Saturday, February 16, 2008

Kauffman Stadium Remains a Gem

New stadiums are trendy. They're the place to be seen. They're where the "in crowd" hangs, even if many of those people aren't true fans, and couldn't care less about the team on the field.

Within the past decade-plus, new stadiums have been built in Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, San Francisco, Houston, Washington, D.C., Seattle, and Cincinnati -- and they're currently building two new venues (one for the Yankees, one for the Mets) in New York City, and another in Minneapolis.

So it's not surprising that many Kansas City fans have suggested that a new stadium also should be built for the Royals. Most seem to want it downtown. They like the trendy aspect of that. They don't want to have to travel all the way out to the Truman Sports Complex, even though the Royals' Kauffman Stadium is one of the most unique and picturesque settings in all of professional baseball.

And these "fans" aren't content with the renovations that will transform Kansas City's beautiful stadium, making it more fan-friendly, and keeping it among the game's best. Yes, it already is among the best, but it will be even better when the work is completed.

I just don't understand how people could want something new in Kansas City. I've been to stadiums all over the country -- Wrigley Field, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, the old Tiger Stadium, the old Busch Stadium, the Metrodome (yuck), and Chase Field in Arizona, among others -- and if I could pick one place to spend an afternoon or evening watching baseball, I'd park my rear end in a lower-level seat at "The K." Yes, I'm serious, and I swear I'd feel that way even if I wasn't a Royals fan.

There's nothing like the water fountains in the outfield, the huge Crown scoreboard, and the incredibly manicured grass, considered one of the game's best playing surfaces because of the work of people like George Toma in the past, and now Trevor Vance. Kauffman Stadium is a jewel of a ballpark. It should be appreciated.

Sure, it has its down sides, too. There's really nothing around the place for people to do before or after games, but honestly, isn't going to the game enough? And, as it is right now, it doesn't compare well to newer parks with more for fans to choose from in the concourse areas. But that's what these renovations will address, and when they're completed, Kauffman will once again seem new and fresh -- and maybe even trendy.

Beginning this season, a new high-definition video board -- 105 feet tall by 84 feet wide -- will be in use. It will be the largest scoreboard of its kind in the world. That's cool, if I may say so. And the changes scheduled to be completed in time for the 2009 season will finish things off and make Kauffman Stadium seem like brand new.

The All-Star Game will be returning to Kansas City in the near future, and the Royals are working their way back toward annual respectability. Things are exciting again, and Kauffman will once again be the place to be seen, and a place where great baseball is played.

So, sit back and enjoy the games at The K, because there aren't many better places to watch a game. And enough with the whining about something new.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Prospect of Baseball Warms a Winter Day

Hello, and welcome to anyone who might happen upon this, my initial post of what I hope will be an ongoing blog for fans of the Kansas City Royals, or just baseball in general. I live in Minnesota, and today's weather is miserably cold. I think the forecasted high temperature for the Twin Cities was 8 degrees. I try to stay inside. It's depressing thinking about six more weeks of winter that was predicted by Punxsutawney Phil. If you're not skiing, or snowboarding, or ice fishing, days like this can put you in quite a sour mood.

But, even with the freezing weather outside, there's reason to be optimistic, as the start of the 2008 baseball season is a little more than a month away. Yesterday, pitchers and catchers had their first official workout -- even though new Royals manager Trey Hillman convinced his players to show up and start working more than a week ago. So, in a sense, spring abounds despite the fact that I've had to shovel my driveway a couple times this week.

Now, you might be thinking that optimism and Kansas City Royals baseball haven't exactly gone hand-in-hand in recent years. I really can't argue with that. Other than the
Royals' 2003 season, when they challenged for the American League Central title before finishing third with a record of 83-79, fans of Kansas City's Major League Baseball franchise have had little to cheer about. After all, this is an organization that has failed to reach the playoffs since claiming the 1985 World Series crown.

But things are changing for the better, and true fans of the Royals can sense the stirrings of a franchise resurrection in the works. Following 12 years managing in the New York Yankees' farm system, and the past five years guiding Japan's
Nippon Ham Fighters, Hillman is like a breath of fresh air for a franchise that's been trapped in a smoky bar for years. His enthusiasm is contagious. And he led the Fighters to back-to-back Japan Series -- winning the title in 2006 -- by proving his ability to adapt to the hand he was dealt. His 2007 team advanced to the finals despite having one of Japan's most anemic offenses.

In the front office,
Dayton Moore continues to work his magic. Moore, named Senior Vice President and General Manager for Baseball Operations on May 30, 2006, is considered one of the brightest minds in professional baseball. In 2005, while working in the Atlanta Braves' front office, Moore was named by Baseball America as one of MLB's Top 10 Up-and-Coming Power Brokers, while the same publication regarded him as the top general manager candidate in a 2004 issue.

Since he began his duties with the Royals, Moore has focused on stockpiling the organization's farm system with talented young pitchers; has convinced Royals' ownership to add a seventh minor league affiliate -- the Burlington Royals -- joining the Baltimore Orioles and New York Mets as one of just three franchises with seven teams in its farm system; and he's spearheaded an effort to rank among the "top quarter in baseball" when it comes to money spent in Latin America.

But the Royals aren't just making investments in order to have success three to five years down the road. Kansas City owner David Glass, often criticized for an unwillingness to spend money to retain or attract talented players, has allowed Moore the liberty to open the checkbook in order to attract proven free agents to the City of Fountains. Moore's signing ability has resulted in the addition of players such as pitchers Gil Meche and Jose Guillen, while being able to retain stars like 2006 Gold Glove Award-winning second baseman Mark Grudzielanek. The Royals also made competitive offers for free agents Torii Hunter, Andruw Jones, and Hiroki Kuroda during the offseason.

So, yes, there is reason for die-hard Royals fans like myself to be optimistic about the fortunes of the franchise. Moore, whose mentor in Atlanta was former Royals GM John Schuerholz, is working to restore the pride that once eminated from an organization that finished no lower than third in the seven-team* American League West every year between 1975 and 1989 (except the strike year of 1981, when they were fourth).

That renewed hope is enough to brighten an otherwise gloomy and very cold day here in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

*The AL West had six teams in both 1975 and 1976.

(Blogger's Note: This is an edited version of a post I wrote previously on another blog, which I have since aborted.)
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