Archive for Thursday, May 7, 2009

New ‘K’ brings old memories

May 7, 2009

“Wow!”

This was my first thought when I entered Kauffman Stadium, or the “New K,” for a Royals baseball game. It certainly is an impressive facility and left little resemblance to the “Old K.”

In the past three-plus decades, I have attended hundreds of baseball games at the stadium and I have sat everywhere from general admission to the press box. I have eaten in the Stadium Club and been to the clubhouse. I worked in a concession stand as a volunteer with the Bonner Springs Optimist Club in the 1980s.

In short, I thought I knew my way around the stadium. With the new facility, however, that certainly isn’t the case.

As I took a sightseeing walk around the stadium, I couldn’t help but think how times have changed. The first Royals game I attended was at the old Municipal Stadium on Brooklyn Avenue. If you remember, the stadium was the home of the Kansas City Blues and when the Philadelphia Athletics announced plans to move to Kansas City, there was a winter of hectic work remodeling the stadium. The A’s opened here in 1955 and after a stormy period with Charley Finley, they left for Oakland.

Fortunately for KC baseball fans, political pressure on major league baseball allowed for expansion. In addition, voters approved a bond issue to build a unique sports complex. Instead of following the leader and building a cookie- cutter facility which would house both football and baseball, they decided to build two stadiums. It was a unique idea and, I’m certain, one of the reasons that both the Chiefs and Royals remain in KC.

The baseball stadium opened in 1973 after the Royals had played at Municipal Stadium for four years. The facility was renamed Kauffman Stadium in the early 1990s to honor Royals founders Ewing and Muriel Kauffman.

Municipal Stadium was a far cry from the “K” in terms of fan comforts. One of the issues with the old stadium was that a second deck was added to increase capacity. This meant there were pillars throughout the lower deck that blocked fan sight lines. When you bought a ticket, you had to be careful where it was or you could be sitting right behind a pole. I suspect that over half of the 30,000-plus seats had a restricted sight line. There weren’t many restrooms, concession stands or other fan amenities.

When the new complex was built, it was moved east of the downtown area which was, in my opinion, a wise choice. While traffic can be heavy, particularly on a Friday night or going to a Chiefs game, it is relatively easy to get in and out of the Truman Sports Complex.

The first thing that you notice when you are approaching the stadium is the completely new appearance. It looks like a new facility and that feeling continues when you enter the stadium. The concourse is much wider and now you can walk around the entire stadium. There are many restaurants and shops. Probably the most unique addition is the playground area, featuring miniature golf, a merry-go-round and the popular “Little K,” where young sluggers can try to hit a shot over the fences.

Unlike some new facilities, the seating is still comfortable. One complaint I have heard is about the shortage of men’s restrooms, however, that wasn’t the case when I was there with a crowd of 15,000. They have added women’s restroom space. My only complaint is they need more drinking fountains.

In short, the “New K,” like the original stadium, is a quality facility and will serve fans from the entire Midwest for years to come. It is an enhanced experience with glittering scoreboards and electronic signs. Yet, the main reason to attend hasn’t changed: Major league baseball is a tremendous fan event, and a trip to the stadium is a great way to spend a summer evening or Sunday afternoon.

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