I received an email yesterday from Navin Vaswani, a blogger for Toronto’s Globe and Mail. He’s currently on a quest to visit every major league ballpark – something that is probably a lot more awesome than it sounds like, even. Color me jealous.
His most recent trip brought him to Kauffman Stadium, and as a longtime Royals fan, I’ve seen the stadium enough times that I probably take it for granted. You should definitely check out his latest article about his visit. It’s both well-written and provides a perspective of a newcomer’s take on the stadium.
It got me to thinking about while, even if the team is awful, we might be the luckiest fans in baseball.
Kauffman Stadium opened in 1973, a vast departure from the cookie-cutter stadiums built near the same time like Veteran’s Stadium or Three Rivers. Most of the features from the original layout remain – the towering centerfield scoreboard in the shape of the Royals logo, the incredible fountains in the outfield, an unblocked view of I-70 and nearby businesses and buildings (which is distinctive if nothing else).
At the time, it was aptly named Royals Stadium. The fountains and the openness of the stadium provide an atmosphere of vast majesty. You’re walking into a place that seems larger than life. A wide expanse of green grass (even the bright green turf of the 70’s and 80’s had a special flare to it) welcomes you and as you scan across the field, you can’t help but think this is the type of place appropriate for the game of baseball.
Kauffman Stadium is the type of place that reinforces what I love about the game. There’s a mythology to baseball beyond any other sport in America. The stories of past heroes, their feats of athleticism. The unique timelessness of the game and its players. It’s epic and unlike any other sport. Baseball is a peculiar game in that sense. With any other team sport, the field of play adheres to strict guidelines of distance and measurement. In baseball, other than the 90 feet between bases and the distance from the rubber to the plate, no two fields are the same.
And in regards to the K, that’s a great thing.
My first game at Kauffman Stadium was in 1983, and I regretfully don’t recall anything about it other than my parents bought me a satin Royals jacket that I quickly grew out of and a small souvenir bat, which I used to torment my older sister until my mom took it away from me (about halfway back on the drive home, I’d imagine).
By 1989, I’d become a young fan of baseball and listened to all the home broadcasts on AM radio and watched the road games on “Channel 9″. I’d started collecting baseball cards and playing out in the yard, mimicking George Brett’s batting stance as best I could (I swung right-handed, alas, and could never quite swing like Brett; in my defense, very few could either). So when Photo Day came around that summer, I convinced my parents that another trip to Kansas City was in order.
We arrived too late to get onto the field for photos, but still caught the game. I remember being amazed by the fountains, the huge scoreboard and watching the players on the field. George Brett was on the DL or got an off-day, so I missed out on seeing him play. I did see Mike Kingery hit a homer. The Royals won 4-2. We returned in 1993 and 1994, with no eventful moments, though I did see Brian McRae fall a single short of the cycle in one game, and Bob Hamelin (remember him?) hit a homer in the other.
It wasn’t until 2003 that I made it back for an August game against the Yankees. You’ll remember this one as the game when both teams traded the lead back and forth while setting an American League record for combined doubles in a game. The combination of the last hopes of a playoff push, the Yankees and a resultant huge crowd gave me a glimpse of what it might have been like at Kauffman Stadium anytime from 1976-1985, the most successful run in Royals history. Electric doesn’t even begin to describe it. It was an entire city, an entire fanbase collected into the stadium, yearning for the team to return to glory.
The allure of the stadium keeps me coming back, despite the bad teams on the field. I might have a record of 3-25 in the last three years when I’m at Kauffman. It’s frustrating, sure, because ultimately it’s about the team and their success. But if I have to see a losing team, I wouldn’t pick any other place to watch them.