Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Beisbol, Pt. II: The Big K in Kansas City

Composite view of Kauffman Stadium. . .

Thursday, August 6th: In 2008, the Kansas City Royals were the second-to-last attendance draw in Major League Baseball, its 38,000 seat Kauffman Stadium averaging only 49 percent of the seats sold over the season.

It must be the baseball, as "The Big K" is a a quite attractive venue to see a ballgame. Sadly, the Royals haven't given their fans a winning season since 2003, but on this night, 15,000 diehards, most dressed in blue jerseys sporting names of players little known--apart from ace pitcher Zach Grienke--outside of Kansas City. Bettancourt? A slacker was just acquired from the Mariners, cut because of his lazy attitude. Callapso? I'd read about the Dominican's lockerroom antics when he played in the Angles organization in Rookie league Orem, Utah, sticking his penis in a hotdog bun and covering it with mustard. Something like that, you remember.

The Royals hosted the Seattle Mariners, and wasted little time sticking it to them, slapping starting pitcher Jason Vargas with five runs in the bottom of the first inning, and rolling easily to an 8-2 victory. Box Score here. Such victories don't come often in Kansas City: the Royals have the worst-record in the American League.

Kauffman Stadium is a winner, though. The sixth-oldest ballpark in the Major Leagues (can you name the five oldest? Answer at the bottom of the post), the 36-year-old facility shares a vast parking lot with the Chief's Arrowhead Stadium at the junction of Interstates 70 and 435 on Kansas City's east side. The place looks sparkling new, as it is fresh from a pricey renovation, with wide, clean concourses under the stands that seem more at home at an airport.

E. tries to run as fast as the Royals in the kids entertainment area. Scott Boras needn't call. . .

Meanwhile, I. plays golf at a Royals-themed course.

Ballpark dinner in the table area behind the outfield. . .

Clean, spacious concourse. . .
The "Water Spectacular" fountain and waterfalls in center field from pre-renovation are still there, sharing space now with a giant video screen/scoreboard. New luxury and press boxes were added, as well as a family-friendly baseball-themed amusement area out behind left field with batting cages, a wiffleball park, miniature golf course, and play area, among other features, sharing space with the Royals Hall of Fame. A large screen towers over an area with picnic tables, where I enjoyed a dinner of Kansas City-famous bar-b-que "burnt ends." We purchased a family pack of four tickets which included unlimited admission to the amusement area (not too useful, given the large crush of kids waiting to play) and $20 food credit for $60. Parking was $9.

With the sparse crowd, requisite fan entertainment (sausage races, and shapely young ladies tossing hot dogs to the crowd) and cheesy music, the place has the feeling more of a minor league ballpark.

Giant video screen in left field, the largest of its type when added in 2008, since eclipsed by the screens inside new Cowboys Stadium. .

Nice view from the 209 section in left field. . .

Moonrise over the dancing fountains. Two ways to Party--a porch and a deck--added in the renovation.

I. added a temporary KC Royals tatoo, something probably not worn much outside of Kansas City. . .

The "Big K" at night.

With the game decided so early, I really couldn't get into it. Despite the empty seats, were were quickly ticket-checked when we moved a bit closer in from our far-left-field seats. The game was over in a breeze: only 2 hours, 28 minutes elapsed--20 minutes shorter than the MLB average--and we were back at the motel shortly after 10pm.

Still, it was a nice night out at the ballpark. A blood-red full-moon rose over the fountains in center field, and it was easy to just sit back and admire the late-60s modernist design of the place. It very much feels like a midwest-version of Dodgers stadium.
* * * *
(Answer to the question: Fenway, Wrigley, Dodger Stadium, Oakland-Alameda County, Angels Stadium of Anaheim)
The Return of Old Number Seven!
For a team known for its depth of catching talent, the Texas Rangers had to go looking for a veteran to fill the gap left by an injured Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Max Ramirez, the obvious replacement, is on the disabled list in Triple A Oklahoma. Down in Houston, though, Pudge Rodriquez could be had for a couple of minor leaguers, and he wasted no time driving up Interstate 45 to rejoin the club he spent his first 11 years with.
Pudge is 38 years old, so old that when he came up as an 18 year-old in 1991 Nolan Ryan was in the starting rotation. Ryan is now the Rangers' president. And Pudge, who has caught more innings than anyone ever in baseball, joins a team with young players who weren't even born when he was drafted into the Rangers organization.
He's immensely popular--still--in Arlington. He can still produce--hitting over .280 in Houston, far better than Ranger starter Taylor Teagarden's .196. He's not as big and muscley as he was back in the days when the Rangers were suspiciously big and muscley. But all that's in the past, and I'd guess most of us are willing to forget all that and welcome Ivan back to the team.

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