Saturday, September 1, 2012

Game 21: Middle of a Long Drive

Royals 1, Tigers 0

Wednesday morning, we woke up just north of Houston, deep in the heart of Texas, with the rocky deserts of the American southwest finally passing into our rearview mirror. Thursday afternoon, we would be arriving at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Canada, some 1,700 miles northeast of Houston. In the midst of this one-and-a-half day test of our collective driving endurance, we had a game to watch at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. 

Driving with smartphones and constant cell phone service means you often lose a sense of where you are at any given moment. Want to get from Houston to Kansas City? Say the words "Kauffman Stadium" to your cell phone and follow a series of simple directions, and there you will be, many hours later. Thus, Kansas City felt like a moment of settlement within the great moving abyss that was the drive from Houston to Toronto. Here are three little unrelated stories/thoughts from the game:

-Ten minutes before first pitch, when the other three guys were up getting food, an older couple behind me asked me if I knew the capacity of Kauffman Stadium, as they were trying to estimate. I guessed 35,000 (turned out to be 38,000), and told them it was my first time at the park, and we talked for a minute before I was explaining the road trip to them, giving the short-form introduction we have given to many over the past four weeks. The couple, who were from North Carolina, wanted to know how we knew each other, so I told them that we "go to college together in Vermont." Immediately, she replied, "Do you go to Middlebury?" Surprised, I told her that indeed we did, and she said she thought so. Turns out she had no connections to Middlebury (although she had done some work in the world of academia in her area), but had just pinned me down as a Middlebury student. Pretty cool, considering most people we talk to have never heard of it.

-In one of the early innings, there was a very close 5-4-3 double play turned against Austin Jackson, where we thought that he might have been safe, but the first base umpire called him out. The unusual part was that a replay of the play was shown on the Kansas City jumbotron. One thing we noticed immediately about baseball stadiums is that none of them play the video of close plays. Whether it is a called third strike or a diving catch that could have hit the ground, or a play at first, they never show it. One can understand their reasoning: the MLB likely does not want to give more fuel to the fire of booing umpires for every close call, they do not want umpires to see the replays during the games, and they do not want managers to see the calls in time to come out and argue. Yet for fans, it is incredibly disappointing, and is one of the drawbacks of watching a game in person versus on television. So it was nice to at least see one close play, and as fans, we hope they find a creative solution to the dilemma so that more replays can be shown.

-Kansas City is home to the Negro League Hall of Fame, and my favorite thing about Kauffman was the presence of a recognition and admiration for the Negro Leagues, which showed itself in several forms. Though we missed the introduction to the first pitch, it was thrown by an old black man wearing a Kansas City Monarchs jersey, who it seemed had at least some historical connection to the team. Throughout the game, I saw multiple people wearing Kansas City Monarchs hats and jerseys. At the team store, they sold Negro League hats, not only of the Kansas City Monarchs, but also the Homestead Grays and the Indianapolis Clowns (Damon and I bought two, see right). It was great to see, and unlike any other ballpark thus far. I took a course at Middlebury on the Negro Leagues, and many of my all-time favorite baseball stories and players came from the Negro Leagues (among just those three teams mentioned above were Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and Hank Aaron). There are few moments in baseball history I would rather relive than a game featuring some of those greats. I feel that in baseball fandom today, the Negro Leagues are not given their fair share of inclusion into our view of history. For example, when you hear about the best team of all time, why are the 1935 Pittsburgh Crawfords, who boasted Gibson, Paige, Cool Papa Bell, Judy Johnson, and manyt lesser-known studs, never put in the discussion? The same goes for questions about the bests-of-all-time, where so many great players forgotten because they were in the wrong league. (For those wondering, by the way, the Negro Leaguers got to play the Major Leaguers in the off-seasons for many years, outside of league play, and the teams of Negro League players proved time and again that they could keep up with the teams of Major League players.) The Negro Leagues were an integral part of baseball history, and I would love to see more recognition of that fact, so I appreciated that it was there in Kansas City.

Games watched: 21
Games to go: 9
Thuuz score: 63
Concessions: Great barbeque fries and beef brisket sandwich. 
New experience of the day: We decided to try to scalp tickets to see what it was like, and did pretty well, getting four tickets, usually priced at $30 each, for $80 total. 
Stadium: My favorite thing about Kauffman stadium was that there was not a bad seat in the house, They designed the upper deck so that it would remain close to the field, and would taper as it went down the baselines, essentially eliminating the nosebleed seat. They did this without sacrificing too much capacity, as mentioned above. No other stadium has as few places where it would be hard to watch a game. Aside from that design aspect, we also really liked the water fountains across the outfield, and the appearance of the stadium in general. 
Southern trend: During one of the inning breaks, the whole stadium joined in the seemingly traditional singing of the Garth Brooks song, 'Friends in Low Places.' It was the third stadium in a row, after Texas and Houston, where they had their own trademark song to define the ballpark experience.
Fan Atmosphere: The most notable part of the fan atmosphere was the friendliness that you could sense from discussions with strangers to reactions from the crowd, to the overall positive mood that was obvious when walking through the concourses.
Tim Kurkjian Award: At one point on a ground ball hit to first base, Prince Fielder bobbled the ball and hesitated, just barely beating Royals batter Mike Moustakas to the bag. As he touched the bag, his momentum carried him into Moustakas, and they collided, bringing each other down--all 490 combined pounds. For a second, there was tension, as it had looked more like a football tackle than an inadvertant collision, but before you knew it, they were hugging and helping each other up. Nice to see.
Quote of the Day: "We got to see a one-zip game, you caught a foul ball, life is good." -A father to his son as they left the game.
Miles Traveled: 9,830
Miles to next game: 1,001 miles (Rays @ Blue Jays, August 30, 7:10pm)

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The outfield fountains

Scoreboard, topped with a crown

Outfield fireworks

Damon holding up our sign

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