"It's not the pitcher's and catcher's fault that the players don't know how to run," says the voice on the radio. "If you're hitting a base hit and you can't make it to first base, that's an upset, especially if you're bunting the ball. You can't even make it to first base without being called out?"
Six in the morning is not too early to bitch about the Royals.
"You gotta beat it," the caller continues. "You gotta beat the bag every day. Gotta focus. They're thinking it's about the money and we're gonna be all right, but the Royals gotta work on their speed."
The voice belongs not to some grizzled bar-stool jockey but to 25-year-old Ray Ulberg. He's known as "Crazy Ray" on The D.A. Show, which fills the 5:30 to 9 a.m. slot on KCSP 610 (610 Sports). And though his voice sounds old, what he says is childlike.
"I just like running the bases," he says. "I like beating the bag at first, like [legendary base stealer and former Royal] Tom Goodwin."
Ray keeps the show's host, Damon Amendolara, on his toes. "His calls are like skiing down a mountain with no poles in the middle of trees," says Amendolara, known to listeners as D.A. "Breakneck turns, you might crash, you're gonna have to make a quick left, dodge this tree, dodge this rock, but you don't know where you're going. In the middle of an idea, he's going to go every which way."
Ray is unpredictable, but his calls never make the station scramble to bleep him during the seven-second delay between what's live and what's broadcast.
"Does not swear. Never offensive. Never offensive," D.A. says of Ray.
Never offensive — except to the listeners who don't know that Crazy Ray is real.
"I thought he was goofing on slow people. It pissed me off at first," says Jim Sawyer, the one-eyed bartender at Dos Hombres.
The Mexican restaurant in the River Market serves as a meeting place for frequent callers to The D.A. Show. On a recent all-you-can-eat taco night, regular callers are gathered around the bar, where a large, mounted buffalo head keeps watch over rows of amber bottles of tequila.
"I have a cousin who's slow," Sawyer continues. "But then, when he [Crazy Ray] came in here, and I went and said hi to him, I realized it's not an act."
Several of D.A.'s callers adopt alter egos. One guy speaks in a Christopher Walken impression. Another, Jimmy the Freak, does what D.A. characterizes, for lack of a better description, as "the angry black man." Wolverine Willy sings classic rock songs rewritten with sports-related twists ("Husker Fan" to the tune of "Piano Man").
"Everyone thought Crazy Ray was a character," a D.A. Show regular nicknamed Lobos chimes in. "But he's just a real sports fan."
Lobos is an officer with the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department. Also at Dos Hombres this night are Commander, an appliance repairman, and a guy who calls himself Main Street Moron. Other regulars are Show-Me Mo, BBJ (Big Black Jeff), Vigilante and a woman in law school who calls herself Lawyer Lovelace. D.A. inducts some frequent callers into his Caller Hall of Fame each November.
The station's employees consider themselves underdogs. D.A.'s drive-time competition is The Border Patrol, hosted by Steven St. John and Nate Bukaty, on WHB 810. The D.A. Show whipped The Border Patrol in ratings once, during the fall of 2005, but has trailed ever since.
Which makes D.A.'s callers small-time celebrities on the second-place radio station, where they talk about some of the most disappointing teams in pro sports.
The conversation pauses as all eyes drift to an ESPN scoreboard on the TV above the bar. Royals 0, Cleveland Indians 1.
Commander says he first met Crazy Ray two years ago at Municipal Auditorium, where the University of Missouri-Kansas City men's basketball team was playing a game and D.A. was broadcasting. Ray came running up to Commander with his driver's license held out in front of him — the "Non-Driver" designation clearly visible — and proclaimed, "I'm Crazy Ray!"
Sports radio has rules.
"There are sports-talk handbooks that say don't put kids on the air, don't put women on the air, and don't put anybody on the air that might sound like they're crazy or doesn't have a good point or isn't coherent," D.A. says. "And 610 has always been about, if you have time to call us, we're going to put you on the air."
Ray started calling D.A.'s show in December 2005, in the weeks leading up to Super Bowl XL. In that game, the Pittsburgh Steelers faced the Seattle Seahawks.
"He called me up because he's of Samoan background and he's very proud of that, and there were two Samoan players in that game, Troy Polamalu for the Steelers and Lofa Tatupu for the Seahawks," D.A. recalls. "And he just burst upon the scene like a comet. I mean, at one point, we had no Crazy Ray, and a week later, everyone knew who he was."
Associate Producer Jonah Ballow is The D.A. Show's call screener. He was the first to put Ray through.
"I grew up listening to Howard Stern, and I'm a huge Stern fan, so I realize the comedy in the little spark you can get from callers like that," Ballow says.
Ray's name on D.A.'s list of waiting callers became a running joke. D.A. would take the call, wonder how Ray got past the screener and pretend to berate Ballow for being fooled again.
D.A.: Roy is on his cell phone. Good morning, Roy, you're on The D.A. Show.
RAY (trying to make his voice different, and failing): Good morning, D.A.
D.A.: How are you, Roy?
RAY: This is Roy. One letter away from Ray.
D.A.: Wait a second! This is Crazy Ray!
RAY: Good morning, D.A., how are you today?
D.A.: Why did you trick us?
RAY: We just left Wal-Mart, and I asked where David Glass was.
D.A.: Wait a second, Roy, Ray, Raymond, Samoan, how did you trick us?
RAY: I was wondering if you'd like to go to, I'd like to request a place for you to go on your vacation next week. Why not the island of Western Samoa, Paradise? You can go and swim for free. I want to talk about the coincidence about the Kansas City Royals baseball. Hello?
D.A.'s affection for his callers deviates from the standard sports-talk-radio format. In bigger markets or on nationally syndicated sports-radio shows like The Jim Rome Show (which broadcasts on 610), hosts ridicule their callers, debate them or hang up on them if they don't get to the point quickly.
"Ray-Ray knows his rosters. He definitely watches his sports and knows his history of teams," D.A. says. "Are his takes usually accurate? Well, it depends. I mean, arguing about sports is usually just an exercise in entertainment. Two totally credible people could see the same game, play or player two different ways. But for the most part, Ray is in the vicinity."
In 2003, the Chiefs went undefeated for the first 10 games of the season. That year, Ray's brother Joe and some of Joe's friends took him to his first Chiefs game out of town, at Cincinnati's Paul Brown Stadium. Ray wore his Tony Gonzalez jersey, which the home crowd didn't appreciate. Bengals fans heckled number 88 and jeered Ray.
"We were losing at the time, so they were yelling, and Ray took it personal," says Joe, now 31. "I told him, you know, it's not personal — everyone's having fun. But Ray couldn't differentiate."
Joe ended up getting between Ray and a Bengals fan. "I grabbed somebody, I think, around the neck, and I pushed Ray out of the way," he says, grinning at the memory. "We took Ray back to the hotel and got him some ice cream or whatever, and we went back to the game."
The Chiefs lost, 24-19.
Joe is sitting with his father, Joe Ulberg Sr., in the airy living room of Joe Jr.'s house in Independence. The elder Ulberg is wearing a blue Hawaiian shirt, and his strong, tan calf muscles bulge below wide-legged shorts. A green expanse of golf course beams from a flat-screen TV on mute. Ulberg speaks softly, with a gentle Samoan accent.
"He was about 2 years old when we got him," Ulberg says of Ray. "We were foster parents."
Someone had discovered Ray wandering alone around Kansas City International Airport, eating discarded french fries, and reported him to the Missouri Department of Social Services.
Joe Jr. remembers Ray's caseworker saying that Ray's birth parents were homeless and mildly retarded, living in boxcars. When Ray went to live with the Ulbergs, he was skinny and had to be taught not to pick through the garbage when he was hungry. Eventually, the family adopted him. The Ulbergs say they don't know where Ray's birth parents are.
Ulberg came to the United States from the Samoan Islands when he was 18. He landed in Compton, California, but eventually moved to Independence, where, according to the 2000 U.S. Census, .4 percent of the population is Samoan. He served in the U.S. Army and competed as a boxer, entering Tough Man and Golden Gloves competitions before meeting his wife, Carol, and having two sons, Joe and Jason.
When Ray was 8, Ulberg sent him to Samoa for a year, where he learned traditional dances and customs.
Now, at local Samoan celebrations, Ray is "the only white boy that does the dances," Ulberg says. "Raymond will lay down so the girl can step on him — it's a culture thing. Raymond's real good about Samoan customs. It makes me happy. I like it. Better than these guys, Jason and Joe. They don't as much. They just come over and get the food and go." He laughs.
Ulberg raised all three boys to love sports. He's friends with Dan Saleaumua, a Samoan who played defensive nose tackle for the Chiefs in the late 1980s and early '90s. When Saleaumua came over to the Ulbergs' house for feasts, he'd bring other Samoan players, such as former Chiefs running back Christian Okoye and San Diego Chargers linebacker Junior Seau (who's now with the New England Patriots).
Ray went to William Chrisman High School in Independence and spent part of his time in the special-education program there. But Ulberg says he never sought a diagnosis for his son's disability. He thinks of Ray as a 25-year-old who, in his own mind, is still a kid.
Like his brother Jason (who is 30), Ray still lives at home. He has a job loading trucks for UPS. At first, his father didn't approve of his radio notoriety.
"I just kind of figured he might say the wrong thing and, you know, bother the people at the radio station," Ulberg says. "I said, 'You can call at times, but don't call all the time. They will probably think that something's wrong with you.'"
That concern is justified. Ray once found a phone number for Santa Claus' workshop. Joe Jr. says his adopted brother calls it every day.
"I don't know what they think whenever he calls, because he sounds so much older," Joe says. "He always calls to talk about his nephews and how they've been good, and Santa should bring them lots of stuff."
But Ray is no longer the skinny kid he was when the Ulbergs adopted him. He has a youthful face, and his buzz-cut black hair and tan complexion help him pass as a Samoan.
Ray knows his nickname isn't an insult. Of his role on the show, he says, "I made them laugh a lot, with a lot of the crazy stuff I said. That's why he [D.A.] called me Crazy Ray. I'm not really crazy — but we're all crazy a little bit."
He blames some Royals players for "stealing from the company" — taking a paycheck but not pulling enough weight. He thinks that the often-injured Mike Sweeney, who just underwent knee surgery, cheats the Royals by not stretching properly before games and hurting himself.
In Ray's opinion, the Royals and the Chiefs could do better if they simply had more self-confidence. He likes to think that his calls to The D.A. Show light a fire under the players.
That's what he was trying to do last spring when he coined a song about Royals Manager Buddy Bell.
He can ring his own bell-ll-ll, go back to Taco Bell, Ray sang on the air, to the tune of Anita Ward's "Ring My Bell." Go back to Taco Bell, get up, get out of my town, you stupid Bell.
The song was Ray's ticket to the big time.
In the spring of 2006, a man called D.A. to report that a guy had walked into his auto-repair shop off Interstate 70 in Independence and asked to use the phone. The guy had bickered with someone on the phone, then hung up. The mechanic asked if he needed a ride somewhere. "No, my dad's gonna come pick me up," he said.
"Why were you walking along the highway?" the mechanic asked.
"I just got in a fight with my brother, and he dropped me off in the middle of the highway," the guy answered. Eventually, he walked out of the auto shop, and a car came along and picked him up.
"I was listening to the voice, like, where have I heard that?" the mechanic told D.A. "And then it struck me — it was Crazy Ray."
Joe Jr. called D.A. the next day to clarify that it was Ray's other brother, Jason, who had left Ray on the highway. "I would never do that to Ray," Joe said.
Last June, D.A. and his technical crew started putting carousel music behind Ray's calls. Ray didn't appreciate it.
That was clear when Ray paid a visit to the Army recruiting office on Noland Road and told Staff Sgt. Paul Piper that he wanted to enlist. Piper handed him the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery.
Piper thought his voice sounded familiar. "You're Crazy Ray from The D.A. Show, right?"
Ray said yes, then explained that he didn't like 610 anymore because the station made fun of him and played music when he talked.
The next morning, Piper called in to report the sighting.
"He spent probably an hour here," Piper said. "He took a test, ate a doughnut. We talked. It was kind of cool."
"How'd he do?" D.A. asked him.
"Not so well," Piper said. Everyone laughed.
The next time Ray called in, D.A. asked him if it was true that he didn't like 610 anymore.
"You made fun of me," Ray said. "I wasn't in the mood at the time. But I like you guys."
A week later, Ray told listeners that he'd received a letter from the Royals, inviting him to the team's open tryouts in Liberty.
"Wait a minute, Crazy Ray. You're telling me Kansas City actually invited you down for a professional tryout?" D.A. asked.
"Yep. And not just me. My brother, too."
"What position do you plan on trying out for?"
"Well," Ray said, "I'm gonna try out for catcher, but I'm always good at infield. I can catch. I can throw. I don't know if I can hit it real hard, but I can hit it deep, and I can also run. My favorite hobby is running. I told you how I like to beat the bag at first. I told you how I like to steal bases."
"Now, Crazy Ray, how much baseball have you played in your lifetime?"
"I played a lot of street ball. I played a lot of hotbox. Hotbox is a warm-up as when home plate and third base is trying to tag somebody out."
"Now, Crazy Ray, last week you tried out for the Army. That didn't go so well. Now you're gonna try out for the Royals. What else are you gonna try out for?"
"When I tried out for the Army, I was trying to get Osama. There's a big reward out. Why not? You know, Crazy Ray is wanting to be something of himself, and he's not also crazy. He just wants to know where he'll fit. You know, he's a young man."
"I love it when you talk in the third person," D.A. said.
"I'm talking in a normal tone of voice, and I think your show is really great. Your show has made me so famous. Somebody at Oceans of Fun was, like, 'Are you familiar with 610 Sports? You crack me up all the time.'"
"Well, Crazy Ray, I'll tell you what. If you try out for the Royals, I swear I will be there."
D.A. brought his remote equipment to Liberty. His show aired live from the tryouts at William Jewell College on July 17, 2006.
Joe Jr. drove Ray to the field. Joe Sr. stayed home and listened on the radio. He was nervous for Ray.
Ray wasn't wearing cleats or any of the professional gear that the other hopefuls were wearing. Seeing all the other guys professionally outfitted and stretching on the field, Ray felt panicky. He kept running back and forth from the field to the locker rooms, hoping for a moment alone so he could collect his thoughts and do some stretches. But the locker rooms were never empty.
Ray realized that he hadn't brought a batting helmet. The Royals' staffers lent him a navy-blue helmet and let him go first in the batting cages, throwing him underhand pitches.
"I whacked them all away," Ray says. "I mean, I hit every single pitch."
Afterward, the Royals offered him four free tickets to a game.
"I don't need tickets. I need to be on the team," Ray says he told them.
Instead, last November, he was inducted into The D.A. Show's Caller Hall of Fame.
Joe Jr. drove him to Paddy O'Quigley's, a massive Irish pub in Lee's Summit, at 7 a.m. for D.A.'s broadcast. It was freezing-cold, and Ray was wearing nothing but a lava lava — the traditional towel that Samoan dancers wear around their waists. He made his grand entrance doing a Samoan slap dance in which the moves mimic the motion of slapping mosquitoes off skin. Ray called it the Samoan Stomp.
"Joe told me to expect something big when Ray came in, but I didn't realize it was going to be that big," D.A. recalls.
On a miserable evening for baseball, 10,513 fans take their seats at Kauffman Stadium. Many are wearing straw cowboy hats that were free at the gates.
The team has come into this series against the Chicago White Sox after sweeping the Los Angeles Angels, who previously had the best record in baseball. The Royals beat the White Sox in the first game. The streak makes June the Royals' first winning month since July 2003.
Ray buys an armful of food from a counter inside the concourse: two hot dogs, two chocolate Frosty Freezes, a large soda. The cashier is patient as Ray orders and pays for each item one at a time.
Titanic drops of water from the upper deck smash against Ray's Royals jersey. He barely notices. From his seat behind home plate, he cheers for catcher Jason LaRue like a 300-level fan at Arrowhead.
"Don't sweat it, LaRue," he yells as LaRue bobbles and scrambles for the ball. "He's already on," he says of the White Sox player safe at second.
"The White Sox are struggling this year," Ray says. "Ozzie Guillen's a good manager, but the Royals have been beating good teams."
When the Royals come up to bat, Mark Teahen gets to first. Esteban German bunts him to second, but David DeJesus draws the third out when he hits the ball straight to the third baseman. Disgusted, Ray leaves to get a hamburger.
"I know him from William Chrisman," announces a guy seated in the row behind Ray. He has an eyebrow ring. Most of his teeth have crumbled into nubs. He sits with a woman wearing a Royals hat over long pigtails. He says his name is Jeffrey Cook, and he graduated in 1999, the same year as Ray. He rolls his eyes in the direction of Ray's empty seat.
"Ask him about theater class," he says. "He was mad because he didn't get the lead in the play, so he walked into practice butt-ass naked. Swear. He was the number-one or -two kid who was always in trouble at Chrisman."
"And you weren't?" asks the woman next to him.
"That's how I know he was," Cook shoots back. "We were both always in ISS" — in-school suspension.
Ray returns, double-fisting Dixie cups of Pepsi that he begged off the vendors.
"Throw a strike next time!" he yells at pitcher Jimmy Gobble. The next hitter nails a ball right to shortstop Tony Peña Jr., who makes a balletic diving catch.
Everyone jumps to their feet to cheer, and Ray turns around to bump fists with Cook. Then Ray high-fives a middle-aged guy in a seat directly behind him who has been making frequent trips to the concourse for glasses of wine.
"Another one, Billy! Keep happenin'," he yells to Billy Butler when the Royals are back at bat. Butler strikes out. A White Sox player catches Jason LaRue's next hit. Ray gets up again, this time for cotton candy, and doesn't return for a while.
"He's probably walking in a circle somewhere down there," Cook says. "That's what he did in gym class. When we played dodgeball? He walked in a circle. When we played football? He walked in a circle."
High school, for Ray and Cook, was eight years ago. He doesn't seem to know that Ray has since made a name for himself.
Ray comes back with a bowl of Dippin' Dots. "I'm starting to get bored since we're losing," he says. The score is Sox 1, Royals 0. Ray's Royals cowboy hat is beginning to look mangled.
"Time to tee up, Teahen," the guy with the wine yells behind Ray. Teahen pops a fly for an out.
Emil Brown is up. His hit rockets over outstretched gloves and beyond the green left-field wall. The fountains and fireworks spring into action. Ray finds new energy in the cheering crowd and the tied score.
He yells at the next batter, Alex Gordon.
"Hey, Alex, if he hits you, you know what to do! Charge the mound!"
Gordon gets a strike. "Come on, ump, that's a fair ball," Ray yells, fully knowing that it wasn't. Butler, up next, causes a double play, good for the remaining two outs.
The Royals put in pitcher Joakim Soria, who doesn't look confident.
"Go out there, Buddy Bell, and talk to your pitcher! The bullpen's that way!"
Ray admits that he was a bigger Royals fan in 2000. That year, he walked to the stadium from his dad's house near Noland Road and I-70 — with a broken ankle from jumping on the trampoline. A ticket taker at the gate let him in for free.
Soria strikes out a White Sox player. The next two batters get on base.
"That's OK," Cook yells. Two runners on, two outs.
"Sure, that's OK," Ray says irritably. "We'll just lose the ballgame."
Soria strikes out the batter. "We're gonna win it!" Cook sings. Ray waves his hat, now just a tattered piece of straw. The game is tied in the bottom of the ninth.
Up to bat, the Royals earn two quick outs. The White Sox change pitchers. Brown steps up to the plate. Ray stands up to yell, and the wine drinker behind him tugs on his shirt. "Yell louder, but sit down," he says.
But Brown's the third out. As the tied game goes to 10 innings, people get up to leave, including Cook and the pigtailed woman.
"Buddy Bell, you suck!" Ray hollers at the field.
"Hey," slurs the wine drinker. "Buddy Bell's a personal friend of mine. I can't have anyone talking bad about my friends. Not on a Saturday night in Kansas City."
Ray twists to face him in his seat, his mangled hat smashed down on his head. "I batted about a thousand when I tried out," he tells the man.
"Whatever that means," the wine drinker says with a shrug. He points at Ray's hat and compares it to his, which is still dry and resembles a cowboy hat rather than a wadded mat of straw.
Ray takes his hat off, looks at it. "You've got it inside out," the woman next to the drunk guy says.
"I'm out of here," Ray says, jumping out of his seat and up the stairs to the exits.
"Did he start partying early in the day?" the wine drinker wonders.
Royals pitcher Octavio Dotel throws a pitch to Tadahito Iguchi with two runners on base, and the White Sox go ahead 3 to 1. The sky threatens to rain hard again.
Ray makes it out to the gate leading to the parking lot, somehow trading the destroyed cowboy hat for three brand-new ones on the way. His anger has already melted off.
"I didn't like it in there," he admits with a big grin. "That guy was kind of a jerk to me. So was the one I knew from high school. There are a lot of jerks in there. He was making fun of my hat because it didn't look like his. I'm not a hat expert."
He shrugs. "I don't like the Royals," he says. "I'm much more a Chiefs fan."
As he exits the stadium, the gate guy recognizes him and waves. "Hi, Ray!"
It's the same gate worker who let him in free back when he walked to the stadium with a broken ankle. He knows Kansas City's craziest fan in person, not from the radio.
"Nah," the guy says. "I listen to 810."