Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Tour 2013: Kauffman Stadium Renovation

All photos of Power & Light District and Kauffman Stadium available on Flickr.

I arrived at the ballpark a little after 4.  Navigating the parking lots at Kauffman Stadium is kind of like parking at Dodger Stadium, or Milwaukee County Zoo.  It has direct access off of the freeway just outside of the downtown, and there are many different points of entry with booths at the bottom of a hill.  This makes it incredibly easy to get in, but kind of convoluted once you're inside the grounds, and also long lines getting out.  I wanted to get there as early as possible to explore the park, but unfortunately the gates did not open until 4:30 so I had to bake in the sun for awhile.  Fittingly, it happened to be Salute to the Negro Leagues Night, so I obtained a Monarchs t-shirt giveaway for my efforts.

I entered in the left field gate, so the fruits of the $250 million renovation were immediately apparent as I walked in.  The outfield is almost completely overhauled from when Erik and I were there on the Tour.  Looking back through old photos, really all that is the same is the fountains.  Words can't even describe how awesome the outfield experience is now at the K - in fact, that is what they call it, the "Outfield Experience."  The most noticeable change is the addition of outfield seating.  I don't think before the renovation you could even access the outfield; the fountains were just something nice to look at from the infield.  Now there are seats above, below, and around the fountains, along with a continuous rail for standing along the concourse.  I had kind of assumed/hoped that the seating was set "above" the fountains and that the water rushed below your feet, but I can see now how that would probably lead to the water being littered with garbage by the 2nd inning.  My seats for Saturday's game were in the 4th row in left-center field in front of the fountain, and may very well have been the best seats I have ever had at a baseball game.  Other than taking awhile to get to, they were nearly perfect - I had the field only a few feet in front of me, the calming hum of rushing water behind me, and it was a small section so it wasn't crowded.  The pitch of this section is also higher than usual and the aisle about twice as wide, so it was very comfortable to sit there.  The aisle height/width proved to be most crucial during batting practice, when I was able to nimbly move side to side and easily snag a homerun ball!  For some reason the Royals use random All-Star Game and World Series baseballs during BP and I overheard some fans around me talking about which ones they had in their collection; the one I caught was a 2010 Anaheim ball.  After BP, I got a free refill of my souvenir soda cup - a great feature of Kauffman Stadium that came in handy in the hot weather - and continued my trek around the outfield.

The expansion of the outfield has allowed the team to display some things more prominently inside the stadium.  The Royals Hall of Fame was previously housed in display cases in the concourse and now has its own building anchoring the left field corner.  It tells the history of the Royals organization and Kauffman Stadium, as well as celebrates Royal greats including Bret Saberhagen, Dan Quisenberry, and of course, the greatest Royal of all time, George Brett.  Brett had a statue outside the park that has now been moved onto the center of the outfield concourse, along with statues of Frank White and former manager Dick Howser, all three of whom have also had their numbers retired by the team.  In the right field corner is a building that is a public bar on ground level and a private deck on the roof.  This building mirrors the Hall of Fame building well on the opposite side and maintains the symmetry that is very prevalent at the K.  The largest emphasis of this symmetry is the large crown-shaped jumbotron centered behind the batter's eye that has been revamped into a large digital model.  Behind the jumbotron is a very wide concourse with several concessions stands and a large kids area.  I love many, many things about this addition, but fact that it has so much great public space and is not just a utilitarian way of adding more seats is what makes it so appealing.  I've been very outspoken about the need for stadiums to have areas that foster fan interaction - public access bars, active standing room space, wide concourses, picnic seating - and Kauffman has all of this in spades.  The only other major league parks that even come close to achieving this are PETCO Park and Target Field.  Best of all, this addition works in concert with, rather than in opposition to, the fountains, which are still the centric element to the park's beauty.  Most of the great public spaces in the world are centered around some sort of water element, and Kauffman Stadium is no different. 

I mostly focused my time in the outfield on Saturday, since that was where the majority of the renovation work was done, and I knew I was coming back on Sunday anyways.  I got out of the Hall of Fame about 20 minutes before first pitch in settled into my seat for the game.  The Nationals handed the Royals their 7th straight loss with a 7-2 win.  Wade Davis has been terrible since getting traded from Tampa Bay, and the trend continued tonight as he surrendered 7 runs in 6 innings with 3 walks, including a 2-run homer to Ian Desmond as part of a 4-run 4th.  On the other side, Wisconsin native Jordan Zimmermann has also struggled a bit this year but pitched very well in this game, giving up only 2 runs and pitching into the 8th inning.  A former Brewer favorite of mine, George "The Greek Streak" Kottaras got a rare start tonight and went 1-4, raising his average to a robust .179.  Mike "Moose Tacos" Moustakas and Billy "Country Breakfast" Butler each contributed 2 hits and Luke Hochevar pitched in 3 innings of scoreless relief in a losing effort.

After the game, I went to check out what this Power & Light District was that I'd heard so much about.  It's a pretty typical downtown area with bars, restaurants, etc., and I had a couple of beers at a local brewpub before turning in for the night.  As in Springfield, I really had no interest in tying one on sans Erik.  The next day, I caught the 1:10 matinee before heading back to Wisconsin.  I had seats about halfway up behind 1st base for this game, luckily one of the few sections that was in the shade for the entire game on this 95º day.  I started the afternoon in the outfield again, because for some reason the outfield gates open before the rest of the gates, so I stood along the railing above the fountains in right-center enjoying an ice cold beverage for about a half-hour.  I can't think of too many more beautiful places to stand at any ballpark than where I was; the blazing sun was pretty much the only thing that got me to move from my spot.  Walking towards my seat, I noticed the first level was split in half with a separate ring of concourse inside the seating bowl, kind of like the upper deck at old RFK Stadium.  Although a small gesture, it's something I really liked.  This separate walkway allows the main concourse to be less congested, allows for another great vantage point of the field, and also provides opportunities for concessions "nooks" tucked in a hole through the grandstand in a couple places.  I didn't go in the upper deck, but there are a couple of these nooks up there too that I imagine serve as an amazing viewing platform.  The main concourse is much wider and has more food variety than it did in 2007, including a stand that sold perhaps the most expensive food item I've ever seen at a ballpark: an entire rack of ribs for $21.  In fact, price was pretty much the only complaint I could muster about this park - water is $6 and beer is $11!

The Royals got off the schnide in this game with a 6-4 victory behind a strong effort by defacto ace Ervin Santana.  Santana pitched much better than his final line score of 4 runs on 11 hits would indicate, mostly because manager Ned Yost left him in a couple hitters too long.  I see that Yost has not yet learned how to manage a pitching staff since leaving the Brewers.  Ervin was cruising through 6 and quickly got 2 outs in the 7th before giving up a homerun to Denard Span and a single to Ryan Zimmerman on consecutive pitches.  Despite a lefty being up in the pen, Yost stuck with Santana and he gave up a opposite-field homerun to Bryce Harper to tie the ballgame.  Harper seems to finally be coming out of his funk with his 11th straight multi-hit game on Sunday.  With the game still nodded at 4 in the 8th, the Royals picked up RBI singles from Salvador Perez and ROY candidate David Lough to take the lead, and All-Star closer Greg Holland struck out the side in the 9th with 99 MPH gas to secure the 6-4 victory.

I had an amazing time at my two games at the K and it was hard to leave, partly because I did not feel like driving 8 hours home.  This renovation has turned a ballpark that was already great yet very underrated, into a facility that has gained national notoriety following last year's all-star game.  Kauffman Stadium has without a doubt slid into my Top 10 and I would definitely not be opposed to going back again soon with Erik in tow.

park rankings and statistics:
(see also original post from 7/29/07)

aesthetics - improves to 8
views from park - 9
view to field - improves to 8
surrounding area - improves to 3 (downtown improved, but 5 miles west)
food variety - improves to 5
nachos - improves to 7 (BBQ nachos)
beer - decreases to 2

vendor price - decreases to 5
ticket price - 7 (dynamic pricing)
atmosphere - improves to 7 (good vibe despite small crowds)
walk to park - 2
parking price/proximity - decreases to 5 (lots screwy, $10)
concourses - improves to 9
team shop - improves to 9

best food - KC All Star BBQ
most unique stadium feature - fountains/fountain seats
best jumbotron feature - Garth Brooks "Friends in Low Places" sing-along
best between-inning feature - hot dog race

field dimensions - 330/410/330
starters - Jordan Zimmermann (WAS) v. Wade Davis (KC); Dan Haren v. Ervin Santana
opponent - Washington Nationals
time of game - 2:38; 2:39
attendance - 28,023; 19,661
score - 7-2 L; 6-4 W
Brewers score that day - 6-3 L; 3-1 W

No comments: