Thursday, July 12, 2012

The 2012 Home Run Derby

"Please tell me he didn't just say that."

I knew he had, but I really didn't want the moment to be ruined by such crassness. Mark Trumbo had just obliterated some poor sap of a baseball. The white speck flew farther and farther into left field, until it came to a sudden halt as it collided with the towering "Royals Hall of Fame" sign.

"Now, THAT is a Trum-bomb!" screamed the on-field hype-man/MC/sponser-dropper.

I scanned over the whole of the Kauffman Stadium diamond below me. I knew he was down there. He had to be. He was there earlier. Surely, he can't run! I muttered under my breath and between the spittle, "Say Trum-bomb one more time! Just one more time. Say it. Say it! SAY IT!" like it was the nickname I had been called through all of my formative years and now that I've finally hit my growth spurt, I think I can fight the whole world; I've just needed an excuse.1

With cheese pouring from his ears, Mr. Hype-man provided the excuse after a lull of smashes. "Come on, KC! He's needs some motivation for some more Trum-bombs!" Before his teeth could even close to make that terrible "s" sound, my mind cut to me leaping with a terrible roar, causing all the onlookers encircling our duel to gasp simultaneously. Each punch was dedicated to some terrible pain he had inflicted upon me this evening. "This is for trying to get me to yell 2 hours before the derby! And, this is for saying 'State Farm' every 5 seconds!" And, then completing it with a "trum-bomb" of my own straight to the nose, followed by nervously explaining that this was his fault; he knew what would happen if he used THAT word.


The carnival style mad-man who refused to allow a moment's silence during the whole Home Run Derby was sadly fitting. He seemed to personify the whole joke that is the All-Star weekend. Except, he was in on the joke.


Before the derby started, the official guy-who-yells-really-loud-between-the-innings-at-games-to-keep-everyone-entertained tried to do a simple interview with Robinson Cano. What I got from the interview was, "BOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" Kauffman was already filling up and it seemed that the whole crowd was booing as loud as ever at the man. And, whenever the booing died down, the guy-who-yells, etc. would say something like, "booing is a sign of appreciation" or "we love having you here," which would instantly ratchet the boos back up.

For those who don't know, Robinson Cano had promised that he would pick one of the hometown Royals to be in the Home Run Derby. Fans were incredibly excited, and with Billy Butler selected to the All-Star Game, Royals fans waited anxiously to see the man banging dingers at the derby. But, he wasn't picked. Cano offered no explanation other than ceaselessly repeating that the decision was really hard. After a large amount of vitriol began heading Cano's way, there were rumors he would drop out to let Butler take his spot. When asked about it, he said he wouldn't do that, because he wanted to win. All this rubbed the local fans the wrong way.

The big New Yorker had come in promising big things, but had instead slapped us across the face and pretended he didn't care in the slightest.

When the batting order went up on the 105 foot tall Crown-topped screen, Cano's name was listed last. The anticipation built for what I knew would be a memorable moment.


When I say it is the most fun I have ever had at Kauffman Stadium, I'm not kidding. My fondest memory of Kauffman prior was a walk-off home run from Ken Harvey in the 11th inning.3 Yes. I said Ken Harvey. During that exhiliratingly cruel 2003 season, the Royals were, well, royalty within the city. It finally seemed fun to be a Royals fan, rather than just an investment in the hope of future fun. But, when Cano came up to bat, the Royals community stood together again and created an even more beautiful moment.  

Every sharply fouled ball was met with a roar of ironic cheers. It felt almost like an English Premier League match. We were the Manchester United supporters behind the goal and Cano played the role of Fernando Torres missing the gaping goal. Justice had been meted out. The big New Yorker had strode in KC and collapsed under the midwest lights. Decades of angst and flyover-country jabs suddenly seemed worth all the trouble.

As Cano, sulked from home plate with zero home runs to a standing ovation, for a few brief--but oh-so-wondrous--moments the crowd noise drowned out what that hidden hype man was trying to scream.

1 The high schools depicted on the silver screen have always seemed like some strange foreign world compared to any of my high school experiences, but the fact that some version of this line comes up so often puzzles me more than any of the other oddities that Hollywood high schools seem to have come up with. Perhaps, my upper middle class2 high school missed out on all the fun.

2 Upper-middle class. Not upper class. Not middle class. I'm neither obnoxiously posh nor distigustingly average. I'm the perfect happy medium. Or, so we're told.

3 That was Harvey's 2nd hit of the game. Other multi-hit Royals that day: Michael Tucker, Raul Ibanez and Angel Berroa. The homer took us to a 12-3 record and filled a whole city with the sort of hope that we all knew would crush our souls in just a couple short months, but we hadn't tasted it for so long, so on we screamed, "nosotros creemos!" We believe.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Adapting to the Old World

Time is obnoxious. When we need a lot of it, it suddenly makes itself scarce. When we need it to go by quickly, it crawls slowly along, as if wading through a pool of molasses that is slowly being filled with Quik-rete. The worst part of it is that it does both of these things simultaneously. Hours drag on while years fly by. A single day can seem like an epic struggle that spanned the eons. Yet, when you lay down that evening, you can remember graduating high school as if it was yesterday. Time crawls and sprints simultaneously.

It's as maddening as it is intriguing. As terrible as it is wonderful.

The National Museum and some statue at Václavské Náměsti
Which is why it feels so strange, yet so normal that I have already been in Prague for over two weeks. 

What a wonderful couple weeks it has been! For the first few days that I was here, I slowly figured my way around the gorgeous city of Prague. With the 3 month public transportation pass, I've been able to take the myriad of subway, tram, and bus lines around the city. Using public transportation to get around to, well, everywhere is one of the bigger changes. The city here is beautiful, as you all have probably heard. Look at the pictures; you'll get the idea. That's not the exciting stuff to write about.

Classes have been excellent so far. Economic Integration of Central Europe to the EU only has 6 of us in it, but seems really interesting. Basic Czech should help me get around town better. Economic Transition is a perfect class to take here in a former Soviet republic. And, Development Economics is taught my an American and looks to be my favorite of all the classes after one week.

But, that's still not the exciting stuff.

The exciting part is studying myself as I spend more and more time away from all of my usual habits and people. One of the first things I've found is that being an American abroad is very boring. Everyone has met an American. Americans are everywhere. We're usual. To compound the problem, many people have already visited America. I can't even tell them about the exciting stuff, because they've all seen it already! Even worse: I don't even have my own language that I can use to make fun of everyone else with my compatriots. 

I've also discovered that I don't remember any notable "first times." I can't really recall my first day in high school. Or my first day alone at K-State. Or my first time driving or riding a bike. Or my first time doing basically anything that I figure most people would note. That's a good thing, though. It comes to the fact that I seem to adapt really quickly to new situations. Which seems odd, considering how easily I tend to get stuck in a rut. I've found that I freak out more if someone is sitting in the seat that I've been used to sitting in than when I'm flown halfway around the world and told to survive without knowing the native language, anyone there or how best to get around. It's hard for my wagon to make small turns, because I'm so far down in the rut, but pull me out and plant me onto a completely different road and I cut deep new ruts without batting an eye.

I also have an adventurous streak in me that I typically try to beat the life out of back home, but here in Europe has been able to gasp for air between blows long enough to get me to try walking into random restaurants, try wandering into new areas, and--it's greatest achievement so far--get me to travel to Vienna almost completely on a whim.

My view of the match against Dukla Prague
That was to go see my second European football match. The first was here in Prague as Dukla Prague hosted my local club, so the speak, FK Viktoria Žižkov. The match went about as I expected. Dukla Prague went up 3-0 after 15 minutes and comfortably held on for the remaining 75 minutes to see off the miserable bottom-feeders. What I wasn't expecting was for nearly 50 Schalke fans to be attending the game after seeing their beloved club draw Czech club, FC Viktoria Plzeň, the Thursday prior. That wouldn't be worth noting without the minor detail that I was wearing my beloved Borussia Dortmund stocking cap.

I knew the rivalry between Dortmund and Schalke was a heated one. I could deal with that. I've lived in the midst of a KU/MU rivalry that has seen some emotional moments, but there's something about soccer that takes rivalries to the next level. At halftime, a calm Schalke fan came up to me while pointing at my hat, simply saying, "no, no, no" in an almost worried tone, as if he just felt bad for me that I would choose to support such a club. After a short talk, he informed me of the large number of Schalke fans present. 

For the rest of the match, I noticed unkind glances from individuals all around me who were wearing Schalke blue. A few even started the throw words--German words--at me. I could only catch the parts where they would say "BVB," short for Ballspielverein Borussia Dortmund. The rest was unintelligible to me, but the tone was obvious. It wasn't happy. Much more hateful. For the first time, I had become a bit rattled by the fact that I didn't speak the native tongue of those around me and the native tongue wasn't Czech! All in all, though, it wasn't all the miserable. If anything, it just made me that much more excited for BVB's next victory over the miserable blue beasts. 

Back to Vienna: I had managed to get in contact with someone who lives in Vienna who was planning on going to the match and could use someone to tag along. Perfect! I booked the train ticket. Hopped on a train at 10:45 AM in Prague and showed up in Vienna a few hours later. After meeting at the train station, we grabbed some food and headed to the stadium for the 300th Vienna derby between Rapid Wien and Austria Wien. To put that in perspective, only one other football fixture has been played more in Europe: Rangers vs Celtic in Scotland. This is a rough-and-tumble, intense rivalry. It was technically a home game for Rapid Wien, who my guide supported, but the match was played at a neutral field after Rapid Wien stormed the pitch at the last game. In protest of being forced away from their home, the Rapid fans generally stayed quiet and didn't provide quite the atmosphere they usually would. The Austria fans tried to fill the void, but it wasn't quite as intense as it could have been. The match reflected the flatness of the crowd, as it slowly petered out to a 0-0 draw. Not a great match, but it was my first big European match and I loved it!
The Austria Vienna ultras supporting their club

I headed back to the train station after the match and arrived back in Prague around 3:00 AM. 

The most surprising thing I've discovered about myself here is that I seem to actually be Asian. I didn't even know! My roommate is from South Korea. And near my room lives 2 Thai girls, another South Korean, a couple people from Taiwan and a few from Hong Kong. A few nights ago, a few of them made some fantastic Asian food that I ate with actual chopsticks. It was so exciting! Although I spent most of my time slowly destroying pieces of seaweed while trying to make simple rolls with them, I did manage to get most of it to my mouth without too much hassle. I even tried some of the spicy stuff. I'm really going crazy!

In future weeks, I hope to be able to attend more football matches. On the top of my list is my treks to my two Meccas: Craven Cottage in West London to see Fulham and Westfalenstadion in Dortmund to see Borussia Dortmund. Outside of that, I have plans to visit Krakow, Dresden, and Vienna through organized trips with the buddy system here. 

The best plan of all, though, is taking place the weekend of April 1st. I will be traveling to Bologna, Italy to meet up with my good friend and fellow Wildcat, Eduardo Alvarado. The highlight of the trip will be traveling to see local basketball club, CS Bologna, take on Angelico Biella. One of the key players for the away side is one JACOB PULLEN. I case you forgot how to read there (which, if so, that can't be healthy; you ought to get that checked out; randomly forgetting how to read means something neurologically is off; I would imagine those flashes are long, though, and you've probably missed all this anyways; shame), I'll repeat that. JACOB PULLEN.

We're planning on going to see him play, to use such an underwhelming word to describe the fluid motion Mr. Pullen is engaging in, and are probably going to walk up to him with our Kansas State wear proudly shown. He'll be taken aback by his hometown fans and want to grab dinner with us. We'll dine at a nice Italian restaurant with JACOB PULLEN and then just hang out with him. We've got it all planned out. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Traveling to the Old World

The farthest I have ever been from home on my own was the summer of 2010. I attended Mises University in Auburn, Alabama (682 miles from my hometown) for a week. Presently, I sit high above the Atlantic Ocean hurtling at 660 miles per hour in a small tube on my way to Prague (4931 miles from my hometown) to spend 21 weeks studying at the University of Economics. This is new ground for me; according to the numbers, this is exactly 28.23 times more anxiety-inducing for everyone involved. 

Of course that's utter nonsense, as emotions can't be quantified (note 1),but it gives a little bit of perspective on the how outside of my normal happenings this is. 


The voice told me that Dallas-Fort Worth airport is the 3rd busiest airport in the world. It seemed an incredible statement as I looked around the somewhat barren terminal, but having been to the most busiest (Atlanta) and being disappointed by the lack of some inkling of violent chaos caused by so many people trying to get to so many places from one launching point, I figured it could be true. The voice did have one way to back its claim; get on the tram. I stepped on at Terminal C and was whizzed around the airport at incredible speeds that helped put it all into perspective. This is a massive place with a lot of people. I finally got to Terminal D, found my gate, and snuck in a meal at Popeyes, which I had been craving for something on a week now. A good omen.

Of course, with the international flight, we are offered dinner. As the flight attendant walked towards me with the massive rolling "tank o' frozen meals," I decided I would kindly reject the meal, as I was completely full. 

30 minutes later: I had completed my duty as an American and eaten everything that was placed on my tray. Well, I didn't finish one thing: the salad. Seemed more patriotic. The meal was surprisingly delicious, as well. I got the vegetable pasta in the hope that Julia Louis-Dreyfuss would appear next to me. It didn't work. As soon as the tray was put before me, I knew I had made the right decision. Next to some crackers sat a small wedge of gourmet cheese. I remembered eating these on plane trips of old to Toronto and Orlando. It was a tiny sliver of my childhood hope all wrapped in tin foil and ready to caress my mouth. 

I had never been so disappointed in my life. I'm pretty sure they had sprayed cheese whiz out of a bottle into tin foil, before covering it in toilet water and spreading a nice layer of "Santa-Claus-isn't-real" childhood killing pus on top just so they could sit back and watch me cry while I ate. This was "Larry Johnson's second season as a Chief" level of disappointment mixed with a "watching the Republican debates" level of anger. A bad omen.

I did eat all the cheese, though. I'm not a Communist.


For days leading up to me leaving, I had been panicking about the possibility of me panicking while traveling to Europe. All this panicking was not healthy, but the panicking about future panicking turned out to be warranted as I was panicking about making my flight to Prague. The flight from Dallas to London had been delayed, causing us not to land until around 10:20 AM local time. Boarding time for my flight to Prague: 10:15 AM. The captain had told those who are not getting on connecting flights to let those with connecting flights out first. So, of course, everywhere ignored that and stood up. There were 80 people between me and my flight that I had to catch -5 minutes ago. 

Thankfully, the people at American Airlines knew about the mix-up and had a new ticket for me sitting outside the gate for a slightly later flight. Panic level: much lower.


Panic mode: reengaged! My Czech buddy, Lucie Kalousková, was to be meeting me in Prague at 2:00 PM, but I was now going to be arriving 5:35 PM. Gah! To the pay phone! I punch the behemoth of a number and try to hold onto the phone with my now gushing palms. It didn't help that instead of a nice, classic ring, I got a dull, low-pitched "boop." Each one sounded more like the footstep of a T-Rex coming to destroy Heathrow than a desperate phone call. 

The phone was no use. To the internet! I ripped my laptop from my backpack and wearily connected to Boingo, which doesn't sound anything like a Wifi hotspot finger, but sure enough, I finally was connected. Shot a message to Lucie and felt my pulse slow to a more healthy rate as I slumped down on the bench amongst the huddled masses waiting for their plane out of this dismal place.


After taking every piece of public transportation conceivable with the fantastic help of Lucie and Matěj, I had arrived at Jarov III F, my dormitory. It is nothing too fancy, but it has all the things that I need. The following day Lucie and I went around to complete all the various tasks that needed doing: exchanged American dollars for Czech crowns, checked in with the immigration office, got my university ID card, set up Wifi at the dorms, got a tram and subway pass for 3 months. I'm getting all settled into the town and have gotten more accustomed to getting around it. Next week is orientation week and the following week is when classes start. For now, I'm just spending time seeing Prague. Between the dorms and school is the home stadium for FK Viktoria Žižkov. They are currently sitting well at the bottom of the Czech Gambrinus Liga. As far as I can tell, Dukla Prague come into town, so to speak, this weekend. Hopefully, I'll be back with pictures and tales for hopefully an exciting, but, more likely, a quite dire soccer match.


1) I always found it odd when I was asked to rank a pain on a scale of 1-10. Who made this scale? What is a 1? Is 1 no pain? Or is 5 no pain and 1 pleasure? How many people have actually felt a 10 pain? Or a 1 pleasure? More importantly, has the asker felt this range of pains? What if I've just lived in a bubble for all my life and that feeling after eating Taco Bell is a 8.7 on my scale, but barely registers on yours? You're going to be rushing me to the hospital with a bad case of Grade D meat.