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Better know a commenter: Gopherballs

The enigmatic "know-it-all" (his words) talks with us with a message on Light It Up Blue Autism Awareness Day.

Complete heart.
Complete heart.
Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

In this edition of Better Know a Commenter, we talk with the mysterious Gopherballs, whose story has special pertinence today on Light It Up Blue Autism Awareness Day.

While we're all much more than just being Royals fans, it is the tie that binds us. What brought you to the Royals' front stoop knocking on the door to be let in? Perhaps more importantly, why did you stay?

I watched the Royals 1970s playoff games with my dad. He hated the Yankees, so we rooted for the Royals by default. Back then, regular season baseball was rarely on TV. There was NBC's Saturday afternoon game of the week, and maybe ABC's Monday Night Baseball for part of the year, and a few scattered local broadcasts. But the playoffs were televised, so October was great a month of binge watching, and my dad would let me stay up late to watch. I have fuzzy memories of the Chambliss home run, but mostly my dad's "aw, crap" reaction. The Game 5 ninth inning meltdown in 1977 is a little sharper: it went from "hey, we are going to win this" to "even Brett cannot get a break" to Patek crying on the bench so fast. Even Brett looked like he was going to cry. 1978 was more of "here we go again" although the games were close. 1980 was glorious even though it lacked drama. I remember my dad saying "Go Home Yankees," which I did not appreciate until years later in a Latin American history class. The World Series was kind of anti-climatic -- I remember following each game, but maybe because the Royals were always playing catch-up, the moments did not make as big of impression.

By 1985, I had discovered girls, so I was not living and dying with every game. I think I have told my Game 6 story. I was at my new girlfriend's house, and in an attempt to get some alone time, we were watching the game in their den. But her dad kept interrupting by poking his head into the room to check on the game. I was getting ready to leave when Denkinger blew the call, which angered her dad so much that he walked out of the room. To be honest, I was happier about that than the game. I watched Game 7 with my folks, which was such a laugher that I think I spend most of the game talking on the phone with the girlfriend. I remember the celebration though.

I know I took the late 70s and 1985 success for granted. After 1985, I stopped paying close to attention to baseball until early 1990s when a buddy loaned me some Bob James books and I went to a game at Wrigley Field. I also started reading up on the business side, which I found fascinating, and did a research paper on the 1994-95 strike. This got me fully immersed back into baseball, but from a little different perspective. I started playing fantasy baseball around this time too, just as the internet was making reading and talking about baseball so easy. As a result, I was an early but casual reader of BP and some of the online sabermetric writing. I took it with a grain of salt, but learning to accept the unpredictable nature of BABIP was a watershed moment. The hiring of Moore renewed my interest in actively following the Royals on a day-to-day basis, as he was a sharp contrast to the new school GM hired the previous offseason in Tampa Bay. I found RR through a link to one of Will's early masterpieces, and started reading regularly after that. I think my first comment was around the time of the Meche signing (I liked Meche, hated the contract), and probably became a semi-regular during the 2007 season arguing with NYRoyal (just like everybody else). What kept me around is that Scott and the other commenters would take the time to look stuff up and then provide stuff for me to look up, so the arguments and discussions actually evolved. This was not the online equivalent of sports talk radio that most corners of the internet were at the time.

Standard dating profile questions: Age? Sex? Height? Hair color? Marital status? Kids?

Over 40, just under six foot, married for 10+ years with two kids in elementary school. Remember the fun with the blue and black dress? Some people swear I have blond hair, some people swear it is brown. The sex question is a little too personal.

Since it seems like your dad's rooting for the Royals was more a product of Yankee hatred than geographical proximity, can we assume that the enigmatic Gopherballs grew up out of market?

Yes. My dad did not really have a favorite team, just disliked the Yankees. Mom was a nominal Dodgers fan as a dig to her father and big sister, who liked the Yankees. I have been to Kansas City a couple times. The K is a beautiful park. I heckled Johnny Damon for not hustling. I slightly preferred Gates over Arthur Bryant's. I find the local talk on the site mostly amusing, although the Chiefs and college rivalry talk gets old pretty quick.

As one of the handful of people (myself included) with connections to the town/team that could be classified as "tenuous at best," how do you feel your life would be different if you had never come back to the Royals?

Honestly, probably not much. I would still watch the same amount of baseball, just rarely Royals games, and cruise other websites during coffee breaks. But there would be a hole in my heart the size of Chris Getz.

Other than reveling in the sports-related misery of girlfriends' fathers and discovering girls just in time to engender an indifference to the Royals at the optimal time, what was your youth like? What was the setting like that formed you? What was your family like? Let us in on what your formative years were like.

I had a pretty non-descript lower middle class childhood in a quasi-suburban/small town setting. My parents both worked, so I was a latchkey kid from about second grade on. I had an unimaginable amount of unsupervised time by today's standards: hung out or played sports with the neighborhood kids, rode bikes all over town, watched non-age appropriate cable TV, and played video games. For the most part, I stayed out of trouble and did well in school, so as long as I was home for dinner or when I said I would be home, I got away with a lot. I also spent significant time at my grandparents' place in the country, where I did a lot of fishing and helping out with raising chickens and vegetables.

While many choose not to define themselves by their job, what do you do to make ends meet? For how long have you been plying that trade?

I work for the man, going on about 15 years. The most pertinent job experience for this site is that for a couple years, I had jobs where I worked on CBA issues and grievances. At one, I was the guy who answered questions about the CBA provisions and worked up grievances heading toward a hearing. I would get a call from the lawyer, find out the issue and the witnesses, and then get statements and write up a memo on how the grievance should turn out under the CBA provisions. Most of the issues were just a worker doing stupid things, but there were a few interesting ones like whether time to get back to the break room should count against the 15 minutes allotted for the break time.

Where do you live now?

I live west of the Central Time Zone.

What is your educational background/area of study?

American history and political science major with some post-graduate school.

Was the initial plan to do something more with American history, or was it simply an area of interest that you wanted to study more before heading down your post-grad route? What areas of American history were of particular interest to you? Do those areas still get your motor running, or did your studies sap you of your enthusiasm for the subject?

I was pretty close with my grandparents, who frequently talked about life during the Depression and wartime. My grandfather had been a labor leader in the CIO, so he had many interesting stories about strikes and fights on multiple fronts with businesses, the government, and the more radical wing of the membership. Beside the labor movement, I read whatever I could about U.s. History the period from the end of WWI through the Cold War (which, as a side note, pretty much neutralized the labor movement). I also studied a lot about Russian/Soviet history and politics, but the Berlin Wall fell when I was in college, which rendered my new knowledge largely useless from a practical standpoint. Plus, further study would have been delving even further into the minutiae, which did not get my motor running. But I still get sucked into any documentaries on WWII, the Cold War, or other aspects of 20th Century American history.

What subject did you choose to focus on for your senior paper?

Oh, man, I have not thought about that in years. The title was something like "Out in the Cold: The Cold War's Impact on the U.S. Labor Movement." And, yes, the shame from using that pun in the title directly led to my abandonment of any career in academia. But in my defense, that was a direct quote from one of the CIO guys.

The basic premise was that the onset of the Cold War in 1946-48 (well before peak McCarthyism in the 1950s) created a backlash against labor unions and schisms within their ranks that essentially turned the labor movement from a social movement to a predominantly economic one. The focus was a progressive CIO butchers union that was one of the few to fight the tide by going out on strike in 1948, with disastrous results. The remains of the membership purged the social activists and quietly folded into the more conservative AFL butcher union (a precursor to the AFL and CIO merger in the mid-1950s). I listened to dozens of hours of oral history interviews. It was a good story even with the inevitable ending.

With the understanding that obviously baseball and the Royals are an area of interest for you, what other hobbies and interests do you have?

We like to save up and travel, with Hawaii and the San Diego area favorites. At home, the kids take up almost all of our free time except for the brief post-bedtime window when I can catch up on shows or a game. The kids do too many activities to name. Both are playing ball this year -- softball and t-ball -- so I love playing in the yard with them and helping out at the practices when I can. Our boy was diagnosed on the autism spectrum as a toddler, so we spend a lot of time using play and routine activities to incorporate different therapies and techniques into helping develop his social skills. We were blessed that he has strong interest in others, that he has responded well to the therapies, and that he is very high functioning, so his development has caught up with his typically developing peers. But it wears you out.

Today is Light It Up Blue Autism Awareness Day. Obviously, having a child diagnosed on the spectrum is not anything for which a parent can plan. How has your son's diagnosis changed your lives? What wisdom would you instill in those whose exposure to autism has been limited?

For those with limited exposure (thanks for coming up with a better term than "awareness"), Autism (or Autism Spectrum Disorder) is a catch-all name for neurological conditions in which the brain's "wiring" may be different, especially regarding social interactions, communication, and behavior (often repetitive or restricted). The severity and types of associated behaviors vary widely. There are different social, speech, and behavioral therapies that can help reduce -- sometime greatly -- the difficulties the person may have in those areas, but the condition does not "go away." For example, for our son, while he has great interest in social interaction, he has had to learn how to interact with others -- social cues and customs -- basically from scratch. He can have relatively normal interactions with others, but it is all learned behavior.

Our son was diagnosed early at the age where, in severe cases, some children who appear to have a normal development path suddenly begin to regress and become nonverbal and very restricted in their behavior. So every morning, the first thought was "Will my son stop talking to me today?" "Will my son stop playing with me today?" Slowly, but surely, it became apparent that he was not regressing but rather greatly improving his speech and social skills. Today, he attends school in a regular general education setting (with support services). But there are always new concerns -- "Will he be able to stay at a regular school?" "Will he be able to build lasting friendships or romantic relationships?" "Will he be able live on his own and take care of himself?"

Based on the stats (1 in 68 children), you are likely to know someone who is either "on the spectrum" or has a family member that is (even though you may not know it). Or you will likely sit next to an adult or child on the spectrum at a restaurant, or on an airplane, or at a ballgame in the coming months.

The easiest gestures are often the most powerful. A smile or nod of understanding. Not calling extra attention to a child or person having a difficult time. Asking how someone is doing. For someone you know better, offering an ear to listen or an invitation for a meal or play date (as those types of invitations often dwindle for families with autism).

My advice to parents or prospective parents is to keep an eye out for signs and discuss it with your pediatrician if you have concerns. The diagnosis is scary, but it is also very helpful. Knowing is better, and early intervention can make a huge difference. The therapies are not one size fits all, so you likely will need to experiment. A diagnosis should qualify for services from your school district (even as preschoolers) and the trend is toward insurance coverage. And you will not be alone.

What's the best thing you've read in recent memory? Describe it as though you were trying to convince someone else that they should read it.

I rarely read anymore, so I am not going to be much help here. My daughter has read chapters of the Harry Potter series to me, so maybe that counts. Hermione Granger is a badass role model for girls. She is the real hero of the series, except Rowlings has to keep coming up with stupid obstacles to sideline her and keep the focus on Harry. Harry's one real useful skill is that Voldemort cannot kill him (for reasons that Harry had nothing to do with except for being born), so he is essentially more of a weapons delivery system than hero. Ron is useless, except for moral support. I bet Hermione and that Neville kid could have figured out how to kill Voldemort in five books if Harry was not always slowing them down.

The strengths of Hermione in the Harry Potter series surely and thankfully owe to the gender of its author. Let's take a trip back to when you had free time for things like reading. What was your reading life like in those halcyon days? To what genres and/or authors did you gravitate?

I read quite a bit of Vonnegut and Hemingway during my late teens to mid-20s. They are two men's men, but their writing takes the complete opposite approach in how they examine their own vulnerability from never recovering from the horrors of war.

We all have a long list of stupid shit that we've done. What's the dumbest thing you've done?

Skipping the usual and boring stupid drunk things, one of my more embarrassing misfortunes was when I was sitting at the very top of a large, steep lecture hall and realized I could not wait to go to the bathroom. I got up and started walking down the stairs. But I had a piece of gum or something else gross and sticky stuck to the bottom of my shoe, so there was a loud "squeak" with every step. The lecturer had to stop and the room became completely silent, except for the squeaks. At the bottom, I gave a courtesy "my bad" hand gesture and walked out the door as the lecture hall erupted in laughter.

Describe yourself in three sentences or less.

I like baseball and talking about baseball and sometimes TV and other middle-brow pop culture, except music. I am a shameless know-it-all, but I try to pick my spots.

Wait, I thought you were a music guy. Am I mistaken, or do you just dislike talking about music?

I was into the music scene until my mid-20s. When I got a real job, I slowly stopped keeping up on the ever changing scene. I always found it difficult to talk about music beyond what I liked or did not like, as I am not a musician and lack any real "inside" knowledge. I also found the "your favorite band sucks/you've never even heard of my favorite band" vibe off-putting. But then my taste does tend toward the mainstream. Sometimes REM sounds better than the indie bands they inspired. I still enjoy music, but just not talking about it much.

As for TV, what shows other than WKRP get you going? With limited free time for such non-vital activities, are you someone who throws just one more episode of something on, or do you opt for a good night's sleep?

I watched untold hours of TV growing up. I loved Barney Miller, Starsky and Hutch, All in the Family, Taxi, Cheers, and even crap I knew was kind of stupid like Happy Days, Diff'rent Strokes, and Gilligan's Island. Any Bob Newhart. Mary Tyler Moore and Dick Van Dyke reruns. Police Squad and Night Court were ahead of their time in the way that they could sneak so much absurdity and self-referential humor into a network show. I am roughly Bill Simmons's age, so I have the shared fascination with early SNL. I watched Newsradio and Seinfeld from the beginning. I loved the brief period when still-in-their-prime The Office, 30 Rock, Parks and Rec, and Community aired on the same night. Arrested Development might be my second favorite show of all time. For the more serious stuff, nothing captured my imagination like Twin Peaks, although The Wire, Mad Men, Deadwood, and The Sopranos were better shows. But The Simpsons is, and will forever be, the greatest show of all time (last decade notwithstanding). This is not fresh ground for anyone, but there it is. In college, I briefly considered dropping out and trying to get hired as a Simpsons writer. From what I know now about myself and the industry, I was smart not to follow that dream.

As for finding time, I go back and forth on sleep. Some nights I fall asleep when I put the kids to bed. But if I am relatively rested or if it is a Friday or Saturday night, I will stay up late to clear some room on the DVR. I try to limit the number of different show I watch at any one time. When one ends, I pick up a new one. For example, after Parks and Rec ended, I tried out Fresh Off the Boat and Last Man on Earth. Veep will replace them later this spring. When The Americans ends (which, by the way, might be the best thing on TV right now), the final season of Mad Men will be waiting. Game of Thrones will replace Walking Dead (the closest I have to a hate watch). If there is down time with currently airing shows, I go back and watch shows I might have missed in part or in full. Going back and watching Archer and Louie, in particular, from the start was a treat since I came to those shows late and had only watched a handful of episodes from the first couple of seasons. Sure, TV is not high art, but it is accessible for me and probably going through a golden period right now.

What Royals Reviewer would you be most interested to meet in person? Why?

I would have a good time talking with devil_fingers about Veronica Mars and reminiscing about freaking out when Fangraphs first made wOBA and UZR freely available. If you and Nighthawk ever do Wordy Old Men talking about WKRP in Cincinnati, I am game for a guest appearance.

Is there anything we haven't covered that you'd like to put out there for the commentariat?

I would just add a quick note of appreciation to the RR community and to OMD for giving me a platform to shine a little light on autism.