down 6-0 in 1990, knowing "You Gotta Love These Guys" and watching KC rally for a 10-6 win behind two Mike Sweeney blasts. Down 7-0 in 2012 after the first inning in "Our Time" and being toasted, 8-3.
But win, lose or draw, after Opening Day since the early '90s, for Royals fans, it fell off a cliff. I know sitting in the press box for years, we'd get mildly down as the fans poured out. Because you knew - aside from a few Royals Buck Nights, Friday Night Fireworks or the Yankees/Cardinals in town, there wasn't the roar of the crowd. No cars backed up on Blue Ridge Cutoff. Games were pretty dead, seats were empty and the 162-game string was played out, trying to avoid 100 losses.
This year, Opening Day will be just the beginning. There's actual pitching, not a Royals "ace" who really is a long reliever. James Shields can go toe-to-toe with any No. 1 - because he is a No. 1 pitcher. The Royals bullpen - aside getting out No. 27 in Philly - has been stellar. Kansas City stumbled out of the blocks in Chicago, but the offense got going, the players looked relaxed and wi. th a lot of young bats now hitting their prime - at the plate, on the basepaths and in the field - the Royals really should be around .500 or better.
Opening Day won't just be the only party at Kauffman Stadium in 2013. Instead, Opening Day in 2013 truly will be an opener for much more ahead.
By Chad Rader
For the first time since perhaps 1984, a KU fan says "I'm ready for baseball season."
Kansas fans felt what the 282 Memphis fans endured during the 2008 NCAA title game, as this fantastic flubbing mirrored it with turnovers, gaffes and an incredible shot to tie the game.
The ending rivals Lin Elliott in 1996 and the K-State fiasco with Texas A&M in St. Louis in 1998 as the top flubbed ending in the last 25 years. (The Mizzou games obviously come to mind, but they weren't for high stakes, playoffs, etc).
One would look at a NCAA record four-year stretch of 30+ wins and think "Man, that team must have reeled off two titles, and another Final Four". And it wasn't without a run to the title game, three Sweet 16's and four Big 12 titles.
The Kansas streak of nine straight conference titles (outright or shared) sets a mark back to the John Wooden era.
Those are impressive and should be what's remembered right now. But it'll be hard to. The manner of the loss to Michigan was so improbable, it will talked about by area college hoops fans for a long time. Especially since the Wolverines sliced through Syracuse like a hot knife through butter.
The loss will push aside the 1997 loss to Arizona. The jokes will come from MU and K-State fans (though those can be brushed aside easily).
But for many to call the season a failure, or as one major media in Kansas City tabbed "the latest disappointment for KU", I call that a joke. Many area fans of other schools said they'd love to be in the NCAA annually, win league titles, etc. But for Kansas fans, they'll act like Bill Self and Elijah Johnson ruined the Jayhawks' year.
And yes, Self and the staff should've called a timeout either after the failed Elijah kick-out for a Glenn Robinson III dunk. Or during the saunter for a backcourt violation. Or ... many items can be second-guessed. So a ton of the loss falls onto the coaching staff shoulders.
And yes, Elijah Johnson will replay those possessions in his lifetime more than KU fans combined. They were so bad, you wonder if there was foul play from a couple of different angles for Elijah, but I won't go attempt to suggest any further. Instead, he should be remembered for his late-game heroics during the 2012 run to the NCAA title game.
So much like with the Mario Miracle, if you touted that KU did everything to win that game in the final 2:12, you have to tip the hat to Michigan as well. There's a 1% chance of KU botching that lead, and about a 15% chance that Trey Burke hits that shot, with another 17 of 20 times the ball rattles in and out. The Wolverines saw the crack of light and busted out the door.
In the end, I hope this teaches the fans and everyone to not put so much weight on the postseason. The almighty Syracuse Orange reached the Final Four this year, their first since 2003. A decade! Michigan, of course, their first in 20 years. Louisville hasn't visited the NCAA final since 1986. And these are major programs, especially Syracuse and U of L.
The tournament is crazy, anything can happen and anyone can win nowadays. The state of Kansas proved that, in an improbable coughing up a 14-point lead, or an unexpected run to the Final Four. Perhaps KU and K-State should've learned from Wichita State how to close out a game, rather than sending their point guards into the corner and snake eyes.
(Deep breath). Time for baseball !
By Chad Rader
On April 10, 2011, if a genie out of a bottle rose up and said "You can bet whatever you want, risk anything and I'll match it. Which two Final Four schools will not be in the 2013 NCAA Tournament? VCU, Butler, UConn or Kentucky?"
How much would you have lost?
Yes, its that time, time for March Madness. The NCAA Tournament as we really know it, the Round of 64, lies less than 36 hours away. Among filling out brackets, researching teams and making watch party plans, we have to jam in work to justify taking Thursday and Friday off, whether physically at the bar, or mentally at the desk, watching online or clicking refresh.
Time for people to approach, unsolicited, and tell you their Final Four. "So want to hear my Final Four? (before you can respond). Louisville, Indiana, KU and Gonzaga!"
"Ah, all No. 1 seeds. Original".
Don't be that person. At least wait until the other person asks you.
It's time to find TruTV on the guide again (164 on UVerse, 457 on Time Warner, ...). I love "Hardcore Pawn", Les Gold negotiating with the 8-Mile elite and all, but its only during March that I actually know where to find TruTV in the punch of a few buttons. I will forewarn, you're going to get tired of "Once you go Shaq, you'll never go back". If you don't know what I'm talking about, you will.
I will say, the in-studio crew of Sir Charles and Greg Anthony with Ernie Johnson playing point guard is entertaining. You never know where they'll go, with basketball or other topics. Steve Smith does nothing for me though. Bring Rex Chapman back in studio.
Aaahhh. I am so happy to not hear the name "Joe Lunardi" for another 6 months. Wonder what "Joey Brackets" will be doing for the next 6-9 months, or is he already drawing up a matrix for the 2014 NCAA Tournament. I can picture printouts of brackets and team rosters, hanging in a shed in the back, a la "A Beautiful Mind". Back to your day job, Mr. Lunardi. Check you next Feburary.
As always, CBS' Seth Davis picked Kansas to go to the Final Four. Which I don't get from someone born in Connecticut, graduating from Duke. But he has picked Kansas to the Final Four every year since 2008, perhaps even before that...
It'll be a tough road, and there lie a ton of pressing teams as major hurdles for Kansas in Villanova, VCU and Florida. But as I said "I sure hope KU doesn't have to play 'Nova, VCU and Florida - oh wait, yeah I would because they'd be in the Elite Eight..."
As we all have said, we're over the Kansas vs Roy storyline, even though we may get it in the Round of 32. But Self vs Shaka Smart would be a good one, with revenge on the mind for Self, and Elijah Johnson, Jeff Withey and Travis Releford were on the roster for VCU's mammoth upset in the Elite Eight.
In the "You never know" category, K-State plays two home games at the Sprint Center. Say Bruce Weber and K-State get their revenge on Wisconsin, for different reasons, and reach the Sweet Sixteen, K-State could face No. 1 Gonzaga, whom the 'Cats lost to earlier this year, but in Seattle. Not that Los Angeles wouldn't be pro-Zags, but at least it woudn't be in the home state!
Another Avengers moment could be Mizzou playing Louisville in the Round of 32. Hey, you never know.
"The upsets are great!" Yes they are, but eventually, too many lead to too boring. VCU vs Kansas or Butler vs Duke is must see TV. But VCU vs Butler is snoozeville, and no one wants to watch it. You just want to see Kentucky vs Connecticut, or North Carolina vs Ohio State
Okay, time for some mild bracket predictions:
Teams that always flop with high seeds: Georgetown, Michigan
Teams to stamp in the Elite Eight annually: Ohio State, Florida, Kansas, Louisville,
Overhype alert: Any time a team comes from nowhere, draws the high No.2 or No. 3 seed without being there the previous year, its usually doomsday. Missouri last year, there were the Eddie Fogler-led South Carolina. Iowa State vs Hampton. Gonzaga in the second round against Nevada in 2004. The annual SEC team that would make it as a 3 or 4 seed, then fall to Bryce Drew or ... you get the picture.
All that sermon laid out, the upset compass for me points to ... Miami. Absent from the NCAA Tournament for five years. Suddenly they are the pick of many to make the title game. They likely make it out of Austin, but Pacific +13.5 is enticing.
So is Western Kentucky +20. Montana +14 vs Syracuse. South Dakota State +11 vs Michigan. And why not, Mizzou - 2.
Time for me to finish up work, figure out how to pull the delayed steal - more like the walking lead into a stolen base out the door - on Thursday and Friday. How suddenly we will care for two hours intensely on New Mexico and Harvard - and be able to related any game such as it, anywhere on the bracket - to being beneficial to our school.
And please, spare your Final Four. Instead, just join the 810 WHB Bracket Challenge and prove your picks there!