|Diamond in the rough|
By Eric Neel
Page 2 columnist
Editor's Note: This is the 20th report card in Page 2's summerlong series rating all 30 ballparks in Major League Baseball.
KANSAS CITY -- Like beauty pageant contestants and kindergarten kids, I wish first and foremost for world peace, of course. But my second most fervent wish for the world is that every kid from one to 92 at least once gets the chance to experience the kind of ballgame I experienced Monday night at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City.
It was 82 and sunny at game time with a slight breeze sliding down from the northwest.
There were 40K-plus in the stands, all decked out in Royal-blue hats, shirts and face-paint, and all thirsty for the blood of the hated Yankees. The air buzzed and popped with shouts and chants for three hours straight.
The Yanks busted out to an early four-run lead, the Royals clawed back to tie it, the Yanks poked ahead, the Royals banged their way to a big lead, and finally the Yanks threatened, and almost pulled off, a late, spirit-crushing comeback.
The joint was August electric. The teams were amped -- New York with its top-dog pride and KC with its under-dog resolve -- and the fans (who've been waiting since '85 for something to believe in) were so crazily, desperately into it that by the sheer force of their will they made this little patch of grass just off I-70 in the middle of Missouri the undisputed center of the baseball universe.
Man, it was fun. Great game at a great park at a great time. I wish you all could have been there.
1. Access: It's a car thing -- a "people-will-come, Ray" line into the lot, and a slight jam on the way out. Some folks (mostly retirees by the look of my bus-mates) take the Royals Express shuttle for $3 from downtown, which features express-lane travel in and out of the park, baby. Points: 3
2. Exterior architecture: Poured concrete is ugly stuff. Period. That said, there's a subtle, somehow pleasing, slung-back sleekness about Kauffman. It's grey, it's material is charmless, but I'm telling you, there's something smooth and unassuming about its lines. 3.5
3. Ticket price/availability/location: Some of the best prices in the bigs -- $5 for the upper corners and $21 for the dugout boxes -- and no real bad seats. But these days, with the Royals and their fans sitting giddy and pretty atop the AL Central, you better come early if you want to get in. 5
4. Interior architecture: I like the deep-blue seats in curved rows that cozy up to the field. I like the absence of bleachers and the 40-thousand smallness of the room. I like white-column light stands, open space, small foul territories, a grass landing area beneath the scoreboard, and (though it's out-of-step with the funk of the new old-school parks) I like symmetry. But you know what I love? I love waterfalls. And fountains. Love 'em. Love the crisp, splashy look of 'em. Love the cool, soothing sound of 'em. Love 'em. 5
5. Seat comfort: I didn't sit much. Got there two-and-a-half hours before game time and scored one of the very last standing-room-only tickets. When I did sit, when somebody made a quick run for beer or the john, the seats were very (very, very, rest-for-my-weary-bones) comfortable and pitch-perfect. The standing areas, by the way, were also good: lower-level concourse from foul pole to foul pole; excellent sight lines all the way. 5
6. Scoreboard: It's simple, it's distinctive, it's a giant white and gold crown. I've seen flashier ones but I haven't seen any I like better. 5
7. Quality of the public address system: Strong sound, with sort of a countrified classic rock thing most of the night: Lyle Lovett into Don Henley into the Stones into Motley Crue and back around to Willie Nelson. The highlights (and the thing they ought to do a lot more of because this is, after all, Kansas City, the home of Lester Young) are the jazzy riffs by the house organist. 4
8. Quality of hot dogs: They know about meat in the Midwest. (Meat and pie, actually … meat and pie in large quantities; but alas, I didn't find any pie at the park, so this is just a story about meat.) They know about bargains, too: regular dogs and the special Polish are both about four bucks. Not as much variety as I would have liked, but otherwise very good. 4
9. Quality/selection of other concession-stand fare: Pretty standard -- pizza, bar-b-q, nachos, cheese steaks, etc. -- and affordable. Nothing fancy. Try the funnel cake, though. And don't worry -- that sickening, sweet, logy feeling you have in your gut, that's the way you're supposed to feel. 3
10. Signature concession item: The best bar-b-q pork sandwich I've ever had at a ballpark was at Class AAA Des Moines in Iowa. The longest line I've ever waited in for food was at Class AAA Albuquerque in New Mexico. On this night in Kansas City, Missouri, I set new standards in both categories: 22 pre-game minutes and 9 delirious bites. 4.5
11. Beer: You can drink Miller Light for five and a quarter. You can also drink a Boulevard Pale Ale for five and a quarter. That's the good kind of parity. It's not the good kind of variety, but it's the good kind of parity. 4
12. Bathrooms: Simple cinder-block construction painted blue like the stadium seats (which is thematic, but maybe too thematic). Clean, but getting old. 3
13. Fun stuff to do besides the game: There's a play structure for the little ones, a speed-pitch, and a real-grass miniature Kauffman field (the "Little K") out behind right field with kids lined up to take their cuts. Like the scoreboard, like the whole Kauffman thing, no bells and whistles, just straight-ahead, wholesome baseball goodness. 4
14. Price/selection of baseball souvenirs: I've seen a lot of souvenirs on this tour, and haven't been tempted by much. But I wanted one of these "Believe" shirts with the Tony Peña "Nosotros Creemos" quote something fierce. 4
15. Friendliness and helpfulness of usher staff: Like everyone else in the park, they're into this Royals revival thing. They chat you up, they slap your back, and they look the other way when you make like a seat-filler at the Oscars and take a load off while a seat-holder gets in line for bar-b-q. 5
16. Trading-up factor: It's not happening right now, because nobody's leaving. But you know it's been easy in the past. So, we'll award one point for relaxed attitude of the ushers and two more for the welcoming way us SRO folks can move in close for good looks at the field. 3
17. Knowledge of local fans: Two hours before first pitch hundreds of folks came sprinting -- not hurrying, not scurrying, not scrambling and not rambling, but sprinting, sprinting so fast Derek Jeter called out from the infield for them to slow down -- down the aisles for autographs, and close-up looks at the field and the players. Forget knowledge, that's hunger. 5
18. Seventh-inning stretch: Who's behind this "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" thing? I mean originally. Who started this thing? Can we find this person? Can we beat on 'em with an ugly stick for a while? Can we damn them to sing-along hell? Does anybody know? Anybody? Anybody? Bueller? O.K., 2 points because this crowd was so juiced they were singing out loud and strong like they were trying out for "A Chorus Line." And 1 more because maybe I've been on the road a little too much and maybe I'm starting to get a little jaded and maybe, if I could just let my inner child out to play, I'd see that "Take Me Out" is actually a delightful tradition and an important touchstone moment that unites us, whoever and wherever we may be. So . . . 3
19. Pre-and-postgame bar-and-restaurant scene: Now that the boys in blue are winning, there's a little bit of a tailgate scene in the parking lot. Otherwise, the Denny's up on the highway is about as hopping as it gets. 1
20. Wild Card: Yeah, I was influenced by the charms of the night sky. Yeah, I was affected by the heat and pulse of the crowd. And yeah, a good game makes a man love the park he's sitting in. But even if the place were boneyard empty, as it's been for much of the past 20 years, and even if I were sweating out a meaningless game on a muggy afternoon, I would still say this about Kauffman: It's beautiful, man. 10
TOTAL SCORE FOR KAUFFMAN STADIUM: 84