Danville, Kentucky – Folks, I’ve been looking forward to this series all season. I’ll level with you – I’m a die-hard Reds guy, but I admire the blue-collar work ethic of the junior league’s Central Division. I’ll also level with you and admit that I have mixed feelings about interleague play and the DH. In Danville in 1968, you had a position. There were no designated hitters – just like there wasn’t a designated runner, thrower, fielder, or driver. You had do it all, and if you couldn’t, well, chances are that while I was on the field throwing no-no’s, you were in your mom’s basement listening to Monkees records. So while I’d be the first to admit that I’m a little bit annoyed that I’m going to have to watch a few games with a fake player who can’t field a position, I’m still excited to get to watch a team I don’t normally see. I’d also be the first to admit that since I stole the password, I frequently take a peek at the Kansas City Royals with my step-son’s MLBTV account.
And, oh boy, what a team these Kansas City slickers have this year. An airtight defense, a bullpen that’s stingier than me when the ex-wife comes begging for child support, and an offense with more swaggering firepower than a drunken 4th of July celebration on Herrington Lake.
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And I got to admit, there’s something a little bit exhilarating about the fact that a routine ground-out to the pitcher could clear the benches with these Royals. A two game set is far too few games to spend watching teams like this. But now, if you’ll indulge me, I’ll make one of my signature predictions. This will be a matchup for the ages, like the ancient debate over which city has the better dish: Kansas City’s BBQ or Cincinnati’s Skyline Chili.
Tonight’s game will be another one of those drizzly, cloudy, not-quite summer nights, the type that makes you think twice about hitting up Belfonte’s Ice Cream at the K. Nonetheless, the bats of summer will be out in full force, with balls fired like cannon balls through the air on a scorching hot day in mid-July. There will be numbers more crooked than the Clinton administration as Marquis and Guthrie will both struggle. They’ll leave pitches hanging like Clinton left me and the GM plant hanging after NAFTA delivered none of the benefits of so-called free trade. Tomorrow’s game will be both ugly and “can’t-look-away” entertaining, like so much of American culture, from the Kardashians to Kindergarten Cop, my favorite Schwarzenegger movie which I still own on VHS to this day. Mike Moustakas will continue to pound the ball, causing the nerds to scratch their heads, wondering how the man who was once designated to run a Cinnabon in Omaha could now be mentioned in the same breath as the three magical letters: M-V-P.
But when all is said and done – my Reds will come out on top. Joey Votto will draw a walk and have several RBIs, and the calls for Chris Young to be permanently put in the rotation will echo shrilly through the damp Kansas City air, like the screams of my ex-wife as she demands that I pay the alimony and forgive my son for failing to lay down a sac-bunt in Kentucky state quarter finals in 2005. However, tomorrow night, there will be no screams at the Lexington Chili’s which I ritualistically commute to for every Cincinnati Reds game, just high-fives and fist pumps as I buy the whole restaurant a round of Texas Cheese Fries to celebrate the Red-Legs pulling out the W over the defending AL Champs.
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As the Cincinnati Reds escape town with a split, Brayan Pena will linger in the dugout and soak in the atmospherics of Kaufman stadium for one last time, at least until destiny and the interleague play schedule align once more to bring him to this great city. He’ll look at the improbably large and ostentatious scoreboard which hangs so unwaveringly above the majestic fountains. At this point in the night, those fountains double as an organic light show, with the cool waters reflecting the stadium high-beams and the pale shining of the not-quite-summer moon. Brayan, mesmerized by the fountains, will be similarly reflective, contemplating how much things have changed since he donned Royal blue, and feel a powerful nostalgia for his days sitting in the dugout spitting sunflower seeds with the likes of Zack Greinke, Billy Butler, and Bruce Chen. As the former designated catcher for Luke Hochevar, Brayan has always had a special fondness for this city and these fans. The Royals are a different team now, newly confident after their magical 2014, and Brayan knows it. The Reds walked away with this one, but Brayan has a suspicion that when people look back on the 2015 Royals, they’ll remember far weightier accomplishments than splitting a series with the Reds in May. As he walks back to the clubhouse, the man with the best smile and the biggest heart in baseball will feel a single tear swelling up behind his ever-beaming and vibrant brown eyes, fighting the urge to weep, but also secure in the knowledge that when he returns to NL-on-NL baseball, he’ll always have his position.