Last night I attended my first Royals game since before the COVID-19 pandemic. Not that I’ve been avoiding Kauffman Stadium altogether — last summer I ran the Royals Charities 5K and at the end of 2022, I took a behind-the-scenes tour of the K. But it had been quite some time since I last attended an actual Royals game, and to rectify that, I bought my ticket to watch the boys in blue take on the Guardians.
This return to game attendance was certainly memorable, but unfortunately, not in a good way. For one thing, it was broiling hot outside: 96°F officially when the game started, and it felt like triple digits. As for the game itself, I knew things were going to be rough when the Guardians hit a grand slam in the 3rd inning. This was followed by a two-run homer in the 5th inning and another two-run blast in the 6th. By the time the 7th inning stretch arrived, the Royals were down 14-0.
The Royals did manage to score a run in the bottom of the 7th, but this was small consolation in the face of what was probably the worst defeat I’ve ever seen live at the K. To make matters worse, Relish won the hot dog derby — my least favorite of the three condiments.
Attendance in general was sparse, with the official number coming in at 11,978. Kansas City is feeling a bit disgruntled with its baseball team these days, and with games like the one we experienced last night, it’s not hard to understand why.
In spite of all this, I am still glad that I made a point of attending the game. Kauffman Stadium has long been one of my favorite places to visit, and sitting in the stadium last night, I find that the sentiment remains. It breaks my heart that the organization intends to move the team out of Kauffman and into a new venue in downtown Kansas City. Until that day arrives, I want to try and get out to more games and soak it in while I can.
John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil, Jr. was born on November 13, 1911 in Carrabelle, Florida. He grew up in Sarasota, Florida, where he worked in the celery fields while his father ran a pool hall in Newtown. O’Neil later moved to Jacksonville with relatives, where he attended Edward Waters College to complete high school and two years of college courses. He was nicknamed “Buck” after the co-owner of the Miami Giants, Buck O’Neal. His father, John Jordan O’Neil, Sr., played on a local team, thus exposing Buck to baseball at an early age.
O’Neil left Florida in 1934 to play semi-professional baseball, collecting several years of barnstorming experience. His efforts were rewarded when he signed with the Memphis Red Sox in 1937 and then joined the Kansas City Monarchs in 1938. O’Neil had a career batting average of .288 (based on statistics from 1937 to 1950), which included four seasons above .300, and he also played in three East-West All-Star Games and two Negro World Series.
Buck O’Neil served in the United States Navy in 1944 and 1945 during World War II. He served in a naval construction battalion in New Jersey during this time, and then returned to the Monarchs at the start of the 1946 season.
O’Neil was named manager for the Monarchs in 1948, continuing to play first base full time through the 1951 season. He continued to manage the Monarchs through 1955, serving as a reserve player and pinch-hitter during these later years, winning pennants in 1953 and 1955. Following the 1955 season, O’Neil resigned as manager of the Monarchs and became a scout for the Chicago Cubs. He was named the first black coach in the major leagues by the Cubs in 1962, though he was not assigned in-game base coaching duties. In 1988, O’Neil joined the Kansas City Royals as a scout, and in 1998 was named “Midwest Scout of the Year.”
In 1990, O’Neil played a major role in the establishment of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, and served as its honorary board chairman until his death. In 1996, O’Neil became the recipient of an Honorary Doctor of Business Administration degree from the University of Missouri – Kansas City, and in 2006 he received an honorary doctorate in education from Missouri Western State University, where he also gave the commencement speech.
Also in 2006, O’Neil was nominated to a special Hall of Fame ballot for Negro League players, managers, and executives in 2006, but received fewer than the necessary nine votes (out of twelve) to gain admission. Nevertheless, the always good-natured O’Neil spoke at the induction ceremony for the seventeen Negro League players who did get inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame that year.
After several weeks in the hospital, Buck O’Neil died on October 6, 2006 in Kansas City, Missouri due to heart failure and bone marrow cancer.
On December 7, 2006, O’Neil was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush due to his “excellence and determination both on and off the baseball field.” On Opening Day of 2007, the Kansas City Royals announced they would honor O’Neil by placing a fan in the Buck O’Neil Legacy Seat in Kauffman Stadium each game who best exemplifies O’Neil’s spirit. The seat itself has been replaced by a red seat amidst the all-blue seats behind home plate.
In 2021, the Early Baseball Era Committee elected Buck O’Neil to the Baseball Hall of Fame with 81.3% of the vote. He was formally inducted on July 24, 2022.
As one last hurrah to 2022, I signed up to take a behind-the-scenes tour of Kauffman Stadium today. The weather was about as good as one could hope for on December 31st, but it was still pretty chilly, and I was glad I bundled up for this experience. My tour guide was an older gentleman named Michael, whose daughter also works for the Royals. According to Michael, one month after he retired, his daughter insisted that he needed something to do and helped him get set up giving tours of Kauffman during the off season and working in the Royals Hall of Fame during the season. He’s been working in this capacity for the last eight years, and he certainly knew his stuff.
This post is going to be predominantly pictures, but I’ll try to include explanatory captions where appropriate.
Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri first opened as Royals Stadium on April 10, 1973. Construction for the stadium began in June 1967, when a $102 million bond was issued by Jackson County for construction of two sports stadiums. One of those stadiums was for the Kansas City Chiefs of the National Football League. The other stadium, meanwhile, was intended for the Kansas City Athletics.
The Philadelphia Athletics, owned by Arnold Johnson, had moved to Kansas City in 1955, bringing Major League baseball to the city for the first time. The Athletics moved into Kansas City Municipal Stadium, a facility originally built in 1923, which was then rebuilt and expanded for the A’s. Johnson passed away in March 1960, and on December 19, 1960, Charles Finely purchased a controlling interest in the Kansas City Athletics from Johnson’s estate.
In the early 1960s, Finely began looking to move the team to a new city. In an effort to keep the Athletics in Kansas City, the Jackson County Sports Complex Authority was established to oversee construction and funding for a new sports complex for the A’s and the Chiefs, who also shared Municipal Stadium. Original plans called for a multipurpose stadium, but these were scrapped due to design and seating capacity issues. Going against the trend in other cities that were building multipurpose stadiums at the time, the county decided to build two new stadiums, one for the A’s and one for the Chiefs.
Charles Finely, however, did not want to wait for the construction of a new stadium, and in October 1967, Finely took the A’s to Oakland, California, where a new multipurpose stadium had just been erected. After the move, United States Senator Stuart Symington of Missouri threatened to press for the revocation of baseball’s anti-trust exemption if they did not give Kansas City a new team. The MLB responded by hastily granting expansion franchises to four cities, including a Kansas City team owned by a local pharmaceutical magnate, Ewing Kauffman. The new teams were scheduled to start playing in 1971.
However, pressure from Symington and other officials prompted the MLB to allow the expansion franchises to begin playing in 1969. The new club in Kansas City was named the Royals, and they played their first four seasons in Municipal Stadium. Meanwhile, construction on the Truman Sports Complex, including the Royals’ new stadium and the Chiefs’ facility, Arrowhead Stadium, began on July 11, 1968. The Royals played their first game in their new ballpark, originally named Royals Stadium, on April 10, 1973 against the Texas Rangers.
Royals Stadium was the American League’s first ballpark with Astroturf as the playing surface. It held 40,793 seats, which all faced second base and were arranged in three tiers featuring maroon, gold, and orange seats. The stadium’s most unique feature, however, was the display of fountains and a waterfall beyond the outfield fence. Stretching horizontally for 322 feet, it remains the largest privately-funded fountain in the world. The fountains are on display before and after the game and in-between innings, while the waterfalls are constantly flowing. A twelve-story scoreboard, in the shape of the Royals’ crest, was placed beyond the center field fence.
In 1993, the stadium was renamed in honor of Ewing Kauffman. Two years later, the Astroturf was replaced with grass. Then, after the 1998 season, Kauffman Stadium was given a full makeover. The renovation included the addition of Crown Seats, Dugout Suites, new clubhouses, and an exclusive restaurant and lounge known as the Crown Club. All of the formerly-brightly-colored seats in the stadium were replaced with blue seats.
Then, on April 4, 2006, Jackson County, Missouri voters approved a 0.375% sales tax increase to fund plans to renovate the Truman Sports Complex, including a $256 million renovation of Kauffman Stadium. Along with this, the Royals committed to a lease that will keep them in Kansas City until 2030. The renovation included a reduction of capacity to 37,903, a new high-definition scoreboard in center field (known as “Crown Vision”), new bullpens perpendicular to the field, expansion of the seating in the Crown Club and Dugout Suites, and new fountain view terrace seats in the outfield. New fan attractions included a kids’ area known as “the Little K” and a new Royals Hall of Fame in left field.
Four statues stand in the outfield concourse behind the fountains. Three of the statues are located in right field (featuring George Brett, Dick Howser and Frank White, all of whom have had their numbers retired by the Royals), and in left field is the former Royals owner Ewing Kauffman and his wife Muriel.
Quite the accomplishment for Matt Davidson, for sure, especially when you consider that Kauffman Stadium is not the most home run-friendly ballpark in the league.
As a Royals fan, however, this is the kind of statistic one dreads to see making headlines.
Davidson has had three multi-home run games already this season, and all three of those games took place — you guessed it — at Kauffman Stadium. And since the Royals and the White Sox are division rivals, Davidson will have six more games at the K (including today’s doubleheader) to add to his record.
Royals fans already knew this would be a long season. Now we’re just throwing salt on the wound.
Baseball statistician, Bill James, spoke at the University of Kansas last night as part of the James Naismith Lecture Series. I had the privilege of attending the lecture, which centered around “Transitioning from Naïve to Professional Research.” The talk was delightfully engaging, thought-provoking, and amusing.
If you’ve never seen him in person, Bill James is a big man. He stands over six feet tall with noticeably broad shoulders, and he a full head of hair and a large beard that only seems to add to his enormity. He is, of course, even bigger in the baseball world.
But James actually didn’t talk a lot about baseball. He couldn’t entirely avoid it, being such a prolific baseball writer and the founder of sabermetrics. He did talk about the determination of strong versus weak MVP pools, mentioning this article, which, among other things, argues that Eric Hosmer deserves to rank second in the AL MVP race over Aaron Judge. His statement noticeably surprised a lot of folks (and delighted a lot of folks; Lawrence is only about an hour from Kauffman Stadium, after all). “Eric Hosmer’s contribution to the Royals,” James said, “was greater than Aaron Judge’s contribution to the Yankees.” When he puts it that way, it makes sense.
James’s primary discussion, however, revolved around ideas. He compared ideas to seeds on a tree. The seeds of a tree scatter, and though there are thousands upon thousands of seeds that can come off any given tree, if just one of them takes root and becomes another fully-grown tree, that is an astonishing percentage. 99.9% of tree seeds scatter and all they do is become food for animals or clog our sewers and gutters. In the same way, we as human beings come up with hundreds of ideas every single day, and the vast majority of those ideas are throwaways. But if one of those ideas takes root, it can potentially change the world.
Everything around us, he said, once started as an idea. “The Kansas Union was once an idea that somebody had. The University of Kansas was once just an idea that somebody had.” It’s a perspective-altering thought.
This thought has direct relevance to James’s own life. When he graduated from KU in the 1970s, James says he knew his job prospects weren’t great. More than anything, he just wanted to find a job “that didn’t involve taxi cabs, heavy lifting, or armed robbery.” Spending his spare time working with baseball statistics, he said, was something that folks around him would comment was interesting, but that not enough people in the world were interested in it enough for him to ever make a living off it. We know now that those folks’ assessment was proved wrong, and James’s work with statistics became the idea that not only changed his own life, but revolutionized the world of baseball.
This isn’t everything that Bill James spoke about last night, but these are the ideas that particularly struck me. It was one of the more engaging lectures I’ve had the opportunity to attend, and I like to attend these kinds of things whenever I can. The fact that I’m a baseball fan certainly influenced my perspective, but as you can probably tell, it was the kind of talk that even non-fans could appreciate.
Though it took me until late-August to finally make it to a game, I suddenly seem to have made quite a shift in my luck, as the other night I made it to my second game in two weeks. This past Wednesday night was Bark at the Park night at Kauffman Stadium, and the ballpark was full of our furry friends.
We arrived early enough to take a detour through the Royals Hall of Fame. We’ve seen much of it all before, so we didn’t linger too much, though I had yet to see the short film the Royals had created chronicling their journey to the 2015 World Series championship. Watching it turned out to be a moving experience, almost like reliving the whole trip in a Reader’s Digest format. It was enough to make me wish the Royals would hurry up and have a repeat season.
The gal who invited me to come along to the game with her had some impressive seats, so I was able to enjoy being in closer proximity to the field than I was last week.
Unfortunately, the Royals were unable to pull off another win with my presence. I suppose I can’t be lucky all the time, eh? Jason Vargas gave up three home runs, and even Whit Merrifield’s 3-run homer in the bottom of the third wasn’t enough of a spark to keep the Royals in it. The Royals are now 11 games out of first in the AL Central, and our chances at a Wild Card slot are starting to look a bit slim. Then again, these are the Kansas City Royals, and as we all know, you can’t count them out even in the bleakest of circumstances.
Yours truly finally made it to Kauffman Stadium for a Royals game this year! My first of the season — yes, I’ve been slacking. Need to get back on that. A lady at work had tickets, but then realized she had another obligation, and was kind enough to pass them on.
Yesterday had been a challenging day at work, which gave me the perfect excuse to splurge on a dog and an overpriced beer.
The crowd was small, just over 25K, as it usually is at Kansas City baseball games — unless, of course, they make it into the playoffs. I had forgotten what a stress release being at the K always seems to be for me. Even though I am very much an introvert, sometimes being in a crowd can be nice. I think I like the opportunity to blend in and become relatively anonymous.
I enjoy some of the distractions that being at the stadium can present. The hot dog derby, for example, never fails to bring out my inner little kid. Relish won this round, but ketchup is still leading the standings — at least at Kauffman. Go ketchup!
I love being able to see I-70 from the stands:
And the fountain display at the K is always worth taking a look.
However, none of this beats the excitement of sticking around to watch Eric Hosmer blast a walk-off home run off Greg Holland. No, I didn’t get any pictures of the celebration that followed that event. I found that I was much too happy and excited to do anything other than grin like an idiot and cheer. I will say, though, that oftentimes when I go to Royals games, I feel like I rarely get to see a win. It sure was nice to feel like I brought them a little bit of luck for once.
When I heard about the passing of Yordano Ventura, at first I wasn’t sure the headline I saw was accurate or true. A quick Google search proved that it was, and my emotions ran from disbelief to shock, then quickly to sadness. Obviously, I didn’t know Ventura personally, never met him in person, and had he opted to do something with his life other than play baseball, would likely never have heard of him. Even knowing all this, upon reading the news of his death, I couldn’t help but feel a genuine sense of loss. After all, I had watched this young man pitch through some of the best seasons I’ve had the privilege to watch as a Royals fan. In spite of his temper (or maybe because of it), he was a fan favorite in Kansas City, and many of his fans continue to grieve as the week goes on.
It’s one of those events that gets me thinking about baseball, about sports in general, and its role in our world. When the Chicago Cubs visited the White House last week, Barack Obama commented, “Throughout our history, sports has had this power to bring us together even when the country is divided.” The fact that baseball’s popularity grew exponentially following the American Civil War is a testament to this. During both World War I and World War II, baseball became a form of entertainment that provided Americans a much-needed escape from the realities of being a nation at war. Jackie Robinson’s journey into the history books shows that baseball can even impact the social climate of our country.
For me, personally, the world of sports continues to provide a sense of balance and purpose to my day-to-day life. I am a notoriously active person, which helps to offset the forty-plus hours a week I spend sitting at a desk at work. I love the competition of running road races, the challenge of tackling obstacle course races, and the feeling of accomplishment when I have become strong enough to need to go out and buy a new set of dumbbells. In the past, I’ve slid into bases, played tackle football in the backyard with my brothers, and had my ass kicked in martial arts studios. The benefits to my physical and mental health are too numerous to list here (though that might be a worthwhile topic for a future post? We’ll see…). Then, when the workday is done and the chores are finished and the day’s workout is completed, there’s the escape of turning on a Royals game or a Packers game and getting lost in watching others compete while I unwind.
For kids and adults alike, there are organized recreational teams to encourage a sense of community as well as to promote our overall well-being. And, again, we also find community in the teams we root for (or against), and in the time we can spend in watching those teams and players compete. We become so engrossed with these games that we become emotionally involved in them. We sometimes become obsessed. We track our favorite players, we feel anxiety or elation over the performances of our teams, we buy their jerseys and wear caps bearing their logos and we do so with pride. Hell, the Super Bowl has become such a big deal that we throw house parties, complete with booze and a junk food feast, sometimes just so we can watch the commercials.
The death of Yordano Ventura revealed the incredible sense of community among Royals fans. The way my Facebook feed exploded with shock and grief revealed just how profound an impact this one man playing for this one team really had. The tributes in memory of Ventura made at Kauffman Stadium are overflowing onto the parking lot. Baseball, and sports in general, they mean something to us, and they impact us on a deeper level than we oftentimes acknowledge. In a time of tremendous political and social turmoil in our country, maybe it is time for sports, whether it is baseball or football or hockey or whatever, to exercise its power of healing yet again.
The Royals-Cardinals series, also known as the I-70 Series thanks to the interstate that connects Kansas City and St. Louis, is generally touted as a big rivalry. It is a showdown between the two MLB teams who call the Show-Me State home. Ticket prices are generally pretty outrageous for this series (this year, the cheapest tickets available were $42). As a result, I had never attended one of these games in person. So when I was offered a free ticket to attend last night’s game between the two teams, I naturally jumped on the opportunity, expecting a high-energy and intense experience.
Boy, was I disappointed.
Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed the game. I have a hard time not enjoying any Royals game that I attend, and I’m always willing to cheer them on. I felt sad that the Royals lost, but really, it was the crowd that proved so disappointing. Admittedly, it’s hard for the average fan to stay involved in a game in which the home team isn’t doing so well. The Royals’ struggles of late haven’t been very easy to swallow. But when you have a crowd of almost 33,000, and it feels like none of them are paying attention to the field… well, that’s just upsetting. The sound guys kept playing all kinds of pump up music and prompts, trying anything to get the crowd fired up, and most of it fell flat. The Hot Dog Derby brought on more cheers than most innings.
There were a few bright spots. The Royals rally in the sixth inning to score a couple runs did raise the energy level a bit. And when they managed to load the bases in the bottom of the ninth, the whole stadium — those who stayed, at least — was on its feet. The rest of the game, though, felt pretty blah. I’m not a very loud person, but for much of the game, I was easily one of the loudest folks in our general area.
I realize that much of this post is pretty whiny, especially considering that I don’t have any solutions to offer, other than asking folks not to attend a ballgame they intend to ignore. We live in a world where everyone is plastered to their phones, even at the ballpark, which is the whole reason stadiums are expanding their protective netting — to protect those who won’t see that foul ball coming as they focus on their next selfie. In the last couple years, attending a Royals game for most folks has been more about showing off to others their presence there than it has been about watching the actual game. It seems that you can either have a winning team with a crowd of bandwagon fans, or you can watch a losing team surrounded by fans who actually care about what’s going on. You just can’t have both.