1. Kansas City, Missouri
After breakfast near the hotel in Kansas City, Kansas, we decided to explore downtown Kansas City, Missouri. High cloudiness started to filter the strong early August sunshine, and even though it was still early, we were seeing all the hallmarks of a hot and humid day in the heartland of America.
While researching resources for this blog post, I was HORRIFIED to discover that I could not locate the pictures I took in Kansas City, MO. Somewhere among my many moves, failed hard drives and incomplete backups, I apparently lost irreplaceable memories of our exploration. Unfortunately, a quick description of what we saw cannot replace the images I took.
Our first stop was East Kansas City, in the Vine Street area. Rife with history, it was clear that this portion of Kansas City was in recovery, whose best days were decades before. Unable to locate 12th Street and Vine (made popular in the song Kansas City by Wilbert Harrison), we strolled through this historic section of the city.
Along the way, we discovered the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, located at 1616 East 18th Street. Not knowing precisely what to expect, we found an amazing collection of history and memorabilia chronicling the story of the Negro Leagues from its beginnings into the early 1950s. While we were enthralled by the rich history of the league, by far my favorite display was the wax figures of the Negro Leagues stars arranged on a mock playing field.
Standing next to the life sized wax figures, I realized that the players were smaller in stature than I imagined, yet their presence was definitely larger than life. We spent nearly two hours in the museum, and we could have easily spent two more wandering among history, but the gates at Kauffman Stadium were about to open, so we cut our visit short. If you are even a casual baseball fan, you owe it to yourself for visit the museum if you are in the Kansas City area.
2. Kauffman Stadium
Following our visit to East Kansas City, we drove to Kauffman Stadium, home of the Royals. which took about 15 minutes. Kauffman Stadium is co located with Arrowhead Stadium, home of the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, as part of the Truman Sports Complex. Both stadiums are surrounded by large parking lots, with hotels and restaurants located beyond the complex. These stadiums were constructed during a time when other cities opted for multi-purpose stadiums, and the baseball-only Kauffman Stadium (commonly referred to as the “K”) opened in 1973.
We arrived at the complex just about as the gates opened at Kauffman Stadium, which gave us ample time to explore our surroundings. Arriving as early as we did, we had our choice of parking spaces, which cost a reasonable $10.00. Hazy sunshine brought with it hot and humid conditions, which limited our exploration to some degree. We first explored the outside of Arrowhead Stadium, which is a football-only facility. Unfortunately, we were much too early in the season to catch a Chiefs game.
We next focused our attention on the outside of Kauffman Stadium. Though this was my brother’s first visit to the home of the Royals, I had been here many times before. My employer had a training center in Kansas City, and we were housed at a Holiday Inn just across the street from the complex. Naturally, I visited Kauffman Stadium (which was called Royals Stadium in those days) as often as possible while I was in town. In fact, I first visited the park when it featured an AstroTurf surface, which was replaced by natural grass in 1995.
Though it had been a number of years since I’d attended a game here, it did not appear as though much had changed. Located just outside the park were statues of Royals greats. George Brett (perhaps the greatest Royal of all) crouched in his easily recognizable batting stance greeted fans as they walked up from the immense parking lot. Native son Frank White was also immortalized is stone outside the park.
The heat and humidity cut short our tour of the outside of the stadium, so we entered the park through the main entrance behind home plate. Clearing the main concourse, I could see that indeed very little had changed since my last visit. Kauffman Stadium was dignified in its simplicity, eschewing some of the trappings of “newer” MLB parks constructed within the past decade.
We wandered through the stadium, exploring the lower levels. Unfortunately, the right centerfield section of the park, where the iconic fountains reside (as well as the video and score boards), was not accessible on the concourse. In order to enjoy these sights, we headed back toward home plate. Kauffman Stadium was, compared to some of the newer MLB parks, uncluttered and almost elegant, which I found to be both attractive and refreshing.
Following our tour of the ballpark, we headed for the main concession stand behind home plate. The heat and humidity had taken a toll on me, and I was in need of hydration. While there many places to get something to eat at Kauffman Stadium, which not surprisingly featured beef and pork products, we chose more standard ballpark fare. With hot dogs, pretzels and drinks in hand, we made our way toward our seats. We were able to secure seats near the top of the lower level, just to the left of home plate.
Settling into our seats just before game time, we noticed that the crowd for the early evening start was fairly sparse. Perhaps it was the fact that the Royals were not competitive, or that the game time was 610 PM on a Sunday, but Kauffman Stadium was not quite half full by the time the first pitch was thrown. In fact, less than 18,000 fans attended the game, despite the warm and hazy conditions,
The hometown Royals hosted the Anaheim Angels for the final game of the three game set, with the first pitch scheduled for 610 PM CDT. Both teams were in the midst of disappointing seasons, especially the Royals, who had the second worst record in baseball. Taking the ball for the visiting Angels was right hander John Lackey, who was the workhorse of the Anaheim starting rotation. Starting the Royals was right hander Mike Wood. The 23 year old was struggling through a tough 2004 campaign, with an ERA over 5.00.
Both teams scored in the first inning, and I was beginning to wonder if we were in for a slugfest, given the mediocre starting pitching combined with warm and humid conditions. Each team scored runs in the fifth inning, and what I though might be an offensive outburst had turned into a tight ballgame. Even with the scoring, the nearly pinpoint control of the starting pitchers (who walked only one batter a piece). kept the contest moving at a brisk pace through the first six innings.
During the game, I found my attention captured by the foundations in right centerfield. Dubbed the Water Spectacular, it is the largest privately owned fountain system in the world. Among the fountains are waterfalls and cascades, which keeps the water in nearly continuous motion before and after games, as well as in between innings. Having seen the waterfalls on TV for decades, they seemed more majestic in person, particularly when backlit during night games.
With the Royals ahead 4-3 in the top of the ninth innings, Kansas City brought in right hander Nate Field to nail down the victory. However, Field did not have it this night, surrendering a solo home run to Angels LF Jose Guillen, which tied the score. A combination of Angels hits and Royals errors allows the visitors to tack on two more runs to take a 6-4 lead. Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez (K-Rod) shut the door on the Royals in the bottom of the ninth, striking out two while earning his eighth save of the season.
While waiting for the sparse Royals crowd to thin out before leaving, I took one final look at Kauffman Stadium. This park has always been one of my favorites, based primarily on the fact that it was simple yet elegant. Good use of space, the fountains and the unobtrusive scoreboard and video board produced a GREAT place to see a ballgames.
Since we last visited Kauffman Stadium, there have been a LOT of changes, not all of which appear to have improved the experience. Based solely on what I have seen on TV and in pictures, the “K” does not seem to be as appealing as it once was, as ownership seems to believe exchanging simplicity for extra amenities was a good idea. As much as I enjoyed Kansas City and the baseball atmosphere there, I am not sure I am as excited to go back to Kauffman Stadium as I was to visit in the past.