Part XVI: Kauffman Stadium
(AKA: A Royal Treatment)
(AKA: Hotter than Heck)
This will be a special post because I was actually here more than once. However, for the purposes of this blog, I will keep this post more in the perspective of the regular fan! The reason that I made more than one visit here was because I was watching the Angels of Anaheim in Kansas City. I had to be impartial. Also, this post is special because the Kansas City Royals just won the 2015 World Series over the New York Mets and I’d like to say congratulations to a deserving team! The timing for this post couldn’t be more perfect. Need I say more?
This series in Kansas City was very important for both teams as the Royals were trying to keep their number one overall seed ahead of the surging Twins and the Blue Jays. As for the Angels, they were trying to get a hold on a wild card spot. I knew the crowds would be massive for both games. For the first part of this blog post, I will focus more on the Thursday game that took place. For the second part, I will focus more on the ballpark itself. However, there will be an additional mini-post about this ballpark to come at a later date. Yes, there is a reason for this.
Ballpark 30: Kauffman Stadium, elevation 750 feet
The first game: Angels @ Royals on August 13, 2015
Even though I was at the ballpark about five hours before the game, I met some friendly staff members who showed me around the exterior of the stadium. This ballpark is situated just off the highway and contains a massive surrounding parking area that is only $12, but they just take cash. Still, that is a great price in comparison to other ballparks. Many parts of the exterior have been upgraded, and you can see the giant crown scoreboard from outside the park. That scoreboard is truly a thing of beauty. Even entering the park, I had a few minutes to walk around the concourse area and see what there is to offer. I was already making myself a mental list of things to do when I returned here later.
The fans: This is an observation from both of my visits in Kansas City, but save for a couple people, the Royals do have some incredible fans. I do have to give a special shout out to Jake Curtis for being among the awesome tailgaters out at the parking lot. Also, big ups to Bobbi, Justin, Nicole, “Jeff the Cook,” and “rhymes with Connor.” Every single one of those people I met hours before the gates even opened inside the K, and they made me feel so welcomed there in KC. While some people say the Royals have a very rabid fanbase… I think of it as extremely passionate and have a great love for their sports teams. During both games, the fans came out in droves and even that Thursday night game against the Angels was a near sellout. They even offered me some delicious food while tailgating. The Royals deserve these great fans, and these great fans deserve a championship-caliber team like the Kansas City Royals.
The game: This was a big deal game in the local media because this game marked the first time that the Angels returned to Kansas City since being swept from the 2014 ALDS. In the past couple years, the Royals have dominated the Angels of Anaheim. With the way the standings were looking, this was still a possible playoff preview. Garrett Richards would get the start for the Angels while Jeremy Guthrie would get the nod for the Royals. On paper, this looked like the best chance for the Angels to get a win at Kauffman. However, Lorenzo Cain would give Kansas City an early 1-0 lead on an RBI single. Richards had trouble just getting out of the first inning, but he survived while stranding two batters. The crowd was already pumped up as fans were sensing a big offensive game. I will point out that the fans came early and were as loud as any stadium I’ve been to.
After both sides had no runs scored between innings two and three, the Angels finally tied the game at one. Guthrie was all over the middle of the strike zone on a couple pitches and he got burned by Conor Gillaspie. Actually, that RBI was via a ground ball that found a small enough gap to score David Murphy. Throughout the game, both Guthrie and Richards were keeping the ball low and/or away and most of the contact made early in this game were grounders. For a few minutes, it looked like it would remain a low-scoring game that could go into extras…
I was ready to get another quick bite of food until the proverbial fireworks really started. The Royals got to the Angels starting pitcher, Richards, and scored two runs in the bottom of the 6th inning to take a 3-1 lead. The Angels would then threaten to score in the top of the 7th, but they left two runners on base, and it was time to stretch at Kauffman Stadium! These fans really got into it, and I was loving every minute of it. More scoring came in the bottom of the frame as Jarrod Dyson pinch ran and got to third base on a stolen base and an error from Angels catcher, Carlos Perez. “That what speed do!”
Eric Hosmer would score Dyson on an RBI, and Kendrys Morales would smack a double to right field to extend the Royals lead to 5-1. At this point of the game, the crowd was going absolutely bonkers and wanted more. With Mike Moustakas coming up, the fan with the giant moose antlers was going crazy in the lower bowl. However, he couldn’t drive a run home. At the end of seven innings, the Royals had a nice 5-1 lead and looked to have this game in command with their stellar bullpen. Wade Davis would enter the game in the 8th inning and look to hold that four-run lead. However, the Angels have someone by the name of Mike Trout on their side. I’ve said this many times, but Mike Trout is worth the price of admission. He almost belted one over the center field fence, but the park held this one in, and Trout would settle for an RBI double. David Murphy would later plate Trout on a groundout, and the score was now 5-3 in favor of the Royals. The home town fans were still not nervous as a two-run lead seemed like plenty for their closer.
Greg Holland entered the game in the top of the 9th inning looking to secure the win. Many writers thought this game was over, and even the radio commentators were talking like this game was in the books. However, after a lead-off single followed by a walk, the Angels were in business. All of a sudden, C.J. Cron tied the game with a deep double to right field. That hit sucked some of the life out of Kauffman Stadium. After Johnny Giavotella reached on an error, that meant the top of the order was now on deck for the Angels. Only a minute later, the rest of the life got sucked out of that ballpark as Kole Calhoun hit another double, and that drove in two runs. In the blink of an eye, the Angels were now leading 7-5. In just a half hour, the Angels scored six unanswered runs to stun the crowd. Even more shocking was that those runs were scored on Wade Davis and Greg Holland!
There was one more great moment for the home fans, and that was a 9th inning home run from Eric Hosmer that was crushed to right center field. I love the trolling the Royals did by playing the song from “Angels In the Outfield” as they are playing the Angels! That was all the offense that would be produced as the Angels came from behind to shock the Royals. There was only one sentiment after the game, “We gave this one away.” This was a huge win for the Angels who were looking to hold on to a wild card spot. As for the Royals, they were looking for revenge on the rest of this series…
After spending a long time pondering this great Angels win, I decided to take the long way and take a couple pictures by the fountains. Yes… FOUNTAINS in a ballpark; they are spectacular! They remain on well after the game and make for some great picture-taking opportunities. However, some of the gates become completely locked after the game, so getting out of the park becomes slightly difficult… even for the workers! One final note, I got to talk to the Angels’ broadcasters, including Jose Mota who had recognized me somehow. We talked about the Angels win in-depth while he waited for his cab, and also about my travels. Would the Angels continue their winning ways?
The second game: Angels @ Royals on August 15, 2015
This would be the game that ended my travels in the Midwest! My friend, Matt, would join me on this final leg of the trip, and this was quite the experience! The long travel day had already made us tired, but we managed to arrive in Kansas City very early before the game. We arrived extra early because it was a giveaway day. When I was in KC Thursday and talked about the crowds that arrive before these days, I was simply told, “Get here three hours early… trust me.”
I wish I had gotten a picture of this, but when Matt and I arrived inside the stadium parking lot, there was already a massive line entering each gate of the stadium. See, it was free retro replica powder blue jersey night. Only 10,000 of these were being given away, and so many fans wanted these awesome jerseys. We were lucky to find a spot away from the blazing sun and parked ourselves in the shade! With a 6:10pm start time, the gates were supposed to open at 4:30. Yeah… that didn’t happen. Because there was already an enormous swell of fans encircling Kauffman Stadium, the decision was made to open the gates much earlier than expected, much to the delight of the fans outside the park. As it turned out, we were actually among the first couple thousand to enter the park as there were thousands of other people behind us ready to enter the stadium. Within the first ten minutes of the gates opening, Matt and I had passed through security, entered the K, and received our powder blue Royals jerseys! I have to admit, these things look pretty sweet. Who can pass up a free jersey, right?
The early arrival also proved to be worth it as the Royals Hall of Fame was actually open to all fans… for now. The other reason I wanted to attend this game was that it was the day for Mike Sweeney to be inducted to the Royals Hall of Fame. A quick back-story: I grew up in Ontario, California for a majority of my childhood. I was fortunate to play sports back then, and we had one athlete in particular that did the city proud, and that was Mike Sweeney. He also grew up in Ontario, and actually went to my high school, Ontario High! In fact, I was friends with his sister during high school. Needless to say, there was a strong connection there. This was why the Hall of Fame wouldn’t be open most of the day… for the induction ceremony and unveiling of his plaque inside the building.
As for the actual interior of the Hall of Fame, fans begin by walking inside a fancified mock locker room with jerseys of the three retired players from the Royals’ history. Inside this room, fans are greeted by KayCee, the vintage-dressed baseball player who puts up the “W” every time the Royals win at home. He’s kind of a minor celebrity around those parts, and I’m glad to have gotten a picture with him! After being in the main room for a few minutes, we went inside the movie room and watched a 17-minute film about the history of the Royals and Kauffman Stadium leading up to last year’s epic pennant run. This film will surely change for the 2016 season!
The adjacent room was filled with a plethora of amazing artifacts including a display featuring Mike Sweeney. I can’t begin to express how much pride I experienced seeing that Ontario High School jersey on display. Having worn those colors of cardinal red and gold in my high school days, it was an honor to see that in person. Some of the other highlights from the Royals Hall of Fame include artifacts from old Municipal Stadium, jerseys from every era of the Royals, and a platinum glove won last season by Alex Gordon. For those that don’t know, the Platinum Glove award is like the Gold Glove award, except this newer singular award goes to the best defensive player in all of the American League. I realize this is a mostly manufactured award that only started in 2011, but this award is really awesome to see up close.
Also hidden away in the Hall of Fame is the original 1985 World Champion banner which the Royals won over the St. Louis Cardinals in controversial fashion. This banner represented the lone title the Royals had won…
The final room in the Hall of Fame contains an entire section devoted to George Brett, the greatest Royal of them all. Included in this area are baseballs representing his 3,154 career hits, his chase towards that elusive .400 batting average for a season, and his leading the Royals to the 1985 championship. This segued nicely to where the 1985 World Series trophy is located.
Finally, we are led out to a series of plaques honoring past Royals players. However, one plaque was covered under close watch by a black cloth. Presumably, this was the newest plaque for Mike Sweeney. What I loved about this Hall of Fame is how well everything flowed together from section to section. Matt and I were highly impressed by the Hall of Fame at Kauffman Stadium, but we were ultimately glad to escape the blistering heat for a while.
Once we left the cool building, I wanted to do something which is mostly meant for kids… and that was to ride the carousel in the back of Kauffman Stadium. No, I’m not kidding on this one. There is actually a carousel near the ice cream stands where fans of all ages (not just children) can purchase a token for a couple bucks and ride on the fancy Royals carousel. Much like the tiger ride in Detroit, this merry-go-round was Royals themed complete with intricate Royals artwork, mirrors shaped like home plates, baseballs for lights, and a special bench for parents to just sit down. Two neat touches here: the tokens feature the KC logo, and there is one special seat which features the Royals mascot. This seat is adorned with the 40th Anniversary logo of the Royals, so this is a bit dated. Hopefully, a new paint job will be done here to commemorate the Royals runs to the World Series.
Finally, it was time to head to our seats extra early because Matt and I were about to witness the Mike Sweeney induction ceremony into the Royals Hall of Fame. Most of the other members of past Royals teams were in attendance, including the great George Brett. I’ve been witness to other induction ceremonies before across the country, but this was one of the few times were more than 60% of the crowd showed up just for this ceremony. Mike Sweeney was that influential of a player in Kansas City which might explain not only the incredible turn out, but current players from both sides watching most of the festivities. George Brett got to speak for a little bit and talked about how he was an elder statesman for Sweeney when Mike was just coming up in the organization. While Brett and Sweeney never got to play together except for some Spring Training in 1993, those two names are among team leaders in several offensive categories.
Finally, it was time for Mike Sweeney to address the growing crowd, and his emotional and heart-felt speech lasted close to twenty minutes. Sweeney first talked about his father who was an Angels minor league player that gave up his baseball career to take care of his family. As it turned out, this ceremony was moved up so that Mike, Sr. could attend the game and see the plaque revealed that would forever be in the Royals Hall of Fame. Sadly, the elder Sweeney was having complications from cancer, and it meant so much to the former Royal to have his father there. Next, Sweeney talked about his time at Ontario High School en route to winning the state championship with an undefeated record. That trophy and plaques are still located at OHS to this day, and I’d pass by that area nearly every day at school. On a personal note, I absolutely loved the shout out that Mike gave to our former coach and teacher, Bob Beck. Mr. Beck was truly one of the best.
In a somewhat humorous manner, Mike finally publicly revealed the truth about how he got his big break with the Royals in 1999. The story was that Jeremy Giambi and Sweeney had gone bass fishing with a couple teammates, and Giambi got seriously injured because a toolbox fell on his head. Giambi ended up in the hospital with staples in his head and stitches all over his face. However, that’s not what really happened, and the real story gave most people a good chuckle. After the fishing had finished, Jeremy Giambi saw an ATV and boasted about how he raced them as a kid. After a couple laps, Giambi somehow flipped the ATV, went up in the air, and ended up with blood all over his face. Soon, they wound up in the hospital with Giambi having to get cleaned up and come up with a ridiculous, but believable, cover story to tell his manager. That’s how the tale of the toolbox came to fruition. With first baseman, Jeff King, suddenly retiring and Giambi now injured, this opened up a grand opportunity for Sweeney to take over first baseman duties. After a hot streak that lasted most of that 1999 season, the rest was history! The entire speech was equal parts emotional and funny, and concluded with the crowd giving Sweeney a standing ovation as the plaque was revealed. To put a ribbon on the festivities, Sweeney would throw out the first pitch of the ball game, and we were ready to go! Congratulations go out to Mike and the rest of the Sweeney family. You’ve done the city of Ontario and my alma mater very proud!
Ticket prices: You have to really do some research on ticket prices before attending a game here. I can only speak on Saturday’s game for ticket prices. Tickets were sold out for that game for a long time because it was a major promotional night, and it was a big Hall of Fame event. Thus, looking up tickets on StubHub was a major challenge for this particular game. In the end, we found a pair of tickets up in the Hy-Vee Level… section 417… row GG. Those aren’t terrible considering just how high those last row seats are. The highest sections go up to row ZZ! Those seats behind home plate are further back and rise at a higher slope than several ballparks. Unfortunately, those highest rows produce some of the farthest seats in all of baseball. Can you tell I’m stalling?
Those tickets were $50 each. Yes, FIFTY DOLLARS for view seats. Those weren’t bad prices, either! The people who ended up sitting next to us paid $140 for both of their tickets, and they didn’t even get a jersey! With a winning team comes very expensive prices. However, ticket prices aren’t always that expensive at Kauffman Stadium. In fact, most tickets are reasonable and in the $20-$40 range for decent seats!
The food: At this point in the day, I was more than hungry and ready to down some food. I knew I wouldn’t be able to survive well into the night. While I tried some barbecue on the first game, the concourses were too crowded and the lines were too long on Saturday to go exploring. Luckily, there was a Hot Corner Grill right behind the section we were sitting. The prices could be a little better, but the food really hit the spot. I ended up getting the #2 meal, which included a big double steak burger with cheese, fries, and a souvenir soda for $21. What sealed the deal for me was the fact that the large souvenir soda came with a free refill. I’m glad that most ballparks in warm climates are adopting this practice and allowing fans to have a free refill on these monstrous cups. While this food was great at the time, it didn’t hit the spot like some real KC BBQ later that evening at BB’s just 15 minutes from Kauffman Stadium. I will briefly say that there is nothing like eating burnt end BBQ soup with live jazz and blues playing only a few feet away.
The game: To be perfectly honest, this game had the potential to be a very competitive game. In the top of the 2nd inning, Albert Pujols hit a very deep home run right towards the outfield fountains. The Angels jumped out to an early 1-0 lead and looked primed for a big inning as David Murphy immediately drove a long double to deep centerfield. Johnny Cueto looked like he was in a bit of trouble early on. However, he got out of that jam thanks to Jarrod Dyson who threw out David Murphy at home on a David DeJesus single. Frankly, the Angels should have scored three runs in that half of the inning. But, Cueto luckily escaped that inning with only one earned run. That’s the closest the Angels would get.
To put it simply, Matt Shoemaker couldn’t get out of the inning as he gave up 6 earned runs to the slugging Royals. The Royals batted around before Shoemaker was finally pulled from the game. By then, the Royals had all the momentum. With another run tacked on in the 3rd inning, the Royals had a giant 7-1 lead. Now that Johnny Cueto had a big lead to work with, he seemed much more relaxed on the mound and grew stronger as the game went on. From innings 4 through 8, he only gave up two scattered hits and the Angels never really threatened again with Cueto on the bump.
After getting another refill from my souvenir drink, the Royals added two more runs in the bottom of the 6th. Here’s the awesome thing… the fans actually stuck around! Nobody left early like some other baseball stadiums I’ve been to. The fans wanted to see this victory get finished off. The first sign of SOME fans departing for the exit gates was after the top of the 8th inning when it was apparent that Johnny Cueto had finished pitching for the evening. He got a rousing standing ovation for hurling a gem. The Angels scored 3 runs in the top of the 9th, but they hardly mattered. The Royals won 9-4 in front of a mostly packed crowd! Every time the Royals win a game, Kaycee (who I mentioned earlier this post) typically comes out and places a large “W” on the star above the Hall of Fame. However, since this was a special induction night… it was Mike Sweeney who had the honor of hanging up that “W” on the star!
Since Matthew and I didn’t want to fight the insane crowds of traffic leaving the stadium, we opted to do a little shopping. We checked out the Royals Authentics shop to see what they had as far as authentic jerseys went. Their store does not disappoint if you are looking to “take home a piece of the game.” They have game used dirt from the World Series, plenty of authentic game-used jerseys, hats, bases, and other assorted goodies. Because I didn’t have much cash on me and didn’t want to completely blow my budget, I opted for a couple of their sale items. I got a Royals World Series pin for $1, and a neat item: a Father’s Day set of wristbands for only $5. Even though they were “last year’s design,” they are the same design every year and hasn’t changed. They probably won’t change the design, and I thought it was a nice grab at five bucks! Kudos to the Royals Authentics store! If I hadn’t already received a free powder blue jersey, I might have bit on a game-used jersey there. However, I don’t know if I could have fit in ANOTHER jersey in my luggage for the flight home!
On the way out… I felt a bit sad that this trip was approaching its end, but I was glad to spend the final stretch on this trip with one of my best friends, Matt. I can’t thank him enough for tagging along with me, driving those long stretches of road in Missouri, and sharing the memories of this wonderful ballpark. This is a great stadium, and I can’t wait to come back to Kansas City. As a post script to this story, Matt and I found an excellent KC BBQ place called BB’s Lawnside BBQ. Not only did I get some of the best burnt ends in the region, but this place had LIVE BLUES playing! As a swing dancer and a lover of anything jazz and blues, this place was right up my alley. Kansas City, you are amazing. Thank you. Until next time, see you at the ballpark!