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Almost two weeks ago, Royals super-fan Sung Woo Lee finally made his trek to Kansas City and see the team that he had followed from his home in South Korea since the mid-90’s. It might be one of the warmest, fuzziest and doggone best stories ever connected to baseball; to read the whole story, go ahead and click here. If you don’t want to read the whole thing, the skinny is this: Lee decided to watch baseball games to teach himself how to speak English. He saw a Jeff King(yep, just name dropped the former Royals 1st baseman) hit a home run and fell in love with Kauffman Stadium. Ever since that moment he has been a Royals fan, watching Royals games at odd times because of the time difference and he has communicated over the years with other Royals fans online. What initially was supposed to be a trip to see a few games at ‘The K’ turned into a city and a community embracing one of their own and showing him how great Royals fans really are.

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I could go into all the things that Lee got to do on this trip, but I truly can’t do it justice. To REALLY  get a grasp on how great this story is, you should read this synopsis that Michael Engel put together about Lee’s visit. It is a long read, but damn if it didn’t get me pumped again for how great this whole story is. Now, the point of all this isn’t to discuss the trip or to bring up how great it is that Lee probably just had the best vacation he will ever have(and I have to believe it will be hard to top). No, the point I want to make is how Sung Woo is the fan we probably all should strive to be.

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One of the main items I have taken away from this whole Sung Woo thing is that the guy might be one of the most positive sports fans I have ever seen. For most of us, there are times all we can see is the negative. In some ways it is easier to do that, rather than look for the gleam of light. Sure there are appropriate times for honest criticism. But there are other times where finding the nugget of hope is far and away the better route to take. I am just as guilty as anyone else of doing this, but watching Sung Woo be excited about even minor things made me realize how we as fans need to view the game at times in a better light. For Lee to say that the only Royals player he has ever not liked is Neifi Perez(and let’s be honest; Perez deserves this shame), that says a lot and covers quite a bit of ground. Watching him get excited about something like meeting Mitch Maier just has to make you realize it is simpler than we make it(although I would probably be excited about meeting Maier as well; I always felt he was underrated). Sung Woo’s outlook of the game is almost of a child, just excited about his team. I still have my moments like this, like anytime I walk into ‘The K’. The little kid comes out in me and I forget about any complaints I have about the team, focusing on getting to see ‘my team’ for the next few hours. It’s  a simple approach, yet one that could be put forward a bit more.

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The fact that the Royals went on a winning streak during Sung Woo’s time in Kansas City just made things that much better. Here was this huge Royals fan from halfway across the world and after almost 20 years of watching Kansas City, he get’s to see in person the Royals play some of the best baseball they have played during that entire span of time. The Royals community started claiming this was “Sung Woo Magic” and after awhile it really felt like it. What other logical reason was there for the Royals playing out of their mind than Sung Woo bringing them good luck? Sure, it seems implausible but sometimes logic doesn’t factor into baseball. Sometimes guys just get in a groove and don’t know any better. I mean, you have seen the movie “Major League”, right? Even if Sung Woo played a small part in this, you can see why. His love of this team was infectious.

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It’s been about half a week since Sung Woo went back to Korea and I find myself still wanting to check up on him. After his dream vacation, I feel a bit like I am a Royals AND Sung Woo fan now. The fact that the Royals fanbase went out of their way to make Sung Woo a part of everything Kansas City made this story even better. I have never been prouder to be a Royals fan nor prouder of every fan that showed him how great being a Royals fan can be. Even the Royals organization did a fantastic job of showing Sung Woo real Royals pride, showing him around the stadium, giving him gifts and having him throw at the first pitch at last Monday’s game. There are 39 games left in this season and hopefully more in October. For the rest of the season we should all be the fan Sung Woo is. We should enjoy every moment of every game and be thankful we have something to cheer for. Enjoy the now and worry about the rest later. That is the true magic that Sung Woo Lee gave us, and I am thankful for it.

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Just admit it; you didn’t see this coming. Don’t worry, none of us saw this coming. The Kansas City Royals have reeled off 7 straight wins, have taken over the second Wild Card spot and is only 1/2 a game behind the Detroit Tigers in the American League Central and none of us figured this was in the Royals future. Sure, we knew they were in the Wild Card race, but after the 10 game winning streak in June there was nary a chance we would see another long streak from this bunch. This isn’t to say this isn’t a team that could pull off the task; obviously they’ve shown multiple times now this season what they are capable of. For a team who has not had a consistent offense this year, the chance of climbing this high this fast seemed unlikely. So how did we get to this point?

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Let’s start with the surging offense. The funny thing is that it’s not as if the whole team is taking off, because it isn’t, as David Lesky of PineTarPress.com points out:

Now what they are doing is hitting well with runners in scoring position, which is always a huge plus. But to add to that, you have two players right now in the heart of the batting order that are punishing the baseball in Billy Butler and Alex Gordon. Butler is hitting .435/.458/.913 over the last 7 days with 2 homers, 7 RBI’s, 21 total bases and an OPS of 1. 371. This recent hot streak of Butler’s coincides with his move to first base, as regular first baseman Eric Hosmer went on the DL at the beginning of August and since then Butler has really taken off. FoxSports.com discussed this with Butler recently and he divulged why playing in the field helps him:

“It relaxes me, playing in the field,” Butler says. “I just tend to get more involved because they have to rely on me defensively, too. And the thing is, I tend to let bad at-bats go more easily. I don’t linger on them.”

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The other bat that has taken off during this stretch is Alex Gordon. It seems only fitting as this past weekend’s promotional schedule for the Royals revolved around A1(Saturday was Nebraska day at the K and Sunday was the Alex Gordon Bobblehead giveaway). Over the last 7 days Gordon is hitting a robust .381/458/.810 with 3 homers, 6 RBI’s, and an OPS of 1.268. It does seem when the middle of the order takes off, so does the rest of the team. Mike Moustakas and Nori Aoki are both hitting over .300 this past week and the Royals have 5 players who have driven in at least 5 runs during that stretch. Jarrod Dyson has only received 5 at bats in the past week but has taken advantage of his time on the field, getting 4 hits(including a double)and 4 steals. Just coming through in clutch situations is big, as Lorenzo Cain did Saturday night with his single to right field to keep the Royals inning alive in the 7th. When this team is selective at the plate and gets on base, it tends to string together multiple run innings. This has been more than evident these past few weeks and has helped lead them to a 10-2 record over their last two weeks.

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It has helped as well to have the Royals pitching holding up their end of the deal as well. James Shields and Jeremy Guthrie have led the charge for the starters with ERA’s below 2.00 this month and have been aided by a bullpen that has been practically unhittable. Lately the Royals have made it rough for any team to come back from a deficit once you get past the 6th inning. Jason Frasor, Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland have been spotless as of late with only Holland giving up a run during this span. I’ve been saying for a few years now that if it comes down to the Royals bullpen or the oppositions, the Royals have a great chance of winning. As of late it feels like just that, as they have been locking teams down and doing it in impressive fashion. All have strikeout rates above 11.00 during this streak and Frasor and Herrera have each only given up 2 hits.  The Royals will need this group to keep it up as they plan on playing more meaningful games come September.

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Of course the cherry on top of this winning sundae is the Royals spectacular defense. This is no secret, as the Royals have had one of the best defenses in baseball over the last couple of seasons. This has been on display as of late, helping the pitching out even more. To get a better idea of how good this defense is(especially the outfield), check out this article at FanGraphs.com, which really points out how special this team’s defense really is. Safe to say if the Royals are playing in October it will be partially because of the Royals play with the leather.

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Winning is contagious. There really is nothing quite like seeing a team with potential live up to it and excel on the diamond. Watching the Royals these past couple weeks makes it worth all the bad. If the Royals can continue with their timely hitting to go with the consistency of the pitching and defense, we could be talking playoff baseball. Currently BaseballProspectus.com has the Royals odds of making the playoffs at 47.8% and climbing. It will be a fight to get there, as there are a few other teams wanting a taste of the postseason this year. Normally this time of year the only streaking we see is this kind:

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Instead, this year we are seeing the kind we all prefer. The streaking that pulls the Royals into the playoff picture. Hey, if all else fails, we have some “Sung Woo Magic”:

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Yep, it sure seems as if the baseball God’s are on our side this year. Whether it’s black magic, fate, or just some great baseball, none of that matters as long as we see the playoffs. It’s time, Kansas City.

 

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A few seasons back, Major League Baseball decided to spice things up and added a second Wild Card spot to the playoffs. In November of 2011, MLB announced they would be adding this second wild card, with the top two Wild Card teams playing each other in a one game playoff to determine who would go on to the division series and who would go home. In a lot ways this second Wild Card was added to hopefully add to the excitement of pennant chases, much like the electric last day of the 2011 season(do you remember how awesome that day was? If not, go ahead and revisit it!)

Now that I just gave you the equivalent of a sugar rush, let’s get to the real meat and potatoes of this; the second Wild Card spot is up for grabs in the American League this year with four teams battling for the spot with only a game separating these teams. No one team in this group stand out amongst each other with each team holding equal positives and negatives to their run for a playoff spot. Obviously around these parts we are cheering for the Royals to make the playoffs. With that said, lets look at what each team will bring to this ‘Wild Card Shuffle’.

Kansas City Royals-Currently holding 2nd Wild Card spot, 34.0% chance of reaching playoffs(BaseballProspectus.com/odds/)

Kansas City Royals v Minnesota Twins

The Royals have seen a big increase in their chances of making the playoffs over the past week, in fact almost a 18% increase in that span. As most Royals fans can attest to, this has been a very topsy turvy season already, as the Royals went on a 10 game winning streak in June, took over first place of the American League Central from Detroit. Kansas City followed that by going on a losing streak and even straddling .500 before the All Star break. The Royals currently have a 4 game winning streak and are 7-3 over their last ten games. Outside of back to back series coming up with Oakland and San Francisco, the Royals will then play 12 straight games(outside of a lone game against the Yankees) against teams under .500, followed by 3 games to wrap up August against Cleveland, who are currently at .500. If the Royals are going to make a run, now would seem to be the best time to do it.

Positives: One of the best defenses in baseball, great bullpen, solid rotation

Negatives: Inconsistent offense, poor plate discipline, iffy manager  

Toronto Blue Jays-1/2 game out of the 2nd Wild Card spot, 25.8% chance of reaching playoffs

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A week ago, the Blue Jays looked golden; in that span their chance of making the playoffs has fallen 34.3% and have basically let the other teams around them back into the boat. The Blue Jays could still be the team to beat in this position, but it’s going to take a bit to widen the gap. Toronto is almost the polar opposite to the Royals schedule-wise over the next month; the Blue Jays have Detroit, Milwaukee, Seattle, New York and the once surging Rays to contend with in August. The Blue Jays have been hit by the injury bug as of late, and they should be getting a few of their offensive pieces(Encarnacion, Lind) back soon. The Jays have a young pitching staff and still need some help in the bullpen, but if they piece things together they are a real threat to the Royals for that spot.

Positives: Great offense, young pitching, aggressive GM

Negatives: injuries, thin bullpen, rough schedule

Seattle Mariners-1/2 game out of the 2nd Wild Card spot, 23.0% chance of reaching playoffs

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Seattle is an interesting ball club to say the least. You have to wonder where the Mariners would be in the standings if their offense was just league average. Instead, they have a weak offense, in fact one so weak that it makes the Royals look like ‘Murderers Row’.  But Seattle’s GM Jack Zduriencik has already been working to fix that, adding Austin Jackson and Chris Denorfia before the trade deadline and very well could be adding more. Jack Z’s job is probably on the line, so he could very well be proactive over the next month. Add in a stellar pitching staff that is better than Kansas City’s  and you have a team that the Royals should be worried about. The Mariners still play a number of playoff contenders to play this season, including 15 of their last 18 against teams vying for a playoff spot. Seattle very well could be the Royals biggest obstacle in front of them when it comes to grasping a playoff spot.

Positives: Fantastic pitching, a GM with his job on the line,excellent at run prevention

Negatives: weak offense, rough schedule 

New York Yankees-1/2 game out of the 2nd Wild Card spot, 34.5% chance of reaching the playoffs

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The fact that the Yankees are still in this conversation is a minor miracle. Their starting rotation has been decimated, they have been hit with a number of injuries and unless Derek Jeter is truly a God(as has been hinted at by almost every major media outlet this season), the Yankees shouldn’t even be in this position. But…here they are. Actually, out of these four teams, the Yankees have the best percentage chance of making the playoffs. Getting players back from injury will help, but they also need to add to their weakened rotation. Unfortunately for them, the likes of Brandon McCarthy and Chris Capuano just won’t work. The Yankees are known for stocking up this time of year, so don’t be shocked to see another pitcher head to the Bronx before the month is up. If that happens, their odds will improve, although they still have 24 games left against teams trying to reach October(and that isn’t even counting games against Cleveland and Tampa Bay, who are on the fringe). I would like to see the odds are stacked against them, but I have counted New York out before and they’ve proven me wrong. Don’t be surprised if they are still in this spot come late September.

Positives: Improving offense, excellent bullpen, deep pockets

Negatives: Pieced together rotation, tough schedule, old shortstop

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You probably noticed I didn’t add Cleveland to this list. The Indians are currently 4 games out of the Wild Card spot, so technically they are still in it, but they would have a tougher road to go and more teams to climb over(same for Tampa Bay). Sure, it could happen. If anything, we have learned over the years that it’s not over until a spot is locked up. This might be the most interesting race to follow over the next seven weeks and one that could fluxuate quite a bit between now and then. Obviously us Royals fans are hoping that 29 years of playoff-less baseball ends this year, but there are no guarantees. Any of these four teams could grasp that last spot and play either the Angels or A’s for the one game playoff. None of these teams stand out above another, but the team that can play the most consistent over the rest of the season will probably be the team there at the end. At the very least it will be a fun seven weeks to cheer on your team if you are in Kansas City, Toronto, New York or Seattle. It will also be stomach churning at times. All this for October baseball. You gotta love it!

 

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Hey, have you heard the trade deadline is this week? If you have, you know that the Kansas City Royals have been connected to many a rumor, as they fly around like texts from Billy Butler this time of year. This is just a smattering of names rumored to have Dayton Moore’s interest right now: Alex Rios, Marlon Byrd, Antonia Bastardo, Chris Denorfia, Andrew Miller, Jonny Gomes, Dayan Viciedo, Ben Zobrist, and even a hint of Ryan Howard(although I don’t think there is must interest on KC’s part as much as Philadelphia wanting to dump him on someone). It’s apparent the Royals are going to have to pick up another bat if they are serious about contending for a playoff spot. If they aren’t serious(and seriously, what team will really admit that?) then they need to be sellers. But the reports that are leaking out make one wonder if much of anything is going to happen.

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Let’s begin with the trade that went down today. Earlier, the Royals traded Danny Valencia to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for two players who have been playing in AAA, Erik Kratz and Liam Hendriks. By no means is this a “blow the doors off the barn” type of trade, but it does upgrade a few minor things for Kansas City. Kratz will take over the backup catcher spot for Brett Hayes(who was Designated for Assignment to make room for him) and will add a bit more offense to that spot. The move also allows the Royals to carry a backup infielder again, as Christian Colon will be recalled from Omaha. Yep, the Royals have been playing without a true backup infielder for a few weeks now. To make matters worse, it’s not the first time that has happened this year. Roster management isn’t exactly Dayton’s strength. The move also shows that the team has faith that Mike Moustakas has gotten past his struggles of earlier this year(and last year). I’m not 100% convinced Moustakas will ever be anything more than a guy who hits .250, slams around 20 homeruns and plays good defense. But that is another topic for another time. If anything, this move tightens up the bench, which is a must for any team who wants to go deep into the playoffs. Or is this a precursor to a bigger move?

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Unless this is all just a major smokescreen, it looks like there might not be a bigger move. Alex Rios of Texas was discussed for quite awhile; it now looks like his salary is an issue and would hold Kansas City back from acquiring him. Marlon Byrd? He looks like a no-go as well, as he has a no-trade clause and won’t waive it unless the team acquiring him picks up his 2016 option. The Royals are pretty set on acquiring a right handed bat(which I feel is a bit short-sighted; if there is a quality bat out there, you go after it, no matter what side of the plate it is) and the options are limited. The scary part is up in the article talking about the Royals bowing out of the Rios talks. It’s been mentioned a few times that salary is a key factor in a move not being made, as in “the Royals don’t want to take on more salary so they will hold off on a deal until August.” This blows my mind. We’ve heard for years by management that “2014 is the season” and “we are all in”. If that was true, you pick up the extra month of salary and give your team the best option of winning. It seems odd that money is now the issue, since Royals owner David Glass has stated he is “obsessed with winning”. If you are obsessed with it, you go all out to make it happen. You are not obsessed with it if you have a limit. This also opens up the other issue; even if the purse strings were opened, is this team a “real” contender?

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Tampa Bay Rays

As of this writing, the Royals are 5 games behind the Tigers in the American League Central standings and only 2 games out of the second wild card spot. Technically, they are contenders. But…that second wild card is a bit of an illusion. Sure, it is a reachable goal. But is it worth it to trade off part of your future(a prospect) for a few months of mild improvement(a right handed bat)? I am about as torn on this as I humanly could be. On one hand, the Royals haven’t been to the playoffs in 29 years. We are all dying to get there and there might not be a better chance for a few years. On the other hand, this team just doesn’t scream playoff contender  to me, and hasn’t most of the year. This is a wildly inconsistent offensive team and I doubt even acquiring any of the names mentioned earlier will stabilize this bunch. So with that said, is it worth it for this team to go out, pick up players, get the second wild card spot, play one playoff game on the road, lose, then turn around and lose James Shields and Billy Butler at the end of the season? That is the million dollar question.

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I’m not trying to be a downer, but the realist in me knows we wouldn’t be having this conversation if that second wild card didn’t exist. If the old playoff system was intact, the Royals would be sellers, pick up a nice haul for Shields and start preparing for 2015. Unofficially, that second wild card is a version of beer goggles to some teams that would normally be sellers. That is why there isn’t much out there talent-wise and why a team like Tampa Bay, who once was in the cellar in the American League East, now believes they can get to the playoffs(they are currently only 4 games out of the wild card) and probably won’t be trading David Price or anyone else for that matter. But…that second wild card DOES exist and teams who normally wouldn’t be in play ARE in play. This includes the Royals and is why as much as part of me would like to see what they could get for Big Game James, I know they have to go for it.

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But are they? It doesn’t feel like they are. My dad would say they are “half-assing” it. What team, especially one with the offensive holes this Royals team have, thinks that the likes of Raul Ibanez, Erik Kratz, and Jason Frasor shows that they are “all in”? I’m not saying go out and kill the farm system to make this team better, but this team needs more than a 42 year old outfielder, a backup catcher, and a middle reliever to get them to “the promised land”. I have to believe this team will take a step back in 2015, so if they are going for it they can’t just wait until August to make a move, when players have to slip through waivers just to make something happen. No, the time to go for the kill is now(actually the real perfect time would have been when they were still in first place) and instead it feels like no matter what move is made, it will feel like a letdown.

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After 8+ years of the current Royals regime, it feels wrong that a simple thing like a few $100,000 will be the difference between an upgrade and the status quo. Sure, it’s not my money, but winning means more butts in the seats at “The K” and more filled seats mean more dollars. It’s a simple equation that ownership refuses to learn and in the long run it will cost them. For some, the Royals hovering around .500 is good enough for them and will satisfy their needs. But for some of us, we want more. We want what we had in the 70’s and 80’s. We want consistent winning, consistent contending and management that “gets it”. Instead, we get a GM who values the wrong things and an owner who thinks you should run a baseball team like it is Wal Mart. Folks, we deserve better. We deserve to see October baseball. I’m not sold we will see it this year. What I do know is right now is not the time to straddle the fence on what to do with this team. It’s quite simple; as Yoda would say ” Buy or Sell, there is no standing pat.”

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I’ve said for years that one of my goals has always been to see all of the major league baseball stadiums before I die. Originally I figured I would do most of the traveling when I was older and had the time. But a few years back I decided that there was no reason I couldn’t visit a different stadium every summer and start working on the list. I’ve also had a baseball bucket list for years, places that are baseball related that I would love to visit. So when we started planning our vacation for this summer, Minnesota was the obvious choice. I have a friend that lives in St. Paul that I have known since elementary school and we had long discussed me coming up to visit and take in a game. Once we locked in Minnesota as the sight, we then started seeing where else we could stop and visit along the way there and back. That is how my baseball vacation began.

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Our first stop was on the drive up, as we stopped in Van Meter, Iowa for the Bob Feller Museum. For those that don’t know, Feller was a Hall of Fame pitcher who grew up in Van Meter and is considered one of the greatest pitchers of all time. With a fastball that was in triple digits even in high school, Feller made his major league debut at the age of 17 and would go on to pitch 18 seasons in the big leagues for the Cleveland Indians, with him losing four years to serve his country in World War II. The museum is not huge but impressive nonetheless. There are artifacts from his playing career and also a few from his military career. The museum spans his career, from a few highlights in high school to his major league career, there is a bit of everything in the museum and lots to learn about Feller. What is really impressive is the amount of former big leaguers that have visited the museum. There is a wall of photos of all the different baseball visitors and it’s great to know that many would come out to this little town in Iowa just to check out baseball history. For the die hard baseball fan, this should be a must visit. If you are a  casual baseball fan, it’s not a bad idea to visit it and learn a few things about the one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history.

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We made our way to St. Paul and went sight-seeing on Saturday. That night we headed to Target Field to take in the Twins-Rays game. The little boy in me was really excited to say the least. I fondly remember the 1987 and 1991 Minnesota teams that went to the World Series and Kirby Puckett was one of my favorites growing up. The park is beautiful and seeing the skyline of downtown Minneapolis behind the stadium is a great visual. The game wasn’t too memorable, as Tampa Bay’s David Price was showcasing his talents for contending teams and shut down the Twins in his 8 innings of work. The Twins tried making a comeback in the 9th but it was not meant to be and the Rays came out with the victory. Target Field is a visually nice park but talking around and you get the feeling that as much as the Metrodome was a bit of a dump, it had more character and atmosphere than this new ballpark has.  Either way just getting to visit the park and do that with friends made for a great experience and I’m sure another visit will happen in the future.

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We headed back on Sunday and decided to take the long way back, stopping in Dyersville, Iowa to visit the ‘Field of Dreams’ movie site. Like most baseball fans, I have long loved the movie and the idea of a baseball field built out of a corn field just makes it better. We had checked before we left on our trip and saw that Sunday they would have ‘ghosts’ come out of the corn and play some baseball, so it seemed obvious to make sure we showed up for that. It didn’t disappoint, as they let a bunch of the kids visiting to hit and run the bases. The players joked around during most of this, which gave me a Harlem Globetrotters vibe.

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It was a fun experience and it is as beautiful as you can imagine. You can basically walk around wherever you want(except around the house) and just take everything in. It is great to take your family to and once the ghosts were done playing you could go on the field and play catch. I will be returning to visit at some point, as I will have to take my son so we can play catch on the field. It is Iowa for sure, but it also felt close enough to heaven.

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Overall, it was a fun trip with a lot of baseball involved.  I was able to cross off a few items off the bucket list, visit with friends and get to see a lot of beautiful scenery. It was a long trip and quite a bit of time was spent in a car, but it totally worth it. The fact I was able to cross items of my bucket list and spend time with friends while doing it made it one of my favorite trips. I can only hope next year is as much fun. Watch out, Colorado!