I never saw the pitch thrown to KC Royals DH Hunter Dozier, nor did I see the ball fly off his bat and soar through the air.
But I heard the crack of Dozier’s bat as the ball exploded off it. I heard the crowd erupt in cheers and applause.
I knew without seeing that the ball was, as they say, “Outta here!”
If you’re reading this, you probably know that Saturday the Royals broke a five-game losing streak, with the difference in the game being Dozier’s blast that defeated a strong wind and cleared the left field wall for the home run that ensured a 3-1 Kansas City victory.
What probably none of you know, and perhaps won’t believe, is that from about half-way up, on the third base line behind the visitors’ dugout, the events of that win were being closely observed, if not necessarily “seen,” by a 33-year old blind man attending his first major league baseball game.
Let us rewind roughly three hours when I could be found at my modest home in the suburbs of Kansas City, donning my No. 16 Bo Jackson Royal Blue jersey and preparing for my first Royals game and my first-ever trip to a big league ballpark.
My dear friend Tom, my long-time mentor in all things baseball, picked me up in his car and we began our pilgrimage to Kauffman Stadium, the Mecca of baseball for KC fans.
Immediately after exiting the passenger side of Tom’s car, I sensed the smells and sounds in the air had subtly but distinctly changed from those of my quiet suburban neighborhood.
The crisp early afternoon air, still relatively quiet compared to what it would become in just a couple of hours, was spotted with the sounds of baseball tailgating. The sounds of lawn mowers, bouncing basketballs and children playing had been replaced with the sounds of sizzling meat and gloves snapping from the impact of thrown balls. And while the sound of children playing was still very much present, they had replaced dribbling basketballs with plastic bats and balls, and the wind carried with it the scent of grilled meats rather than that of freshly cut grass.
Tom and I ascended the steps leading to the stadium gates, Tom with the air of an old crusader who’d taken this journey countless times, me with a sense of awe and reverence as if we were about to enter a temple.
If Kauffman Stadium is a temple, then the concourse we found ourselves in immediately upon entry was the area surrounding the temple, where merchants peddle their wares and all sorts of culinary delights of ballpark variety are sold to the masses.
With my blind man’s cane in hand, we strolled through that concourse, my cane parting through a sea of Royals fans, not unlike Moses when he parted his own roaring sea.
Taking in everything the ballpark, the game and the KC Royals have to give.
While I couldn’t visually observe the scene through which I walked, my remaining senses (mainly hearing and smell) were assaulted from all directions.
I heard the sounds of batting cages, of children playing in the “Mini-K” and the shouts of “50-50 Raffle, get your 50-50 Raffle tickets here, $25,000 prize” from the gentleman selling those tickets.
Music blasted from all directions, the songs seeming to change with every few steps. “We’re Not Gonna Take It” by Twisted Sister was replaced by “Hard to Handle” by the Black Crows, which was then replaced with “Give it Away” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The smells wafting through the air were of glorious combination that could only be found at a state fair … or, better yet, a ballpark.
I took in the mouth-watering aroma of popcorn and soft pretzels, of burgers grilling, the highly-sought after Ballpark Franks and, of course, the bitter but delightful smell of hops and yeast from a dozen different brews of beer.
Tom and I continued on, making a few stops along the way at the Royals Hall of Fame, where Tom described many artifacts, including Jackie Robinson’s Monarchs jersey and the golden gloves of Frank White. He read me several plaques and even snapped a couple of pictures for me. We stopped of course at the team store, where we perused some of the merchandise, and I walked out with a Royal blue Royals jacket wrapped around my shoulders.
We made one more stop, this one at Fan Services to upgrade our seats, and I claimed my “First Time” certificate, before we approached the stairs leading down into the heart of Kauffman Stadium.
With every step, my cane leading the way, the music grew louder, the chatter of the fans became more excited, and the air became warmer as we stepped out from the shade of the stadium overhang and into the bright April sunshine.
When we found our seats, Tom pointed out to me that there were more Detroit Tiger fans present then he expected, but we surmised those fans were on their own pilgrimage to bear witness to Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera continue his quest for his 3,000th hit, from which he was only a mere five safeties away; but unlike Tom and I, Tiger fans would be deprived of their ultimate goal.
Tom gave me the inner seat and himself the aisle seat, then embarked on a solo journey, returning moments later with huge cups of ice cold Pepsi, two cartons of french fries and the two biggest hot dogs I have ever seen—the aforementioned Ballpark Franks.
Perhaps it was because I hadn’t eaten all day in anticipation of this moment, or perhaps it was my euphoria, but if I’ve ever had a hot dog that tasted so good, I honestly couldn’t tell you when or where.
I sat in utter and complete bliss, listening to the rock music being pumped through the stadium, feeling the sunshine on my skin (my eyes protected by my Royals cap), chewing contentedly on my frank, drinking my pop and listening to the scratching of Tom’s pencil on a sheet of notebook paper, which I knew was him writing up the lineup for the game in preparation for the extensive notes he would take during the contest.
“What all do you write down during the game, Tommy?” I asked.
“Everything,” he answered simply.
Not long after that, the Tigers were introduced to a smattering of clapping scattered here and there throughout the stadium, but once that nicety had taken place, “Thunderstruck” by AC-DC blared through the stadium speakers as our Royals at last took the field to cheers and shouts that grew louder with each player, reaching its crescendo with the introductions of third baseman Bobby Witt Jr. and veteran catcher Salvador Perez. I added my own guttural yell of “LETS GO SALVY” to the mix.
The game commenced, and Tom began giving me expert play-by-play descriptions of each pitch, accounts that only the Royals’ own broadcasters could rival.
I delighted in every single sound of the baseball game taking place before me. The resounding smack! of ball hitting glove and crack! of 95 mph fastballs colliding with bats, that crack being one of the most beautiful sounds in the world.
To my humorous delight, Tom’s play-by-play was broken up from time to time with vendors walking up and down the stairs, adding their own voices to the mixture of sounds with calls such as “Popcorn, get your popcorn here,” “Ice cold beer, Bud Light, Budweiser, Boulevard, get your ice cold beer,” and, of course, “Peanuts, salty peanuts, get your peanuts here.”
What a world we live in, when the peanut man no longer takes cash.
With the ever-vigilant Tom providing the play-by-play, and while my eyes remained useless as ever, I did not miss a single Kris Bubic pitch or the hits of Witt and Salvy, one after the other, and only when Dozier homered was Tom’s description drowned out by a roaring crowd of Kansas City fans.
Unfortunately, the sun had hidden its warmth behind the overhang of the stadium and the inevitable end of the game (and a Royal victory) found Tom and I in the chilly shade, my new Royals jacket wrapped tight around me as we rose from our seats, claimed our souvenir cups, ascended the stairs that had brought us to our seats, and took the long walk back through a crowded and now cold concourse, back to Tom’s car and away from Kauffman Stadium and my first big league ballpark experience, but not my last. Not by a long shot.
Who says a blind man can’t appreciate the majesty of baseball?