I’m fortunate that my wife is also a baseball fan. It runs in her family as her maternal grandmother almost always had a game on. We’d arrive at her home late on a Friday and she’d have on a Dodger game, or some other west coast game on TV. Good memories.
Despite being a fan, my wife struggles with the names of the players. Birthdates of third cousins, anniversaries of great aunts and uncles, 50-year-old phone numbers, she’s killer on those things. She just can’t remember any of the names of the 2023 Royals. Or any other team. She’s great with nicknames though. Our typical baseball conversation goes like this:
Hon, is Country Breakfast still playing?
No, he’s retired.
What’s the name of the little guy who plays for the Texas Rangers?
Yes! I like him.
Hon, the guy who looks like a Cocker Spaniel is pitching.
(Scott Barlow, in case you’re wondering)
Brad, the guy who looks like Fievel is pitching.
(Daniel Lynch. Sorry dude, in our household you’re Fievel)
She has names for other Royals, who will remain nameless. One player is Mr. Potato Head. Another is the guy who looks like a poodle. There’s more, I just don’t want this to leak into the clubhouse. The guys would never forgive me.
The K celebrates a birthday
Kauffman Stadium turned 50 this summer. I haven’t seen much written or promoted by the Royals about the anniversary. Maybe the club doesn’t want to talk about the milestone, preferring to direct the conversation to building a new downtown park. If that happens, so be it, but there’s no denying that Royals Stadium, now Kauffman, remains one of the best baseball parks in the country.
It opened for business on Tuesday April 10, 1973. It was a cold night in Kansas City, but a sellout crowd came out to watch the up-and-coming Royals spank the Texas Rangers by a score of 12-1.
The Royals wasted little time jumping on Texas. Freddie Patek led off the bottom of the first with a walk, stole second and scored the first run in stadium history on a John Mayberry RBI single. Big John hit the first home run in stadium history, a two-run shot in the fifth to make it 10-0 Royals. My guy’s Steve Hovley and Kurt Bevacqua capped the scoring in the bottom of the eighth. The only Ranger run came on a Jeff Burroughs home run in the ninth off Paul Splittorff, who pitched a complete game, five hitter.
After the game and during that first season, the accolades flowed in.
“It’s something akin to seeing the Atlantic or the Pacific for the first time. Or maybe your first visit to New York City. Your jaw drops and you’re a bit overwhelmed.”
The Salina (KS) Journal
“Trying to describe the stadium is like trying to put into words a description of your first kiss.”
The Milan (MO) Standard
“More than 39,000 fans packed what will probably become known as the best baseball facility in the world.”
Independence (MO) Examiner
“Royals Stadium is built for baseball and is, bar none, the finest place to watch a baseball game anywhere.”
The Bolivar (MO) Herald-Free Press
“Royals Stadium is the best park in baseball. I like the way the field sits down in a bowl. The artificial turf is good. It’s not too hard. The stands are just about the right distance from the field. The playing conditions are just about perfect.”
Sal Bando, Oakland A’s
“It’s marvelous. I especially think it’s an excellent park for fans. They are so close to the action and have a superb view.”
Billy Martin, Manager of Detroit Tigers
My first glimpse of the stadium came in August of that summer. I remember being blown away by how colorful everything was. I was pretty country at the time and for a small-town boy living in a lonely world it was an experience like when the movie Wizard of Oz went from black and white to color. I had been to Municipal Stadium before, and it was colorful as well. George Toma and his crew could make anything look good. But Municipal was old, and it was old style. The Chiefs played there as well, which was not an unusual arrangement in those days. In fact, most baseball parks of the era shared the field with their city’s football teams. This made for some interesting visuals in September and October, as the football field was marked off on the baseball infield.
But Royals Stadium was ahead of its time. No posts blocking the fans view of the action. The artificial turf and its drainage system meant fewer rainouts. The scoreboard was like nothing ever seen before. Today all the parks have large video boards. Not so in 1973. And the water spectacular was another twist. Between innings, the organist would play, and the water fountains fired up. Have you ever stood outside of the Bellagio and watched their water display? That’s what it was like in 1973.
It helped that the Royals were winning. They posted their first winning season in 1971 and finished the 1973 season with an 88-74 record, good for second in the West behind the World Champion Athletics. Today, 88 wins might get a team into the wildcard round.
The park has aged well over the years. It’s played host to All-Star games, playoff and World Series games, concerts and by the end of the summer, over 4,000 baseball games. It’s gone through one major remodeling which expanded seating capacity. It’s a convenient park to get to, sitting at the corner of two interstate highways and parking is a breeze. You pay for it, but nothing in life is free anymore. The sightlines are some of the best in baseball. It’s still a fantastic park.
Will the Royals move downtown? Yes, eventually. It seems a foregone conclusion that the Sherman group wants a downtown stadium. It’s just a question now of who will pay for it. When that day comes, it’ll be bittersweet. A new generation of fans will come to love the new facility, just as us old timers love Kauffman. Until then, we can continue to enjoy The K.
Luis Arraez watch
If you’re paying attention to baseball this summer, you’ve seen Luis Arraez of the Miami Marlins who is hitting .376 as of this writing. Arraez has always been a fantastic hitter with a lifetime average of .327. He doesn’t hit many home runs, just 17 in 1,955 career plate appearances, but he puts the ball in play and draws some walks. Over his four and a half seasons, he’s walked 165 times while only striking out 153 times and his career OBP is an outstanding .384. Arraez was also an excellent hitter in the minor leagues, which more and more appears to me to be a pretty good indicator of future success or failure. How many prospects have we seen, especially with the Royals, who were average to below average hitters in the minors, then when they do the same (or worse) at the major league level, we express surprise and disappointment? Too many.
Arraez was originally signed by the Twins and started playing for their rookie league team as a 17-year-old. His minor league career slash was: .331/.385/.413. He’s put up almost identical numbers in the big leagues. It’s like Maya Angelou once said, “when someone tells you who they are, believe them.”
Arraez was hitting over .400 as late as June 24th but has cooled off a bit recently. I’d love to see him hit .400 this season. Or any season. How great would that be?