Alright, the intervention didn’t work. Time to call in Father Merrin.
I’m writing this from the American Eagle flight back to
We’ll get to the game later; I figure some of you will want my impressions of the park itself. Fortunately, a trip that had me leaving my house just before 8 AM had me at the ballpark around 11:20 – no longer a trip than it used to take to drive from Wichita, really – which gave us plenty of time to explore K2* before game time.
*: Sam Mellinger’s quest to name the renovated park The Kougar has gained sufficient traction within the clubhouse that I feel it would be inappropriate to try to fasten another name to the stadium – particularly given my own shameless attempts to make other nicknames into canon. But I understand and respect that the reaction to The Kougar is almost visceral with some fans. So you will see me occasionally slip in a
I was surprised by just how different the ballpark looked from the highway as you turn into the complex – the new jumbo-jumbotron, the outfield seats, and the reconfigured fountains serve to create a tangibly different look from a distance. Parking’s the same – and that’s a compliment – but up close the exterior of the park was different in places, less concrete and more glass and steel, adding a little character to what previously was a somewhat soulless shell.
Once inside, the gestalt I got of the new Kauffman Stadium was that of the old Kauffman Stadium, only better. We walked along the narrow inner concourse from home plate all the way around the park. We stopped in left field to check out the Hall of Fame, where we told by an usher (who was surprisingly helpful and talkative; the years in
A carnival-like section for children is de rigueur at major league stadiums today, but it’s hard to balance the desire to keep kids happy and separate their parents from their wallets with the need to keep the focus on the baseball game being played. What I liked about the Royals’ setup was that while you could not see the field of play from most of these events – most of them are located beyond the batters’ eye in dead center field – you only need to move 40 or
Continuing our walk around to right-center field, the view from directly above the fountains was excellent – I imagine the view from the Dri-Duck seats is terrific. We only glanced inside Rivals Sports Bar, but clearly the view from inside is more than adequate to watch the game – particularly for the type of people who want to sit down in a restaurant while a game is in progress.
We then headed around the outer (i.e. enclosed) concourse, which was wider than before (and enormous compared to the ones at U.S. Cellular Field) and featured the usual array of different food stations and menu items. Our tour ended in the Diamond Club behind home plate, where our seats were located thanks to my friends at WHB.
I hesitate to even talk about our experience in the Diamond Club, because I’m sure I’ll sound like the person raving about the width of the seats in first class, but…it was impressive. The Club, which I believe is accessible only to fans sitting in the four sections immediately behind home plate (126-129), is an air-conditioned, glass-partitioned sitting area with several food stations, and tables to eat at that face directly out towards home plate. The view was good enough that you could watch the entire game there without complaint – and in point of fact I did watch a few innings from this spot once it became clear that my pasty-white skin couldn’t take any more sun exposure without risking a nasty (and, for a dermatologist, embarrassing) sunburn.
Before gametime I ordered an $8.50 reuben off the menu, and while it wasn’t the best reuben I’ve ever had, it was very good - better than a lot of reubens I’ve ordered from actual restaurants (ones that charged more than $8.50) in the past. It came with a side of chips, which was enough to keep me from being hungry for the rest of the game.
Fluid intake was another matter. For some reason the Royals have decided to serve soft drinks in one size only. I understand that I’m going to get ripped off at a ballpark, but at least give me the choice of how I get ripped off – I’d rather pay $5 for a 48-ounce bucket than $4 for the 32-ounce ice-filled cup that I’m going to polish off in 10 minutes on a hot day.
But that’s a minor gripe. Kauffman Stadium has always been one of the most underrated places in baseball to watch a game, and if that changes in the new Kauffman Stadium, it’s only because people will stop underrating the park and realize that it is one of the very best baseball stadiums in the country.
The best thing I can say about the new park is that it feels like many of the other new parks in the majors. I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy the unveiling of two new ballparks in my backyard. In 1992, at the end of my freshman year at Johns Hopkins, the Orioles unveiled Camden Yards. I was on hand when the future of American stadium design was opened to the public (granted, it was an exhibition game against the Pirates), and it was immediately clear to me and everyone else there that day that every other ballpark in the major leagues had suddenly become obsolete. I moved to
My point is that over the last 20 years, the standard for ballparks has shifted, not just in terms of design and architecture but in terms of things like culinary offerings. And on every issue, the new stadium appeared to at least meet that standard. I don’t know if it exceeds that standard, at least in terms of food – I would need a lot of trips to sample ballpark fare, and even then you would want a less gastronomically inhibited person to try all the pork-based barbecue items. But the new stadium does not appear to be deficient in any way. The infrastructure of the park is 21st-century caliber, while the soul of Kauffman Stadium has been kept intact.
And by overlaying the new stadium design on an existing structure, the cost of the project came in at roughly half of what most other municipalities have spent on new ballparks. That’s what makes the Kougar (sorry!) so impressive to me – the park itself may not be better than places like Comerica and Miller Park and Jacobs Field (though it’s certainly better than the Cell) – it’s that the new Kauffman is a hell of a lot cheaper than pretty much every ballpark built in the last 20 years, while measuring up in every other way.
I sympathize with the people who wanted the Royals to build a downtown stadium, and frankly if Kauffman Stadium had been destroyed by aliens or something and the team had to start from scratch, I would think a downtown location would make the best sense. But it’s hard to argue, even for someone like me who’s an out-of-towner and doesn’t bear the tax burden, that it makes sense to build a downtown stadium when you can get the same structure built at the Truman Sports Complex for half the price.
The bottom line is this: when it comes to everything I look for in a new ballpark – good views from everywhere, wide concourses, an open design that allows you to walk all the way around the stadium and watch the game from multiple venues, a variety of high-quality menu items, amenities for the children and non-baseball fans who must inevitably attend games without distracting from the stadium’s central purpose – the new Kauffman Stadium does not appear to suffer any fatal, or even sickening, flaws.
The product in the middle of that stadium is a different story. We can talk about the product that I saw on Sunday at a later date.