Straight Outta Kauffman: How the Kansas City Royals Made Me a Cubs Fan

Stories For Sunday is lucky to have a guest post from Joe Valentine. Read it, share it, find him and tell him it’s good so that, maybe, you’ll see his stuff here again sooner than later. 

I knew my girlfriend, Linda, was a Kansas City Royals fan before we started dating; it’s one of the first things she tells people when she meets them for the first time. The George Brett pine tar incident and the ’85 playoff run were her bedtime stories, and she still complains about the decision not to re-sign Johnny Damon in 2000 (who even knew Johnny Damon played for the Royals?). So I knew even before she asked that we’d be taking the 10-hour overnight Megabus ride from Chicago to KC, to be there, amongst her people, when the Royals played Game 7 against the San Francisco Giants in 2014, even though we didn’t have tickets.

After an especially wild wildcard comeback, the team had gone on a tear, demolishing better-on-paper teams with a Murderer’s Row-like batting order, fearless small ball base running, and a lights-out bullpen that genuinely believed it could hold any team scoreless in innings 7-9, and often did, all the way through Game 6 of the World Series. Linda, who had, in years past, proclaimed, “If the Royals win the World Series, I will burn my own house to the ground,” could not miss their coronation or the celebration to follow.

In a bar in Kansas City’s Westport district, I watched Linda and her brother shed unabashed tears after Salvador Perez took a clunky, uncommitted hack at a high fastball in the bottom of the ninth inning, resulting in a routine popup that ended the most entertaining playoff run I’d witnessed. The 2014 Royals created a compelling Cinderella story, only it ended with Cinderella getting caught in the rain, splashed with muddy gutter water from a passing car, and then mugged on her walk home because her carriage had turned back into a pumpkin before she could leave the ball.

“It was ours,” Linda said. She was in pieces, and she wasn’t alone; it felt like the entire bar was weeping into Boulevard beers.

And then, over the next few weeks, those same sad fans seemed to come together to form a citywide group hug, like Whos after the Grinch stole their Christmas, both grateful to have had a chance to win it all and universally willing to live and die by the immediately created “unfinished business” tagline, simultaneously licking their wounds and licking their collective chops for the start of the 2015 season.

The next month, locally-owned Boulevard Brewery released a limited edition beer–“Crown Town”–to commemorate the Royals’ playoff run, and it had officially ceased to matter that they hadn’t won. Linda’s dad waited in line for multiple hours multiple times to make sure each of his children had a bottle. Linda’s family is a microcosm of a community in which Royals baseball matters. Like, really matters. It’s annoying until it’s inspiring. It’s corny until it’s enviable.

I remember feeling impacted by that passion: a genuine, authentic love for a game and a team. It stood in stark contrast to my own depleted interest in my hometown team, the Chicago Cubs, who had, in two decades, provided me with precious few incentives to continue expending effort on fandom. Until very recently, existing as a Cubs fan required a skin of cynicism, a laugh-at-yourself mentality, and an obligatory sheepish smile after proclaiming, “Next year will be our year.”

Sure, there were signs of life during seasons leading up to 2015: an ownership and management change, planned renovations to the dilapidated (though admittedly still endearing) Wrigley Field, whispers of mythically talented prospects panning out, including now-superstars Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant. My dad, after a lifetime in want, finally became a season ticket holder while I was living just a few blocks from Wrigley Field.

Still, requiring an excuse for your loyalty is taxing and, for me, the inevitable result of so much laughably poor baseball was that I simply stopped caring. I stopped investing energy into hope and expectation. Over a series of annual closet cleanouts, I donated all my Cubs shirts to Goodwill. In two seasons spent living within spitting distance of the stadium, I didn’t attend a single game. I stopped being a baseball fan.

Writing this, I realize that Cubs purists do exist (including my own cousin, a golf course greenskeeper who spends full days on a riding a lawnmower dreaming about the champagne he’ll pop when the Commissioner’s Trophy is finally ours), diehards who would label me a bandwagon fan. To them, I’d simply contend that sports are pain. God forbid I opt out of voluntary sadness.

It wasn’t that I didn’t remember the sheet of loose leaf I’d pinned to my bedroom wall and used to keep a running tally of Sammy Sosa’s 1998 home run count (innocently oblivious to the 40+ pounds of pure muscle that differentiated that version of Sammy from the guy in the rookie card I kept in a protective case and mounted on the same bedroom wall). It wasn’t that I threw away the Cubs hat I’d slept in for weeks during the summer of 2003, sweating and itching and afraid to take it off and jinx a streak. It wasn’t that I didn’t miss having something to talk about on the phone with my dad. It was just that sports are pain, and after I stopped blaming Steve Bartman for all my problems, after several seasons without a pulse, after an increasingly snide, hip young demographic had successfully overrun the Lakeview neighborhood where I lived, I tapped out.

Linda and I moved from Chicago to Kansas City in July, a change that coincided with a lot of really good baseball. Shortly after we moved, we bought $10 tickets (ludicrously inexpensive relative to the cost of living to which I’d been accustomed) to a packed Friday night game and, even in 95-degree heat, the energy of the Kauffman Stadium crowd was palpable. That night’s win saw the Royals extend their division lead to a comfortable 12 games.

Back in Chicago, a buzz was beginning to burgeon about the way that Brawny Man/Yukon Cornelius-hybrid Jake Arrieta was routinely making the NL’s best hitters look like beer league softball dads in the batter’s box, and about how the North Side had its own lights-out bullpen and a succession of swingers who were putting bat to ball seemingly on command.

Still, I maintained a practiced degree of ironic distance from the suddenly-fun-to-watch Cubs. Fandom requires vulnerability––as I’d witnessed firsthand after last year’s World Series––and I wasn’t ready to put myself back out there following the slow, miserable decline into irrelevance I’d experienced over the previous half-decade. Now that I lived in the Kansas City, a town so fully committed to its baseball team that it supports an entire industry of clever custom Royals-related t-shirt printers, I felt that if I were to commit myself to the Cubs and mean it, they’d better not embarrass me. If I were going to talk the talk, Kyle Schwarber had better walk the walk.

Then, on September 28th the Cubs played the Royals. As a result of my fringe fandom, I was unaware that the Giants’ loss two days prior had helped the Cubs secure a spot in the NL wildcard game and was still under the impression that a win mattered. I’d never taken so much as a controversial step onto Linda’s sacred turf before, and so after a routine groundout resulted in my yelling “Suck it, Lorenzo Cain!” and her throwing the remote at me, we finished watching the game from separate rooms. I couldn’t lose my Joker grin after Chris Denorfia’s pinch-hit homer in the 11th inning sealed the game, and it occurred to me that I couldn’t remember the last time Cubs baseball had made me smile. It made Linda miserable, and that in and of itself made me happy, not because I find joy in my girlfriend’s sadness, but because she actually feels this stuff. The Cubs made her feel something, and I know that’s real.

The next day, my barber said to me, “The Cubs are the Royals of 2015.” Linda’s dad asked whether my dad could secure any extra tickets at Wrigley in the event of a Cubs/Royals World Series. A co-worker came by my desk to tell me, “Your Cubbies are looking good this year.” My Cubbies? In a town where baseball is talked about seriously, people were seriously talking about the Cubs, who finished the regular season with a better record than the Royals.

Jake Arrieta was terrifying and unstoppable in the wild card win over the Pirates. In a particularly satisfying Division Series, my Cubbies laid waste to a Cardinals team whose fans never resist an opportunity to stick up their noses at any mention of their division rivals to the north (If I had a dollar for every time I heard “Oh, you’re a Cubs fan? Why?” in my four years at Saint Louis University, I’d be losing a lot less sleep over student loan debt). “The Royals of 2015” was looking more and more like an accurate prediction.

Inevitably, the Royals were the Royals of 2015. I mourned the sweep and elicited extra boo’s toward a Mets team onto whom I’d projected a totally unwarranted villainous persona as I sat in right field for all 14 innings of the Royals’ victory in Game 1 of the World Series. And on Sunday night, I put on a clever custom Kansas City t-shirt (the impeccably classy “Turn Your Head and Kauffman”) and jumped around amidst a champagne shower in the streets of Westport, showing up to work two full hours late the following morning wearing sunglasses and chugging Alka-Seltzer from a travel coffee mug.

In 2015, I enjoyed the MLB playoffs for the first time in a long time, maybe ever.

It felt good to watch every game, to have an opinion on every player. It felt good to realize that I still remember the rules, the strategies. It felt good to achieve what I’d recognized in Linda’s family, and perhaps what I’d coveted all along: a comfort in saying, “Next year will be our year,” totally non-ironically. It felt good to celebrate in a city that was so ready to celebrate, to take care of unfinished business. And it felt good to watch the Kansas City Royals absolutely dismantle the New York Mets, whom I’d grown to despise, because there’s only one kind of person who vilifies an opposing team: a fan.

Joe Valentine 

The Grantland Generation and the Lie We Chose To Believe

 Grantland tricked a lot of young people into becoming writers. I’m one of them. Call us the Grantland Generation.

Grantland launched the summer before my senior year of college. In short time, what they were trying to become—what they eventually became—was clear. They were good, thoughtful writing, focused on developing specific voices into diverse content. It would be romanticizing Grantland to say that providing those things filled a gaping hole in the market. Great, nuanced writing, about both sports and pop culture, existed before and after them at publications with similar goals.

What Grantland did was make that work appear mainstream, cool, sharable, and discussion worthy to not just the pretentious or unrealistically informed. Mickey Mouse was putting his backing behind Grantland, and a conglomerate of that size has an ability to legitimize a venture as industry simply by association. Writing—writing about things most young people already love—represented a sect of ESPN, that we chose to believe was equal to any other sect of ESPN, because why would we stop to think otherwise? To a tremendous amount of young writers, Grantland was massively influential in their decisions to call writing a career. That may seem silly to older generations of writers and readers because four years is barely even recent history, but to those of us in our twenties it’s the most informing and impressionable period of time imaginable.

What Grantland did for writers my age was create a similar construct to the one that made so many sports fans in the nineties and early 2000s (and even now) idolize Stuart Scott, Scott Van Pelt, Dan Patrick, and other SportsCenter anchors. They had dream jobs. Grantland came along and, all of a sudden, being a writer didn’t seem like the starving artist livelihood that being a painter or a poet appeared to be. Grantland had an office that ESPN paid for, and great writers hung out there. It created an ideological shift that cool, funny, serious, and weird writing was a career field. The Grantland Generation didn’t need to get a job at Grantland. We just assumed we’d get a job at a place-like-Grantland, because once you freelance enough, a Bill Simmons-type will notice you and you’ll become a specific voice for a much larger vehicle.

I was never published in Grantland, and that fact doesn’t bother me. I’m proud of the places where I’ve seen my work. I can say truthfully, that some of the writers whose names I’ve been published alongside are probably my greatest sources of satisfaction in my career. And working with some of my editors has been like taking free throw lessons from Steph Curry.

Sure, Grantland writers inspired and influenced my writing. I wouldn’t have chased down a story on Johnny Manziel’s hometown if I hadn’t studied the writing of Bryan Curtis. I wouldn’t have started a column called “Tuesdays With 2 Chainz” if Shea Serrano hadn’t made me laugh so much. I wouldn’t have reported on the world’s largest podcast conference if I hadn’t read Molly Lambert on the world’s largest porn conference. I wouldn’t have published joke emails to Ryan Gosling’s restaurant (and Justin Timberlake’s, and Mark Wahlburg’s) if Rembert Browne didn’t make me realize that being silly won’t make people discount your intelligence. I wouldn’t have learned how to write about basketball and make it sound like I’m talking about it with my friends if I hadn’t read Chris Ryan and Jason Concepcion.

But I had inspirations elsewhere, too, and there was incredible, versatile writing outside of Grantland. Too much to begin to name, in fact. Look around and you’ll find it, and love it. But Grantland convinced me, and countless other, that there was an industry to support the size of this writing community. It didn’t take much convincing. We believed it because we wanted to.

We’re writing now. Not at Grantland, but we’re writing, and it’s hard. Not just for the reasons it should be hard, that is, because writing anything is a painstaking, vulnerable task. No, it’s hard because not quite enough people care, and less pay.

Grantland’s death—more specifically, the way Grantland died—is first and foremost sad for the great writers who lost their jobs. But for the Grantland Generation, it was a punch to the stomach, because Grantland didn’t have enough financial support, and was so unimportant to ESPN that it could exist at 10:00 AM and be a memory at noon. I think a lot of us young writers liked to pretend that maybe every Grantland writer was making six figures while totally aware it was just a fantasy we used to justify the less-than-lucrative work we were doing ourselves. Now, we realize, the majority of those writers are not just unemployed, but now competing with us for jobs and space in a room we already could barely fit in.

To an older generation of writers, the demise of Grantland is surely just another reminder of the nature of a tough business with no guarantees. To us, to those that came into writing in a world where Grantland already existed, it’s a shattered illusion. It’s a look behind the curtain to see that the Land of Oz is actually controlled by Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith.

So in a way, Grantland lied to us. Or maybe we just lied to ourselves. It doesn’t really matter.  Many of us, and perhaps some Grantland staffers, chose to see Simmons as an Ari Gold-like figure, running around town protecting his talent (a reference and analogy many writers would probably shudder at, but I have a feeling Simmons would appreciate). But that’s not how this industry works, and ESPN was never all in. Advertisers care less about Time On Site and more about clicks, which is a bad thing for anyone putting effort into each thought. 

So that mindset led many of us not to a career, but to a life of hoping that the most recent invoice comes through before rent’s due. But the reveal of the illusion doesn’t actually change anything except for our own realizations. The landscape isn’t all that different, but it feels more intimidating. The odds were always stacked against us, and some of us are just now realizing the gravity of that.

This came in a month stretch when I was having increased difficulty getting paid for what I considered good writing (as if it’s ever easy). My gut reaction to this, to all of this, is to write, and to write more than I already do, which will be no easy task. Even if that doesn’t make sense. Even if I don’t get paid or pieces go to waste, unpublished.

Trying to be one of many people contributing good, thoughtful writing out into the world isn’t a job just because I want it to be. You don’t just get health insurance because you write every single day.

But I’m going to keep doing it. I think a lot of other people just like me will too.

“You are meant to play the ball as it lies, a fact that may help to touch on your own objective approach to life.”

-Grantland Rice

Written by Jonny Auping

Draft Rides: Daily Fantasy Uber

The year is 2019. President Trump has successfully built a $140 billion wall at the border, but people desperate enough to pay $2,000, trust their lives in the hands of a “coyotaje,” and abandon everything except for the clothes on their back still try to flee to Mexico.

Draft Kings and Fan Duel are the only entities that are keeping the economy from collapsing on itself. Lives were ruined, bank accounts were depleted, and relationships were destroyed when Vice President Gronkowski infamously dropped the game-winning touchdown in Super Bowl LII, sending the millions of Americans who drafted him into economic desolateness. Somehow only Prime Minister Goodell knew not to draft him. Sadly, all forms of economic aid have been abolished, although each year Americans can still qualify for entry into one free Draft Kings or Fan Duel tournament when they enter the promo code “HANDOUT.”

But things are not as grim as they may appear, fellow Americans. While many of you have stopped trusting your money with Daily Fantasy Sports, there is now a new way to change your life for the better.

Daily Fantasy Uber.

Do you Uber every day? Do you know which Uber drivers can navigate from West Hollywood to Pasadena in record speed? Or which one will find the perfect spot to pick you up at Madison Square Garden after a Knicks game? Think you can put your knowledge on the line against other Uber experts?

With Draft Rides you don’t have to worry about suspended licenses or getting stuck rooting for one Uber driver all year long. There are no year-long commitments. It’s simple: Just enter a contest, pick your driver, and win big.

You can enter tournaments for 5-15 minute estimated rides, 15-30 minute estimated rides, 30 minutes to an hour estimated rides, or go big with our daily million-dollar hour-plus contests. Draft Rides will monitor your driver as they go to pick up their customer so you can keep track of where they rank.

The scoring can vary from contest to contest, but our most basic scoring is as follows:

-Driver arrives to desination 1/3 more efficiently than their estimated ride length= 75 points

-Cold water bottles offered to customers = 5 points

-Coconut water bottles offered to customers = 10 points

-Speeds through yellow light = 15 points

-Doesn’t leave for 10 minutes because their Uber app “is being weird” = -10 points

-Plays Taylor Swift = 5 points

-Talks about Taylor Swift = -5 points

-Provides AUX chord for customer to play their music = 10 points

-Murders customer = -74 points

-Smells good = 5 points

-Smells bad = -6 points

-Pitches customer his/her idea for a new app = -10 points

-Pitches customer his/her idea for a new app using the term “Uber but for…” = 15 points

-Is actually a Cash Cab = Between $25-$1,000

-Is actually a Taxi Cab Confession =5 very sad points

-Drives customer through fast food drive-thru = 25 points

-Has a DUI = -50 points

-Gets a DUI = -100 points

-Is former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders = 100 points

-Is former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee = -100 points

So that’s the basic scoring. Pretty simple. Sure, most of the people that set up the scoring and compete are Uber drivers themselves, but we don’t really understand how that’s a conflict of interest. So, act now and enter promo code “INSIDER” to get 5 dollars towards your next entry. 

Jonny Auping

The Emoji Guide to the World Cup

world cup

Americans, myself included, have done a great job of pretending to care about the World Cup this year. I know I’ve done a pretty admirable job of rephrasing the dozen or so things I know about soccer for the past few weeks. America is like the popular kid who was about to make fun of some other kids for liking Pokemon before realizing that every other kid likes Pokemon so he better pretend he’s always liked Pokemon too. Soccer is Pokemon in this analogy. Try to keep up.

“Jozy Altidore is hurt? Are you kidding me? He’s been one of our best players since I heard his name for the first time last week.”

Don’t challenge America to a blind patriotism/drinking contest because we will accept that challenge any day of the week. Not only will we pack bars and chant “U-S-A” constantly, but we will also send Snap Chats of the bar’s reaction after each U.S. goal. Brazil, Mexico and Chile can live in the moment, we’d rather live in 10 seconds glimpses of our friends’ lives forty minutes later.

But how can FIFA and ESPN really get the American people to truly embrace World Cup Soccer?

Emojis.

Emojis saved Americans from having to learn how to read and write, I’m pretty sure they can help us through the World Cup. You may not know the origins of Emojis. At one point a couple years ago America confronted Japan and we were like, “Hey, we are America and we are just as good at building things as you are! You better watch out!” and Japan was like, “here, play with these,” and we were like “AWESOME!”

I honestly spent about an hour trying to think of an article that involved every country in the World Cup being represented by a different Emoji, but I just couldn’t imagine a scenario in which it didn’t end up being super racist. Instead, I’m offering a way to incorporate emojis into the soccer watching process to keep Americans interested rather than just staring blankly, waiting for a goal.

A giant emoji will appear on the screen in certain situations to help explain what is happening. Here are a few examples.

Praying Hands Emoji

 

praying hands

America is an underdog and currently trailing in the game. The hands symbolize prayer, which symbolizes eventual victory, which symbolizes God’s preference of our country over other countries.

Mustache Man Emoji

mustache

 

A foreign team is taking the field. We are suspicious of men with mustaches. As Americans, we are also suspicious of foreigners.

Monkey Covering Eyes Emoji

monkey eyes

There is about to be a penalty kick or otherwise high intensity event in a crucial moment of the game. When you see the Monkey Covering Eyes Emoji it’s a good time to take a dramatic sip of beer and turn your face to your friend while keeping your eyes on the screen and say, “This is huge.”

Monkey Covering Ears Emoji

monkey ears

 

An announcer, probably with some stupid accent of a country not as cool as ours, is saying something negative about Team USA. While you don’t understand the intricacies of soccer enough to know whether or not the statement is true, it’s a good time to turn to your friend and say “that’s bullshit.”

Poop Emoji

poop emoji

The referee made a call against Team USA. Naturally, he is a pile of poop with eyeballs and a mouth.

Strong Arm Emoji

strong arm emoji

A simple reminder that even if other countries are more coordinated than us we are still stronger and could crush them if need be.

Party Popper Emoji

party popper

 

The U.S. scored a goal! Start yelling and jumping and inadvertently spilling beer on the American flag that you brought to the bar and have already let hit the ground like ten times.

Girl in Red Dress Emoji

red dress

 

This doesn’t mean anything, she’s just going to check in on you periodically so you don’t lose focus.

OK Emoji

ok

 

Something good happened other than a goal. You don’t actually understand what happened or why it was good, but you should turn to your friend and say “that was nice.”

‘I’m Here To Help You’ Lady Emoji

help lady

 

It’s halftime. People will now come on the screen to explain what happened in the first half. You don’t have to listen, though. You can use this time to order another beer and talk about real football and how you can’t believe all the other countries stole its name and used it for their sport.

‘No Way’ Lady Emoji

x arms

There was a yellow card or red card on the other team. Get ready for the replay because you are supposed to say “Oh c’mon! You can’t do that!”

Beer Emoji

beer

 

The US won! Order a beer. Drink it and explain why your country is better than every other country because of soccer.

Two Beers Emoji

two beers

 

The US lost! Order two beers. Drink them and explain why your country is better than every other country because soccer is stupid.

Smirking Emoji

smirking emoji

The World Cup games are over for the day. You barely know anything about soccer, but no one noticed. You fooled the entire bar. You sly, American, you.

Jonny Auping

 

Two Turtles React To Donald Sterling and Justin Bieber

 

two turtles

Harold and Brian are two neighbor turtles that commute to work every day. Their job is about 150 feet away, making it a 45-minute commute. This was their conversation Thursday morning:

“Hey Brian.”

“Hey Harold.”

“How have you been?”

“Pretty good. I’ve just been catching up on Game of Thrones. It’s really confusing. I have 16 siblings and 104 cousins, but that’s still about half as many characters as are on GOT.”

“My son, Franklin, watches that. It’s too violent for me. I don’t care if “Winter is coming.” I’ve saved up like two and a half berries. I’m ready.”

“Anyway, you hear about this Donald Sterling stuff?”

“Uhh…Yeah, it’s not exactly breaking news. People have been talking about that for weeks.”

“Yeah, well what can I say? Your son delivers the newspaper in my neighborhood. No offense, but he takes forever.”

“Yeah, sorry about that. We probably should make him get a different job. So what do you think of this Sterling guy?”

“He seems like a pretty big A-hole. I don’t understand why he gets so much attention for owning a team of crabs.”

“Crabs? What? He owns a basketball team.”

“Oh. Really? Then why are they called the Clippers?”

“Well..because…actually I have no idea.”

“Either way, he’s a huge racist. He doesn’t want his mistress photographed with black people? Why would that bother him? My wife can take pictures with whoever she wants. She could be taking pictures with a bunch of sea turtles right now and it wouldn’t bother me in the slightest.”

“Don’t you think it’s a little extreme to ban him from the NBA for life and make him sell his team? What happened to freedom of speech?”

“Well, he’s not getting thrown in jail. Freedom of speech doesn’t mean you can say whatever you want without personal consequence. If you tell your wife that her shell is looking tight then you won’t get thrown in jail, but you might have to find a new wife. Besides, the guy got two billion dollars. Do you have any idea how many berries you could buy with that kind of change? I don’t understand how human money works, but I’m thinking at least ten.”

“Oh shell yeah! I can only imagine. Dude’s probably swimming in berries. How about that mistress that recorded their conversation? She sounds like a real berry digger.”

“I don’t have a problem with her. She’s no hero, but I’m glad somebody exposed the old racist. He’s been discriminating for years, but only finally getting called out for it. There’s this one old tortoise that lives by me who always says the worst things to me about squirrels. I wish some good looking female would seduce him then expose his prejudice.”

“I bet that sexy little rabbit that comes around could do it. What’s her name? Lola? Not too bad on the eyes, am I right?”

“Keep it in your shell, Harold.”

“Speaking of racism, this Justin Bieber guy keeps doing the stupidest things. He’s like a snapping turtle, he just doesn’t know when to stop. That little baby man dropped the N-word and sang about being in the KKK.”

“I don’t think he’s racist like Donald Sterling. I think fame has just made him crazy. The kid has been totally shell-tered his entire life. He has no awareness.”

“Yeah, he always does something stupid then looks completely shell shocked when people get mad. He reminds me of that one guy, Yertle.”

“The turtle?”

“No, the other Yertle. Of course the turtle. Anyway, guy couldn’t handle the fame after that human doctor wrote a book about him. Totally lost it. I head he’s on that syrup now. Doesn’t know where he is half the time.”

“I’ve heard of syrup. What is it?”

“I don’t really know. I think humans put it on their pancakes.”

“Humans are weird.”

“I know. You wouldn’t catch me saying anything hurtful about any other type of turtle.”

I guess we’re here. What were you thinking about for lunch?”

“I was kind of craving a berry. You don’t happen to have any on you, do you?”

“Who do I look like, Donald Sterling?”

“LOL”

Jonny Auping

For Two Turtles reacting to Miley Cyrus at the VMAs click here.

For Two Turtles reacting to the Duck Dynasty  controversy click here.

For Two Turtles reacting to Katy Perry’s Geisha performance click here.

What is a Billiken, Anyway?

This Year’s Most Overlooked Contender and Its Unique Mascot.

billiken nyc

“What is a Billiken, anyway?”

 I think it’s the addition of that final word: “anyway,” that really strikes a nerve with students and alumni of Saint Louis University. Call us paranoid, but that “anyway” usually comes with a condescending tone and, in the context of college basketball, it implies “you don’t actually belong here.”

 Why wouldn’t Saint Louis University belong with the elite basketball programs in the country? Is it because it doesn’t have a rich and successful basketball history? In 1948 they were arguably the best team in the country and won the NIT back when it was more prestigious than the NCAA Tournament. Is it because they don’t send players to the NBA? What about “Easy” Ed Macauley who won an NBA Championship in 1958 and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1960 or Larry Hughes who was the eighth overall pick in the NBA draft in 1998? Or is it because in “modern” history Saint Louis has failed to maintain a consistently winning basketball program? Perhaps that’s fair, but what if they’re in the process of changing that?

Or do they not belong for other reasons? Maybe it has something to do with the fact that recruiting pitches are much more likely to involve the letters B.A. than they are to include the letters NBA. Or maybe it’s the enforced academic standards and lack of special treatment to athletes. In four years at Saint Louis University, I took three classes with members of the basketball team. Just like me, our star player had to say “Puedo ir el bano?” to go to the bathroom in Spanish 110. Could it have to do with a moral standing that every player is held to, coinciding with the University’s Jesuit mission statement? In 2010 the roster was decimated when a sexual assault case was brought up against a number of core players. The charges were dropped in court for all the players, but months later, just before the season started, all the players involved were suspended one semester because the incident violated the school’s conduct code. Two of the players transferred rather than serving the suspension. Another, Willie Reed, declared for the NBA and was eventually signed by the Memphis Grizzlies. 

Maybe it would make sense if these things were why Saint Louis doesn’t belong with elite basketball programs. There’s a way of running big time college sports programs and Saint Louis University just doesn’t fit in. 

“So…what is a Billiken, anyway?”

…And why would the legendarily successful and respected coach Rick Majerus want to coach a Billiken? Well, there was actually a practical reason for that. Majerus’ mother was ill and being treated in Wisconsin when he was hired as head coach of Saint Louis in 2007. The job allowed him to be closer to his mother in what were likely the last years of her life. He had recently turned down the head-coaching job at USC. 

A paragraph could never sum up what you need to know about Majerus, but I can give you the bullet points. There were three things that just about everybody seemed to know about him: he loved basketball, he said what he wanted to say whenever he wanted to say it, and he ate whatever he wanted to eat….whenever he wanted to eat it. Majerus was candidly funny about his own weight issues, but some found his opinions on other subjects less humorous. In his first season at Saint Louis, he made comments regarding Hilary Clinton that suggested he supported women’s right to abortion. The archbishop of the city of Saint Louis stated publicly that he expected SLU, a catholic institution, to take proper disciplinary action.

On the basketball court, Majerus immediately implemented his ‘slow the game down’ offense with his inherited team. He coached a style of play that was meant to frustrate other teams and, more importantly, allowed his perhaps less talented team to maintain a close score until the end of the game. In other words, it gave his squad a fighting chance. In January of his first season (about five weeks after I had decided to attend SLU), Majerus slowed the game down a little bit too much against George Washington. The Billikens only scored 20 points the entire game as a team, setting an NCAA record for least points scored in a game. The Billikens finished 16-15 and 7-9 in the Atlantic 10 conference that first season.

Over the next five years, Majerus refused to stop saying whatever popped in his head (whether brass, hilarious or self-depreciating) and he refused to stop coaching his style of play. A funny thing happened along the way. It was almost like he had a plan all along. Almost like the guy who won over 500 games without coaching a traditional powerhouse program, and who had taken the University of Utah to the National Championship, just maybe knew what he was doing. His words eventually won over the St. Louis community and his style of play eventually won him a lot of basketball games. All the while, he spent his off-seasons barreling into living rooms in Chicago, Wisconsin, Texas, Australia and New Zealand to talk about food and convince mothers that Saint Louis was the place for their baby boys. 

“What is a Billiken, anyway?”

Never have I been asked that question more than during the opening round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament, my senior year at Saint Louis University. The Billikens were back in the ‘Big Dance’ for the first time since 2000. My buddy, Donnie, and I decided to forgo Spring Break shenanigans in the Gulf Shores to drive to Columbus, Ohio and support our team.

As basketball junkies, the atmosphere of the NCAA Tournament’s opening round was everything we dreamed of. Everyone (including us) sporting the colors of their team, walking around aimlessly, anxious for the day’s games. The morning we arrived we went to a diner for breakfast and while waiting to be seated, met two white-haired men in their sixties, natives of Columbus, with no specific rooting interest, just ready to watch some basketball. For thirty minutes we talked about everything from high school basketball to John Wooden’s UCLA teams. They even asked us what a Billiken is without the “anyway!” After being seated, Donnie and I joked that the two men were “basically us in 40 years.” Four eggs and six pancakes later we asked for a check and the waitress told us that it had “been taken care of by two men.” 

Camaraderie sparked by a love of basketball and tradition. “This must be what it feels like to be apart of a good basketball program,” we thought. It felt like we were somewhere we belonged.   

That feeling didn’t last long when we arrived outside the arena where eight NCAA basketball teams would play over the next two days. There weren’t nearly as many blue Saint Louis University shirts as there were NC State, Memphis or Michigan State polo’s and windbreakers. Preceded with a smirk and followed by a chuckle, people kept asking that question (with the “anyway”).

“A Billiken is what’s about to beat your team in the NCAA Tournament,” Donnie replied to one particularly obnoxious Spartan fan. 

Embarrassed, I immediately put my face in my palm. I didn’t leave him hanging, but it was still such a corny comeback.

The Billikens won their first NCAA Tournament game in 14 years that day beating Memphis 61-54 and sending a lot of overconfident Tiger fans back to Tennessee early. Saint Louis followed that up by pushing a number one seeded Michigan State to the brink of elimination before losing by just four points. Donnie and I left the arena with our heads held high. No one asked us that question on our way out.

That was the last basketball game that Rick Majerus ever coached. In the press conference he broke character and shed a few tears claiming he would miss the players in the future. It was like he knew.

He died eight months later of heart complications. He outlived his mother by one year.

“Yeah, but…what is a Billiken, anyway?”

Well, they’re Jim Crews’ team to worry about now. When Majerus was going through medical issues in the fall of 2012 Crews took over on an interim basis. When Majerus passed away on December 2nd, 2012, shaking the Saint Louis community, the “interim” label was essentially dropped. Convinced by Majerus to come out of retirement and be his lead assistant coach a year earlier, Crews was now leading the ship of a team with unfamiliarly high expectations. But there was no question who the team was truly playing for.

The players rallied for their late coach. They won nine straight games after his passing. They played themselves into a top 25 ranking and never looked back, winning their conference for the first time since 1971.

The Billikens went into the tournament as a fourth seed, their highest seeding ever. With a veteran roster, they were prepared to honor Majerus by focusing on his two key fundamentals: defense and rebounding. After handily beating New Mexico State in the first round, they had their first poor performance in months against Oregon and suffered a disappointing loss, unable to advance further than they had the previous season.

“What is a Billiken, anyway?”

They’re back in the top 25 this year, finishing the regular season ranked number 18 in the nation with a 26-6 record. 

They have what is considered by many prognosticators to be one of best defenses in the country. They strung together a 19-game winning streak from December to March, the longest in school history, which at one point earned them the number 10 ranking in the country.

In 2012, Majerus predicted he would make Saint Louis a top-10 team in three years.  It only took two. And it happened on what would have been his 66th birthday.

They start a lineup of five seniors. A senior class that was recruited by Majerus. A senior class that committed to Saint Louis at a time when most causal sports fans didn’t realize the school had a basketball team. When key players were suspended in 2010, it was this class (then freshman) who were thrown into the fire before they were ready to carry a team. Four years later they will graduate with more wins than any class in school history.

Dwayne Evans leads them at power forward, quietly getting double-doubles by using his 6’6 body to overpower smaller forwards and blow by slower forwards.

Jordair Jett, the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year, is the most recognizable player on the team with long dreads and a build that makes him look more like a running back than a basketball player. Despite being only 6’1, he loves to block shots into the third row and he does his name justice by quickly getting past defenders and finishing in a fashion that has students calling him “Air Jordair.”

Jett provides most of the team’s flash, but that’s not what the Billikens are about. They are all business. They are still about defense and rebounding and frustrating their opponent (and their opponents’ fans). 

Losing last season was painful for the SLU community because it was all in Majerus’ honor. The Billikens’ success last year was supposed to be their gift to his memory.

But perhaps the fact that the Billikens are right back in the spotlight is the real gift. At times this season SLU has been ranked higher than North Carolina, Michigan State, UCLA, Louisville, and Kentucky. In other words, the elitist of the elite. They have reached the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year, this season as a fifth seed, waiting to play the winner of Xavier and North Carolina State. 

Rick Majerus didn’t put together a good team. He built a program.

“What is a Billiken, anyway?”

billiken

Well, originally a Billiken was a good luck charm created in Kansas City, Missouri in 1908. Giving someone a Billiken was like wishing them good fortune. They became extremely popular, sort of like the Beanie Babies of their era. Eventually Japanese culture became enamored with the Billiken and they could be found all over the country. Saint Louis University still had a football team at the start of the 20th century and their head coach, John R. Bender, was said to resemble the little creature. Reporters started jokingly referring to the team as the “Billikens” and it stuck. Eventually the university officially adopted it. 

I guess that’s the most accurate answer… 

….You know what? Disregard that.                                                     

A Billiken is what’s about to beat your team in the NCAA Tournament.

Jonny Auping

Emailing the “Texas Hammer” to Solve Society’s Problems

Sometimes I feel like there’s just way too much going on in the world. Some of it’s really bad. Some of it’s really good. And a lot of the time it’s somewhere in-between and we all have to argue and became totally enraged over how other people live their lives.

On days like these I often wish there was someone who I could hire to serve justice and solve all of our problems. Someone who could help all the people who get criticized by the media and millions of people on Twitter. It could be as simple as calling or e-mailing him, explaining your problem and then paying him money to solve it for you.

Well, this commercial just came on my television and it’s the greatest thing I’ve ever seen in my life:

I know that the commercial says you’re supposed to hire him if you’ve been in a truck accident, but maybe “hurt by big truck” is just a metaphor for being wronged by the national media. Maybe Jim Adler the “Texas Hammer” is just the guy to solve society’s problems.

So I decided to do an experiment. I decided to take a few of the biggest news stories from the past five days and email Adler pretending to be a key figure from each story and ask for his help. Adler & Associates has it’s own website (it’s awesome by the way, there’s lots of fire and he’s screaming and holding a slede hammer) and it has a section for you to have your case  be reviewed for free to see if Adler will take it on. Perfect.

Here are the issues that I covered (click each headline for link to story):

Marcus Smart Shoves Fan Who Screamed At Him.

Quick Recap: In a recent loss at Texas Tech, Oklahoma State sophomore and future NBA player Marcus Smart fell into the crowd trying to block a shot. He eventually jumped up and went directly towards a grown man named Jeff Orr and angrily shoved him. Smart claimed Orr used a racial slur towards him. Orr says that he called Smart “a piece of crap.”

Email from Jeff Orr (with obnoxious arrows pointing where to look):

Screen Shot 2014-02-10 at 11.55.36 AM

Email Transcribed:

From: FreeSpeech69@yahoo.com

Marcus Smart shoved me. I’m a grown man and I screamed “piece of crap” at a 19-year old kid. How much money can you get me? 

Eight pre-game beers is too many. I only had seven. Totally sober-ish. Whatever. Get em Hammer.

Winter Olympics Kick Off in Russia Despite Putin’s Anti-Gay Stance

Sochi, Russia is the host of the 2014 Winter Olympics, but has been harshly criticized for it’s anti-gay laws supported by Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Even after heavy pressure from much of the world Putin has refused to allow basic rights to homosexuals.

Email from Vladimir Putin (without obnoxious arrows, you know where to look now):

Screen Shot 2014-02-10 at 11.42.32 AM

Email transcribed:

From: Jonathan.Auping@gmail.com*

The gays are in my country! They ride with boards of snow and twirl on shoes for ice. You come to this country and you stop this! Bring your hammer!

Also do you know how get Flappy Bird back on iPhone?

*Accidentally used my real email on this one. Rookie mistake.

Danish Zoo Kills Healthy Giraffe, Feeds it to Lion in Front of Children

Quick Breakdown: A Danish zoo claimed that there were too many giraffes of similar genes in their international breeding program. So they killed a healthy 18 month-old giraffe in front of children and fed it to a lion.

Email from Danish Zoo:

Screen Shot 2014-02-10 at 12.02.53 PM

Email transcribed:

From: Zoo4Kids@Yahoo.com

Quick truck question: Is it big enough to store giraffes if they are lying down? I have 5 or 6 giraffes that are…uhh…sleeping.

I need to transport them to kid’s bday party for killing festival. I mean petting zoo. Yeah, petting zoo. 

Missouri Defensive Player Michael Sam Comes Out as Gay, Will Be First Openly Gay NFL Player.

Soon to be NFL draft pick Michael Sam announced that he is a homosexual. While he received incredible public support, some are still worried about how an NFL locker room will accept him. New Orleans Saint, Jonathan Vilma claimed he would be worried about a gay player staring at him in the shower.

Email from Jonathan Vilma:

Screen Shot 2014-02-10 at 11.51.25 AM

Email transcribed:

From: VilmaDaVillian@hotmail.com

There will be a gay player in the NFL soon. I don’t need any money, but I want you to make sure I get my own shower with four closed off doors.

From here on out I want my showers just like my mind: narrow and closed off.

Alex Rodriguez Drops Lawsuit Against Major League Baseball Over Steroid Allegations. 

Alex Rodriguez reluctantly dropped his lawsuit against the MLB and will be serving his massive suspension as a repeat violator of the league’s steroid policy. 

Email from Alex Rodriguez:

Screen Shot 2014-02-10 at 11.47.54 AM

Email transcribed:

From: NotBuyingSteroids@AOL.com

If Bud Selig thinks this is over he’s DEAD wrong. Can you hit him with your truck?

P.S. Are your lawyer skills decreasing with your age? I know a guy who can give you stuff to stay sharp if you’re ok with needles.

My Email to Jim Adler

Screen Shot 2014-02-10 at 2.21.09 PM

Email transcribed:

Can you stop yelling at people? We’re trying to create a world where we can talk about issues that help the greater good. 

You screaming at people with sledge hammers and giant trucks and fire doesn’t help. It makes people think that’s how we resolve conflict, through complete insanity. 

Also, I found Arby’s meat in my Arby’s sandwich. It was gross. How much you think I could get in court, ballpark?

And now we play the waiting game…

Jonny Auping