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Keegan: Voters next tough K.C. foe

April 4, 2006

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— Thinking double from the moment he bolted out of the box on a ball that shot into right field for what looked like a single, Kansas City Royals leadoff hitter David DeJesus slid safely into second base.

It's not always how good the baseball players are on a team that sways outcomes. Sometimes, it's whether they play good baseball. DeJesus is no great talent, but he was playing good baseball leading off the fourth.

And so was Mark Grudzielanek, who knew his job and did it, advancing the runner to third with a grounder to the right side.

Now it was time for No. 3 hitter Mike Sweeney, the designated hitter, to do his job. He needed only to loft a flyball to get the runner home. Instead, he checked his swing and bounced back to the pitcher, and for that he was booed.

Baseball fans who don't care don't boo. Small crowds don't boo loudly enough to be heard. These boos were heard, which tells you Kansas City still cares about its baseball team, at least on opening day.

Reggie Sanders, one of the veteran offseason acquisitions by the Royals, saved Sweeney by singling home the run and temporarily becoming the most popular Royal. In the ninth, he heard chants of "Reggie! Reggie!" only to bounce harmlessly to short for the final out of a 3-1 loss to the Detroit Tigers, witnessed by 41,054.

The Royals lose another close one. Imagine that.

It's the close contest that will be waged today at the polls by Jackson County voters that has area sports fans nervous. If the majority of voters pull the yes lever on a three-eighths cents sales tax to raise $575 million to go toward renovations to Kauffman Stadium, home of the Royals, and Arrowhead Stadium, home of the Chiefs, the teams are guaranteed to stay put through 2031.

If it doesn't pass, the threat looms the teams' owners will move. Sanders was asked if players felt added pressure because of today's vote.

"Not at all," he said. "It's not about that for us. It's about doing what we need to do to win ballgames."

He's right. If the vote doesn't pass, it's on neither new veteran Royals like Sanders nor young leftovers from the team that lost 106 games in 2005.

The onus lies squarely on the same place it lies for the Royals being perennial losers, on owner David Glass for again not forking over enough cash. He has pledged just $25 million toward the renovation. Think that doesn't anger voters?

If no other area stadium projects pop up, such as near Kansas Speedway, and the Royals eventually book, baseball will be missed for all its strategic twists.

For example, when Tigers manager Jim Leyland - man, was it cool to see him in uniform again - decided starting the seventh inning to protect a one-run lead was a nice time for Joel Zumaya to make his major-league debut. He walked Sweeney to start the inning. By the time Zumaya's day was done, he had pitched two shutout innings with three strikeouts.

Zumaya, a hard thrower following soft-tossing veteran lefty Kenny Rogers, was the perfect guy to pitch the innings in the shadows, and Fernando Rodney, another hard thrower, closed it.

Jackson County voters are being asked to break another Royals losing streak. That's asking a lot.

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