Tomorrow is April 1. April Fools’ Day. Not kidding.
More importantly…it will be Opening Day for the Royals!
And unlike last year, the Royals season is starting on time (and pleasingly over-budget, thanks to some free-agent spending by John Sherman and his co-owners).
Opening Day always brings back good memories. The first A’s game in in 1955. Opening of Royals (now Kauffman) Stadium in 1973. Rich Ellison. Danny Manning. Many Royals players, but one in particular for Opening Day – for his poem, not his pitching – Dan Quisenberry:
like the playoffs, all-star games, world series
a shared excitement
of fans, players, umpires, management
all in first place
on the good side of hope and glory…
all is well
in a world of war
between white lines
Rich Ellison and Opening Day: The start of the baseball season reminds me of Rich Ellison because we went to so many Opening Days together. Rich and I became friends in the late 1970s, and he also became a good client. He owned Stadium Honda, so-named because it was just down I-435 from the Truman Sports Complex. He was a member of the Stadium Club, and it became a tradition to have lunch there on Opening Day and then, if not too cold, gravitate to our seats. If cold, there was always the bar with its many TVs.
1985 – Opening and Closing Days: In the Royals opener on April 8, poet/pitcher Dan Quisenberry relieved starter Bud Black in the 8th inning. The Royals were ahead 2-1, and Quiz shut the door to get his first save of the season. It was a good omen. By the end of the season, Quiz led the league in saves. And the Royals won the World Series.
Rich and I attended many games that year, including Opening Day, World Series games in St. Louis and, what turned out to be Closing Day, the glorious Game 7 of the World Series at Kauffman Stadium. The proof is in the ticket stubs that Rita had framed.
1988 – Opening Day and Final Four: On April 4, 1988, Kansas City had a memorable sports double header. I luckily saw both games.
In the afternoon, it was Opening Day for the Royals. Rich and I saw Toronto’s George Bell set a record for most home runs hit on an Opening Day – three – all off Royals’ ace Bret Saberhagen. It was a bad omen. The Royals finished the season 19.5 games behind AL West leader Oakland.
Bell’s record of three homers has since been matched three times – Tuffy Rhodes (Cubs, 1994), Dmitri Young (Tigers, 2005) and Matt Davidson (White Sox, 2018). And get this. The Royals served up the home run pitches in three of the four games (Bell, Young and Davidson).
After the game, I headed home to pick up Rita. We had tickets to the NCAA men’s final at Kemper Arena.
The 64-team field had been narrowed to two teams, both from the Big Eight: Kansas (coached by Larry Brown) and Oklahoma (coached by Billy Tubbs). I remember a bumper sticker that showed a math equation for the tournament: “64-62=Big Eight.”
The first half of the game was one of the best in tournament history, ending in a 50-50 tie (matching the 50th year of the tournament). Both teams were superb. The torrid pace slowed in the second half, and Kansas won the game 83-79. The MVP was Danny Manning (31 points, 18 rebounds), and “Danny and the Miracles” became a part of the lore of KU’s storied basketball history.
2009 – Opening Day: This was the last Opening Day I attended with Rich. He was in the midst of his Parkinson’s battle, and Rick Jones and I took him to the game. Kauffman Stadium had just been renovated (HD scoreboard, outfield concourse, Hall of Fame, etc.), and I remember the three of us leaving our seats and going over to inspect the new facilities.
Below, Rich and I playing gin at Tybee Island, Georgia, in early 2012, shortly before he died.
2020 – Opening Day – Not: On April 2, I was scheduled to attend Opening day with David Matson (flying in from Portland) and Jeb Bayer. The pandemic said no. The Royals ultimately played their first game at Kauffman on July 31. Cutouts were the only fans in attendance.
2021 – Covid Protocols For Kauffman Stadium: Rita and I are not going to Opening Day, but we have tickets for April 19 (thank you Pat Titterington). When I told Rita about the new protocols for the games, one really got her attention – no purses! Check out this link on the Royals website for all the guidelines. Some highlights:
About 10,000 fans will be in the stands, located in pods with social distancing. Parking close to your zone in the stadium (enter only through your gate). Royals Hall of Fame closed. Advance ticketing for seats and parking (no box office on game day). Limited concessions; cashless transactions. No bags of any kind – yes, not even purses – just what you can carry in your pockets. BREAKING NEWS: After I wrote the initial draft of this section, I got word that fan complaints led the Royals to modify the purse rule – there is now an exception for 6.5” x 4.5” clutch purses.
The Royals are very specific on masks: “Guests ages two (2) and older must wear face coverings over their nose and mouth to enter Kauffman Stadium and at all times while in the ballpark, other that when actively eating and drinking.”
A final word from the team: “We are all in this together, so let’s work with one another to keep Royals Fans safe by adhering to the guidelines outlined.”
As for the wearing masks, I like this tweet from the State of New Jersey:
MASK: Not what your country can do for you.
MASK: What you can do for your country.
2021 – New Video Boards in Kauffman Stadium: The Royals used the offseason to upgrade the CrownVision display board and the outfield fence displays (out of town score boards). There is a new board in left field that covers the entire wall of the Hall of Fame. This was a major 5-month construction job that you can witness in a little over two minutes in this time-lapse video.
Bishop Sullivan Center – Cover the Bill: The “Cover the Bill” campaign continues at Bishop Sullivan Center. Because of the pandemic, there is still a high demand for help to “cover a bill” to stop an eviction or a utility cut-off. Tom Turner and his crew at the center do a great job of matching donations to needs.
During the football season, former Chief Mike Garrett led the campaign, and now Royals’ Hall of Famer Jeff Montgomery has come on board for the baseball season. You can join Jeff to “cover the bill” for a person in need. Those giving $100 or more will get a Royals cap like Jeff is wearing. Click here to donate.
2021 – NCAA Basketball Tournament (Surprise #1): The all-time leaders in NCAA men’s basketball wins are Kentucky (2,327), Kansas (2,323), North Carolina (2,294) and Duke (2,214). When the 2020-21 season started, Kentucky led Kansas by 16 games, but Kansas (21 wins) reduced the gap to 4 games after Kentucky’s losing season (9 wins).
To see how these teams have risen to the top, click on this link for a mesmerizing interactive graphic created by blogger Greg Harvey (it moves fast; ends with 2019-2020 season). In the early years (over a century ago), the leaders were the likes of Yale, Penn, Fordham and Oregon State. Kansas was also among the early leaders, and over the decades, Kentucky, North Carolina and Duke ascended. The same four teams have won the most NCAA tournament games, as shown in another Greg Harvey graphic (click here).
The big surprise this season is that none of these four teams were considered elite. During at least one week in mid-season, none were in the Top-25. Kansas rallied in later games and finished #12 in the AP poll, netting a #4 seed. Duke and Kentucky did not get an invite to the tournament. North Carolina lost big in the first round. KU won one game and then got embarrassed by USC. This is the first time since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 that none on these four teams reached the Sweet Sixteen.
2021 – NCAA Basketball Tournament (Surprise #2): As always, the tournament brackets were full of power conference teams. The Big Ten sent nine teams. The Big 12 and ACC, seven each. The SEC, six. The Pac-12, five.
Then came the big surprise. With upset after upset in the first two rounds, the field for the Sweet Sixteen included only one team each from the Big Ten and Big 12; two each from the SEC and ACC; and four (!) from the lowly regarded Pac-12. There were more Jesuit colleges (Gonzaga, Loyola Chicago and Creighton) in the Sweet Sixteen than any conference other that the Pac-12.
[Music Break: “Sweet Little Sixteen” by Chuck Berry]
2021 – NCAA Basketball Tournament (Surprise #3): As the Sweet Sixteen was reduced to the Elite Eight and then to the Final Four, three of the regionals went as expected. The West was won by unbeaten Gonzaga, a #1 seed. The South by another #1 seed, Baylor, reaching the Final Four for the first time since 1950. In the Midwest, where #1 Illinois had been knocked out in the first round, #2 Houston waltzed through four games against double-digit seeds.
The surprise came in the East where UCLA, a “First Four” team, won the regional. The First Four round was established in 2011 when the NCAA tournament expanded to 68 teams. This set up 4 play-in games (the “First Four”) to reduce the field to 64. Until late last night, only one team had gone from the First Four to the Final Four – Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) beat #1 seed Kansas in the Elite Eight round to advance to the 2011 Final Four.
Now there are two. UCLA beat #1 seed Michigan to advance to the Final Four. They will play Gonzaga on Saturday. The other game pits Baylor against Houston.
Houston being in the Final Four brings back memories of the Phi Slama Jama teams that Houston sent to the NCAA finals in 1983 and 1984. The Midwest Regional in 1983 was at Kemper Arena in Kansas City, and Wayne Tenenbaum hosted Rita and me at the games. Houston was known for its frenetic, playground-influenced style and slam-dunking, especially from superstars Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon and Clyde “The Glide” Drexler. After winning in Kansas City, Houston went on to the Final Four, winning its first game, but then losing the final to North Carolina State on the last shot of the game. Many Hot Stovers will remember Coach Jim Valvano’s reaction to winning (video here).
Although UCLA stopped Michigan this year, the Wolverines remain part of Rita and Lonnie’s personal Final Four history. In 1989, we went to the Final Four in Seattle with Rich and Mary Ellison. Michigan Coach Bill Frieder was fired just before the tournament because he had announced he would be going to Arizona State the next season. Assistant Coach Steve Fisher and star player Glen Rice led the team to victory in the NCAA championship game, 80-79 over Seton Hall.
We saw Michigan again in Minneapolis in 1992, the first year of the Fab Five, the highly-touted freshman class that included Chris Webber, Jalen Rose and Juwan Howard (the current Michigan coach). The Fab Five were the first team in NCAA history to compete in the championship game with all-freshman starters. Michigan played Duke who famously won the East Regional that year on “The Shot” by Christian Laettner at the buzzer (video here). Not that much excitement in the game we saw – Duke easily won the title game over Michigan’s Fab Five, 71-51.
Lonnie’s Jukebox – Culture Vulture Edition: Baseball and the arts in Kansas City. There is a Kauffman for both. The K for the Royals and the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts for the Kansas City Symphony and the Lyric Opera of Kansas City.
Poet Dan Quisenberry: Each year around the beginning of the baseball season, I pull out my copy of On Days Like This, a book of poems on baseball and life by Dan Quisenberry. I got an additional nudge this year when SABR released an update of their online biography of Quiz. It is a beautiful piece that weaves Quisenberry’s poetry into the narrative.
As for why the book is so well regarded, I turn to sportswriter Roger Angell: “Like his pitches, Dan Quisenberry’s poems come at you unexpectedly, rising from a different part of the field, clear and unthreatening in their intentions, and then startling you with a late swoop or slant…[They] turn you back to the top of the page again, wanting more time with this good poet and sweet man.”
I’m glad I bought my copy when I did. The few used copies currently available on the internet are priced from $500 to $900.
The Nelson – Art Course 2021 – Satchel Paige: Mound Magician by Radcliffe Baily is currently on display at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. It is a large fan-shaped piece with paint, canvas, wood, cloth, feathers and other media on plywood. The center of the piece has the number 25, the uniform number of “mound magician” Satchel Paige. It was donated to the museum by Unus Foundation and Marc and Elizabeth Wilson in honor of Buck O’Neil.
Mound Magician is the inspiration for a newly designed hole at the 9-hole mini-golf experience in the Donald J. Hall Sculpture Park at the Nelson. Each hole presents a creative interpretation of a work of art in the museum’s collection. The new hole is a gift from Bill and Christy Gautreaux to honor of the 100th Anniversary of the Negro Leagues and the Kansas City Monarchs. Click here for tickets.
Lyric Opera of Kansas City: In May, the Lyric Opera will present a new production in collaboration with the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Baseball: A Musical Love Letter combines a documentary-style narrative and diverse styles of music to reflect on American society and culture through the lens of baseball. The music ranges from jazz and opera to musical theater and pop music. The narrative will highlight America’s struggle for equality and racial justice on and off the field, including quotes from Negro League greats like Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, Cool Papa Bell and Buck O’Neil. Click here to order tickets.
Ludwig van Beethoven (Encore): The last Hot Stove post featured the Kansas City Symphony and some pop songs (very loosely) related to classical music. The post included a couple of Peanuts’ strips showing Schroeder at the piano playing Beethoven. Schroeder is also the catcher for Charlie Brown’s baseball team, but he finds it difficult to concentrate on the game.
Schroeder has good company on Beethoven appreciation. Joni Mitchell and Chuck Berry.
“Judgement of the Moon and Stars (Ludwig’s Tune)” by Joni Mitchell (1972). When Joni wrote this song, she was going through a rough time and was uncertain about her future. She thought of Beethoven becoming deaf and still producing amazing music. So she wrote this valentine to Beethoven, and was also channeling him to encourage herself to move on with her own career. The images in the linked video are from Copying Beethoven, a film based on the copyist engaged by Beethoven to help compose the score of a symphony after Beethoven became deaf.
It’s the judgment of the moon and stars
Your solitary path…
Revoked but not yet canceled
The gift goes on
Show ’em you won’t expire
Not till you burn up every passion
Not even when you die…
If you’re tired of the silent night…
Strike every chord that you feel
That broken trees
And elephant ivories
To introduce the next song, I turn to Joni’s fellow Canadian friend (and a short romance in their younger days) – Leonard Cohen. In 2012, the prestigious PEN organization established a new literary award category of song lyrics. The inaugural awards went to Leonard Cohen and Chuck Berry (below). Leonard Cohen’s response on the award, “The thing I like about the award is that I’m sharing it with Chuck Berry. ‘Roll over Beethoven and tell Tchaikovsky the news.’ I’d like to write a line like that.”
“Roll Over Beethoven” by Chuck Berry (1956). “Roll over Beethoven/And dig these rhythm and blues.”