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Old 02-24-2003, 05:53 AM  
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Posnanski's Hope in Royals

Every year he has one of these. Here's this years.


Why pick KC to win the AL Central? Because there's reason to hope
By JOE POSNANSKI
Columnist

This one's for you, Elizabeth. You and Sarah and Tom and Paula and all the dreamers. I once again officially pick the Kansas City Royals to win the American League Central.

I'm not going to lie to you, Elizabeth. I was wavering. Yes, this time every year, as I head out to spring training, I pick the Royals to win. It is, as Rick says in "Casablanca," my gesture to love.

But it's been hard this year. The losses have piled up. The payroll has tumbled down. Everybody picks them to stink. Even the players themselves seem to have lost faith. People have stopped me in the supermarket to ask, "Are you really going to pick the Royals to win the division again?"

"Well, uh..."

"Because I just don't see how you can do it."

Yes, I was wavering. Two people saved me, Elizabeth. The first is the late Bill Vaughan. Bill wrote a humor column for many years in Kansas City. He once wrote that suburbs are places where developers bulldoze the trees and name the streets after them. He wrote a lot of wonderful things.

He also picked the Kansas City Athletics to win every year.

Every year. I checked. He picked the Athletics after 100-loss seasons. He picked them after they traded away their four best players -- Roger Maris, Bob Cerv, Hector Lopez and Bud Daley -- to the Yankees. He picked them the year after Satchel Paige, at age 58, was the Athletics' best pitcher.

Most important, he picked them in 1968, which was pretty gutsy.

There were no Kansas City Athletics in 1968. They were in Oakland.

Now, admittedly, Bill wasn't a sportswriter. But then, maybe the point goes beyond sports. Maybe the point is that everybody goes through rough times. But, you've got to have hope anyway.

Once you lose hope, you lose everything.

So, I'm picking the Royals for Bill Vaughan.

The second person who gave me hope, surprisingly, is Royals pitcher Jeremy Affeldt. Last week, I went out and bought all the baseball magazines. It's an annual tradition going back to junior high school. I love baseball magazines.

I opened one. Then another. And another. And another.

And they did not have one word about Jeremy Affeldt.

I happen to think Jeremy Affeldt is baseball's next great pitcher. He has great stuff. Mid-90s fastball. Monster curveball. Guts galore. The guy just seems to be a winner. He's going to win 20 some year, I'm telling you. And I couldn't find a bloody word about him in these magazines.

(ESPN did offer a little Affeldt insight. They called him a typical lefty sinker/slider pitcher, which he is not, and said he possibly lost his chance to make the Royals' rotation, which he did not. There's high-quality reporting.)

This really bugged me. Hey, we all know the Royals' problems. We can list them better than anyone. But what, the magazines can't say a nice word about Jeremy Affeldt? Isn't that the point of baseball magazines? To get you excited about baseball? What about Runelvys Hernandez? This guy is 25, has good stuff, and he's so cocky he probably has space cleared on his shelves for Cy Young Awards. They couldn't say something good about him?

What about Mike MacDougal? Do you have any idea how hard MacDougal throws? There was a guy in Puerto Rico who swore up and down that he clocked MacDougal at 104 mph, which is even more in kilometers per hour. Man, 104 mph. That's almost as fast as manager Tony Pena drives in the Dominican Republic. Do you know how fun it's going to be when MacDaddy comes out of the bullpen?

The magazines don't say much about him.

The magazines don't point out that the Royals will have four guys in the every-day lineup -- Carlos Beltran, Mike Sweeney, Raul Ibanez and Joe Randa -- who have had 100-RBI seasons this decade. There isn't another team in the American League that can say that. Even the Yankees have only three.

The magazines don't say that Mark Quinn, when he isn't kung-fu fighting or chasing pitches headed to Leavenworth, can really hit. And he can.

The magazines won't tell you that Ken Harvey is going to win Rookie of the Year. One magazine, I won't say which one (OK, it was Street & Smith's, once the Rolls-Royce of baseball magazines) actually wrote that Harvey "has been a notoriously poor average hitter dating back to his college days at Nebraska." What the heck is that? The guy led the nation in hitting at Nebraska. He has a .328 lifetime minor-league average. He hit .479 at the Arizona Fall League. One word: Whah?

Hope? Sure. I'll tell you why there's hope. There's so much young talented pitching -- Affeldt, Hernandez, Chris George, Kyle Snyder, Miguel Asencio, Jeremy Hill, Ryan Bukvich, more on the way -- and all these guys have terrific arms. You want a baseball miracle? You start with young pitching.

Anyway, Elizabeth, it was Jeremy Affeldt that got me thinking. There are reasons to believe. Nobody wants to say anything nice about the Royals right now. It isn't chic. It isn't cool. People will laugh. But it's February.

And every February, no matter what, I believe the Royals will win.

I hope you will do the same for the rest of your life.
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