‘A weekday afternoon game at Kauffman’ (Part 2 of the THT Fan Experience in Kansas City)

As a teacher on vacation in the Summer, I have the luxury of having days where I can afford to not do anything. Summer is a time where I can get appointments done, as well as start all kinds of projects before I begin work in August (this blog is one of those projects…though I expect to continue this blog even after I report back to school). Also, summer allows me to partake in events during the week that most normal, working people would find difficult to do, if not impossible.

The weekday afternoon MLB game is one of those events.

After writing my own analysis of The Hardball Time’s “Fan Experience Index” rating of Kansas City (which was 4.99 out of 10, good for 27th overall), I decided to make a trek over to Kauffman Stadium for a Wednesday afternoon game against the Detroit Tigers, the series (and homestand) finale. In order to really “analyze” the fan experience, I had to really judge the Kauffman Stadium experience in person and with the criteria THT used.

I had to travel and attend this game alone, almost like a semi-business trip rather than the typical “day at the K” I was used to and enjoyed in the past.

This wouldn’t be a time for drinking and playing cornhole or washers in the parking lot. This wasn’t a time to blast brews or down dollar dogs with buds in the Kauffman cheap seats while talking about where Mike Moustakas would be traded to by the Trade Deadline. This wasn’t a time to Snapchat every single picture at Kauffman. I really wanted to judge Kauffman seriously, fairly and truly see if it was better than the 4.99 rating and 27th ranking THT gave it.

And thus…in the corny Law & Order intro voice style…here is my story:


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Traveling to Kauffman Stadium

I live in Midtown Kansas City and left my house around 10:45, stopping by a CVS nearby to get some gum and seeds, knowing that I would need something to snack on, but didn’t want to spend near 15 dollars for two things I could get for 3 dollars at a convenience store. By the time I headed to the stadium on I-70 East, it was probably close to 11.

I understand that there aren’t a lot of “alternative” ways to get to Kauffman Stadium, but I found it pretty straightforward, and a lot easier than I last remembered. Of course, there were a lot of things to keep into consideration: it was a Wednesday afternoon game a time and day of the week where most people are working; and the Royals are in the bottom of the AL Central, meaning the demand is not there for tickets like it was from 2013-2017 (but no longer the worst team in baseball, woohoo). And, I was also getting there early, nearly two hours before first pitch.

So, it shouldn’t be surprising that I got to the ballpark in about 17 minutes, found parking easily relatively close to the stadium, and didn’t have to deal with any traffic issues. But believe me: I have been to other ballparks, and parking can be a pain in the ass even in the same situation. The Royals and the Truman Sports Complex do a pretty good job with their circumstances: big parking lots, multiple entrances, helpful, quick-moving attendants.

Nonetheless, I do wish that there were better mass transit or shuttle options to the park, especially from my area. I still think if the Royals want to improve attendance, especially for a day game like this, there needs to be some kind of transit or shuttle infrastructure in place that caters to younger fans who don’t want to hassle with parking and just want to catch an impromptu game at the ballpark. I get it. The tailgating culture is great. It’s nice to see fans with their tents up, grilling, playing cornhole, drinking brews, etc. But that’s something that fans can’t do regularly. I have friends who live in Seattle and San Francisco, and they just like going to the ballpark, no tailgate included. That’s how the Mariners and Giants make their money because younger fans will catch three-to-four games on a homestand because it’s easy to get to the park, not just one or two.

I think Kauffman is a great stadium, but they need more options to get to the park. If that can happen (and this is probably beyond them; this is really a city transportation issue), then I think we’ll see the stands fill up a little more (especially as more recent college grads are moving into the city), regardless of the team’s standing.


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Enjoying the pregame experience in Moose’s (most likely) last game as a Royal

My family was never much into tailgating. Maybe we’re West Coast like that. I remember one time we went to Candlestick Park and tailgated with one of those disposable grills. We grilled some Kirkland Polish Sausages and kinda just sat around in lawn chairs and didn’t say shit to one another. Then after we finished, my dad was like “All right, screw this, let’s get into the ballpark.”

I’ve always enjoyed getting to a ballpark early and just walking around and seeing everything about the ballpark. It doesn’t matter if it’s Kauffman Stadium or a Minor League park. There’s just something special about walking around, soaking in the Baseball Americana of a stadium. For as much crap as Kauffman gets for not being in the city (unlike most modern stadiums; Kauffman may be one of the last of its breed in the sense that it’s not in the heart of the city), the amenities Kauffman offers makes it an enjoyable experience before first pitch.

After parking, I walked over to Gate E, which is one of two gates open 1.5 hours before the first pitch. I passed by a Mike Moustakas banner on a light pole, and it made me think of this post on Twitter I saw before I left for the game this morning:

It made me sad to think it was Moustakas’ last game at the K, but I felt every Royals fan knew the writing was on the wall. I’m sure Ned Yost did as well, as he started Moustakas, even though the Tigers’ starting pitcher was a lefty.

Until about an hour before the game, only the outfield area of the stadium is open, which is fine because there are plenty of things to check out. Since it was a Wednesday, they had the “Music Showcase” where a band played in the outfield experience area before the game in a stage near some of the stands, as evidenced in this picture below:

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It probably wasn’t the greatest gig for the band. And though the area is nice and spacious, good for people to gather and listen, it is also near the “kids” area, which consists of a mini-baseball field, batting cages, a jungle gym, and even a miniature golf course. (Seriously…what other damn park has those things?) Considering the circumstances, I’m sure the band, whoever the hell they were, didn’t get the attention they were craving, but hey…a gig is a gig.

Speaking of the “kids” area, it’s obvious that the Royals, especially in the outfield experience, really are catering to a family environment. While they do have their areas for young adults, like the Craft and Draft section (which I will go into more detail in a bit), it’s obvious that the Royals are banking on the Johnson, Clay and Cass County families commuting to the game, and need attractions to distract their kids since a baseball game doesn’t have lasers and shit to entertain them. While I think these attractions are convenient for parents (I get it…not every five-year-old is going to be enthralled by nine innings of baseball), but it makes me wonder if these attractions are better or worse for baseball. I mean, this area made the Royals outfield experience seems less like a ballpark and more like a Dave and Buster’s. If baseball is really serious about keeping younger fans, I think the game of baseball itself has to be the focus, not frivolous distractions (yes, that’s the old man in me talking).

Outside the kids-heavy attractions, the fence by the fountains is adorned with a combination of bar patios and bronze monuments of legendary Royals. In the pictures below, statues of George Brett, manager Dick Howser, and Frank White are front and center, a nice relic to the days when the Royals were not just the hot ticket in the Midwest, but also a team worth following across the nation.

However, while I am critical of the “kids carnival” aspects of the pregame outfield experience at Kauffman, I do appreciate the Royals Hall of Fame, which I think is incredibly well done and put together. The one thing Kansas City has is great baseball history, as the Athletics once played in Kansas City before moving to Oakland (Northern California always stealing Kansas City teams), and the Monarchs were the “Yankees” of the Negro Leagues. The Negro League Museum on 18th and Vine is one of the finest baseball museums in the nation, period, and the Kansas City T-Bones, an Independent baseball team have a great stadium in Kansas City, Kansas, and draw great crowds (especially considering they share the metro with an MLB team).

Kansas City really is a great baseball city, but it often gets overlooked in comparison to more well-known baseball cities like St. Louis, Chicago, Boston, New York, and the Bay Area. I feel like the Royals Hall of Fame is an amazing testament to not just the Royals’ rich history, but Kansas City’s great baseball history overall, with all kinds of Kansas City baseball artifacts ranging from the Monarchs and Negro Leagues in Kansas City to the old Municipal Stadium that housed the A’s and Royals initially to the 70 and 80’s heydays with George Brett and Co. to their most recent playoff success in 2014 and 2015. Kauffman really did an amazing job with the Hall of Fame, and it probably is one of the best, if not best, attractions that Kauffman has to offer, especially for baseball fans who live in the Midwest and are traveling from Nebraska, Iowa, Oklahoma or South Dakota to watch the Boys in Blue.

‘Speaking of the Midwest, it is obvious that people in this part of the country love their local state universities. There were a few apparel stores open in the outfield experience, an in addition to the plethora of Royals caps on sale (from authentic fitted ones to adjustable golf-style hats), they also had Royals fitted hats that were in the colors of local colleges, including Kansas University, Kansas State, Mizzou, and Nebraska, as seen below:

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If anything these hats confirmed two things I learned while living here in the Midwest for almost 8 years:

1.) People in the Midwest (Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska Midwest) really care about their college sports.

2.) Colleges in the Midwest (Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska Midwest) really love to exploit their college for massive financial gain.


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Craft and Draft: Not for kids

About an hour before the game, the rest of the ballpark opened up, and I was able to mosey over to the other end of the stadium and stroll up to the Boulevard Craft and Draft, which is basically Kauffman’s answer to those who think Kauffman is just a “Kids Wonderland” in terms of attractions. The Craft and Draft basically is an embodiment of what every 20-something out of college these days demands out of their dining establishments: craft beers, artisan food, and nice mahogany furniture. Opened in 2015, this was the result of all those Millenial wishes:

I got to admit: the digs hold up pretty well. While I do enjoy the grungy aspects of the upper decks where it’s standard fare such as hot dogs, brats, and Miller Lite (I grew up on it with games at Candlestick and Oakland-Alameda Stadium as a kid), I’m always a fan of when ballparks focus on local products, as Kauffman does with Boulevard here. I mean, when you look at that tap selection (and they also have more behind the bar), and it makes you feel like you’re at the Boulevard Tap Room, not at Kauffman stadium for a baseball game.

The only drag about the Craft and Draft? It’s expensive as all hell. I got a Raspberry Jam Band (because…why not?) and it cost me 13.75 for a 12 oz. Almost 14 bucks! I know craft beer is more expensive, but holy shit…I see guys how blasted in this area all the time. How do they afford it?

(To answer this question, it’s because they have bank when it comes to disposable income…my girlfriend last night reminded me that not everyone has a teacher’s salary.)

 


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Lunch with a view

After finishing my “way too expensive and not satisfying enough” beer (I love Boulevard, but Jam Band is not high on the list of favorites for me), I bought a $1 scorecard and headed up to my seats in the upper decks, section 420 to be specific (yes, make your jokes now…either to the scorecard or the obvious weed reference). I wanted something to eat, but I decided to go to standard fare rather than do something fancy. After all, it’s a baseball game. If there’s one thing I think gets overblown, it’s all the fancy cuisine that they’re doing at baseball games. My mother talks about AT&T Park’s (the Giants) food all the time: the Crazy Crab Sandwiches, the Garlic Fries, the Ghiradelli ice cream. I am more like my dad in this end: a hot dog and a beer is good enough (though my dad doesn’t do the beer anymore; he became like Mormon or something after I left for college). I figured that there would be plenty of options in the upper decks, and I wanted time to prepare my scorecard before first pitch.

As expected for a Wednesday afternoon day game of a team 38 games under .500 going into Wednesday’s game, there were no lines in the concessions stands. I waltzed right up, bought Sheboygan brat combo (brat and pretzel bites) and a tall Miller Lite (had to get Jam-Band-taste out of my mouth). The total cost was $23.25 ($12.75 for the combo; $10.50 for the Miller Lite). I also ended up buying a big bottle of water from another stand for $7.25, so my total expense for lunch at the K was a clean $30.50. Yep, not exactly the McDonald’s Value Menu in the upper decks.

Despite the K’s poor reputation for food, I think the brat is one of the best things on sale at the K, and today didn’t disappoint. I also like the pretzel bites accompaniment, which was the first time I had eaten them at a ball game. Though it does come at a hefty price tag, if there are no other deals on tap (i.e. it’s not a dollar night), then I could make this a regular item for me at ballgames if I don’t eat LC’s BBQ before.

(Pardon the picture below. I had eaten a bite before I realized I needed to take a picture for the blog.)

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Just me, the Royals and my scorecard

It had been a while since I had scored a game at the ballpark. When I worked in South Dakota after Summer School ended, a buddy of mine and I would drive down to Denver for a weekend series, get a hotel, and not only watch all three Rockies games at Coors Field, but also keep a scorecard for all three games. It was nerdy shit I know, but for us, it was a heavenly experience because we both loved baseball, sabermetrics, and getting the hell out of the isolation of South Dakota whenever we had a chance. Thankfully, Coors Field was only a six-hour drive (when you’re in South Dakota, a six-hour drive is like a 2.5-hour drive anywhere else; you’re used to driving long distances).

However, I hadn’t scored a game since I left South Dakota and moved to Kansas City in 2013. Since I was by myself attending this game, I felt keeping a scorecard of what could be Moose’s last home game as a Royal would help me pass the time.

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Not only did it help me pass the time, but keeping a scorecard enhanced the baseball experience so much more. In fact, I think baseball is one of the few games where you can go to a game by yourself, and really enjoy it more solo due to the scorecard (much like Ramen is best-enjoyed solo at a restaurant). That’s not something you can do with football, basketball or hockey. Yes, those sports are more exciting, but it’s more exciting with friends, family, dates you’re trying to impress, or guys you feel comfortable slapping hands with. Those sports though decline considerably in enjoyability when you’re alone and don’t know anyone around you, or there are a bunch of empty seats in your section. Eventually, you get bored and are on your phone Twittering or Snapchatting midway through the contest.

That is not the case in baseball, as I remained off my phone except to take pictures for this post or double check a roster change (Kauffman, you have to step up your game when there’s pitching changes). You get to see which hitters are having a good game, and which ones aren’t immediately. If you keep track of pitch counts (like I do), you can see what counts pitchers are getting into, and that will explain whether or not they are having a good day or a bad one (Danny Duffy was not taking advantage of early pitcher counts, and he paid; Matthew Boyd, the Tigers pitcher, stayed ahead most of the day and that was a big reason why he kept the Royals off the board for most of the day). It’s also a great souvenir, a real-time artifact of the concentration, focus, and love you have for the game of baseball.

Some people may find it crazy, but going to a baseball game solo and scoring a game is a truly relaxing and enjoyable sporting experience. Because of this, I am thinking about making a habit of it, as I am toying with the idea of splurging on partial season tickets and scoring all those games if the prices go down for season tickets next season (wink…wink…Royals).


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Baseball is fun in the upper decks at Kauffman

Even though most of my focus during the game was on keeping score, it was fun to notice the little things in the upper decks. It’s amazing how even though there are a ton of empty seats around us in the section, people still make fusses over seating assignments (just find an open area; nobody is getting a foul ball here). I also was surprised by the diversity of the crowd, as there were fans of all ages and races in the upper deck section around me. There were families from Texas, a group of exchange students from Korea, a travel baseball team watching the Royals on a day off from one of their tournament games in the KC-area, students from summer programs run by Operation Breakthrough, and even a contingent of Dominican fans who went crazy every time Jorge Bonifacio came up to bat (“Papi Chulo” was their term of endearment for him; too bad he went 0-for-4). They even had a Dominican Republic flag they waved proudly during his at-bats, as seen in the photo below:

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If baseball in the lower decks is mostly families from the Kansas City suburbs, business people using the tickets given away at the office, or middle to upper-middle-class college kids on summer break using their parents’ season tickets, then the upper decks in an eclectic mix of folks much like Kansas City itself. It’s diverse, it’s different, and can be strange on occasion (there was a fair share of shirtless men; whether they should’ve been shirtless is a different story). But it’s comforting, especially for someone who identifies as a mixed-race baseball fan, where basketball and football are the more popular sports for people of my background (especially in my extended family, where it’s all about NBA basketball and the NFL). The Royals do have some diversity. They do have fans of different cultures who enjoy the equally diverse roster the Royals employ.

I just wish the Royals would promote this a bit more. If they put just half the effort into celebrating the fan cultural diversity as they did when it comes to celebrating the troops (not saying that they should celebrate them less…just want to give context because they really go full board into honoring service members at games), I think the Kauffman experience could even be more special for a wider range of fans in Kansas City, which is not only good for the city but good and strengthening for baseball overall.


So what do I think overall about the “fan experience at Kauffman”?

According to my last post, I rated the Royals in the 9 categories as follows:

  • Affordability: 7
  • Ownership: 3
  • Gameday Experience: TBD
  • Ballpark and broadcast accessibility: TBD
  • Broadcast: 7
  • Spring Training: 9
  • Laundry: 9
  • Social Media: 6
  • Mascot: 10
  • Aggregate rating: 7.29

I actually will lower the affordability to 6. Tickets are cheap, but here is how much I spent overall:

  • $17 on parking and tickets (thanks to $5 student night)
  • $44.25 for 2 beers, brat, water and pretzel bites.
  • $1 for a scorecard
  • $62.25 overall

And if I paid the original $11 for the seat (it’s normal price) it would be just a shade under $70. Maybe it’s just me, but over $60 for a game just seems like a lot, and I think The Hardball Times were pretty accurate in their original rating.

I also would rate the accessibility a three as well, as the lack of options makes getting to and out of the ballpark a pain in tough crowds. Thankfully, the crowd wasn’t too bad, so it was better than usual, but I felt that it should’ve been easier to get out of the ballpark considering the game was pretty much over by the seventh, and it was pretty sparsely attended, to begin with. It took me about 15 minutes to get out of the parking lot, which is almost as long as it took to get to the ballpark and park overall. And in terms of broadcast accessibility, while they do have a Spanish broadcaster, it’s not available on MLB At-Bat radio, and I can’t name off the top of my head what station is it on, which is not a good sign that the organization really reaches out to their Spanish-speaking audience. That’s another reason why I kept the 3 rating the same.

As for the ballpark experience, I would give it an 8, an improvement over the 7. It’s overly kid heavy, and if I had kids, maybe it would be a 9. And while the Boulevard Craft and Draft area impresses, it’s expensive, which sours it a bit for me, because aesthetically it’s really cool and I want to dig it more because I love Boulevard beer. Despite my disappointment with Boulevard’s establishment in the stadium, the Royals Hall of Fame is fantastic, and one of the best attractions I’ve seen in a ballpark I have visited personally. It is a great appreciation for the rich baseball history in Kansas City, one of the more underrated baseball cities in the nation.

With those updated ratings, the aggregate rating falls to 6.78, (unweighted because almost 4,000 words in, I’m too lazy to weight it). That rating is lower than Pittsburgh’s PNC Park but higher than Baltimore’s Camden Yards (which is surprising). Overall, I think that’s a fair rating for the Kauffman Stadium experience: it’s a beautiful park, a great place to watch a game, and has a lot of quirks going for it that I think go under the radar. But there needs to be an easier way to get to a game on a regular basis, and I think the organization still needs to do some work to address the changing diversity in their fanbase and Kansas City overall.

Going to a game at Kauffman is a wonderful experience. Going to a game solo and doing a scorecard in my mind is incredibly underrated, a practice that engages and relaxes simultaneously. And on a nice day in July? It just can’t be beaten. It’s nice to get home after a game, and still have an evening to relax rather than just hit the sack right away.

Kauffman isn’t perfect by any means. But Kansas City has a great stadium that offers a comparable experience to any other ballpark out there in Major League Baseball. I truly mean this as someone who has been to many. If you’re visiting Kansas City in the summer, and you enjoy baseball even a modicum, then you have to make your way out the K, or else you didn’t truly experience Kansas City in the summer.

And if you come alone…grab a scorecard for a buck.

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