It’s October 10, 2012 and Kauffman Stadium sits empty. A cool October wind breezes through the quiet stadium. A lonely, overlooked hot dog wrapper comes loose from a crack between the seats, floating over the railing and up onto the concourse. No beer vendors. No fireworks. No cotton candy. The Crown Vision is dark and Sluggerrr is nowhere to be found. Kauffman Stadium deserves better.
It doesn’t seem all that long ago that I drove my ‘69 GTO to the stadium in the summer of 1977 and climbed the steps to the high altitude seats at the far reaches of the upper deck – not because I couldn’t afford a better view, but because all the other seats were taken. Other than Arrowhead Stadium, I’ve never felt more energy and passion in a fan group than I did back in the team’s heyday. Everybody wanted to go to the Royals games, they were the hottest tickets in town.
Kauffman Stadium, originally called Royals Stadium, was built in the early 70’s when most cities were constructing butt-ugly cookie-cutter, multi-use stadiums. There are few things worse than playing baseball on a football field, or football on a baseball field. The twin sports gems in Kansas City were each built to house one sport, and one team, making us the envy of the sports world when they opened. The beautiful sight lines with every seat facing second base, the one-of-a-kind fountains, the dramatic centerfield scoreboard, the convenient highway intersection location – Kauffman offered many cutting-edge features long before anyone ever dreamed of adding the Little K, the Hall of Fame, the Buck O’Neill legacy seat, the carnival beyond the outfield, and the one-time largest High Def LCD screen in the world.
Have you ever visited a baseball stadium in another city? Have you been to Wrigley, Tiger Stadium, Minute Maid Park, Yankee Stadium to name a few? If you have, you’ll notice Kauffman offers one enormously important critical advantage over all of them – parking. It’s something we take for granted in Kansas City. In most other cities, you must take the bus, or drive in circles before each game seeking out the gangsta-looking guys standing in their front yards with a “Park Here $20” sign. And good luck trying to leave early with cars jammed bumper to bumper and side to side, 5 cars deep on the grass. I’m serious, you have to wait until everyone parking in front of you leaves before you can drive away. Why anyone would build a stadium in a location without sufficient parking, I’ll never understand.
And here’s another Kauffman advantage: Tiger Stadium has great sausages, Camden Yards has crab cakes (yuck!), Ahi Tuna at AT&T Park in San Francisco (yuck again!), and the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati has fried cinnamon rolled doughnuts topped with warm caramel. But do you know what Kauffman Stadium has? The most perfect mid-summer baseball game snack ever invented – no, not peanuts (although that’s a fantastic option too), but delicious, icy, chocolate frosty malts. Hard to believe, but few if any other stadiums offer this tasty treat.
And there is history that still rings in this hallowed place. Of all the key moments in the stadium’s past, October 27, 1985 stands alone as the most important date and the most glorious game ever played at Kauffman. The Royals pounded the hapless St. Louis Cardinals 11-0. George Brett went 4 for 5. The Cards used 7 pitchers, the Royals needed only one – Cy Young winner Bret Saberhagen. 41,658 crazed fans watched the Royals wrap up their one and only world championship on a Fall Classic perfect 62 degree evening. The smell of cotton candy was in the air, the fountains splashed, the Crown scoreboard flashed, the eyes of the entire sports universe were trained on Kansas City – and never again has a meaningful game been played at Kauffman in the month of October.
When I drive past the intersection of I-435 & I-70 in October I can actually envision the crowds, the television satellite trucks in the parking lot, the blimp overhead, and the beautiful, awe-inspiring roar of the fanatical KC crowd. Every year I tell myself – maybe next year. Maybe in 2013 or 2014 we’ll get to play meaningful games in October. Maybe the young fans of Kansas City will have a chance to experience the rapture of playoff games. Maybe our beautiful, timeless baseball field with the Hall of Fame former groundskeeper, the frosty malts, the gargantuan HD scoreboard, world class parking, and the $250 Million facelift will see another October moon shine down from a cloudless night sky. Someday. One thing is for sure – Kauffman Stadium deserves better.