Monthly Archives: February 2011

Another K-State masterpiece

Frank Erwin, I don’t know who you are. But Kansas State owns you.

Three times in a row, now, the Wildcats have come into the building that carries your name and beaten Texas. It happened again

Texas' Tristan Thompson scores over Curtis Kelly of Kansas State.

Monday night as the red-hot Cats knocked off the Longhorns, 75-70.

It’s been an amazingly confusing season for Kansas State, but now is the time for everybody to stop scratching their heads and accept the fact that whatever Frank Martin does, it seems to come out OK in the wash.

Player defections and suspensions from earlier in the season are now distant memories as the Wildcats look to have the kind of chemistry that could take them deep into the NCAA Tournament. Nobody would have thought such a thing three weeks ago, but Martin’s team has found whatever it was it was looking for.

When Freddy Asprilla and Wally Judge left Kansas State this season, it appeared to me that the Wildcats would be left too thin in the front-court to really mount much of a challenge to other Big 12 teams. A 1-4 conference start looked like it could spiral to something really bad. But K-State is 8-2 in the Big 12 since, including impressive home wins over Kansas and Missouri and now a road win at Texas, where the Longhorns had not lost in conference play.

For sure, Texas isn’t the Texas of earlier in the season. That team has really hit the skids. Four of its best players – J’Covan Brown, Cory Joseph, Jordan Hamilton and Gary Johnson – were a combined 11 of 48 from the floor against Kansas State. Just a couple of weeks ago people were talking about Texas winning a national championship. They should have known better; this isn’t the first time the Longhorns have limped down the stretch looking nothing like they did earlier in a season.

But Monday night’s game was mostly about the continued resilience and toughness being displayed by Kansas State. When senior guard Jacob Pullen went down with what looked like a serious injury to his right wrist in the final seven minutes or so, it was a scary moment for K-State fans. But Pullen was back out there quickly and made big plays down the stretch. No player in America means more to his team right now, and Pullen is playing like the All-American so many expected him to be.

Fellow senior Curtis Kelly has found his rhythm after stumbling around early, thanks to a suspension and what looked to be a perpetual place in Martin’s doghouse. Kelly deserves a lot of credit for persevering and he played large again Monday with 15 points and eight rebounds.

It’s not junior forward Jamar Samuels who is helping Kelly out up front, but 7-foot sophomore Jordan Henriquez-Roberts. I gotta say, I didn’t see him doing much this season, but he has been a real surprise. His eight points on 4-of-5 shooting and eight rebounds were huge against Texas.

Sophomore guard Rodney McGruder has found consistency and confidence, two things he was missing during Kansas State’s struggles. He is so smooth when he’s in the zone and he was in the thick of it against Texas, making 8 of 14 shots.

After getting down early, the Wildcats surged. And this was a huge game for Texas, which is trying – not very successfully – to fend off Kansas in the race for the Big 12 regular-season championship. The Longhorns, with recent losses to Nebraska and Colorado on the road, now trail KU by a game.

K-State played an outstanding second half, never allowing the crowd to really make a difference and making big plays down the stretch. It was another impressive performance by the Wildcats, one of many of late.

I thought Martin might be losing his team in January. I wondered whether his verbose style was wearing on his players.

I continue to learn more and more about Martin. Or I learn nothing at all, I’m not sure. I’ve learned, undoubtedly, to give him the benefit of the doubt. His team has turned its season around in the past three weeks and there’s not a team in America that wants to play K-State in the NCAA Tournament.

Especially not in Frank Irwin’s building, which really belongs to Kansas State.

No Wainwright, no whining

My son approached me just before the start of “Sports Daily,” this morning and asked me something along the vein of “How are you holding up?”

Adam Wainwright won 20 games in 2010 for the St. Louis Cardinals.

I didn’t know what he was talking about. Then I made the mistake of asking him what he was talking about.

“Adam Wainwright,” he said.

Oh boy. I knew then the news wasn’t good. And I was right.

It looks like Wainwright, the ace pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, will miss the 2011 season with ligament damage in his right elbow. It’s all but a done deal that Wainwright will undergo Tommy John surgery, which could cost him part of the 2012 season, as well.

First the whole Albert Pujols contract mess. And now this.

I wasn’t prepared for the Wainwright news. I should have been – he missed his last couple of starts in 2010 because of some elbow irritation. But by all accounts, he reported to spring training healthy and ready to chase the Cy Young Award again.

Without Wainwright, what looked to be the strength of the Cardinals – their starting rotation – becomes a huge question mark. Wainwright was going to be the Opening Day starter, a potential 20-game winner, a leader in the clubhouse and an all-around good guy.

But what’s done is done and now it’s a matter of where the Cardinals go from here.

Who replaces Wainwright in the rotation?

That’s the million-dollar question. There are candidates and reliever Kyle McClellan is getting a lot of early run. I love McClellan, who has been fantastic in a bullpen set-up role. He has the stuff to start, but does he have the endurance? He hasn’t been a starter since early in his minor-league career.

Lance Lynn and Adam Ottavino, a couple of Cardinal minor leaguers, are in the mix. Lynn performed well in the Pacific Coast League playoffs for Memphis last year and Ottavino is a former No. 1 draft pick who has not yet lived up to that billing.

Left-hander Raul Valdes is in the mix after an impressive performance in the Dominican Winter League, where he was 5-3 with an ERA under 3.00 in 10 starts. He came to the Cardinals during the off-season from the New York Mets.

Free agent acquisitions Ian Snell and Miguel Batista could be in the mix, though it’s probably a stretch to think either could endure the kind of innings being a full-time starter would entail.

It makes spring training more interesting, because the starting rotation for the Cardinals – Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Jake Westbrook and Kyle Lohse – was set in stone.

I think St. Louis might be able to make up for some of the loss of Wainwright with an improved offense. You can be assured that Pujols and left-fielder Matt Holliday are going to produce big. Let’s say new right fielder Lance Berkman has a nice comeback season, somewhere in the neighborhood of .300 with 20 homers and 80 RBIs in around 120 games. That would be nice.

Let’s also say third baseman David Freese plays 120 games and has numbers comparable to Berkman’s. And that center fielder Colby Rasmus, still young, is capable of having a monster season. I don’t think it’s out of the question to think Rasmus could hit .290 with 30 homers and 25 stolen bases.

If Skip Schumaker reverts to the .300 hitter he was before last season and if shortstop Ryan Theriot can mix things up at the top of the order and if catcher Yadier Molina can hit .270, then the Cardinals could hit their way out of this Wainwright injury.

I’m not counting on it, necessarily, but it’s really all I have for now.

And I’m not going to throw in the towel on the 2011 season. What fun would that be.

I take comfort in the fact that the Cardinals’ manager, Tony La Russa, is as tough-minded as they come. He won’t allow his team to create excuses. He’ll use the Wainwright injury as a challenge to get the very best out of the team he has. And the Cardinals’ players will react the same way.

Admittedly, I was moping around for a good part of this morning and afternoon. I thought the sky had fallen and that the 2011 Cardinals season was lost. But I’m not going there. The Cardinals haven’t even played any exhibition games. There is a month to get something figured out. Not all is lost. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Farewell Shocker seniors

Senior Night is always a bit melancholy for me, and Wichita State’s Senior Night is coming up tomorrow at Koch Arena.

Four Shockers will be playing their final home regular-season game (yes, there’s a potential for a been-there-done-that NIT appearance) and I’ll be sorry to see them go.

Graham Hatch, J.T. Durley, Aaron Ellis and Gabe Blair are closing in on the final days of their college basketball careers. And if it makes me melancholy to see them near the end, imagine how they much feel.

Playing college basketball is a job. A full-time, tough, relentless, emotional job. There’s no time for rest or introspection. Games come at these guys at 100 mph.

I thought I would share my thoughts on the four Shockers on my blog today. In covering Shocker basketball as long as I have, I’ve seen a lot of players come and go. Thanks to Facebook, I keep up with quite a few of them even today. I hope the same is true for the Shocker Four.

Graham Hatch - WSU coach Gregg Marshall has called Hatch the “hardest worker” he’s ever coached. Gotta tell you, I didn’t see

Graham Hatch

much in Hatch early on. He looked a step or two, probably closer to two, slow when he arrived at WSU after serving a Mormon mission. He just didn’t have the appearance of a college basketball player.

But then Hatch got into the weight room and transformed himself. He obviously put in a lot of work getting quicker. He discovered early on that the way for him to make a difference at the Division I level was to work harder than anybody else. And, for the past four years, he has.

Hatch is a good shooter. I always thought he had it in him to be a great shooter, but it never quite happened. He’s unselfish and one of the best defenders the Shockers have. Who would have thought that?

I wasn’t even sure Hatch really wanted to play at this level when I first talked to him a few years back. It seemed to me he knew he wasn’t on par, physically and athletically, with some of the rest. But wow, what a transformation he made. He’s one of those players who prove that hard work and determination can be the difference, even in Division I. I’m very happy for the career Hatch put together at Wichita State. He might not play basketball after his Shocker career is over, but he’s a guy who will go far. You’d want him on your side.

J.T. Durley – Here’s another reclamation project. I give Marshall credit for getting the best out of these players. Remember what he

J.T. Durley

was saying about Durley early on? It wasn’t pretty.

Durley wasn’t willing to work hard enough. He was lazy, and admitted such. He didn’t have the fire or the drive to be as good as he could be.

It was obvious early that Durley had talent. But it was just as obvious he didn’t much care.

Well, things changed. Durley got serious and results followed. He worked in the weight room and worked on becoming quicker and faster. And he developed one of the best low-post games in the Missouri Valley Conference. Imagine what Durley would have done if he were a couple of inches taller. He’s listed at 6-foot-8; I’d be surprised if he’s much more than 6-6.

He has great imagination in the low post and great touch. And he’s adept on the perimeter, too, although much more dangerous in the paint. When Durley strays to the perimeter, I think he does the opposing team a favor. He hasn’t been the rebounder Marshall hoped he would, but Durley has become an adequte to above-average defensive player. And he’s one of the Shockers’ leaders. I wonder how many of the four home losses could have been averted if WSU had gotten the ball into Durley’s hands late in those games?

Aaron Ellis – There was a time when I thought Ellis was overmatched. I wondered whether he’d be better off at a smaller school. I

Aaron Ellis battles for a rebound.

didn’t think he had the skills to compete for the Shockers.

I was wrong.

Ellis learned early on that his greatest value to WSU was as a defensive player, so that’s what he worked on. He became a stopper at times on the defensive end and has made just enough baskets during his career to keep the opposing defense honest.

I’ve only chatted with Ellis a few times, but what a good guy. He’s quiet, but very respectful and friendly and the kind of guy you really root for on and off the court.

Gabe Blair – Tough guy. That’s what we all heard about Blair during the season he sat out two years ago after transferring from East Carolina.

It’s an apt description. The burly Blair is a tough guy, but he has a nice set of skills, too. He’s the best rebounder on the Shockers’

Gabe Blair

team. He can defend threes, fours and fives. He’s become a better shooter than he gets credit for. He makes things happen, mixes things up.

I think Blair is in the discussion as the Shockers’ Most Valuable Player, although Durley and junior guard Toure Murry are likely the top two candidates. Blair will be missed because he provides a lot of intangibles, as well as a lot that is tangible. He’s a very solid, good player.

It will be interesting to see how the Shockers do without these guys next season, especially the three guys who play on the front line – Durley, Ellis and Blair. I know Marshall has a junior college player and a high school forward coming in, but I’m not so sure he won’t need more help to adequately replace those three. Of course, Garrett Stutz will be a senior next season and Nigerian Ehimen Orukpe continues to develop.

* It looks to me like West Virginia basketball coach Bob Huggins let the cat out of the bag early when he told a radio station back there that the Mountaineers would be playing Kansas State next season at Wichita’s Intrust Bank Arena.

It’s humorous to me that K-State and IBA officials are saying they know nothing about this. Sure they don’t.

Trust me, Huggins wouldn’t have said it if it wasn’t happening. And what a great game for K-State to be playing in Wichita. That’s going to make a lot of Wildcats fans who live in Wichita and all areas west very happy. Can’t wait.

* Just received my college preview edition of “Baseball America” in the mail and the magazine is picking Wichita State to nudge Illinois State for the Missouri Valley Conference championship.

I know Illinois State had a really good season in 2010, tying WSU for the conference crown and beating the Shockers in the championship game of the Valley tournament.

But I’d pick Wichita State to win this season on pitching alone. And the Shockers have a three-game home series against the Redbirds April 22-24 at Eck Stadium.

Illinois State, according to BA, has the Valley’s preseason player of the year, second baseman Kevin Tokarski. He batted .412 last season and stole 33 bases. Hard to argue with that pick. Shockers left-hander Charlie Lowell is the preseason pitcher of the year. Hard to argue with that pick, too.

In case you’re wondering, Kansas State and Kansas are picked seventh and ninth, respectively,’ in the 10-team Big 12.

K-State outfielder Nick Martini and reliever James Allen are preseason All-Big 12 picks.

Tyshawn can’t help from the bench

I don’t know all the ins and outs of Tyshawn Taylor’s situation at Kansas. I know the Jayhawks need him on the court to be as good as they can be. I know they haven’t really been able to establish another point guard to do what he does.

Tyshawn Taylor can't fly when he's suspended.

I know Taylor is wildly inconsistent, immature and that he drives his coach, Bill Self, crazy at times. And I know Taylor was suspended indefinitely today for violating team rules.

I also know this is a big blow to Kansas.

What I don’t know is what Taylor did. I also don’t know the details of Self’s decision or how close he might have come to cutting ties completely with Taylor, who isn’t new to Self’s doghouse. In fact, he knows it so well that he’s thinking of doing a remodeling job.

Taylor is a junior. He should be one of the Jayhawks’ leaders.

But outside of Tyrell Reed and Brady Morningstar, the Jayhawks don’t appear to have any leaders. Perhaps Thomas Robinson, but he’s still coming into his own as a sophomore. And with everything that’s happened in that kid’s life recently, he’s in no position to assume leadership responsibilities for the Jayhawks.

Taylor should be.

The guy angers KU fans, and with reason. He can look like one of the best guards in the country during stretches, then play horribly in others. His decision-making has been all over the place. And what we’re learning is that a player who makes bad decisions off the court probably isn’t trustworthy of making them on the court, either.

What does Kansas do while Taylor is sitting out?

Sophomore Elijah Johnson probably gets more time at the point, but he, too, has been wildly inconsistent. Freshman Josh Selby might play the point some. But guess what? He hasn’t been consistent, either.

I could see Reed and Morningstar in the backcourt together with Robinson and the Morris twins up front at times. It will be interesting to see how Self mixes and matches during this undetermined time without Taylor.

Earlier, Self had to suspend senior Mario Little after he was detained following an on-campus incident with his girlfriend and others. Little has since returned to the team.

Both Morris twins have had issues with their tempers during games, resulting in numerous technical fouls.

This Kansas basketball team is afflicted with an overall lack of maturity that has to be driving Self and his assistant coaches bananas. And for good reason. It’s ridiculous.

Taylor’s focus should be entirely on two things: School and doing the best he can to help Kansas win basketball games. The Jayhawks need to cut the nonsense and play the game.

* I’ll be writing a lot on Missouri Valley Conference basketball in the next couple of weeks, but suffice it to say this hasn’t been a banner basketball season for the Valley.

In Joe Lunardi’s latest “Bracketology,” published today on, he has only Missouri State from the Valley in the NCAA Tournament’s 68-team field. And he has the Bears – who he assumes will win the Valley tournament in St. Louis next week and thus be the only MVC team to qualify for the NCAAs – as a No. 13 seed.

Not good. Not good at all.

It looks to me like the Valley is out of the running for an at-large bid thanks to its underwhelming performance in BracketBuster’s games last weekend. The Shockers, of course, lost at home to a good VCU team. And Missouri State was beaten on the road at Valparaiso and beaten soundly. Creighton, Northern Iowa and Indiana State lost, too, leaving the top half of the Valley in a shambles emotionally.

Of course, Wichita State can still win the Missouri Valley Conference regular season outright by winning its two games this week. Saturday’s noon game at Missouri State is still a big one. There’s still a lot to be said for winning a regular-season conference championship, although the system has unfortunately de-emphasized regular-season titles.

My Facebook Friend

Katie Bishop Grover

Katie and her cool hubby, Travis.

KBG, as I call her, is a solid chick. And she’d love that term of endearment, by the way. She had me at Bob Gibson – as you’ll read, she’s a devout St. Louis Cardinals fan. Her language can be a bit salty for my tastes, but other than that she’s wonderful and one of the people I would never have met if not for social media. So, social media, thank you. Thanks a lot.

Here’s what Katie had to say about the whole thing:

My name is Katie Grover. I’m a wife, mom, non-profit marketer and die-hard St. Louis Cardinals fan.

I’m not totally defined by the roles above, but they pretty much consume my every thought. I love being a mommy to my baby girl Lillian (the prettiest baby on the face of the earth) and I hit the jackpot when I married my husband, Travis. I watch miracles happen every day at Heartspring (, where I’m the marketing director, and think if you’re not supporting this amazing organization, you should start doing so…pronto. As for my love of the Cardinals – that’s something I owe completely to my dad. He was born and raised in St. Louis and made Busch Stadium II our second home during the summers. I learned to score a game while watching Ozzie Smith do backflips, Vince Coleman steal bases and Willie McGee just be Wille. Amazing.

I first met Bob officially on Twitter – I do believe my first post to him came in response to a question he posted about what “we” (the Twitterverse) could talk about that day. I was all about naming the reasons why Tony LaRussa should be MLB’s Manager of the Year. It was then (I believe) I swept him off his feet. We’ve lunched on occasion and consoled each other after a pathetic showing by the Cardinals in the post season. I watched as he stood guard by the Albert Pujols autographed bat at the Koyie Hill Make-A-Wish event last year (then almost passed out when I saw what his winning bid was). But that’s how you do it when you’re Bob Lutz.

Earnhardt’s impact

I have written very little about NASCAR over the years because I know very little about NASCAR. I wouldn’t even call myself a fringe fan of the sport. I pay attention more than I did a few years ago because we have a weekly racing segment on our radio show. But that’s about the extent of my involvement.

Dale Earnhardt

I write this because the Daytona 500, who many say is the biggest race of the season, is coming up Sunday. It’s always been strange to me that the supposed biggest race of the year is the first race of the year, but who am I to question NASCAR.

I am reminded of one of the few NASCAR columns I have written in my 15 years as The Eagle’s sports columnist. It was 10 years ago, after legendary driver Dale Earnhardt died after crashing his car into a retaining wall during the final lap of the 2001. Since I really didn’t follow the sports, I was surprised at the incredible outpouring and reaction to Earnhardt’s death. I talked to several Earnhardt fans that day and they were devastated.

There were countless fans like them all over America. To this day, Earnhardt’s death seems fresh to them, which is why it’s being talked about so much today, the 10th anniversary of his death.

Here’s the column I wrote 10 years ago. I remember going into the office on a Sunday night and reading as much as I could about Earnhardt. I have several buddies who are NASCAR friends, and I called a few of them to get a feel for the impact of his death.

Here’s the column I wrote:

I know boxers are occasionally killed inside the ring. Football
players have been severely injured, and some have even died on the field
of play.
Sports deaths happen.
But they seem to happen most often in auto racing, a sport I do not
pretend to understand but one I do respect.
I realize the millions and millions of people who fill up these huge
racing venues week after week cannot all be wrong.
The appeal of the sport is undeniable.
However, when another driver dies, especially a driver as revered as
Dale Earnhardt, I question whether racing automobiles around an oval
track at speeds approaching 190 mph is sane.
Or insane.
I spoke about Earnhardt, who was killed during the final lap of
Sunday’s Daytona 500 after smashing into a retaining wall, with three
race fans Sunday night. They enlightened me about the appeal of the
sport and the popularity of Earnhardt, in particular.
All had sadness in their voices as they talked about one of their
sports heroes.
“When I watch a race, he’s the guy I watch at every turn,” said
Duane Frazier, who writes about auto racing for The Eagle.
I have teased Frazier through the years about his enthusiasm for
auto racing. It’s something you either get or you don’t.
I never got it, although last spring I attended a news conference at
the new Kansas Motor Speedway in Kansas City, Kan., which will host a
NASCAR event in September.
I have already circled the date – Sept. 30 – on my calendar. It’s a
Sunday, one day after Kansas State plays at Oklahoma in what should be a
great college football game.
Sunday, though, I found myself wondering why I am excited about
NASCAR. I even asked Duane whether there should be such a sport, given
the inherent danger and the Earnhardt tragedy.
“The risk is something they’re willing to take,” Frazier said. “I
enjoy the sport. But at the same time, would I ever get behind the wheel
and do something like that? Heck, no.”
C. Ray Hall has owned 81 Speedway for decades. He told me Sunday
that Earnhardt’s death will have the same impact on racing fans as
Michael Jordan’s demise would among those who love the NBA and
“Nobody has been bigger than Earnhardt,” Hall said. “People either
loved or hated the guy. If you were an Earnhardt fan, you couldn’t be a
fan of Jeff Gordon. And Jeff Gordon fans wouldn’t consider being an
Earnhardt fan.”
Earnhardt was to racing what Dick Butkus was to football. What Bob
Gibson was to baseball.
An intimidator.
He drove a black car and wore black clothes. His racing competitors
respected him. And they were afraid of him.
During Sunday’s Daytona 500, a rookie driver, Kurt Busch, lightly
bumped into Earnhardt’s No. 3 car. As Earnhardt proceeded to pass Busch,
he stuck a middle finger out of his car for the rookie to see.
One can only imagine the huge gulp Busch must have taken inside his
Wichitan Rick Epp is one of the biggest Earnhardt fans in town. He
has a large Earnhardt collection and last year bought a new
black-and-gray Suburban.
“Looks just like his car,” Epp said.
Epp did not attempt to hide his sadness as I talked to him on the
telephone. It was if he had lost a loved one – which, in fact, he had.
“He’s always been my hero,” Epp said. “He was the best race car
driver I have ever seen in my life.”
Epp’s mother, also a huge Earnhardt fan who lives in Liberal, called
him early Sunday evening to see if he had heard the news. Earnhardt’s
death had not been reported when Fox concluded its television coverage
of the Daytona 500.
“I was devastated, to the point of bawling,” Epp said. “It has not
been good. I’m watching ESPN2 and RPM 2Night right now and the whole
NASCAR family is just devastated by this.”
About five years ago, before a NASCAR race in Phoenix, Epp and his
wife stood in line for 2 1/2 hours hoping they could get Earnhardt to
sign his autograph.
It was hot and uncomfortable, as it is prone to be in Phoenix. But
this was Dale Earnhardt.
“We finally get up there and he signs a picture for us,” Epp said.
“We got to say ‘hello.’ It probably lasted five seconds.
“But it was the thrill of my life.”

The Albert-less Cardinals

I’m handling the Albert Pujols news – or non-news – pretty well.

I’ve resigned myself that it’s possible Pujols won’t play for the St. Louis Cardinals after the 2011 season. I don’t like it; I’m not even sure I understand it.

Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt, Jr., chats with manager Tony La Russa.

But I know any time millionaires are negotiating to become even richer, it turns me off. And if that’s anti-capitalism, it’s not meant to be. It’s supposed to be anti-filthyrichism.

I don’t blame Pujols, really, for wanting to cash in. By baseball standards, he has been underpaid during the first 10 seasons of his career. And even during the last five, when he’s made about $16 per season, the Cardinals have gotten a bargain, at least in the world or professional sports.

To some degree, I understand his apparent sentiment. His career will last, at best, 10 more years. At 41 or 42, he’ll be finished making the huge dollars that he can make presently. So why not make what you can when you can?

As for the Cardinals, they’re my team. They’ll always be my team. It’s a father-son thing, a bond that can never be broken. And I would suggest you not even try.

But my loyalty to St. Louis doesn’t mean I agree with everything the front office does. I still get a sick feeling in my gut when I think of how the Cardinals traded Steve Carlton to the Philadelphia Phillies 40 or so years ago. And if reports of the Cardinals’ best offer to Pujols are accurate, then I’m disgusted with owner Bill DeWitt, Jr., and general manager John Mozielak.

Those reports state that the Cardinals’ best offer so far would make Pujols only one of the top 10 highest-paid players in the game. Top 10? For the best hitter in baseball today and one of the best ever?

Like I said, if this is true then I’m sick.

According to Ken Rosenthal at, the Cardinals’ offer was somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million per for eight or nine seasons. The years sound right, the money doesn’t. No way Pujols would take that and get paid less than Ryan Howard and a few others around the league.

And as I write all of this, I hate myself for talking about $20 million a year for eight or nine years being a ridiculous offer. I won’t make $20 million in my lifetime and I’m doing OK.

These enormous contracts are just part of doing business in professional sports. And the reason is because we fans support the craziness by purchasing tickets and $9 beer and $4 popcorn and $15 parking. Most owners are awash in money and were before they ever bought their baseball team.

In case you can’t tell by all my meandering on this matter, I’m emotionally torn. Watching Pujols play the past 10 seasons has been an amazing treat. I heard Jim Rome say today on his radio show that Cardinals fans will continue to show up at Busch Stadium in large numbers regardless of whether No. 5 is around.

He’s probably right, but it’s not that easy. St. Louis baseball without Pujols is, to me, unimaginable. He is such a fixture in that lineup, such a profoundly good player. It’s difficult not to take him for granted because he’s been the most consistently-outstanding player of his generation. Yet I’m so programmed into players generally not staying in one place for their entire careers that I’ve probably been bracing for the possibility of Pujols in another uniform without really knowing it.

This is just how things work nowadays. I’m trying, as I suspect other Cardinals fans are, not to take it personally.

Pujols is beloved in St. Louis. He has played for a consistent winner, albeit one that has not won a postseason game since 2006. The ballpark is jammed for most of his home games. He is part of the fabric of the city of St. Louis.

And, it’s valuable to remember that while he might have one foot out the door, the Cardinals can still drag him back. He won’t be a free agent until five days after the World Series. So, while it might be true that negotiations are over for the rest of spring training and the regular season (which is questionable), the Cardinals will still have a five-day window at the end of the season to strike a deal.

But what will the landscape look like then? How will the season have played out? Will Pujols be sick of the Cardinals and vice versa? What if St. Louis has a mediocre season? Will the fans turn on Pujols?

I love it when Cardinals manager Tony La Russa and others, Pujols included, insist this contract stuff won’t be a distraction during the season. Are they crazy? It’ll be a major distraction and one that seems sure to be to cause flare-ups.

But what are you gonna do?

I know what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna do what I’ve done the past 48 years. I’m going to follow the Cardinals, for better or for worse.

My Facebook friend

Stan Stiverson

Stan Stiverson and his wife, Allison

I can’t tell you how often I run into someone I wrote about years ago. Normally, I don’t have any recollection of the particularly story, and sometimes I don’t even remember the guy or girl the story was about. But I always get a kick out of it when somebody remembers a story because it reminds me of just how long I’ve been doing this and how much fun it has been. Stan Stiverson, as you’ll read, is one of those people I’ve written about. And that I don’t remember. Here’s what he had to say about our FB friendship and other things:

Well, we are Facebook friends because I listen to “Sports Daily,” I read your column and mostly because you wrote an article about me in 1987 when i was a senior at Pratt High School….you mentioned my 40 time was like 4.7 or 4.8 and I always wanted to tell you that was wrong. I’m sure I ran 4.5 to 4.6 lol. Anyway, I moved (to Wichita) in 1990 and sold Kirby vaccums for 7 years and now I have my own business (B&B builders-concrete and outdoor living spaces industry.) We have two awesome children who are twins. My daughter, Brae, is headed to Southwestern (in Winfield) on track and academic scholarships and my son, Boston, is headed to K-State to play for the ledgendary Bill Snyder and the Wildcats. I attend New Springs church and play fantasy football. I’m learning to play base guitar and also like to karaoke. (By the way) congrats on your new marraige to Debbie.

Lingering questions about KU, KSU

Five questions that need to be addressed following last night’s K-State win over Kansas:

1) Is this the beginning of a Kansas State winning streak?

Could be. But don’t get your hopes too high. Jacob Pullen was tremendous against KU. He has not been tremendous in many games this season. In fact, Pullen has been one of the disappointing players in the country based on his preseason All-America status. Neither Curtis Kelly nor Jamar Samuels did a whole lot against KU, although give them credit for holding down the Morris twins, Marcus and Markieff. Pullen wasn’t a one-man show, but his 38 points stole the night. But K-State still has some interesting games left on its schedule, including road games at Nebraska and Texas and a home game against Missouri. To get to 9-7 in the Big 12, the Wildcats have to win two of those three. The win over KU doesn’t erase all the disappointment from K-State’s season, but it erases some of it.

2) Can 7-footer Jordan Henriquez-Roberts grow from here?

I hope not, he’s tall enough. However, as a player he may have tapped into something with his 10-point, five-rebound performance against the Jayhawks. HR was a huge part of the K-State offense. In the half-court set, he established himself on the high post and made good decisions all night. And when he played low in the blocks, he was able to score. It was a major change from K-State’s game against Kansas in Lawrence on Jan. 29, when HR looked overmatched by the Kansas big guys, the Morris twins and Thomas Robinson. Impressive. But now expectations will be higher.

3) How concerned should Bill Self be with his team?

Hey, KU is still 24-2, still a top five team, still a potential No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But Monday night was a disaster. If KU had flaws, they were all exposed by Kansas State, starting with junior point guard Tyshawn Taylor. He should be better by now. He’s good in some games and there are some games when he doesn’t look like he could lead a high school team. If Taylor irritates the Jayhawks’ fan base, imagine how Self must feel. The worst part is that KU hasn’t been able to develop an adequate back-up for Taylor. Sophomore Elijah Johnson continues to receive opportunities, but so far hasn’t cashed in. And freshman Josh Selby looks more like a two-guard, although he hasn’t looked like much of anything lately while nursing an injury. Selby did get back on the floor against K-State, but didn’t make much of a contribution.

4) What can K-State do in the NCAA Tournament?

Hard to say, but I wouldn’t want to play the Wildcats. They can still be stifling defensively. That’s their trademark. There have been too many letdowns in that area this season. We rarely saw K-State relent defensively last season, but that’s partially because the Wildcats were also very good defensively. It’s harder to lock down people defensively when offense is such a struggle. Attempting to score and failing time after time can wear a team down. But if Kansas State can get to the tournament, it will represent a fresh beginning. We saw Monday night what K-State is capable of. I could see a Sweet 16 in the Wildcats’ future.

5) What can KU do in the NCAA Tournament?

The sky is not falling. But the sky has a few more clouds than it had Monday afternoon. Kansas is still an elite team. But it’s imperative that Selby get back on the floor and start to play like the one-and-done phenom he was professed to be. So far, Selby has been a huge disappointment, but there’s time for that to change. And the Jayhawks need Robinson to be healthy. Without him, Self is either forced to use under-sized Mario Little on the front line or to go with Jeff Withey, who just isn’t ready to play at this level. Robinson will likely be out at least another 10 days, and perhaps more. With a healthy Robinson and an as-advertised Selby, Kansas is a threat to win it all.

Old time rock and roll, indeed

There’s no doubt how much I love sports. I mean, I’ve been a sports writer all my life; it’s kind of a job requirement.

But sports isn’t my life. It never has been and it never will be. A big chunk of my life? Yes.

Music is my other love. When I was a kid, it was music and sports, sports and music. And that’s how it is today, when I’m no longer a kid.

Mick Jagger performs at the Grammys. He may look his age, but he doesn't act it.

When I had a little extra money – or any money at all – I’d usually buy either baseball cards or records. It was a treat in those days for one of my parents to drive me from Derby to the Giant store on South Oliver, which is where I bought most of my records in those days. It was rare that I’d buy an album; most of the records I owned as a kid were 45s, and I was really into the Beatles and other English groups like Herman’s Hermits and the Dave Clark 5, whose song “Bits and Pieces,” released in 1964, is one of the first songs I remember hearing.

My parents always told me they knew I had a love for music because, as a toddler, I was enamored by “The Lawrence Welk Show.”

The point of this post, if there is one, is to point out why music is so much of a part of my life. And it became clear to me last night while I was watching The Grammys with my wife, Debbie, and son, Jeff.

Musicians aren’t bound by the physical restraints that burden athletes. Musicians don’t often get injured and their careers can span decades. Mick Jagger was on stage last night at 68, which is three decades, at least, past when a professional athlete can remain relevant outside of golf.

But even with golfers, there is a Seniors Tour, or as it’s more politically correctly called today, a Champions Tour. Because heaven forbid somebody could become a Senior.

Yet it’s happening in music everywhere you look. Who retires from music?

Forty years ago, we all wondered what the musicians of our time would do when they reached their 50s, 60s and even 70s. Well, we have our answer. Many of them – those who desire to – continue to produce. Quite a few do so with the quality of their music in tact.

Rolling Stones front man Mick Jagger performed at The Grammys, honoring the late Solomon Burke with “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love,” which the Stones covered early in their career. It was magical to see Jagger on stage, jumping around the way he always has at the age of 67.

I thought 68-year-old Barbra Streisand sounded good singing her long-ago Grammy-winning song, “Evergreen.” Streisand is 68.

I can’t be as complimentary of folk legend Bob Dylan, who has written as many iconic songs as anyone in the past 50 years. But, as he closes in on his 70th birthday in May, Dylan’s voice sounds crustier as ever, which is not a good thing.

Kris Kristofferson was not a performer at The Grammys, but didn’t even have the voice to get through his introduction duties. Then again, he’ll be 75 in June.

But all of these people and dozens of others continue to produce and tour and sing. It’s awesome stuff. It allows those of us who become fans to continue to be fans throughout our lives.

The Eagles

I point to the Eagles, which has been my favorite band since 1974, the year after I graduated from high school. Well, in two years I will be attending my 40th high school reunion. And the Eagles are still going strong, just kicking off a tour of the Far East and sounding better than ever. What a gift that has been for me, personally. And I’m sure all of you have recording artists you feel the same way about.

It’s not the same with athletes. Their careers finish, most of the time, when they’re still relatively young men and women. When we see them in their old age, they’re relying on memories because, of course, they’re unable to perform the way they used to.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a thrill for me to see a Bob Gibson or a Hank Aaron. A Willie Mays or a Bill Russell. A Joe Montana or a Dick Butkus.

But they’re incapable of captivating me with their skills. Musicians’ skills literally can last a lifetime.

I can’t wait to see James Taylor, who will be 63 when he performs at the Intrust Bank Arena, on April 30.

Bob Seger will be on the road soon.

I’m really hoping Bob Seger, who will be 66 in May, plays at a nearby venue on his upcoming tour.

Same with Rod Stewart and Stevie Nicks, who are touring together this year. Stewart is 66; Nicks will be 63 in May.

Heck, one of my favorite “young” singers, Sheryl Crow, recently turned 49.

But, as we have learned, music lasts a lifetime. So when you’re encouraging that kid of yours to pick up a baseball bat or shoot some hoops, give him or her a guitar, too. Or piano lessons. Every child should have the opportunity to be musical. I played the saxophone, or at least tried to, when I was in elementary school. It didn’t catch on with me.

I love to sing, but it wasn’t cool to be in the high school choir so I didn’t try out.

I’ve been disappointed with myself ever since.

My Facebook friend

Elliot Metz

Elliot (center) and a couple of friends doing what college guys do, I suppose.

Elliot is young, which immediately makes him different from me. He’s in college, studying journalism (hooray!), although that probably means he’ll be forever unemployed. Just kidding, just kidding. There are millions of journalism jobs out here.

You’ll read, from Elliot, about how we became Facebook friends. Here’s what he has to say:
I’m a 21 year old journalism student at KU, graduating in May, and looking to be a sports anchor somewhere soon. I’ve worked at the Wranglers, Eagle sports department, and done intern work for KAKE Sports for eight years.

Bob and I are Facebook friends because I participated in two of his NFL fan drafts. I’ve always been a bit obsessed with the draft, and spend way too much time preparing for something that doesn’t involve me at all. I’ll never forget when I was a sophomore in high school, Bob ended up using me for three different picks in his story. Mainly because he wrote, and I quote, “For a fifteen year old, Metz knows his stuff.” I lorded that over my buddies for a good two or three weeks.

Egypt is free; Pujols a Royal?

On Thursday, “St. Louis Post-Dispatch” online columnist Jeff Gordon wrote a piece suggesting Albert Pujols and the Kansas City Royals could be a great match when, and if, Pujols becomes a free agent after the 2011 season.

Pujols in Kansas City? Say it ain't so.

He wasn’t kidding.

He made the point that the Royals have several of their biggest contracts off the books now, with more to come. He noted Kansas City’s youth movement, which will result in several low-paid but potentially high-performance players coming on board in the next couple of seasons.

He theorized that Kansas City could view Pujols as the glue to what the Royals are trying to do, which is build a contending team via a strong farm system and smart free-agent acquisitions and trades.

But Pujols isn’t going to demand anything less from the Royals than he’ll demand from the St. Louis Cardinals or any other team that could potentially pursue him as a free agent. Is Kansas City willing to give Pujols a 10-year deal for in the ballpark of $300 million.

If so, it would be unlike anything the Royals have ever done.

Pujols went to high school and junior college in Kansas City, which is where he met his wife. He trains in the area during the offseason. He knows KC, no doubt about it.

But Pujols in a Royals uniform? I’ll have to see it to believe it. And then I probably still won’t believe it.

Paying Pujols $30 million a year would be a risky proposition for Kansas City. What happens, then, when those young guns coming up through the farm system reach arbitration eligibility or become free agents?” How many could the Royals keep? Who might have to be let go?

I think it’s a real reach to think Pujols could be a fit for the Royals, and vice versa. But until he puts his John Hancock on a Cardinals contract (please, please, Albert – just do it), anything is possible, I suppose.

Shock Talk

Charlie Lowell I LHP I Baseball

Charlie Lowell

Lowell is a guy for Wichita State. He’ll start the season as the No. 2 starter behind senior Tim Kelley, but could easily turn out to be the Shockers’ best pitcher. He has it all, from the frame (6-foot-4, 235 pounds) to the stuff. And, unlike last season when he missed a good chunk of the season, he’s healthy. Lowell was named the best prospect in the Jayhawk League last summer while pitching for the El Dorado Broncos and looks like a guy who could go in the second or third round of MLB’s June draft. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Or are we? Juniors such as Lowell (who was taken in the 27th round by the Texas Rangers out of high school, always have the draft in the back of their minds.

Q: So, Charlie, with the draft looming are you going to be able to put it out of your mind?

A: I’m going to try. I want to approach this year like I approach any other year and at the end of the year maybe I’ll have a chance to get drafted and go play pro ball. But, yeah, it’s hard to stay completely focused or at least to keep your mind off the draft.

Q: You grew up in Old Monroe, Mo. That just sounds like a small town.

A: It is. It’s 35 miles northwest of St. Louis and in our city limits there are 250 people. I know them all, pretty much.

Q: What’s the best thing about growing up in a small town?

A: Basically it’s getting to go outside and ride your four-wheeler around and shooting a gun from just outside your back door. There are pretty much no rules like there are living in a big city. There’s a lot more freedom.

Q: I’m going to assume you’re a St. Louis Cardinals fan? If so, are you nervous about the negotiations with Albert Pujols?

A: Yes, I am a Cardinals fan, completely. And I really hope they can sign him. He’s got six days left to make a deal or something like that. They need him, but it’s a business thing. I kind of understand where players like him are coming from. He’s just trying to look out for himself.

Q: I hesitate to ask, because I know your answer. But how much has WSU pitching coach Brent Kemnitz helped you?

A: He’s taught me everything. It’s true. I’m 5,000 times better today than I was when I got here on my first day of my freshman year. It’s not even comparable. I came here with a bad brain and I came here with one pitch and now I think I’ve pretty much got my brain straightened out and my pitching, my stuff and my control, have gotten so much better.

Music to my ears

The minute I heard her voice ringing through a crowd of 10,506 at Saturday night’s Wichita State basketball game, I knew Cynthia Whiteside had “it.”

Cynthia Whiteside wowing them at the Shocker game against Illinois State on Feb. 5. The girl has pipes.

The girl can sing. She belted out “The Star Spangled Banner,” and I just closed my eyes and enjoyed the minute and a half, or thereabouts, of her amazing voice.

And after it was over, I expressed my impressions to Wichita State media relations director Larry Rankin, asking him to make sure I had a way to contact Cynthia because I wanted to write about her on my blog.

So, five days later, that’s what I’m going to do. I talked to Whiteside this afternoon, but didn’t embarrass myself by asking her to sing to me over the phone, even though I was tempted.

She’s a Wichita State senior, a transfer from Friends and a native of Andover. She’s been singing since she was a kid; her mother made sure she was in all the school musicals.

But here’s the kicker: Whiteside is majoring in communications at WSU. Not music. She’s major in communications, which is my field. If I had a voice like hers, I would not be in journalism. I would be hanging out on a yacht somewhere, sipping gin and waiting for sound check.

“I want to do something in print,” Whiteside told me. “Newspapers and magazines interest me.”

They interest me, too, but only because I sing like a goat.

“It would be really cool to do music journalism someday,” she said. “Those are my two passions. Music is No. 1.”

Far be it from me to advise anyone about their careers. Have you witnessed mine lately? But I really think Whiteside, if she’s up for it, should pursue a singing career. A lot of people can write; not many have a voice like hers.

You’re probably wondering how I can make such a declaration based upon hearing her sing one song. It’s a good question and I’m not sure how to answer it. I just loved her voice and so did many other people inside Koch Arena last Saturday night. She received an enthusiastic ovation.

I asked if she’d ever been tempted to try out for “American Idol,” one of my favorite television shows.

She said she hadn’t, but that recently her husband of four months, Brandon, mentioned the same thing.

“I’ve always felt like the people who go to “American Idol” tryouts are just people who want to show off or something,” she said.

Well, yeah, that’s kind of the idea. If you have the voice, you show it off.

“I’ve been contemplating it,” Whiteside said. “I’ll probably look into it, but I’m not quite sure yet.”

She said her favorite styles of music are Christian, pop and country. Told she nailed the National Anthem at the WSU basketball game, Whiteside said she was surprised by how relaxed she was.

“That’s the most people I’ve ever sang for in my entire life,” she said. “But for the first time, I was completely calm. That makes everything so much better because your voice isn’t shaking and you don’t cut out on notes.”

Whiteside thinks it’s helped her to sing solos at her church, Hope Community, in Andover.

“There, it’s not so much about the quality,” she said. “You’re singing to the Lord so you’re not supposed to be worrying about how good you are.”

Whiteside said she missed Christian Aguilera’s Super Blow up with the National Anthem, but seemed to understand how something like that can happen. Fortunately, it didn’t happen to her. She was outstanding. For my money, she should be on her way to Hollywood.

* I feel bad for the Cleveland Cavaliers, but I wish they’d show a little more heart. They were flat and disinterested, it appeared, during their Wednesday night loss to the Detroit Pistons, another of the worst teams in the NBA.

It was the Cavs’ 26th loss in a row, an NBA record for futility. And it further illuminates just how much LeBron James meant to the franchise, which has gone in the tank without him.

But wait, there’s hope.

On Sunday, Cleveland plays in the game of the year when the Cavs take on the atrocious Washington Wizards in Cleveland. This game is appealing in so many ways and should be shown in prime time on ABC. “Desperate Housewives” has nothing on these two teams, trust me.

You have the incredibly distasteful Cleveland losing streak. And you have the Wizards, who play OK at home but are 0-25 on the road. We’re guaranteed of one of these streaks ending Sunday.

Can you imagine how hard Washington will play in this game to keep from being the team Cleveland finally beat? Or how the Cavaliers will seize the moment against a team that hasn’t won away from all season?

Incredible stuff. Bigger than a basketball game. I need to watch this game, which will be televised only on NBA League Pass, which I don’t have. I’m hoping somebody invites me over, although who would possibly do that?

My Facebook friend

Nikki Epley

Nikki Epley

I’ve known Nikki since I covered the Wichita State beat in the early 1990s, when she was a student-athlete for the Shockers. I say that in honor of her later work for the NCAA, which loves to emphasize the student aspect of college athletes. She was a great softball player, but I remember our H-O-R-S-E games at what was then Levitt Arena. I think I won most of them, though my memory could be foggy. Nikki, as you’ll read, has gone on to have an exciting career in sports administration and I’m proud of her for that. She’s a really good person and I’ve enjoyed our friendship, though it is now enjoyed from afar. Here is what Nikki had to say about herself and our FB relationship:

I grew up in Valley Center and played softball at Wichita State, where I first met Bob. My morning routine consistently involved reading the sports page first and foremost, and I always enjoyed Lutzy’s articles (as we affectionately call him)….unless, of course, we lost or I had played a bad game. (Bob, you are not allowed to post any of my statistics here). :) I continued to follow his articles in my many moves, and now Facebook makes that easy.

The first job I ever had was working with the Wichita State Athletic Department in my off-seasons and as an intern when completing my degree. I had such a great experience there, I knew that I wanted to pursue athletic administration or work on a college campus. I think WSU was wondering if they’d ever get rid of me. Since then, I have worked at four other universities (Wake Forest University, the University of New Mexico, Colorado State University and now presently at the University of Kansas), for one conference office (Missouri Valley Conference), for the NCAA Men’s Basketball staff in Indianapolis, and for two Super Bowl Host Committees (Jacksonville Super Bowl XXXIX and South Florida Super Bowl XLI). All have been memorable jobs, and I find myself cheering for each school, pro or college team I’ve had the pleasure of working for. I’ve made lifelong friends across the country. I feel blessed by what I often refer to as my bucket list experiences. Just yesterday, I returned from 11 days in North Texas working Super Bowl XLV. As a passionate Green Bay Packers fan, it was a perfect ending to an amazing (and somewhat crazy) week.

Through the years, I’ve been yelled at by Roy Williams for his players slipping on floor logos during the post-season basketball tournament; received a personal call on my cell phone by one of my childhood idols, Bart Starr, who could not have been more humble and kind about featuring him at an event as a former MVP; coordinated a Media Party on the legendary 17th green of TPC in Ponte Vedra Beach; was a member of the Final Four staff when Mario Chalmers hit the winning shot; was hit by sliding ice from the top of Cowboys Stadium last week while trying to clear the sidewalks; and my most memorable…. having the humbling experience of working with the inspiring Make-A-Wish Foundation kids at the Super Bowl.

Now, I’m back at KU in crimson and blue looking forward to following Bob’s upcoming blogs and articles on Facebook about the Jayhawks and Shockers.