Sunday, July 19, 2009

Kansas City, Hey Hey Hey Hey!

We busted out of St. Louis bright and early, piled into the van once again and set out along route I-70 towards Kansas City, our westernmost stop of Baseball Trip '09 (and, indeed, the furthest west we've gone yet as we slowly but surely fulfill our manifest destiny). As I mentioned the other day, I was particularly interested in this leg of the tour -- sure, I've seen the Royals on TV, and I've even seen them play the Mets in New York -- but did they ACTUALLY exist? Maybe the Royals I've seen over the years have just been figments of my imagination or complex illusions that MLB devised after the Royals last won the World Series in 1985? Personally, I've never met a real, live Royals fan in my life -- do they really exist? I have Zack Greinke on my fantasy team and it has been awesome, but is he a real guy? I was looking forward to answering all of these questions.

Also, how about this K.C. BBQ that I've heard so much about? Is it as good as advertised and touted? Well, after another long drive (this time featuring our first traffic jams of the entire trip), we were ready to find out... and our first stop in K.C. was ARTHUR BRYANT'S, widely considered to be the greatest BBQ joint in the Midwest, and perhaps the entire known universe. Upon first glance, we knew we were in for a treat -- kinda divey joint, with a mess hall-style line where they cut your meat and pile it onto your plate right in front of us. My friends & constant readers, let me tell you right now: This place was SPECTACULAR. I know, I know, I have been raving about my various BBQ meals throughout this trip, and each one has trumped the one before it -- but it is clear now that my experiences in Cincy and St. Louis were just appetizers for the main course that was Arthur Bryant's. I got the brisket sandwich, and when the server piled an absolute mountain of meat on my plate, my eyes literally widened as if I'd won the lottery. It was truly an astonishing amount of beef. Along with that, I partook in the baked beans and slaw and FREE PICKLES, all of which were great... but in this meal, meat was king. It was the most amazing brisket I've ever consumed -- tender like butter, perfectly cooked and expertly cut. There were three sauce options: Original, Sweet & Spicy and Rich & Spicy, the latter of which was my personal favorite. By the end of the meal, we were all in deep meat comas -- but it was glorious. If you are a fan of BBQ, you owe it to yourself to get to Kansas City and experience Arthur Bryant's before you die. Even if there was no baseball to look forward to, this would have been a worthwhile stop on our trip!

But lucky us, there WAS baseball on our agenda! First we stopped at our lodging for the evening -- the fine, Midwestern suburban home of Geoff's friend Scott's mom. As soon as we got there, we were greeted with an unbelievable level of Midwestern hospitality which threw all of our east coast minds for a loop. Big thanks to Linda and J.P. (with special shout-outs to little two-year-old Charlotte, who likes jumping on beds and twirling; Oscar the big, loveable cat; and Bernie the dog).

We hung around at the house for a bit and then headed out to the New K -- newly refurbished Kaufmann Stadium, home of the Royals and a ridiculously huge, crown-shaped video screen. The park (which I can now confidently declare really DOES exist) was really nice -- it was similar to Cincy in that it had that great small-town "field of dreams" feel, and way better than St. Louis in that it looked different from all the cookie-cutter parks. The upper deck was sort of arc-shaped, and the outfield, with the aforementioned video screen and constantly-running fountains (which dance, Bellagio-style, in between innings) are lovely indeed. Our seats were on the Field Level, right behind third base, which was very sweet. Just a great park and a great place to watch a ballgame. Plus the tickets are cheap as hell and concessions are reasonably priced -- I was still stuffed from BBQ, so I just got a helmet ice cream (with fresh strawberries!) and a couple of beers. But they had some good-looking stuff on the menu, including more BBQ (natch) and buffalo chicken bites over fries, which I kinda wish I'd been hungry enough to try. Maybe next time!

The game was great -- we got really lucky and saw a pitching matchup between two aces: the Royals' Zack Greinke and Scott Kazmir of the Tampa Bay Rays. Both of whom I have on my fantasy team, so I was looking forward to a nice pitchers' duel... and that's exactly what we got! Zack and Scotty kept the hitters at bay for most of the game, giving up hits but getting out of jams unscathed. Scotty went six solid, and Zack went 7 -- then came the bullpens. The Royals took the lead in the bottom of the 7th, setting Zack up for the win. But then the Royals 'pen imploded and coughed up three runs in the 8th -- and in turn changed my entire outlook on the game. At first, I was rooting for both starting pitchers, but once the Rays took the lead, I rooted solely for them because, as it happens, I have Rays closer J.P. Howell on my fantasy team, too!). The reigning AL champs nailed it down in the 9th and the Rays won 4-2 -- the second Baseball Trip in a row where we've seen the Rays come back and win against the home team (they beat the White Sox last year in Chicago, also with Scotty on the mound... go figure!).

It was a good game for baseball fans, but not so much for Royals fans -- and I was surprised at their attitudes. Many people started leaving in the 8th when the Rays tied it up, and even more filed out when they took a two-run lead. As someone who has only left a game early maybe twice in his life, and who once saw the Mets score 10 runs in one inning to overcome an 8-1 deficit, this was appalling. But I guess it makes sense -- the Royals have been bad for so long, I guess their frustration shines through in games like this, when the 'pen wastes a solid effort from their new ace. Ah well. We were also annoyed when, in the top of the 9th, we tried to move down about 15 rows to watch the final inning... and this usher lady bitchily ordered to us to move back. WTF, Royals? For one thing, it was the 9th inning and half of the crowd had already left. For another... you're the Royals! Remember your station in life! It's all good, though -- we managed to get all the way down to the first row of the field level to take our group shot after the game, thanks to another, much nicer usher lady. THANKS, NICE LADY!

All in all, the K.C. ballgame experience was a good one, and the Big K will rank as one of my favs, thanks to its perfect mix of old-school charm and newfangled bells & whistles -- but not TOO many bells & whistles so as to detract from the reason you're there: BASEBALL. It is also worth noting that the Royals lead the majors in the number of different themed "cams" they show on the video screen throughout the game -- there was the Kiss Cam and Spirit Cam and Hairdo Cam and Dance Cam and the best of all, CRANIUM CAM, where they showed people with distorted heads. I wish the Royals the best of luck... especially when Greinke is pitching!

After the game, we went back to the van and ended up joining a group of postgame tailgaters who were parked nearby. They were a bunch of twentysomething K.C. locals whom we probably never would have had anything to do with in high school, if you catch my drift. But in the context of the Kaufmann Stadium parking lot, with beers in hand, all was well. We can only hope that we were able to impart some life-changing east coast wisdom before we parted ways. We then went to Taco Bell to satisfy Geoff's hankering, then back to Linda & J.P.'s house to call it a night. Earlier in the day, I got lucky and won the room lottery, so I got to sleep in an actual bed for the first time on this trip -- so comfy!

We woke up bright & early once again -- got-damn, I am going to sleep so f'ing late on Tuesday -- to find an incredible breakfast spread in the kitchen, courtesy of Linda. Scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, coffee and some of the best pancakes I've had in a while. We ate our fill, bid our hosts a grateful farewell, piled into the van........ and just like that, we were heading back from whence we came. As I write this, we are smack in the middle of Missouri (yes, I am on the internet, thanks to a signal from Jay's iPhone -- thank Greink-- er, I mean, God for technology!). We'll be on the road for many hours and will be making one final Pitt-stop (shut up) at Matt's house in the 'burgh before ultimately returning home. Still to come: A final recap... and eventally, a massive photo gallery, once I'm able to sift through the 500+ pics I've taken, many of which are quite good indeed... so stay tuned!

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