There’s nothing that can be written about baseball that hasn’t already been said. It’s a game that grown men wearing silly outfits play until their arms are dead, their knees give out, and their eyes can no longer pick up a fastball. It’s the perfect game in many respects, the chess of sports, where strategy is critical, yet a single pawn occasionally wins a game. The best hitters fail more often than they succeed, but when they come through at the end of a game — at the end of a season — well, it can bring tears to old men’s eyes. 

They say baseball is a metaphor for life. It’s a long season full of ups and downs, triumphs and heartache. Some days are good, some are bad, and sometimes the rain ruins everything. As in life, it seems that success is usually the result of teamwork, determination, and a lot of good fortune along the way. It’s not always the most talented team that wins, and as Yogi Berra’s saying goes, it ain’t over ’til it’s over. As fans, very few of us get to regularly enjoy the post season, but each new year brings renewed hope. The last two seasons are proof that anything is possible, and also that patience truly is a virtue. 

So as we start a new season in earnest today, I sincerely wish everyone luck. I’ve experienced the thrill of sitting on the edge of my seat during an unimaginable late inning rally resulting in victory. I’ve witnessed an entire city unite with unbelievable pride during a magical season capped by a long-awaited World Series championship. Most importantly, I’ve felt the simple joy of hanging outside with my family on a warm summer night, talking about life as baseball plays on the radio. 

Maybe life is actually a metaphor for baseball? As in baseball, remember that if you stay focused and keep your eye on the ball, eventually you’ll get a hit. Sometimes just a little hit is all it takes. Hustle every chance you get, play with all your heart, and — most importantly — remember to enjoy every game. The season is long, but life is short. Play ball. 

(And GO ROYALS!) 

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When the Houston Astros scored three runs in the seventh inning of yesterday’s game, giving them a four-run cushion over our Kansas City Royals, I truly believed we were done. I was so mad. We’ve been too good to lose this early. It’s not fair to these guys. It’s not fair to KC, I thought. Then the realization hit that the season was about to be over, and my anger was overtaken by complete sadness.

The baseball season is long, maybe too long. A month of preseason, followed by 162 regular season games can be absolutely brutal when the team you love is having a(nother) dismal year. Any fan of the Royals knows this all too well. With each new season comes renewed hope; hope that is typically crushed long before summer officially begins. But that wasn’t the case this year. Our Royals stormed out of the gates winning their first seven games, and they never looked back. We had seven All-Stars (counting Alex Gordon, who was left off the roster due to injury), we easily won our division by 12 games, and ended the season with the American League’s best record and home-field advantage throughout the postseason.

Many media know-it-alls predicted us to be average at best. They said last year was just a case of catching lightning in a bottle, that we shouldn’t have gone as far as we did then, and certainly didn’t have the talent to repeat as American League champs, win the Central Division, or even make the playoffs as a wild card team. We didn’t listen. We never had a doubt. We were so close last year, and we have unfinished business.

I say “we” because I’m talking about all of us. Not just the team, but this town. A relatively small city of passionate, down-to-earth Midwesterners who have spent every night over the past six months huddled around a TV or radio, giving our full attention not just to a team, but to the individual players who have become like family members. It’s not just about a love of baseball, but a love of the people who make up this team we call our own.

The players fit this town. They are no longer crusty, aging veterans looking for a few paychecks before hanging up their cleats. No, this is a bunch of mostly twenty-somethings who have cut their teeth together. They have shared more failures than successes. Yet somehow, against all probability, they have become winners in a town that is not accustomed to winning. It is obvious that these guys truly care about each other and the fans. It’s infectious and undeniable. They wear “Kansas City” on their chests, and carry Kansas City on their backs. Better yet, maybe we are carrying them. 

So when we found ourselves down by four going into the eighth inning yesterday, I admit I was angry. I was appalled by the Astros’ cocky celebrating, knowing of course that they were acting no differently than we did during our playoff run last season. I was mad at the announcers, I was upset with our players for seeming so passive and not being more aggressive. I was really acting quite selfish, but I suppose that’s probably normal for die-hard fans when the team they have invested time, money and sincere love in must finally meet their fate. I’m not used to the end coming sooner than expected.

The end…this is what I actually wanted to avoid. This was the source of my sadness.

In twenty years, I may not remember the plays and games that made this season so special. I doubt I will be able to recall our record, any statistics, or maybe even all of the players on the team. But I will remember the many nights spent simply hanging out with my wife and two children watching the Royals and talking about baseball — and about life. It isn’t easy to find something the entire family genuinely enjoys doing together, but watching our boys in blue has been that something all season long. From the first game, when my then four-year-old daughter sadly asked, “Where is Billy Butler?” to high-fiving, hugging, and hollering with joy yesterday, spending our evenings with the Royals has become the family routine. Losses were like a kick in the gut, while victories left us going to bed fulfilled and happy. We didn’t know what to do during off days or rain-outs. What will we do when it’s finally over? I don’t want it to end. Amazingly, it didn’t end yesterday. Just as in the wild card game last year, an incredible comeback in the eighth inning has given us the opportunity to continue rooting on our team, even if for only one more game. I feel very guilty for doubting such a relentless, tenacious group.

These Royals’ players, starting in the second half of last season, have not only been a source of joy for my family, but have transformed our city into a town that believes not just in our team, but in each other. Baseball — something that seems like it should be so meaningless in the grand scheme of things — has actually helped to inspire and unite us. The Royals have made Kansas City proud. This transcends baseball, and is an example of how beneficial and powerful a game can truly be. I’m not being overly romantic, but am just stating a fact. My wish, and belief, is that this pride will carry on after baseball, regardless of how the season ultimately ends. Until then, like the rest of my fellow Kansas Citians, I will be on the edge of my seat, making sure to enjoy each pitch. And I will never give up hope.

James Harrison’s Instagram rant has been all over the media lately. If you somehow missed it, he posted a picture of two participation trophies, with the following caption:

“I came home to find out that my boys received two trophies for nothing, participation trophies! While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy. I’m sorry I’m not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned and I’m not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe they tried their best…cause sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better…not cry and whine until somebody gives you something to shut u up and keep you happy.”

This caption was followed with the very powerful (I’m dripping with sarcasm here) #harrisonfamilyvalues.

Based on this quote, Harrison apparently wasn’t present when his kids were given the trophies. Maybe he was busy working? Maybe he was at a strip club? Maybe he just doesn’t like going to his kids’ games because they apparently aren’t good enough to win. Could it be that he is embarrassed by them, and therefore has to start this public rant against participation trophies?

Harrison was an outstanding athlete in high school. He was wooed by many major football powerhouses, including Ohio State, Nebraska and Notre Dame. Those schools decided not to offer him a scholarship after he reportedly shot a BB gun in his high school locker room, was suspended for obscene gestures during a game, challenged an assistant coach to a fight, and didn’t keep his grades where they needed to be.

As a pro, Harrison was a great player, but he is also one of the more frequently fined players of all time. Along with being known for cheap shots on the gridiron, he has also taunted numerous people off the field, including his own quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, and Commissioner Roger Goodell. Harrison is quoted as saying he hates Goodell.

Harrison was also arrested in 2008 for assaulting his girlfriend, who is the mother of his kids.

Harrison family values? Hmm…

I’m really not interested in questioning Harrison’s past or current morals or values. I am more interested in understanding why the media and so many others are praising Harrison for his stance on participation trophies. Why are people so angry about kids being given trophies for trying? What’s the big deal? I wonder how Harrison’s six and eight year old sons feel? They never asked to receive the trophies, and may not have even expected to get them. Surely they weren’t crying and whining until they had to be “shut up,” as Harrison states? He acts like he would prefer the coach scream, “You guys are shit!” at the kids before seeing his boys get some insignificant piece of plastic to put on their dresser for a year or two.

Oh, by the way, being awarded for participation is nothing new. 30 years ago, when I was a kid, I had plenty of trophies, medals and ribbons that I received for participating on bad teams and/or in sports I sucked at. They were nice, but I didn’t sit in my room and stare at them all day. It was a pat on the back — a way of saying good job and thanks for playing. The winning teams usually got something nicer, which was fine. We all knew who won or lost anyway, we didn’t need a trophy to tell us. Maybe I was odd, but I don’t remember caring all that much about trophies, whether I “deserved” one or not. Once in a while I won the big trophy, but it didn’t feel much different than the participation ribbon. The potential of winning an award never had anything to do with my level of competitiveness, but getting a little piece of hardware usually made me feel a bit happier, win or lose.

As a parent with young kids, I’m less concerned with making my kids earn a trophy than I am with them being happy. There is plenty of time for them to face the “real world,” and I’m confident that they will adjust as needed. As an adult, it’s been my experience that the most well-adjusted, productive and nice-to-be-around people are usually the most genuinely happy people. The extreme go-getters who stop at nothing to build a career and make a name for themselves (and by the way, who have a tendency to miss their children’s games, recitals, etc.) aren’t always as successful, happy or with-it as they want to appear.

Trust me, I know parenting is extremely hard. I screw up a lot! No one wants their kids to act entitled or spoiled, and we all want them to be the best adults they can be. I’m sure James Harrison had good intentions. Let’s keep in mind, though, that every generation has been worried about their children, and despite all the problems in the world, the earth is still spinning along with all of us trying to hang on.

So think about letting your children have some fun. Let’s tell them their participation trophies are great, proudly display their less than mediocre art work, and smile while listening to their mistake-filled piano playing. Remember that a happy child is a healthy one, and the kids are alright.