The aroma of hot dogs and brats on the grill greeted my nose as my shoes hit the asphalt of the parking lot. I arrived at the Truman Sports Complex after the hour-long trip from my home in eastern Kansas, parking in front of Arrowhead Stadium. The red and white sign reading “CHIEFS” glared down at me, beckoning, but I had another destination. I turned south and joined the streams of fans trickling towards neighboring Kauffman Stadium.
The Royals were in the midst of a hot streak with four straight wins. It was a much-needed respite from the struggles of the early weeks of the season, through which many of Kansas City’s disgruntled fans had lost faith, once again, in this oh-so-promising-but-not-quite-there team. On this Saturday, I finally made it in for my first game of the season, still hopeful — always hopeful — that the streak will not only continue, but will spark an exciting, playoff-bound season.
At the gate, friendly, but determined, staff members waited, armed with a barricade of tables and metal detector wands. Standing in line, I recalled news reports about the incident in 2000, when someone fired three random shots into Kauffman Stadium during a game between the Royals and the Pirates, allegedly firing from I-70. One shot hit an empty seat in the upper deck, and another shot hit the back of the scoreboard.
The third shot, however, hit a woman in the lower deck. That woman sued the Royals for not ensuring that no guns made it into the stadium, in spite of the evidence that the shots came from without. The Royals managed to settle with the woman. However, the after-effects of this and other incidents throughout the country continue to show today in the form of these security checks.
Arriving at the front of the line, I set my ball cap, media guide, and the contents of my pockets on the table and followed the routine of holding my arms out to allow the staff member to pass the wand over both the front and back of my person. As I collected my belongings and refilled my pockets, I was astonished to hear a bright, “Hi, Precious!”
Working the turnstiles stood one of my high school math teachers. I recalled that, even when I was still in high school, she worked Royals games during the summers. Honestly, it seems strange that I never bumped into her at the K before Saturday. We caught up a bit — as much as seems appropriate when you haven’t seen someone for over a decade and a line of ticket-holders stands behind you — and I continued on into the stadium.
A swirl of people, food, voices, music, and paraphernalia bombarded my senses. I found my seat, way up in the upper deck over left field. Sitting down, I remembered why I love going to the ballpark so much. I felt a sense of calm in my seat, especially with an hour remaining to game time, but also a sense of anticipation. Americans have a variety of different reasons for going out to watch a baseball game. Some go out of a sense of duty to root for the home club. Some go for the sake of entertainment or out of a sense of boredom. Others go because their friends extended an invitation, and it is the “cool” or “in” thing to do at the moment. And some go purely because they love baseball. I like to think that I fall into this last category.
The game wasn’t a clean or pretty one. After giving up two runs to the Minnesota Twins in the early innings, the Royals rallied to score five runs in the bottom of the fourth. In the top of the fifth, they gave up two more, which put fans from both sides on edge for the rest of the game. Alex Gordon continued his hot streak with three hits, and Billy Butler continued his climb out of a slow start by collecting two hits of his own. Danny Duffy, meanwhile, continued his dominance coming out of the bullpen. No more runs crossed the plate after the fifth inning, and the Royals won 5-4.
The radio talk show I listened to following the game pretty much nailed it: the Twins’ shoddy defense gave the Royals the victory. From a missed catch in the outfield to an overthrown ball in an attempt to stop a double-steal, the Twins could not seem to find their stride with the leather.
Twins fans sat in the row in front of me as well as in the row behind me, which made for an interesting dynamic. Depending on the events of the contest, one section of the stands grew quiet while the other cheered and clapped. Several rows below me, a group of young men in the midst of a bachelor’s party became intermittently rowdy throughout the game. And, of course, Kauffman Stadium provided all kinds of other entertainment, from food to music to hot dog races (I love rooting for Ketchup, and Ketchup won that day!) to all kinds of other contests and silly games. While the purist in me wishes the focus would remain solely on baseball, even I can’t deny that the ballpark provides pretty catchy entertainment between innings.
The victory brought the Royals to a five-game winning streak and put them in a virtual tie for first place in the AL Central. The high of it all proved short-lived, however, as they lost game three to the Twins on Sunday, 8-3, in a particularly brutal affair. The same radio show that held my attention after Saturday’s game ranted about the fickleness of fans, and how baseball, like life, would always have its ups and downs. Sure, there might be a bad game or a bad week, but ball clubs, just like people, don’t just throw in the towel because of that. You keep fighting to improve. And, who knows? You just might look around one day and find yourself in first place, even if just for a little while.