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Heartland of America Post #3, Kauffman Stadium

Like many baseball fans I have a dream to visit every major league ballpark. When I started looking into travel plans for this summer back in April, and we started planning where we might go to see the “Great American Eclipse of 2017,” we discovered the path of totality would pass very close to Kansas City and St. Louis. I’ve been to St. Louis before, but corwin hasn’t, and Kansas City is one of the last four parks I haven’t been to. So we set the plans in motion for a road trip that would start in KC and include eclipse viewing.

The day to see “The K” arrived, the August weather hot and humid, and we found ourselves caught in the Kansas City “rush hour,” meaning it took us 20 minutes to drive to the ballpark instead of the 10 minutes that Google Maps had told us the night before. We were supposed to arrive at 4:30 for the “early bird” experience to see Royals batting practice. We had paid an extra $12 to be early birds, but now we were going to be late birds.

I was concerned about this because I had emailed the Royals in advance to ask about the early bird experience, which we had paid for but hadn’t received separate tickets for. The tickets were all print-at-home and/or access through mobile app, and I had both, and even a parking voucher, but nothing anywhere that said Early Bird. The email I received in reply said the Early Bird entry was just part of our main game ticket but to make sure I was there at 4:30 since they would bring the early birds in and then close the gate again after 10-15 minutes.

Despite the traffic I thought we would make it within the 15 minute window, but I hadn’t realized it would take nearly ten minutes just to drive all the way around to the far side of the ballpark to the Early Bird designated parking lot, and then another ten minutes to walk to Gate A, where we had been told Early Birds could enter. As it turned out, that gate was also swarmed with “KU Nation” attendees, there to celebrate Kansas University sports who were set to enter at 5:30 and receive special hats.

As it also turned out, the email that said Early Bird entrance was baked into our game tickets was wrong. We were sent from the gate to anotehr ticket office where an eployee very apologetically printed out two more vouchers and explained that online tickets don’t work right, apparently. Then we returned to the gate and were let in. (Apparently the thing about having to arrive at 4:30 was also wrong and they were happy to let us in at 5pm.)

We were directed to the main seating bowl and told we could sit anywhere from the right field outfield by the foul pole around home plate to the Royals dugout. We chose to sit by the foul pole in the shade and enjoy the atmosphere. The sun was shining, the sky was gorgeous blue, and as long as we were in the shade and not moving around too much it was pleasantly hot. We’ve been hearing John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman go on and on about how great Kauffman Stadium is for years. I must say, they are not exaggerating.

I didn’t know the Royals well enough to be able to tell at that distance which hitter was in the cage. We mostly watched the pitchers trying to stand in the slim shadows of the light stanchions while shagging in the outfield. Two Cleveland pitchers were playing catch with a football to loosen up their arms. One of them would throw the ball every so often to a little boy in the stands. The boy weighed maybe forty pounds and was nearly knocked over by it, but he gleefully tossed it back (and had pretty good form, too).

At 5:30 the regular gates opened and we were freed to walk around the rest of the ballpark. We went first to the Royals Hall of Fame and they ushered us right into a cool, airconditioned theater designed to look like the Royals dugout with a screen the width of the whole dugout in front. A guy in a historic recreation 19th century baseball uniform told us he’d start the film as soon as we were seated. We took seats on the back bench and a movie about One Royal Way–the team philosophy and the way the World Champion Royals were built–began to play. The screen was triple width and multiple replay clips would play simultaneously with interview clips.

I felt like the movie was a tad long when I wanted to be out in the Royals museum looking at other cool stuff, but it was a very well done presentation and certainly if I’d been a Royals fan I think I would never tire of watching it. I remember being captivated by these Royals in their run where they fell short, and the next year the redemption story of them winning it all the very next year. Such a fun group of players with so many dramatic postseason twists and turns. They deserve full commemoration. So don’t take my impatience as indicative of the quality. It was pretty awesome.

What was even more awesome, though, was what a large, well-stocked baseball museum the Royals Hall of Fame is. In addition to Royals-specific displays, there were informative history displays about gloves, bats, balls, and other baseball history topics, and topics like the World Baseball Classic. One somber one is a memorial to pitcher Yordano Ventura, who was tragically killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic this past January.

Among the highlights: George Brett’s bat from his 3000th hit, along with the ball, in a display of balls in the shape of Brett’s number 5. I think it is supposed to be made from 3,154 balls which matches the number of hits Brett had at the end of his career. They’ve also got several Royals Cy Young awards, including David Cone’s (plus Paul Splitorff, Zack Greinke, and Bret Saberhagen). One case tells the story of the Royals Academy, a ground-breaking program for its time.

We would have spent more time in there but the crowd was getting kind of thick and there was a line to get in, plus we were feeling a little museum’ed-out, having been through both the Negro Leagues and the Jazz museums earlier in the day. It was time to go out and see what cool things there were to see in the ballpark itself.

How about a whole Royals-themed carousel? As well as a pee wee wiffle park where they were having each kid swing at four balls on a tee and then run the bases. There was an entire kids play area with pitch speed and other expected activities (and a kid-themed gift shop).

There was also ample seating in the outfield concourse area for eating. At one of the areas with picnic tables two very pretty young women were sitting at a draped table as if they were there to promote something or sell something. What struck me immediately was that other than me she was only the second Asian-looking woman I’d seen since our arrival in Kansas City. (The other was a KU alumna in line with us by Gate A who was having trouble with her tickets, too.)

The two women were that day’s designated members of the KCrew, who are basically what in football would be called cheerleaders. I was told by a front office employee of an MLB team (the Blue Jays), though, that in baseball we don’t have cheerleaders, we have “fan activation teams.” I chatted a bit with Emily and Abigail and they told me the “KU Dance Team” was also there that night. (Apparently even cheerleaders aren’t called cheerleaders anymore.)

Meanwhile, my phone kept going off with Severe Weather Alerts. Nickel-sized hail, damaging winds, and heavy rainfall were happening in various areas nearby and could have been heading our way. No one around us seemed the slightest bit concerned so I tried not to worry, but I will tell you that watching the Wizard of Oz on TV as a child gave me nightmares about tornados for years afterward.

Instead, we saw a rainbow. When we climbed up to our seats, in the upper deck behind home plate, we could see a massive thunderstorm moving across the plains. In the sunset, the rain lit up brilliantly. I did not manage to catch a good photograph of it though because my hands were too covered with barbecue sauce, cheesy corn, and tortilla chip crumbs to take a picture. Earlier in the day I had asked on Twitter what foods at the ballpark were unique and several folks recommended the helmet of “Brisket-Achos.”

I confess I was somewhat skeptical about the Brisket-Achos, but I learned that not only are they a thing, they are such a thing that on Tuesday they are giving out shirts with the recipe printed on them. Well, they were delicious. Pile chips in the bottom of the helmet. Two scoops of pulled brisket meat. Top that with barbecued beans and cheesy corn, slather with barbecue sauce, and top with some coleslaw for freshness. I often do not like coleslaw or barbecue sauce but I liked barbecue sauce everywhere we went in Kansas, Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee on this trip, and the coleslaw was tasty. (All the barbecue-related things we ate in Kansas City had more celery flavor than you get in the east and I think that made a lot of the difference.)

Anyway, thumbs up on the Brisket-Achos. As we were carrying the helmet full of nachos away from the stand where we bought them we must have looked a little daunted, though. A guy who looked like he worked for physical plant came up to us and offered us two blue disposable shop towels to use as bibs (!) and also told us to find him later if we wanted the helmet washed out to take home (!!). Now that’s hospitality. (I washed it out myself after the game in the women’s room, though.)

The sky continued to put on a show throughout the game, with a massive updraft cloud shaped like a UFO forming at one point, and lots of internal cloud lightning visible once the sun set. But it never rained on us.

The one thing we wanted to see game-wise was we wanted to see a Royal hit a home run so we could see the fountains do their thing. Brandon Moss obliged us with a solo shot in the second inning. Unfortunately that was the totality (see what I did there?) of the Royals scoring for the evening, while the Royals pitchers have up ten runs to the Indians. Royals fans are great, though. They never stopped cheering or paying attention to the game. That was the most striking thing. I’ve gone to big league games now in over twenty different cities and this was the most attentive crowd I’ve seen outside of a postseason game. They also make lots of creative signs, an art I feel is dying at a lot of stadiums.

And on top of all that, it was fireworks night. The Royals lost, but we were treated to one of the best ballpark fireworks displays I’ve ever seen. Not quite as wild as the one we saw in Cleveland in 2002, and not as over the top as July 4th in Texas at the Balllpark in Arlington, but very nicely done, using the ballpark setting and the fountains beautifully and not skimping on the big booms.

And then came the search for our rental car in the massive parking lot. We were very close to it but searched for several minutes before clicking the key finally made it flash its lights at us. Problems we don’t have in urban parking garages (unless you forget what level you’re on).

All in all a beautiful night at the ballpark.

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