NOTE: Here is the sixth in a series of Features describing the author’s first visits to various MLB ballparks around the country; this will be the last to come from the author’s recent cross-country trip to Pennsylvania and back to the Bay Area. (Conditions permitting, there will be further posts on viewing games at the local parks in Oakland and San Francisco.) Having enjoyed a sweltering blowout in Cincinnati, your correspondent headed west through St. Louis and across Missouri to Kansas City for a Monday night game between the Boston Red Sox and the homestanding Royals on June 19th.
A big part of what inspired a desire to travel across the country and take in games at major league ballparks along the way was, naturally, the proliferation of new stadiums across the baseball landscape. By my count, more than half the ball clubs now play in parks that were built from the mid-1990s and onward. If you’re a baseball fan, you want to play with the shiny new toys, right?
Well, the people in Kansas City would seem to want to say, “Not so fast.” Because it turns out, they have a pretty good stadium there in the Truman Sports Complex, and despite its age, Kauffman Stadium still presents the fan with a terrific place to watch a major league ball game.
At least some of the appeal of Kauffman Stadium as a venue for baseball must come from the major renovation the building saw in 2009. Yet, one must also acknowledge that part of the reason that the renovated park works so well for today’s visitors surely comes from the beauty and excellence of the original design. As a first time visitor, it’s hard to really tell how much of what you have there today is original structure and how much owes its existence (and beauty, and utility) to the recent refurbishment; one can only admire the result that stands there now–and there is much to admire.
Having seen many a game from Kansas City on television over the years, I can attest that most of the main structure of the stadium seems to be largely as the original building stood. That is something of a marvel, for while the park looks large–the grandstand along the lines has a large footprint, and the upper deck is tall and fairly massive–the experience of the fan in his seat retains the sort of intimacy that a baseball park must have for a good time watching a game. Though I sat in the stadium’s upper deck–seven rows up from the railing, in a three-seat row that I shared with exactly no one–my view of the infield seemed close enough that the action never felt far away.
“…the people of Kansas City were wise enough to appreciate what they already had and make it better when necessary.”
But before I got to my seat (with the standard meal of a hot dog and nachos plus soda), I enjoyed a stroll around the park’s main-level concourse, a walk that takes the visitor on a circumnavigation of the entire building–no blocked off sections there in KC–and in particular through what are clearly the new additions to the renovated park: an outfield concourse that is packed with concessions and bars/restaurants, and a little bit of local history, too.
Statues of local heroes like George Brett occupy places of honor along the main walkway, which also takes interested parties to the Royals Hall of Fame, where honorees such as Brett, Frank White, Dick Howser, and other local luminaries get their due. In addition to providing a venue for the Hall of Fame and the amenities, the outfield concourse is simply an enjoyable place to take a stroll–plus it offers a number of interesting vantage points on a stadium that is still elegantly designed and beautiful, despite its advanced age and the lack of the architectural features that have come to embody the new wave of parks.
I finished my walkabout through the main concourse and rode the escalator up to my section (access throughout the stadium is well-thought out and thoroughly modern), where I purchased my dinner and took to my seat. The footlong dog was excellent, though it turned out that the bun was not up to the challenge of holding that impressively-sized sausage (no points deducted for that; it was all destined to be torn apart anyway). The nachos featured another bagged serving of chips, a la Anaheim, though the portion nevertheless seemed about right; even so, the cheese was poured out fresh and there were plentiful jalapeños at the condiment table, so one hardly felt cheated by the bagged experience. (I’d still prefer my chips shoveled out into the container directly.)
As noted above, my seat was not that far from the upper deck’s bottom edge, and situated just to the third base side of home plate, so the view of the game action was fine and felt close by. When I bought my ticket, I expressed a preference for a middle seat, and the salesperson accommodated my brilliantly, setting me in a short row of three seats. Apparently, neither seat on either side of me was sold that night, so I had a good look at the action and plenty of elbow room to boot.
And action there was. Unlike the desultory experience in Cincinnati with the currently pathetic Reds, the Royals–a season and a half removed from a World Series championship–remain a good team, and that made a huge difference in the quality of the game I got to see during my visit. KC has enough talent to put up a fight against a team like the Red Sox, and the home team demonstrated that fact when first baseman Eric Hosmer took one deep in the third inning to give the locals a 2-0 lead.
The BoSox came right back to tie the game at two the next inning courtesy a Jackie Bradley home run. I confess: I missed it because I went out to the concourse in search of ice cream. I did eventually find a Dippin’ Dots stand, as well as a bit of scenery worthy of a picture outside the park.
A fine looking sunset was just one of many attractive sights to be seen both in and around the park. (Memo to horndogs: based on the impressions gleaned from a little crowd-watching during one night game visit–and as befits a Midwest city of healthy, corn-fed children–the Kansas City metro area is apparently drowning in beautiful girls. Sorry, no visual evidence; I didn’t want to get arrested.) After a few moments spent taking in the scene on the walkway, I took my ice cream back to my seat and settled in to watch the rest of the game.
Ultimately, the Royals prevailed, taking a 4-2 lead on a couple of runs scratched out–in true Kansas City fashion, given the franchise’s history of emphasis on speed and defense–through good baserunning and timely hits by Whit Merrifield and Lorenzo Cain. Solid relief pitching by Mitch Minor and Kelvin Herrera out of the Royals’ bullpen closed out the Sox and sent the KC faithful home happy.
Not that they necessarily would have gone home in a foul mood even if the Royals had lost. One strong impression that came to this visitor to Kauffman Stadium was the notion that Kansas City fans are very good at having a very good time at the game. Royals fans may have the most fun of any fans at any MLB ballpark; they always seem to be enjoying themselves with the pre-game goings on, the between-innings entertainments, the game itself, and just happily walking along the concourse. Perhaps it was some championship afterglow (a similar vibe still lingers at AT&T Park…or at least it did until this year) that had the KC fans so giddy. Whatever was going on, they were liking it, and it made even a visitor enjoy himself that much more.
One last thing can not pass without comment: the one thing that’s slightly off about Kauffman Stadium is the “Crown Vision” video board in center field. Specifically, the screen’s vertical orientation creates certain limitations for what the control crew can do with their giant toy. This is especially true with replays; the boards in most parks nowadays are so big you get a really good look at any play that’s shown; the Royals’ board seems oddly small in comparison. It’s a minor complaint, to be sure, but it is noticeable enough to be worth mentioning.
All in all, Kauffman Stadium is an impressive place to watch a baseball game, particularly when you recognize that the park has been around–in at least some similar form–since 1973. In contrast with the major league sites that rushed to build brand new parks that were all tricked-out with a “new-old” feel, the people of Kansas City were wise enough to appreciate what they already had and make it better when necessary. There’s something to be said for that. Perhaps it’s, “Good going, and go Royals.” And thanks for a good time at a terrific place to see a game.
Previous “A View From The Park” posts:
Keep watching this space for future editions of the “A View From The Ballpark” series.