Sports grab bag: K-State FB and hoops, Royals and Chiefs

Lots of “sports thoughts” careening around in this big old noggin of mine, so it’s time to put a few of them out there for ya.

In no particular order, here’s what I’m thinking regarding K-State football and men’s hoops, a Royals managerial hire, and my beloved Chiefs.

First, Coach Chris Klieman’s football Wildcats.

This is being written just three hours after the Cats fell short to Texas in Austin by a 27-24 margin.

K-State is now 6-3 overall and 3-3 in Big 12 play. And to be completely honest with you, those six overall victories and three in league play were what I thought Klieman and Co. would have TOTAL by season’s end.

Those who work inside the walls of the Vanier Complex – and the players who are in and out of it enough to make it their home away from home – may have been the lone group with a belief that more than .500 was possible.

If you’re completely objective – and not just looking at things through “lavender colored glasses” – you have to admit that K-State has a talent deficit, and at the least a depth deficit, at nearly every position on the field.

And last year, with Coach Bill Snyder and his staff looking out of touch and lacking motivation, a group that previously might have been coaxed into overachieving was simply not talented enough to make a bowl game.

There are still a ton of players on this roster – players inherited by Klieman – who won’t be good enough to have played for K-State when Klieman and his staff of talented coaches and recruiters are done reshaping the roster.

A group that is bigger, faster and stronger is on the way – and it needs to be.

Snyder found in the mid to late 1990s that it was ENTIRELY POSSIBLE to recruit highly-talented players to Manhattan. It can happen again.

By the end of the Hall of Fame Coach’s second tenure in charge at K-State, he and his staff were reaching on far too many players. The magic was gone.

But Klieman, the aforementioned staff, and those who surround the program (like talented motivational guru Ben Newman) have breathed new life into a program that desperately needed it.

That’s why Saturday’s loss to Texas should just be viewed as part of the process or a greater journey.

When Texas decided to take full advantage in the second half of obvious athletic mismatches at several positions on the field, it dominated the Cats. Oklahoma State won over K-State in Stillwater earlier in the year by doing the very same thing.

Klieman and his staff are smart enough to understand that this “first team” of theirs in MHK won’t be nearly as good as a crew four years from now is likely to be.

But they’re too damn competitive to not coach the hell out of this current group and see whether or not the sky can truly be the limit.

Those of us who were going to be happy if the team simply sniffed .500 should just enjoy the remainder of the 2019 ride. We’ve received a gift at least a year earlier than most of us expected.

Second, the K-State men’s basketball team.

If you like roller coaster rides and restaurants that will serve you an award-winning meal one night, and offer up Waffle House slop the next, this might be the group for you.

One criticism of Coach Bruce Weber’s teams since he’s been in Manhattan is that they’re at times almost painful to watch.

That’s NOT going to be any different this year. In fact, with this many young players being thrust into important roles with the departure of last year’s “Big Three,” the growing pains will be on display for all to witness.

Weber’s defenses, for example, have allowed K-State to carve out an identity late in each of the last two seasons. But they’re damn difficult to master, even for someone with years in the program.

These new players, though talented, will struggle on that end of the floor maybe more than anywhere. When they can react instinctively and not get caught in “paralysis by analysis,” they’ll be fine. But that may not happen until midway through the Big 12 portion of the schedule.

And if it does, there shouldn’t be any “firebruce.com” sites popping up on the internet.

The idea here, much as it should be with football, is BE PATIENT, people. Weber’s 2020 recruiting class (if it sticks together) has a chance to be the best to come into Manhattan since a junior college coach named Dana Altman came to Manhattan to be on Lon Kruger’s staff and brought along some Missouri juco players named Mitch Richmond, Charles Bledsoe and Will Scott.

No, I’m not predicting that any of those recruits will be of Richmond’s ilk. But I AM saying that there’s reason to smile as you scream as the roller coaster careens downhill this year. And it will.

But this will end up being a fun ride before it’s all over.

Third, Mike Matheny and the Royals.

No, Dayton Moore and Mike Matheny aren’t the Kansas City version of a baseball “God Squad.” And no, there won’t be “organized brainwashing” going on in Spring Training in a few months in Surprise, Arizona.

Sure, Moore and Matheny would be the first to tell you that their faith and beliefs guide every move they make in life. They both have the type of foundational belief that is a common denominator for most successful leaders.

It might be a belief in God. It might be a belief in an unwavering set of principles. Heck, it could even be a belief in lower taxes or universal health care.

But show me a leader who can’t articulate what’s REALLY important to her or him, and I’ll show you someone who isn’t REALLY a leader at all.

Much has been made of the “Matheny Manifesto” that the new Royals manager wrote when he was just “Little League Coach Mike” after his big league playing days had ended.

What that document – which was later made into a book – really set out to do was put on paper a set of foundational beliefs as to what made for good baseball teams.

If you believe all of the negative press Matheny got near the end of his St. Louis managerial tenure, this hire scares the bejeezus out of you. And if you believe that Matheny is the wonder boy that his first three years at the helm of the Cardinals might have you thinking he is, you’re probably also mistaken.

But Moore isn’t a dummy. He’s had Matheny around for a year, just like he did Ned Yost before hiring him. He knows Matheny’s positives and negatives likely better than anyone but Matheny’s wife and children.

And, even knowing “warts and all” about Matheny, Moore trusted the future of the Royals franchise – and Moore’s legacy – with his new manager.

Matheny admits he’s spent the last year-plus learning about himself, the game, and how to better deal with others.

If he’s truly learned from that introspection, and he holds to those core beliefs that we spoke to earlier, all of us who support the Royals will be just fine – whether or not we want to share a pew with M & M in church.

Fourth, and finally, MVPat and our Chiefs.

Patrick Mahomes is like that awesome new toy we got as a kid. We played with that thing non-stop, and had the absolute time of our lives. We never wanted to put the toy down. We played with that thing morning, noon and night. And then the battery ran out.

And we got scared.

Would the toy ever work again? What were we going to do without it? How would we survive?

Then we got new batteries, installed them in the toy, and we were off and running again – literally playing with that toy until it simply no longer functioned.

Fear not, Chiefs fans. Our lives are not about to come to an end. And our time without batteries for our toy IS about over…for now.

Patrick Mahomes is back tomorrow for the Chiefs when they battle the Titans in Nashville.

For those who suggested holding Mahomes out for yet another week, here’s my take: Relax. The two groups with the ABSOLUTE MOST to lose here – the Chiefs franchise and Mahomes himself – have deemed it the right thing to do to have him play.

They’ve green-lighted putting batteries back in the toy and cranking that sucker back up.

So, let’s do it and see how long we can enjoy the heck out of the thing.

Because the kid’s a blessing. A once-in-a-lifetime talent.

But we’re not promised tomorrow, so since the team and Patrick himself have said “he’s a go,” let’s enjoy the heck out of our “todays.”

And we can worry about finding a new toy in a decade or two.

 

‘Dismember?’ No. But time to look to 2017 for Moore, Royals

Dayton Moore is conflicted…and so am I.

Early Monday afternoon, the General Manager of the World Champion Kansas City Royals sat in the home dugout in Kauffman Stadium and told the gathered members of the media that he wasn’t about to “dismember” his team by trading off pending free agents.

In that same session, however, Moore declared that no one on the roster was untouchable.

So, Dayton, which one is it?

Well, if Moore’s at all like I am, it’s a bit of both.

To fans like me who have seen this team throughout the entirety of its 47-year existence, it’s been one helluva ride.

Just seven years after the franchise came into being, it was in the playoffs. Just 16 years into its life, it was a World Champion.

Then came a 29-year drought.

No one ever said that “helluva” ride was without its brutal bumps in the road. Heck, if you’re one disposed to the idea that Kansas City is the “land of the orange barrel,” it seemed as if the road to Kauffman Stadium was littered with those pesky suckers from 1986 through 2013.

Then came the miracles of 2014 and 2015, and the old two-lane gravel road seemingly became a four-lane interstate in the blink of an eye.

But now, with his team under .500 and a trade deadline rapidly approaching, Moore finds himself trying to decide whether he’d rather continue to travel down the road he’s spent 10 years in building — or to take a moment to do some quick maintenance on Royal Way.

As I mentioned, it’s a tough choice. Heck, a few short hours ago — when my heart was winning its perennial battle with my head — I was ready to “ride it out” with this crew, hoping to see an August and September run to a wildcard spot.

Then came a four-run uprising by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the first inning of Monday’s series-opener at The K…and my head took over.

Yes, Dayton, it’s easy to be conflicted. Yes, Dayton, it’s easy to talk of not dismembering anything at one moment, only to say no one is untouchable the next.

But for the sake of Royals fans everywhere, the latter approach — listening to any and all offers for any and all of your players — is what Moore needs to follow over the remainder of this week.

Unlike one year ago, where Moore was able to bring Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist to Kansas City via high-profile trades, it’s a seller’s market in 2016. There aren’t nearly as many attractive prospects for Moore to pursue this time around — and his roster has as many as five players on it that would command differing levels of “return value.”

Heck, with the haul Brian Cashman and the New York Yankees got from the Chicago Cubs today in return for Aroldis Chapman, just think for a moment what all-world closer Wade Davis might bring the Royals.

And no, I’m not suggesting that the Royals deal Davis. But I am saying that you have to listen. A year ago, the Royals unloaded five pitchers — Aaron Brooks, Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb, Sean Manaea and Cody Reed — who have started games in the big leagues since being shipped out of the Royals organization.

Read that again really slowly. Five pitchers. All have been starters for their new teams in the last calendar year.

Now think of how you’ve felt as the Royals have paraded Chris Young, Dillon Gee and seemingly a cast of a thousand others to the mound this season in the fifth-starter slot.

Yeah, you have to at least listen for offers for Davis — who some baseball experts say could draw as many as four top prospects in return.

The chance to restock the farm system with a pitcher or two — particularly with the big club and minor league affiliates not exactly teeming with decent starting pitchers — makes a lot of sense. Re-pave a section of that road that was once fancy and new, and you’ve got a chance to make history again — or so the theory goes.

And Davis isn’t the only Royal who could draw interest.

Designated hitter Kendrys Morales. Starting pitcher Edinson Volquez. Reliever Luke Hochevar. All are pending free agents — the guys Moore insisted he wouldn’t dismember his club through trading en masse. Each, however, would bring a nice return.

The heart says “you can’t trade Davis, Hoch, KMo and Volquez! They were all part of our championship!”

The head, however, needs to be concerned with making sure it’s not another 29 years before the Royals sniff another title run.

Cueto and Zobrist aren’t here anymore. Neither are Johnny Gomes, Jeremy Guthrie, Omar Infante, Ryan Madson, Franklin Morales or Alex Rios. Nori Aoki, Billy Butler, Erik Kratz and James Shields were jettisoned after the 2014 World Series run.

Time moves on. Teams change. And you’re either getting better or you’re getting worse.

It’s hard to argue that the 2016 Royals are going to be much better.

Mike Moustakas is gone for the year. Lorenzo Cain will return, but the slightest tweak of the hamstring will end his year. There’s no decent fifth starter in sight. Alex Gordon looks more lost than he has since his days as a third baseman.

Those are facts. They’re things you can see, things your head is trying to relay to your heart.

But your heart, probably just like Moore’s, isn’t quite ready to dismember a champion quite so soon after an 800,000-person party on a wonderful Kansas City November day.

If, however, you don’t want that stretch of road leading to Kauffman Stadium — that Royal Way — to end up like the awful section of I-70 just outside of Columbia, Mo., it’s time to start thinking about 2017.

Dismember? No.

Return to glory? That’s the goal.

And it’s Moore’s job to get us all there.