Kauffman Stadium: A Trip to Kansas City's Old Faithful

Ryan CookFeatured ColumnistAugust 6, 2012

Kauffman Stadium-the only stadium in the American League named after a person.
Kauffman Stadium-the only stadium in the American League named after a person.

On a quest to see a game at all 30 MLB stadiums, I saw a weekend off work as an opportunity to sneak in a visit to one park I hadn't been to before. So I decided to drive the 10 hours from Silverthorne, CO to Kansas City for a Friday night game between the Rangers and the Royals.

The 10 hours to KC ended up being about 15 as I left on Thursday night at about eight and stopped three times to sleep and twice to to refill snacks and the gas tank.

The three goals I had outside of seeing a game at Kauffman Stadium were to check out the Negro League Baseball Museum, drink local brewed beer and find some old-school KC BBQ.

Rolling into KC, the largest city in Missouri—a fact which may win you a bar bet—I saw a large sign that said the Negro League Museum was at the 18th Street exit and to the right.

I went west for just a few blocks when I saw a building that held a sign saying that it was a "World Famous Restaurant." I knew it was famous for one reason. BBQ. I would be back.

I then found the Negro League Museum a couple of blocks later at the corner of 18th and Vine. Easy parking on the street is abundant throughout a neighborhood featured by the Negro League Museum and The American Jazz Museum which occupy the same building. Local businesses flourish in the area highlighted by numerous bars and barber shops.

The museum itself is a professionally presented collection of memorabilia and stories compiled from the different Negro and Latino leagues in existence before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947. I have always felt the best Negro League players would have given the MLB stars a run for their money in a one-game competition, and the fact that Latino players were also excluded from playing big league ball makes me think that the competition was nowhere as good as it should have been. Imagine Satchell Paige on the '54 Indians. Could have changed everything.

The highlight of the museum is a replica baseball diamond made out of carpet, all green with a tan color base path. At each defensive position there is a statue of the top Negro League star at that position. The outfield wall is painted green with advertisements from the day painted over the top.

The exit from the museum inevitably landed in the gift shop where I bought a pretty cool magnet. Now back to the "World Famous" Restaurant from a couple of blocks before.

I parked in the lot for the place at 2:30 in the afternoon, but I held the door open for people going both in and out. The place was busy and apparently had attracted visits from US Presidents and top level sports players. At the time it was a mix of tourists and locals. Close to 50/50.

The routine is as simple as the decor at Arthur Bryant's. Get in line. Grab a plate and utensils. Give your plate to the cook and say what you want. Tell the cashier what you would like to drink. Pay. A few pictures of famous people who have visited and articles profiling the restaurant adorn the walls. The tables are formica topped, and you wait your turn for one.

I went for the sliced pork sandwich and fries. It was a load of sliced pork in between two slices of Texas Toast. The fries were thick cut and fried in lard so they were very heavy. The sandwich was extremely meaty, maybe two thirds of a pound. Meat and bread only. This is when you can try the three different BBQ sauces that are set on the tables.

I didn't care for the original sauce as it has a major vinegar base. The bold and the sweet offerings were both amazing.

Food down, I decided to go ahead and get a room and drove around a while until I found a good spot about a mile away from the stadium. 

No one I talked to knew how to get to the game on the city bus even though there was a stop across the street from the motel. The first bus through was the one that got me close to the ballpark.

As soon as I got into the parking lot after walking over the bridge spanning I-70, numerous individuals began offering me tickets to the game.

The guy I bought my ticket from said the bottom level was sold out, but he had a ticket in the front row of the upper level. After checking the date on the ticket, I saw that the row number was HH—not the front row and I called him out on it. So I got a $23 ticket for $10. 

Kauffman Stadium is clearly 40 years old and reminds me of a minor league park. The upper deck protrudes over the lower level so that you can't see fly balls while standing in the lower level. Picnic areas in both left and right fields block sight lines for people wanting to see the game. That being said, most of the people attending the game were wearing powder blue somewhere on them to give support.

The lack of bars or restaurants within walking distance around the stadium lowers the atmosphere around Kauffman to a level on par with Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. The scoreboard has a 1980s technology feel to it.

After Mitch Moreland hit a three-run homer in the sixth, giving Texas a 5-1 lead I felt it was time to go and took the bus back to the hotel. A six pack of Boulevard Wheat Ale which was OK but nothing spectacular and women's volleyball was how I fell asleep.

A successful trip to Kansas City behind me, I got in my car Saturday morning and drove 10 straight hours home. I stopped for a drive-thru Chicago dog an hour into the drive, gas in western Kansas and oil in Idaho Springs, CO. Good luck beating Mapquest time, after only those stops I was 10 minutes behind.

It is time for a new stadium in Kansas City. Is it worth the price to taxpayers? Can the team find something better elsewhere?

I am glad I made the drive to see the Royals play. There are a lot of fun things to do in KC that are a bit away from the park but well worth doing. Only nine more remain.