September 3, 2005: Kansas City, Missouri
After spending two relaxing days in Minneapolis, Mike and I were prepared for the “exciting” 450-mile drive to Kansas City, home of the world’s second-largest collection of water fountains, Arthur Bryant’s Barbecue, the Negro League Baseball Museum and the Kansas City Royals. With so much to see in one day, Mike and I really had to have our act together. Fortunately, our planning and the kindness of the people of Kansas City made that one day memorable. A vital element of the Ballpark Tour is sampling the local cuisine; since Kansas City is the pronounced King of Barbecue, what better city to have a slab of ribs? Serving up the best BBQ in KC since the 1920’s, Arthur Bryant’s Barbecue is a Kansas City institution. Its original location, 1727 Brooklyn Avenue, offers an authentic Kansas City experience. My slab of pork ribs was served on a tin tray with a half-dozen slices of white bread on the side to soak up any excess BBQ sauce. When dining at Arthur Bryant’s, throw all table manners out the window and dig in to the finest BBQ in the country. After polishing off the slab, Mike and I were off to Kauffman Stadium; Ballpark #23 was only hours away.
Royals Stadium replaced the Royals’ original home, Municipal Stadium, before the 1973 season. It would take the Royals only 4 seasons in their new home to reach the playoffs, winning the American League West in 1976. This would be the beginning of a Royal Dynasty. From 1976 to 1985, the Royals made the playoffs seven times, culminating with their 1985 World Series win over the St. Louis Cardinals. A lot has changed in the past 30 years. Royals Stadium was renamed Kauffman Stadium in 1993 to honor Royals founder Ewing Kauffman. Welcoming fans to Kauffman Stadium is a statue in honor of Ewing and his wife Muriel. This statue gave me the feeling I was visiting the Kauffmans’ home, and in many ways I was.
Kauffman Stadium was built ahead of its time. Its design moved away from the multipurpose donut style stadium of the 1960s and ‘70s. Kauffman Stadium is an open-air ballpark with a 322-ft. water fountain stretching the length of the outfield wall. Above the water spectacular beyond the centerfield fence, a twelve-story-high scoreboard tower stands in the shape of the Royals Crest, topped off with a crown. Adorned with lights that illuminate the night like crowned jewels, this scoreboard perfectly caps the design of the outfield, and makes for one of the most recognizable and beautiful backdrops in all of baseball. Most ballpark travelers like myself would assume that a ballpark built in 1973 would not stack up against the modern ballparks of today, but despite its age Kauffman Stadium holds up. A ballgame at Kauffman provides a unique experience by combining the fun and excitement of Little League with the amenities and professionalism of Major League Baseball.
My pre-trip research found information on the Royals Express Bus Service. The Royals Express offers fans an affordable ($5) and fast travel option to Kauffman Stadium. As a bonus, passengers on the Royals Express receive $5 off their game ticket and a sightseeing tour through downtown Kansas City. The Royals were completing their second consecutive 100-loss season when Mike and I came to down. A losing ball club can put a strain on its fans. I was hoping Buck Night (Hot Dogs, Soda, and Peanuts were a $1) would bring out a good crowd to the 6:05 matchup between the Royals and Texas Rangers. The 18,932 in attendance were treated to a well-played game. The Royals fell behind early after home runs by Adrian Gonzalez and David Dellucci, but rallied in the 9th to bring the winning run to the plate. Royals’ rookie catcher Paul Phillips would send the fans home unhappy after popping out to Michael Young to end the game: Rangers 5, Royals 3.
Kansas City is a place I would definitely visit again. Besides Kauffman Stadium and Arthur Bryant’s, Kansas City is home of Country Club Plaza (an upscale shopping and dining area), the World War I Memorial, Union Station, the historic 18th and Vine Jazz District, and the Negro League Baseball Museum. The Negro League Baseball Museum has been the highlight of my travels throughout the country. I have always admired the perseverance of Jackie Robinson, but what many fail to acknowledge is the impact Negro Leaguers like Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, and Buck O’Neil had on the advancement of African-American and Hispanic players prior to Robinson’s Major League debut in 1947. These men loved the game of baseball so much they endured the all-night bus rides and “Whites Only” hotels and restaurants. Negro Leaguers were not only pioneers in the game of Baseball, but also America. Their strength in playing the game they loved inspired many to continue on their path.