I was standing outside of the stadium with three of my friends, waiting for five o'clock to roll around so we could gain admittance into the Crown Club. I had been lucky enough to be invited along as the fourth wheel. The three of them had entered into a weight loss contest. Somewhere around the middle of the ninety day stretch, it had become clear that Jason was going to win, considering the other two had gained weight over the first five weeks.
The two losers of the triumvirate were on the hook for all of the tickets, and after checking around, they discovered that they had to purchase an even number. The fourth was extended to me as a courtesy and gesture of friendship, due in some small part to the fact that I write about baseball and I'm leaving town next week.
After ten minutes of random conversations about the legitimacy of gay marriage in a binomial State, a bit of a ruckus formed by the door. A man, claiming to be a relative of one of the Royals players, was trying to gain admittance into the stadium, but said player had neglected to leave his pass at the door. After several minutes of fruitless communication, he went back to texting on his phone and I lost track of what happened next because Art Stewart showed up.
There are very few hidden figures in the Royals organization that have meant more to the team than Art Stewart. Hidden in the sense that he carries with him a sort of unrecognizable anonymity. If you have been involved with the Royals, or have attended enough events, you may have come to know who Art Stewart is, but may still not be able to pick him out of a crowd of octogenarians.
Despite this, his impact on Kansas City baseball is legendary. Since joining the team in its first season, he has worked as a scout, scouting director, director of player development, senior special assistant to the general manager, and since 2001, he has served as the senior adviser to the general manager. There is not a single person involved with the organization that has been around as long as Art Stewart. He was inducted into the Royals Hall of Fame in 2008. Excluding the Kauffman family, he is one of only two front office personnel to be inducted.
It was a passing glimpse, though. He shuffled past the line, waved a hello to the woman at the door, and she promptly let him in.
At five o'clock, we were let into the stadium.
We made our way through the executive lobby into the concourse behind home plate. Across from the lobby was the entrance to the Diamond Club. Through the Diamond Club doors, you then take an elevator down to another lobby to gain entrance into the Crown Club. At the bottom of the elevator, we ran into Ryan Lefebvre, who was making his way up to the press box from the clubhouse. We chatted for a few minutes* and then made our way to the clerk at the entrance to the Crown Club, passing the press room and side entrance to the clubhouse along the way. The clerk reviewed our ticket stubs and gave us a stamp of phosphorescent ink that only shows up under certain ultraviolet light. From there, we took a carpeted staircase down into the bar and dining area, where the buffet was being prepped.
If this all sounds highly exclusive, then I have managed to convey to you at least some modicum of how the Royals want you to feel. The Crown Club is much more an experience than a game. It's an assault of decadence, one that I was not particularly prepared for. From the air-conditioned dining room fitted with marble tile and dark wood accents to the constant presence of Royals employees and media fat cats, it's hard to not get swept up in the enchantment of it all.
We bellied up to the bar and ordered a round of cocktails, included in the cost of the ticket. From there, we stepped out of the back door and into the seating area, where the Royals were in the middle of their batting practice.
I have seen batting practice at Kauffman before. I know that I have. There's a fragment of a memory from childhood buried somewhere in a synapse that informs me that I have seen it before. But not like this. Not in the new K, with the Crown Vision looming over the world, shadowed figures wandering aimlessly waiting for their turn in the cage. The whole of the Orioles roster stretching down the left field line, their turn of batting practice coming up next. Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas standing two dozen feet away, completely present yet wholly removed.
After watching for a few minutes more while posing for various glamour shots, we made our way back into the dining room.
I don't know if I can do justice to the bounty that is the Crown Club buffet. Between filet steaks, herb-roasted chicken, pork tenderloin, prime rib, colossal shrimp, various sliced meats and cheeses, rice pilaf, roasted cauliflower, and skillet potatoes, it was a bounty of entrees both delicious and savory. Another round of cocktails and two trips through the buffet had everyone feeling warm and satisfied.
But there was more. There's always more.
I am not a pie person. Not a big fan. Or cobbler, really. Anything with a crust and a fruit filling would not be my first choice for a dessert. However, the blueberry pie, served a la mode, was the most delicious dessert I've ever had. Ever. In forever. There is nothing that comes close. Nothing compares. I don't know if it was a seasoning, or a spice, or the fact that it was essentially a $24 spoonful of sugary crust and hot blueberries with ice cream, it is the new standard to which all desserts I consume will be compared to.
At some point during dinner Soren Petro, he of "The Program" on 810 WHB, arrives with a friend of his. I recognize him, but don't say anything. It feels weird to broach on other people's goings-on because you recognize them from one thing or another. And Petro and I don't have the cleanest history. Not that he knows me. No. But I've been critical of him in the past on Twitter, and that's just a weird place to come from if I had worked up the guff to say hello.
After dinner, we decided to try and walk off the thousands of calories we had just stuffed into ourselves by returning to the real world and visiting the team store.
There's an odd assortment of items available at the store, including but not limited to mesh hooded masks of Eric Hosmer and Alex Gordon, a vintage Kansas City Athletics jersey that is less than vintage (having been made of flannel at the time, but now is woven of synthetics like modern jerseys), and pennants for many things, but none that reference the American League Championship season of yesteryear. The crowd was beginning to pour in, so we made our way back to the quiet comfort of the Crown Club.
At this point, it was six o'clock. We had exhausted our options, and the game was still more than an hour away. So, we drank some more.
The game proceeded, as it often does. The first inning was rough. The second inning was not better. The Royals picked up a run in the third, but gave it back in the fourth. During the inning breaks, a waiter comes out to your seat and takes your order for more food and more booze. At times, you feel like you're in a casino, where they shove sugar and caffeine and food vouchers into your hand. But they've already got my money. Or, more appropriately, my friend's money, so bring it on.
During this time, Kris Medlen was pitching. It was his first start for Kansas City, and for a guy recovering from his second Tommy John surgery, who is only expected to throw so many pitches, he made the most of his appearance. A quality start. No walks. Only five hits. Six strikeouts. It's only one start, but it was very encouraging.
And then the bottom of the sixth happened. With one out, Eric Hosmer doubled to left field. By wRC+, he is tied with Buster Posey for 17th in Major League Baseball. Kendrys Morales grounded out to second, and then this happened:
Mike Moustakas was not very good in June. Or July. Even the beginning of August was rough. Heading into August 11th, he was riding an 0-for-13 stretch and a 3-for-32 slump. Since then, Moustakas is hitting .283/.426/.652 with four home runs, including another opposite field job at Fenway.
The inning wasn't over, of course. Because when the Royals have two outs, they become some kind of monster incarnation of George Brett, a team on the move and just sick enough to be totally confident.
The next sequence of plays is going to look like an utter fabrication, so remarkably unbelievable that you could not even try to sell it as a fantasy to the most delusional of Royals Facebook commenters:
-Salvador Perez reached on an infield single
-Alex Rios doubled into left field
-Omar Infante tripled to deep left center, driving in Perez and Rios. He then scored on a throwing error to third
That's a real thing that happened, and is just about the best way to describe how hilariously spontaneous and cruel baseball can be.
The rest of the game was a blur. Franklin Morales did things, Baltimore did less things. Luke Hochevar struck out two in the ninth, the game ending on a high pop out to Moustakas, a fitting end to one of the best games I have ever seen in person. The atmosphere was electric, the seats were immaculate, the food was delectable, and aside from some self-inflicted gastrointestinal distress, it was all free. Even if it hadn't been, there isn't a complaint I could make about the evening.
After the game, waiting on my friends by the elevator, Ned Yost came swaggering out of the clubhouse and headed towards the press room to do the post-game. What a ridiculous night.
Of course, there's only one thing left to do, and that would be to drive away:
*Disclosure: Lefebvre and I are acquainted, and he is also acquainted with one of the persons I was with.