Tigers On Top

6th Annual Tiger Pride Series in Oakland–Day #2
July 31, 2007, 10:34 pm
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Not quite as gleeful as yesterday.

Today we lost Danny and Jeannette to Santa Barbara, so they were replaced by Yazan’s little brother Gabby as well as my buddy Hugo, who has attended at least one Tiger Pride game every year since the tradition began, something no one else outside of my family can claim. Other than that, the crew from yesterday were back and ready to go.

Tigers fans in general did not turn out in the same huge unbelievable numbers as yesterday, possibly because many A’s fans were enticed by the free A’s poker set giveaway. No Jonesy sightings during BP, but I did see John Lowe and Vance Wilson. John Lowe, in case you didn’t know, is the Tigers beat writer for the Detroit Free Press. He is also a huge mentor for kids at the Michigan Daily–he read practically every men’s gymnastics story I wrote last year. He’s the kind of guy who can make you feel like you’re the best writer in the world. He was pretty busy today what with the trade deadline stuff (even though the Tygs didn’t do anything) but he still chatted a bit–well, more like yelling back and forth since I was above the dugout. Vance Wilson I found when I mistook Little Nate for Jonesy (his back was to me, they’ve both recently gotten haircuts, and Nate was hugging someone in the stands–typical Jonesy behavior). So I scampered over and discovered the someone was Vance Wilson! Very exciting. He was there with his little boy, and it sounded like he was heading to Detroit to catch some games there. Well, not literally catch, of course. It was pretty weird seeing him in civvies on my side of the fence, I’ve gotta say.

Tonight was quite migratory–bleachers to bullpen and finally back to Nick, where we belong. The game began with Jack Cust showing exactly why the A’s use him mostly as a DH, flubbing a ball in left and allowing Curtis to get all the way to third on the error. The Tygs took a 3-0 lead on some nice timely hitting, and then it all went to shit. A sloppy game all around. Errors all over the place. What was Carlos THINKING, triple clutching like that?! That keyed the whole ugly A’s rally.

Our migrations tonight unfortunately did not take us near a lot of other Tigers fans, and thus I had to listen and stew furiously as the A’s fans chanted exceedingly witty things such as, “Detroit sucks!” (And Oakland is such a shining example of a thriving city?) or “Hey Jones, at least you won’t have the chance to blow the save tonight!” Made me remember why I spent the first fifteen years of my life hating the A’s with a fiery vengeance (now I root for them when they aren’t playing the Tygs).

I couldn’t believe how long Leyland left McBride in. Actually I was trying to send ESP signals not to put him in at all. But I guess my boy Jason Grilli (still got a soft spot for him) didn’t do too much better. It just seemed like no one could throw strikes tonight, not consistently anyways. So much for the grand pitchers duel. Tonight was more of a slop fest.

Thankfully, the Indians lost so they didn’t gain on us. Tomorrow it’ll be Dallas Braden against Little Nate. If Nate’s on his game, as we all know, no one can beat him. However Braden has been doing quite well of late–the last game I saw him pitch, he was pretty brilliant and just lost because the A’s didn’t score for him. Kid can’t curve a cap brim to save his life … but that is a rant for another day. Gotta take the series tomorrow, not just cause it’s bloody CRUCIAL, but the Mom is coming. And if the Tigers don’t win, I’m not gonna hear the end of it.


6th Annual Tiger Pride Series in Oakland–Day #1
July 30, 2007, 10:37 pm
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What a way to put that hideous weekend behind us, eh? A beautiful win in my favorite ballpark with all my favorite Tygs!

 A brief history of Tiger Pride: When I was sixteen, I came up with the crazy idea of getting all my friends to go to Oakland for a Tigers game wearing matching Tiger Pride t-shirts of my design. To my extreme shock, my parents thought this was a good idea. Thus, in 2002, about twenty of us showed up at the Coliseum in Tigers gear. The security guards (who are all now my buddies) still talk about it. Tiger Pride was very teeny in 2003, as you might expect, but we did witness Jeremy Bonderman’s first major league win. In 2004, Tiger Pride got a huge boost as I convinced twenty-five seniors to skip out on a Thursday of class for a day game in Oakland. It’s now a big tradition with us, and at least some of my friends make sure that their summer plans don’t conflict with Tiger Pride.

Tonight’s game featured some Tiger Pride veterans–my dad, me, and two of my best friends, Danny and Will. We also got some newbies in Danny and Will’s roommate Jeannette, Danny’s sister Serra, and Serra’s best friend Yazan (who kept acting like he might root for the A’s). As always, I decorated my car in Tigers stuff–the back window is full of stuffed tigers, a Tigers license plate is propped against a speaker, the license plate frames are Tigers-themed, and the actual plates read TGSONTP. I do not half ass Tiger Pride Day.

Upon arriving at the Coliseum, we were delighted to discover a horde of Tigers fans already waiting patiently at Gate C. We outnumbered the A’s fans easily, and to our surprise it stayed that way all night. Supposedly 18,000 or so fans were in attendance; at least 10,000 had to have been Tigers fans. It was pretty sweet to see that almost every regular was represented on someone’s t-shirt–people had Ordonez, Monroe, Polanco, Verlander, Sheffield, Inge, Guillen, Pudge, Jones (that would be me, haha), Zumaya … you name a Tiger, and someone was probably wearing his jersey.

Thanks to my longtime friendship with Nick, the usher right behind the visitors dugout, all of us Tiger Priders were able to stay in his section about five or six rows up (with a bit of migration here and there). All the security guards were glad to see us–they all look forward to Tiger Pride Day even though most of them are A’s fans (Nick, on the other hand, confessed that he was secretly rooting for the Tigers last year in the ALCS).

Every year it’s the same. I can’t quite believe those are actually my Tigers out there on the field, and I feel like I’m living in a fantasy. Every year, it’s like mythical heroes come to earth. Nothing seems quite real, and it’s blissful. Especially when the Tygs win!

Though I was sad to see Kenny go back on the DL, I was pretty excited to see Jordan Tata pitch. I liked him last year but had never seen him pitch in person. And he didn’t disappoint at all (though I admit I lost faith a bit when he gave up the two runs). Seven innings, two runs. I’ll take it! He got some extra special stellar defense from Brandon Inge. All of us went berserk when he made that crazy hopping catch over by the tarp. Those plays and Tiger runs were good for figuring out where our brethren were. All you had to do was stand up, and check out who else was up and screaming their heads off. I have never seen Tigers fans so numerous in Oakland. Normally it’s just us Tiger Priders and about three other lonely Tigers fans. But not this year, oh man.

Grandy and Polanco had themselves a night. Grandy was three for five with three runs scored and an RBI. Serra is hoping for a proposal tomorrow, haha. It was fantastic to be so close and get to watch him run–he’s just poetry in motion, if you’ll excuse the cliche. Placido, as usual, was a little hitting machine. His double in the seventh after a drawn-out battle with Kiko Calero was especially lovely. The most satisfying hit, however, was probably Pudge’s double in the eighth, even though nothing came of it. A guy across the aisle from us had been yelling about how Pudge sucked etc. for a while (because Kurt Suzuki is a surefire shot for the Hall of Fame. Psh.) Then Pudge blasted that shot to center and we yelled back, “Who sucks NOW?!” Heh heh. Yazan really got into it with a bunch of girls–he kinda doesn’t know when to shut up, and loves to heckle and be heckled. It helped that if they ever got on his case, he could respond,”I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you over the SCOREBOARD.”

Chad Durbin was pretty lights-out in the eighth, striking out the Pizza Man and Mark Ellis before getting the A’s Mr. Clutch, Marco Scutaro, to pop out to Casey. Yes, it was an extremely awkward looking put-out. But an out nonetheless.

As you would expect, I went completely crazy when Jonesy came in for the ninth. I hadn’t been able to get his attention before the game, but in the fourth inning when he moseyed back to the dugout from the bullpen, he saw me and Dad waving and waved back at us enthusiastically. (That put me into a bit of a tizzy for a few innings!) I got all the kids going for Jonesy too. Of course he had to give up the single for a bit of spice, but then he got the nice double play and the flyout.

All the Tigers fans on the first base side immediately swarmed the dugout, but very gently. There was no jostling of small children or anything of the sort, just a huge crowd of absolutely delighted people waiting to shower their heroes with appreciation. As the Tygs came in from the high five line, the crowd would greet each of them by name. The guys would wave or tip their caps, almost shyly, acknowledging the crowd. Jonesy saw all of Tiger Pride standing at the top of the dugout and waved to us.

Jordan Tata was the interview of choice for FSN, which fit in quite well with the diabolical plans of Todd Jones and Kenny Rogers. As Tata began talking, Kenny and Jonesy got together at the other end of the dugout. Todd held out a towel in two hands, and Kenny carefully filled it with shaving cream. The fans all began giggling and laughing; Jonesy grinned wickedly and shushed us. It was pretty funny how everyone got quiet all at once. Tata had to know it was coming. One of the FSN guys directed Jonesy, creeping up behind Tata–finally Jonesy pounced and mushed the shaving cream all over Jordan while simultaneously bear hugging him. I was thankful he wasn’t wearing that awful sleeveless thing from when Verlander got the no-hitter. Everyone laughed uproariously as Jonesy scampered away and Kenny, chuckling, helped Jordan get cleaned off.

So, a 5-2 win, a gain of half a game on Cleveland, and to me it feels like the world has settled back on its axis. I’m definitely stoked for tomorrow’s matchup of Justin Verlander and Danny Haren. And tonight, three brand-new Tigers fans were created. Hooray! Happy Tiger Pride, everyone!!! 

What Happened to Intensive PFP?!
July 27, 2007, 11:41 am
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The Tygs blew another one to the White Sox, and this one brought back memories I’ve been trying to repress about the World Series. Of all pitching staffs, ours should now be the very best at throwing to various bases. I mean, didn’t they see what screwing that up did last season? Apparently Zach Miner didn’t get the memo. Thanks to the bullpen, even though we finally got a quality start out of a starter, we still didn’t get a win. Argh.

At least we did get the quality start–that’s encouraging. And Omar Infante hit his second homer of the season, hurrah. Can’t say I’m sorry the boys are leaving Chicago. I sincerely hope that Anaheim treats us a bit better. It would be tremendously sweet if Little Nate beat the crap out of Jeff Weaver’s little brother Jered tonight, eh?

I’ll be away for the weekend–finally, I get to go up to Tahoe with my buddies! Should be a lot of fun. Danny (our ringleader) has promised we’ll be able to check on the Tygs every night but there’s no Internet up there. Surely I will make up for this absence by writing mini-novels about Tiger Pride in Oakland!!! Coming up Monday, the best three days of the baseball season! (Well, unless we get to the postseason, of course.)

All Hail the Tiger Cubs
July 27, 2007, 12:02 am
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They tried their best but couldn’t pull out a win in Game 2 of the doubleheader. But last night, the bats of the young Tigers weren’t taking no for an answer. And Ryan Raburn led the charge. No one can argue anymore (not that anyone was) that Neifi Perez is more valuable than Raburn. In an excruciating 13-9 contest, Raburn was key to the Tigers’ victory, going 4 for 5 with two homers and seven, count ’em, SEVEN, RBI. And he wasn’t even supposed to play! I don’t think even Sheff could have pulled off a night better than that, do you?

The pitching was pretty unwatchable on both sides of this game, hence the ugly final score. Well, not as ugly as it could’ve been–at least we won! Raburn’s fellow “cub,” Rabelo, was 3 for 4, and I’m willing to bet Mike Hessman would have had a couple hits had he played. The bullpen makes me ever more nervous with each appearance, but I can’t do anything but smile when I see the guys coming up from Toledo. Say what you want about championships at the minor league level being meaningless. I think that’s totally missing the point. These guys–Rabelo, Raburn, and Hessman–all know what it feels like to WIN. They know how a winning team plays, how a winning team acts. They’d still be good ballplayers if Toledo hadn’t won the past two IL championships, but not THIS good.

Everyone was hitting the ball last night–Brandon Inge, probably overflowing with pent-up energy from sitting through most of the nightcap on Tuesday was three for four. (Rod Allen remarked before game two, as the camera focused on Brandon chattering away like a squirrel in the dugout, that he was going to annoy a buttload of people before the night was done. I think Brandon hates sitting even more than Pudge does. But it must be noted that in his stead, Mike Hessman acquitted himself nicely at third.) Grandy, Casey, Guillen and C-Mo all had two hits apiece. We just gotta get the pitchers going!

The pitching woes are spreading, it seems, to the starting staff, which is quite worrisome. We’ve gone an entire rotation without a quality start. Hopefully this will change today with Verlander, who considers himself our stopper. Basically I can’t wait for them to get the hell out of Chicago. It might be my own paranoia, but it feels like we don’t play consistently well at New Comiskey or whatever they’re calling it this week. Then again, Anaheim isn’t the most fun place either. Either way, each day brings the Tigers closer to Oakland and my beloved Coliseum. Tiger Pride has gathered (well, mostly; there are a fair number of people who just didn’t come home this summer) and is primed for a great series. If you’re a Bay Area Tigers fan, come out and join us! We’ll have a marvelous time, and according to the ushers there’s not supposed to be a real big crowd for either of the first two games, so maybe we can overpower the A’s fans!

Death by Duck Farts!
July 25, 2007, 1:36 am
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We’ve been having some Internet issues over here–it gets moody every couple weeks–hence the absence. The Tygs are now back on the road and the winning has resumed. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

The Tygs won 9-6 against the evil White Sox at New Comiskey, pecking the Sox to death with a succession of what the Chicago announcers frustratedly termed, “Duck farts.” It was most gratifying to hear the mounting annoyance in their voices–I don’t think there is a team of announcers I dislike more than the ones for the White Sox. I’m okay with homers, I mean, no one can say that Mario and Rod are totally unbiased, or my hometown A’s or Giants broadcast teams. But I’ve never heard anyone root so blatantly on the air as the White Sox guys. I very much enjoy seeing them unhappy, which I suppose is pretty bad for my karma.

Grandy had another great night, falling just a triple short of the cycle. And who knows, if that double hadn’t gone in the stands, maybe he’d have been a double short instead. He blasted the first pitch of the game into the stands for a leadoff homer, how crazy wondrous is that? Grandy, basically, can do no wrong, as far as I’m concerned.

Andrew Miller didn’t have the best night, but he kept us in it, which is in the end what you want your pitcher to do. And he did strike out seven. Our bullpen was pretty solid, and my boy Jonesy showed the delightful Strike Machine side of his personality in the ninth. One, two, three, you’re done.

While the White Sox announcers picked Fields as the player of the game (wow, what a shocker), I think the night truly belonged to Mike Hessman. A career minor leaguer, he just got brought up to play first when Casey needs a night off while Marcus is hurt. (Timo Perez was sent back down.) Hessman’s basically been tearing it up, not necessarily with his average but with power. With Toledo, he’s got something like 27 homers and 86 RBI. That’s a year. A good one. And we’re only in July. He richly deserved his call-up, and it was exceedingly gratifying to watch him go 2 for 4 with the game-tying and eventual game-winning RBI. His was the most wonderful duck fart of all–a seventh inning gork to right with the bases loaded and two out.

Today (actually right now) the Tigers will engage the ChiSox in a doubleheader, with Bondo pitching game one and Virgil Vasquez pitching game two. Kinda thinking we need to win game one. The Tygs so far took a 1-0 lead in the first but then Bondo had a typically unhappy bottom half of the first. Luckily only two runs scored; it could have been worse, eh? And now we’re out of it, so it’s time for Bondo to shut ’em out the rest of the way.

Negro League Tribute Day > Christmas
July 22, 2007, 9:40 am
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Negro League Tribute Day is my favorite day of the year, with the possible exception of Opening Day. Though I always hate to see Jonesy blow a save (probably even more than most people), I can’t say I was sad to get a little extra time watching the Boys play in those sharp throwbacks–or to see Brandon blast a walk-off homer! As a baseball history buff, I love to see teams recognizing the contributions of the Negro Leaguers, and the Tigers do it better than anyone else. We’ve got a whole weekend of tributes (yesterday they dedicated a plaque to Hall of Famer Turkey Stearnes, a Detroit Star) where most teams have just one day. NLTD also appeals to my obsession with uniforms (the link to Uni Watch on the left is NOT a coincidence). I cannot get enough of old-style uniforms and especially high, exposed socks. We’re talking Curtis Granderson socks–which he wears high 100% of the time as a tribute to the players of the Negro League. (Digressing a bit, how undeniably cool is Curtis Granderson? He is an amazing player, he wears the uniform right, he plays the game right, he is one of the most well-spoken ballplayers I’ve ever heard, and he knows and respects the history of the game. What more can you ask for, really?)

Some of the Tigers half-assed the socks, like Infante and Polanco (one of the very few complaints I’ll ever have with Polly). Honestly, when you are wearing a throwback uniform, just pull the socks up and show them with pride. Otherwise you look like 1) a dork and 2) like you’re wearing pajamas. Higgy and Carlos Pena used to wear their throwback pants all the way down at their ankles, which drove me totally nuts. Even Sheff, who normally has those ridiculous straps that run under his spikes and keep his pant legs pulled down as long as possible, did the socks beautifully. The worst socks, I am deeply ashamed to note, belonged to my own Tiger, Todd Jones. He seemed to have removed the elastic from the bottoms of the pants, which made them look even worse. It looked like he was wearing pinstriped slacks, almost, pinstriped pants belonging to a man several inches shorter than Todd. I blame the blown save completely on the pants. See what partially exposed socks did for Polanco? Fourth homer of the year. Fully exposed socks for Brandon? Walk-off two-run homer! Bad socks for Jonesy? Fifth blown save. Moral: BALLPLAYERS, EXPOSE THY SOCKS.

Justin Verlander, like last year, started the Negro League Tribute game, looking so sharp in that old Stars uni. (The Royals, on the other hand, picked just about the most boring Monarchs throwback they could find. Then they looked extra silly with the mismatched bright blue Royals helmets.) The early Royals were kinda cheap, and the Tigers answered promptly. Like last night, the Royals scored a run in the first; Ryan Raburn immediately tied it with a leadoff homer. Attababe, Ryan! (Goodbye, Neifi! We won’t miss you!)

Jim Leyland slotted Craig Monroe into the fifth spot, and it really seemed to work. In his first at bat, he got an RBI double. In his second, he blasted a three-run two-out homer. Mr. Clutch seems to be back, and it makes me gleeful. But it was not the sharpest night for Tigers pitching; the Royals just never let up, constantly chipping away when it seemed like they should be throwing in the towel. Guess it paid off for them, eh? Jonesy needs to stop blowing saves. It makes defending him more difficult. Watching the last few innings was way worse on the psyche than watching the Twins series–one, because you know we should be beating the crap out of the Royals, two, because against the Twins there was this weird feeling of invincibility (at least in my world), and three, said invincible feeling was not present in this game against the Royals. Maybe it’s a leftover thing from last year, but the Royals in general make me weirdly nervous.

The game, despite the nailbiting quality of the latter part of it, was full of fun moments, which I shall now list.

Amusing Observations:

 –Sheffield took a buttload of ribbing in the first after Ryan Raburn led off the game with a homer, and Sheff’s blast went only to the warning track. Whassamatter Sheff? you could practically hear them saying. Just got warning track power now, huh? Letting the rook do all the work.

–In the fifth, just before he was lifted from the game, KC’s De La Rosa thought he was about to face Craig Monroe with two on. He looked in at the plate, then whacked himself several times on the side of the head, as if reminding himself, NO MORE GOPHER BALLS to Mr. Clutch!

–When Pudge came up with two out in the fifth and two on, a man in the front row put a Pudge bobblehead on the low wall in front of him, gently holding it upright and fixing his gaze on the batter. Pudge, who had been in an 0 for 16 slump, immediately got a base hit to drive in Sheffield. The camera cut back to the bobblehead, which was now getting patted affectionately by the surrounding fans. Pudge should give him half the RBI. However, the guy’s Todd Jones bobblehead was not nearly so effective, as Jonesy blew his fifth save (and made me feel like tearing my hair out or committing some other pointless act inspired by extreme frustration). Perhaps we should give him half the blown save too. The Pudge bobblehead made yet another appearance in the tenth, much to the amusement of Rod and Mario.

–Brandon Inge, on his way home during his home run trot, only pretended to throw away his helmet. Wisely he left it on, protecting his noggin from the enthusiastic pounding it subsequently took at the hands of his overjoyed teammates. Way to pick up Jonesy and the rest of the boys, Brandon. And since I’m posting ridiculously early on this game, and the Cleveland-Texas game has not yet finished, GO RANGERS!!!!

My Master Plan for Jonesy to Get a Save Every Day Off to a Great Start
July 21, 2007, 3:01 am
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Was that the not the most insanely awesome series ever? I think it might give me ulcers, but the sheer awesomeness is mind-boggling. We swept the Twins–the TWINS!–in the METRODOME!!! That doesn’t happen!!! We beat Johan Santana–THE Johan!!! That doesn’t happen either!! Mike Rabelo tripled!!!

Okay enough with the exclamation points. You get the picture. Yesterday’s game was just as crazy and gut-churning as the other two–and had just as delightful an outcome.

The Twinkies took the lead first after we’d gotten through five scoreless. Bondo gave up three straight singles to let in Minnesota’s first run. Then, all the breaks seemed to fall the Tigers’ way. In the seventh, backup catcher Mike Rabelo led off with a triple (!!!). Sorry, that’s exclamation point worthy until the end of time. Brandon promptly drove him in with a single. After Grandy grounded into a force out, Polly and Sheff hit back to back RBI doubles. Sheff’s was one of the biggest breaks. Just as the third baseman was about to scoop up the ball and get the out, it kicked up off the bag and into left field. Ha!

Lady Luck was rather fickle yesterday, though. Immediately, she switched to the Twins’ side. Jason Kubel led off their half of the seventh with a homer over the baggie. Grandy tried to track the thing, but he had no clue where the ball was at all. Not that it mattered, but it was not fun seeing our future Gold Glover staring up at that baseball colored roof, completely mystified and raising his hands in despair. Seriously, whose idea was if for the roof of the Metrodome to be basically the same color as a baseball? I can’t wait until the Twins get their new park.

After Bondo got one out, trouble recommenced. He gave up singles to Punto and Tyner, and Castillo drove in Punto with a force out to tie the game. Eventually Bobby Seay had to be called in to get the Tygs out of the inning.

One of the key plays of the game came in the bottom of the eighth. Seay gave up a leadoff double to Morneau, who moved to third on a Redmond flyout. Then with Kubel up, Seay fired one to the backstop. Morneau broke for home, but the carom was perfect, right back to Rabelo. Morneau slammed on the brakes, caught in a rundown. Rabelo threw to third to start it, but Morneau stuck his shoulder in the way of the ball, sending it towards the pitcher’s mound. He once again tried for home; the ball got there about the same time as him, but the ump didn’t make a call. That was when everybody realized that he’d already been called out for interference! What a relief!! Gardy and Morneau didn’t even argue at all; they knew exactly what he’d done, and kinda went, “Well, woulda been nice, but we got caught. Shucks.” Thank the gods the umpires at this game weren’t blind as they sometimes seem to be.

The game went to extras, and Mr. Moonshot’s replacement, Timo Perez, got the game winning rally started in the tenth with a walk. Rabelo quickly bunted him over, and then Brandon Inge got his second crucial RBI of the day with a booming double. My boy Jonesy came in to finish off the Twins, getting his third save in three days. My diabolical (well, actually it’s not really diabolical at all, but I just like to say that) plan is for Jonesy to get a save almost every day from here on out, so that when the Tigers get to Oakland the Monday after next, he will be on the verge of getting Save No. 300. I want to be there for that SO BAD.

But I digress. This was an absolutely crucial series, and the Tigers stepped up magnificently. We have to keep the Twins down, out of the race, and there’s not much more the Tygs could have done to that end. We gained ground on Cleveland (2 games we’re up now! hurrah!) and the Twins are now a very comfy (for now) nine games out. I’ll never be anything close to relaxed until we actually have a postseason spot clinched, but a series like this should do worlds for everybody’s confidence, eh? These are the games people said we couldn’t win anymore, tight games where you have to depend not only on timely offense but on your bullpen. Our bullpen’s finally looking okay, even though I still don’t totally trust them. Now we have to keep up the intensity at home against KC. The Royals are on a little hot streak, plus for some reason we just don’t play as well at home. Saturday is Negro League Tribute Day–actually the whole weekend will be a celebration of the Negro Leagues. But Saturday will see both teams dress in throwback Stars and Monarchs jerseys for the game–this is one of my absolute favorite days of the year! Can’t wait to see the concentrated beauty of two teams in Negro League uniforms!