Last week Nate and I headed down to Kansas City to see the Red Sox square off against the Omaha Royals minor league affiliate, errrr, I mean, we headed down to see an MLB game between the Red Sox and the Royals. The past two seasons I have gone down to KC to watch the Red Sox play. Both times Curt Schilling pitched and both times the Red Sox lost. Last season I had the joy of enduring Nate bringing up the fact the Royals had swept the Red Sox every ten minutes on the drive home. Of course, that didn’t top him inciting one of Missouri’s finer citizens (who we dubbed Jethro) into a drunken rant and dance at the end of the game last season in celebrating the Royals win. (Thanks Nate.)

This time around I felt better about the Red Sox’s chances. Why? Well, first off Schilling wasn’t going to be pitching the games we were at. (He’d already been shelled on opening day.) It would be a home game for the Red Sox, again. More importantly, they have too much talent to not win at least one of the games in KC.

Nate scored us tickets for the two games. The only thing that sucked? The weather. The game time temperatures were around freezing and the wind chill was in the teens. Before the first game, at the hotel, we kind of waffled on whether or not to bring the hat and gloves. We were both glad we brought them after being outside ten minutes.

Josh Beckett was starting the Wednesday night game. I’m sure that was exciting for the Royals players, getting ready to hit a 95 mph baseball in sub-freezing temperatures.

The Red Sox jumped out to a 3-0 first inning lead courtesy of Ortiz, Man Ram, DL Drew and Mike Lowell. After that the team just did what they had to do to win as it seemed both teams were looking forward to getting the game over with because of the cold.

Mike Lowell had three errors in the game, or half as many as he had last season over 153 games.

Beckett looked in command, which is encouraging after last season in which is was good but not the dominant pitcher Red Sox fans were hoping for.

Drew had a nice game at the plate and in the field. His defensive plays saved some runs, which is more than what the Royals can say about their outfielders and their atrocious play.

Nate and I left the game at the end of the seventh inning. This shocked both of us, but more shocking was we were both in favor of leaving. It was so cold we didn’t care that we traveled down to KC to see our favorite teams play. People were leaving throughout the game. After the seventh there was a mass exodus of people. If there were even 3,000 people left after that inning I’d be surprised.

We trudged back to the hotel and warmed up in our cigarette smoke infested room that had no working heater. We had talked about going to the hotel pub beforehand, but we just wanted to get warm at this point. (Yeah, we’re getting old.)

The next day was why we came in the first place. The chance to see Daisuke Matsuzaka pitch for the first time in the major leagues. Nate was getting annoyed by this point in time with my countless hyperbole with Dice-K and his fifty-nine varying pitches. (Actually, he has eight different pitches including the shuuto.) We hit up Wal-Mart for some lawn chairs and drinks and made our way to Kaufmann to tailgate. Kaufmann had turned into Fenway Midwest with all the Red Sox fans in attendance. Sure, some of them were bandwagoners, but many had also made the trip from the northeast for the main reason we came. To see Dice-K pitch. The guy was mythical at this point in time with all the build-up.

We make our way into the stadium and there is electricity in the air. That, and about 75 various Japanese media personnel near the Red Sox dugout. Today is going to be different. The Royals try and show off to the Japanese by using fireworks and other effects at the outset of the game. (Like that will be new to the Japanese, fireworks.) It’s going to be great. Yeah, it’s still cold and yes there are a bunch of kids sitting in front of us who could care less to be at the game and would rather be an annoyance to those around them, but Nate and I don’t care. (Except the time some kid started blowing bubbles into the air and they blew back into us.)

While Matsuzaka was the drawing card, to the serious baseball fan it would also be interesting to see Zach Greinke pitch for the Royals after getting side tracked last season with an anxiety disorder. Peter Gammons had already reported players in spring ball saying Greinke had the best “stuff” of any pitcher they had faced.

Once again, the Red Sox got out to an early lead in the first inning, 1-0. When Dice-K came out to pitch everyone in the stadium stood up to watch. The first batter, David DeJesus, got a hit off him and you would have thought the Royals won the World Series with the way Royals fans were celebrating. Dice-K got into some trouble, but then he went behind the mound and did these pseudo-jumping jacks. Next pitch, ground ball double-play, end of inning.

After that it was all Matsuzaka. He would retire ten in a row at one point. He also would strike out ten over seven innings. He kept batters off balance with his variety of pitches and his delivery. Some may knock the line because it was the Royals, but the Royals have a decent lineup. They aren’t an easy win like in past years.

Greinke pitched solidly also. He struck out David Ortiz three times and did well despite letting the leadoff hitter get on base in six of the seven innings he pitched. He was hurt by sloppy defense, though. If he maintains that kind of pitching throughout the season the Royals are in great shape.

The Red Sox tagged on some insurance runs against the Royals bullpen. The Red Sox bullpen? The joy of seeing Papelbon pitch the ninth was great. He mowed down the three batters he faced. While starting pitching is nice, having a lockdown closer like Papelbon is a gift. Plus, the Red Sox have great starting pitching with Schilling, Becket, Dice-K and Wakefield. They needed the hammer in the bullpen, and with Papelbon they have it.

By the end of the second game Nate is turning into Angry Nate and Belligerent Nate because of the Royals losing. How things had changed from the previous season. I probably didn’t help with my comments of “I know you are just lashing out because Kansas City is losing.” I felt bad for a second, but then I remembered him inciting Jethro into his drunken jig the previous season when the Red Sox lost.

On the way home we stopped in St. Joseph and came across a Dunkin’ Donuts. This seemed apropos with the two Boston victories, so we got some coffee and chilled for a bit.

Other tidbits.

  • The George Brett Memorial Bridge is a travesty in honoring George Brett.
  • The opera singer who did the National Anthem on Wednesday night was terrible.
  • Manny being Manny? Yeah, he’s in his own warm-up gear while the rest of the team is wearing the same uniform.
  • If JD Drew stays healthy Boston has the best 3-4-5 hitters in the league.
  • Jason Varitek and Coco Crisp do not look good at the plate.
  • Alex Gordon showed why he is a rookie, but I was glad I predicted his first hit off Matsuzaka in the fifth inning. I hope he succeeds for KC.
  • Kaufmann Stadium is still a great place to watch baseball.
  • I was surprised by the lack of attendance for the Dice-K game.
  • If the Royals management is smart this team will have a winning record in the next few seasons. Too much young talent. Hopefully they don’t become the Devil Rays with their young talent.
  • If the Royals were in a different division they’d have an outside chance at a .500 record.
  • The Royals highlight video was all clips from the 70’s and 80’s. As Matt Perrault would say, “That’s not good.”
  • The weight gain from the trip was worth it.

He’s not just Nate Higgs, but rather Nate Freakin’ Higgs. The fellowship was bloody brilliant. And, we had lots of time to hang out together when he was driving aimlessly around KC. Thanks again for scoring the tickets!

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