Monday, June 1, 2009

Kauffman Stadium.

Alright, the intervention didn’t work. Time to call in Father Merrin.

I’m writing this from the American Eagle flight back to Chicago, a flight that I came precariously close to being bumped from. So I’m calling the fact that I made the flight home a win. It’s pretty much my only victory of the day.

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 K2 reference, which I think is by far the best of the other nicknames suggested. I love nicknames that convey multiple meanings, and K2 is not only a nod to the 2nd iteration of Kauffman, but conjures images of a massive and foreboding mountain for opposing teams to climb. But the nickname requires that Kauffman Stadium actually becomes a place that causes opponents to tremble in fear. The way the Royals played on this homestand, Kauffman Stadium was less K2 than Flint Hills.

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 Chicago have clearly jaded me) that construction would not be completed until after the All-Star Break. Immediately past the Hall of Fame came the kids’ section, which you occasionally get glimpses of during live look-ins on Royals broadcasts: the mini-K where kids can take their hacks, the speed pitch guns, the batting cages, the carousel, and the running lanes where kids can compare their 90-foot dash times against a variety of Royals players. (Though unfortunately not Jose Guillen. Perhaps there’s a section for toddlers that I missed.)

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 50 feet to see the field in most places. Contrast that with Comerica Park in Detroit, where they have a kids area (including a much larger carousel – I believe it’s a double-decker) that is cordoned off from the rest of the stadium to the point where it’s easy to forget that you’re at a ballpark.

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 Michigan for medical school in 1995, and enjoyed the quirks of Tiger Stadium (old, lots of obstructed view seats, but the most intimate stadium I’ve ever been to) for several years before Comerica opened.

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.

27 comments:

Isaac said...

Glad you liked the Stadium. I went to opening day last year from SoCal where I live, so I got to see the Jumbotron which was damn impressive.

On another note, Johns Hopkins? Very impressive! I was born there in 69 and my father got his PhD there.

Isaac said...

What is your opinion on this Rany? Making the assumption that Callaspo is healthy, why on earth would Hillman take one of the best hitters versus LHP in the league and play Jacobs against a guy like Danks? In addition, why, with the scored tied in the 7th inning and Jacobs on second with one out, would Hillman not pinch run for him?

There are certain things that I can say were simply bad luck with a understandable decision. There are others, however, that I look at and can't find any logic at all in. Unless this was due to injury to Callaspo that I am unaware of, I can't see any logic of taking the best bat we've got out of the game against a lefty and putting in the worst one instead. Especially since run production is so desperate at the moment. Do you have any possible argument that I may be overlooking?

Casper said...

A thought: Would it be possible that the make-up of Hillman's personality - Texas likes to produce macho-type's (play hurt, don't be a sissy, lecture you after a walk-off in Spring Training, get pissed off at Poz on Opening Day for following up on some of Hillman's evasive answers) - that the players are hiding injuries for fear of being put in the managers dog house for being soft? Think about it - Aviles was nursing a sore forearm all year but never said anything, Crisp with the lingering injury that Hillman admitted to rushing him back to the field from last time he sat him out so he could recover, Guillen last year with the leg injuries that persisted all year that for some reason were never bad enough to require being put on the DL...?

Like I said, just a thought.

Joe said...

I went home to see a game there earlier this year, and I was impressed. The amenities were essentially just additions needed to modernize the ballpark, and please the casual fans/parents. In comparison to Busch III in StL, where I currently reside, I still favor Kauffman, mostly because of the prices and somewhat due to the pretentious nature of St. Louis fans.

As for the downtown stadium others desired, I still think it would have been problematic. With no mass transit, parking and traffic would have been a huge problem.

KC Refugee said...

This is the first time I've heard the stadium called Kougar. It's meaningless to me (even somewhat silly) -- what's the idea behind the name?

sw said...

"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."
Nice turn of phrase there. Can't wait to hear your eyewitness account of the 2009 Kansas City Royals. I'm thinking "Even a stopped clock is right twice a day" is a good way to describe the Royals' management/scouting/development, because that's clearly the only explanation for the stardom of Greinke and Soria, in light of the multitude of below replacement level talent surrounding them.

ChaimMKeller said...

Rany, don't say Kougar and then add "sorry" in parenthesis. This isn't a phone conversation or a live chat. If you dislike the name as much as most of us not named Sam Mellinger do, or at least acknowledge that most of your readership doesn't like it, then JUST DON'T WRITE IT. That nickname is a terrible image, and should nothing should be done that helps it gain any circulation.

And I don't see the need for "K2" either, although it's certainly better. The stadium may have been renovated, but it's still the same building. To me, it'll always be "The K" and that nickname better invokes the memory of the man it's named after, who used to be frequently referred to as "Mister K."

Anonymous said...

KC Refugee,

If you're my age (62), the name Kougar means nothing. It apparently describes a woman who is past her prime, beauty-wise, and relies on things like cosmetic surgery, make-up, etc., to attract men.

Like many, I find the name unsavory and borderline-offensive.

Mark said...

Well, a Cougar is not just an older woman, but an older woman that hits on younger men as well. I think its just funny and people shouldn't take it so serious.

Frankie said...

Rany, I'm glad you enjoyed your K2 experience. Unfortunately for me I live in NYC and haven't made it back for a game this year. That being said, I feel a little cheated by this blog entry. This team has me steaming right now and I look for you to provide me with some comfort. Since you are my Royals Messiah, I need you to make me wine compadre. What positives can I take from this sweep knowing that the #1 offense in MLB is next on the schedule?

Jason said...

Finally someone else says something about the size of the drink options!! I love the new stadium but the lack of a sizeable drink option (even if I know I'm going to pay out the nose for it) is not good. I also hope that they can work back in some more local flavors into the food offered at the stadium. How is it we're the king of BBQ but don't have an authentic local chain represented at the park and only have one BBQ station our in center field?

KCBlue said...

I have similar sentiments about the new K. I always felt that they couldn't do much to improve the from-the-seats experience, but I do think they were able to do just that. When the stadium is packed, like it was Saturday, the new scoreboard and the outfield seats/standing area are an improvement.

Personally, I'm another one who doesn't get the "Kougar" name. It starts with a K, but otherwise it makes zero sense.

Derek said...

I have been to the New K and like the widened concourses and the ability to watch the game from behind the fountains.

However, I do not like the seats among the fountains. It has totally changed the stadium and ruined what I felt was unique about the K.

In the past being at Kauffman felt like being in the country. The vast expanse of green and fountains beyond the fence had a calm, relaxing feel to it. It really made you feel you had left the city.

Now the outfield is too busy. It's as if the last green space in an area has been bulldozed for the latest strip mall.

Chance said...

Why anyone gives a crap what anybody else calls the stadium is beyond me. It is officially Kauffman Stadium, and most people call it the "K", and if the local yahoos on sportstalk radio and in internet blogs want to call it something different so that they can titillate themselves and their listeners/readers, then so be it. (I said LOCAL, so that doesn't include YOU, Rany. You, I like.) Just realize that there will always be a sophmoric "fart jokes are funny" element that love the idea of drawing parallels between a removated stadium and a renovated woman. Heck, it does make some sense, it was funny the first 100,000 times I heard it, and it will fade away just like "Wazzzzuuuup!" and pet rocks did. Now if the Royals start using the nickname, get out your protest signs and organize your marches. For now, call it "Roscoe's Chicken 'N Waffle House" for all the difference it makes. By the way, maybe Rany can get you some medical help in removing that stick in your ass.

Charles said...

Why in the world is Jacobs in the lineup against LHP? On Saturday when he sat against Buehrle I thought, "YES, Hillman finally got the memo." The memo: Jacobs can't hit lefties. For the year his OPS is .559 against LHP; even this is loaded with luck (his BABIP is a studly .361). Adjusting that out to a more typical .300 (his career babip against LHP is .297) we would get the following line against LHP:
57 AB, 10 H, 2 2B, 0 3B, 0 HR, 21 SO, 3 BB and the following line:
.175/.211/.230.

I realize it's only 57 AB, but really do we need more? His career OPS against LHP is a Gloadesque .669.

Anonymous said...

Hell, I still call it Royals Stadium.

Ryan said...

K2!

Shelby said...

Rany:

Your trip to Kansas City to see the Royals proved one thing:

The Rany Jazayerli curse is real.

Anonymous said...

Rany

Thank you, thank you, thank you!! I was waiting to see your review of the stadium and I was pleased by what you wrote. See, Keitzman and Clinksdale have been whining on and on about not having a downtown stadium. So now they've started nitpicking things about the new K including--the chain link fence on the outside. Who cares about a chain link fence? They continue to fail to see how much more a new downtown park would have cost while mothballing a premiere stadium which just needed some(ok,expensive)tlc. Clinksdale claims that the concourses aren't really that wide. Knowing that you've seen a lot of different stadiums and can compared and contrast and give Kauffman a big thumbs up means a hell of a lot more than those twos opinions. If you talk to them explain how impressive the stadium is.

But talk slow so they can understand.

Thanks for letting me rant. Felt good.

Chris

Dan said...

Great post Rany. Just one correction if you check out the total cost of the new Twins stadium, a new Downtown KC stadium would have cost almost 3 times what K2 cost...and the team leases would have required Jackson County to build a new stadium for the Chiefs. Guess how much that would have cost, Keitzman! The renovated Sports Complex will end up being the greatest stadium bargain of a generation.

Dave said...

Right on, Chris. Keitzman and that moron Danny have been complaining and nitpicking everything about the stadium from fences to grass. That's right, grass. Grass! Everyone knows Keitzman wanted that park downtown so he could put an 810 Zone there and make some money. Danny is such an elitist 90% of the listeners can't relate to what he is talking about and I don't know anyone that values his negative outlooks and opinions anyways. The New K is great, sooner or later the Royals are going to catch up. I think Soria returning jump starts the bullpen. Everyone returns to their original jobs thus relaxing the starting piching and Gordon miraculously returns like Roy Hobbs. I just hope he has "Wonder Boy" with him. Go Royals!

gbewing said...

The Royals should make a serious run at Brandon Wood-I think he's gettable and once out of LA could fill our need for a SS and power- Wood is not going to get his break in LA and I'm guessing he wants out.

This isn't the typical lets go get Albert Pujols post, I think this is doable- I would trade Butler and a minor league pitcher for Wood

Anonymous said...

Can someone explain to me why Horacio Ramirez is pitching in a tied game?

I thought Soria's return was supposed to return the RP's back to their appropriate roles?

Seriously...why?

Chris said...

Thanks, Dave

At the start of the year Kevin and Danny were fairly complimentary of the upgrades but once they began losing now everything is wrong. Seems like they're piling on. Also Kevin claimed they could've built a new stadium downtown for about the same money which is just a lie. They use Pittsburgh as an example but fail to mention it was built on the same ground as Three Rivers so the infrastructure was already there. Dan is right about this being the greatest stadium bargain of a generation. Kevin and Danny act like they speak for everyone in the area which is another lie. Of course the people who agree w/ them will call cause they let them speak. If I tried to call they'd interrupt before I'd get my point across. If you want an unbiased point of view listen to Petro not Kevin and Dannnnnny.

Olentangy said...

Rany, please don't call the K "the Cougar" You could call it the cougar if you thought the renovations were botched and the stadium still looked old. Calling it the cougar is the same as calling it the wrinkled, leathery old skank.

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number search said...

Its one of the better stadiums I will say.