Monday, July 13, 2009

Justin's Review: Kauffman Stadium

Ballpark Design: From 1973 until 2008, Kauffman Stadium, from what we’ve been told, was a nice stadium to see a baseball game in, but nothing particularly special (other than some cool fountains in the outfield). Well, starting in 2009, because of brilliant off-season renovations, Kauffman Stadium is one of the best and most fan friendly stadiums in baseball (and without a doubt the best ballpark that’s been around for more than 20 years). The biggest addition is the new outfield concourse (before the renovations, there was no seating and no concourse past either foul pole). The new concourse is extremely wide, and leads to new seating sections that offer some of the coolest outfield views in all of baseball, a bunch of food stands, a bar/grill overlooking right field, and the Royals Hall of Fame. Most notably, it surrounds the fountains, which remain the defining feature of the whole ballpark. The renovation also widened the concourses in the rest of the ballpark, making them easy to get around and great places to stand and watch the game since the ballpark has open concourses. But perhaps my favorite thing about the ballpark is something that is not new at all – how open it feels. As soon as you approach the stadium, you notice that it’s different from most others – it looks like half a stadium, almost as if it’s a minor league park with an upper deck. Because there are no stands in the outfield (other than the low profile new stuff they added), the ballpark is completely open to the sky and the area surrounding it. When you sit in the main concourse and look out, you can almost imagine that you are watching a softball game in your neighborhood park (and with the way the Royals have played the past decade or so, it doesn’t take that much imagination). Of the other ballparks we’ve been to, only Dodger Stadium comes even close to having a similar feeling, and it really isn’t that similar at all. There are a few negatives to Kauffman Stadium – it certainly feels old in some respects, from the drab concrete that the park is built out of, to the very utilitarian and not welcoming exterior of the park. Also, the renovations, while keeping most of the fountains, took away from the charm of the park by removing some of the fountains, causing the outfield to look somewhat lopsided and asymmetrical (and not in a particularly good way). However, other than these few design flaws, Kauffman is a completely unique and beautiful stadium – while it may not be new, the renovations did such a great job that it’s no wonder the Royals are calling it “the New K”. A-

Scoreboard/Soundtrack: The primary scoreboard is a video screen that is one of the biggest in baseball – a truly gigantic vertically oriented board capped with a golden crown on the top. And they use the scoreboard quite well, with the lineup of the at bat team, the players stats, a graphic of the current defensive team, past at bat results, and all the game status info in one place. Furthermore, when they do the fan cam and other video stuff, it’s pretty impressive seeing everything so large. Strip scoreboards on top of the Royals Hall of Fame in left and the bar in right gave the stats and pitch counts for the home and away pitchers respectively, and were probably the best pitcher info scoreboards that we’ve seen yet. The out of town scoreboards were located on video boards inbedded in the left and right field walls – they gave plenty of information, but unfortunately did not show every game at once and sometimes were used for something other than out of town scores. Still, this was one of the best scoreboard systems we’ve seen in terms of the presentation of information. A-

Food/Drink: Another thing that probably benefited from the renovation. There were choices everywhere – the new outfield concourse was chock full of stands, including Kansas City’s signature food: barbeque. The variety was similar throughout the stadium, although there wasn’t a ton of other unique food. Still, simply because of the quantity, there was little to complain about. B+

Fans: Surprisingly (for us), a lot of fans showed up, and they were as loud and in to the game as almost any ballpark we’ve seen. We’ve got to hand it to KC – despite having truly awful teams for over a decade now, the fans still truly care about the team and show up, even on a Monday night. While there were certainly a lot of fans there rooting for the visiting Twins, they were easily outnumbered and outmatched by the home fans. It may not have been the best crowd that we’ve seen yet, but I now know why Kansas City has always been considered a big baseball city – when (if?) this team gets good, those fans will rival those in any Northeastern baseball city. A-

City/Stadium Neighborhood: Kansas City was probably the city that we visited on this trip that I knew the least about before visiting, and I left with a pretty positive impression. We didn’t get to see a ton of the city, but we spent most the afternoon prior to the game in the Plaza, a very commercial neighborhood outside of downtown. While it was clearly the glitzy, high-end area of town, it made for a nice walking area that seemed like a good place to live. Unfortunately, much of the rest of the city seemed much more sprawled out and more suburban – but at the very least, we know that it does have some very urban neighborhoods. Kauffman Stadium is located a good distance outside of the city center, and, like most stadiums built in the 60s and 70s, is located in a large parking lot right next to a football stadium. It gets points for not being completely outside of the city, but it certainly did not seem to be easily accessible without a car. City: B-/Neighborhood: C-

Game: The game against the Minnesota Twins was marked by some costly errors by the visiting team, big home runs by the home team, and some great pitching by Kansas City’s Luke Hochevar. Hochevar went 7 innings without allowing a run (although he walked 4), getting the win after Kansas City took a 4-0 lead, with two of the runs coming on back to back homers by Alberto Callaspo and Miguel Olivo. Justin Morneau got two of the runs back for the Twins in the 8th before Joakim Soria came in and shut the door for the Royals win. B+

Overall: Kauffman Stadium was, without a doubt, the single biggest surprise of our trip. I went in thinking it would be similar to Dodger Stadium or one of the other ballparks built in that era, but, in large part thanks to the renovations, it is one of the prettiest, most unique, and most fan friendly ballparks in baseball. The great fans added to the experience, and it didn’t seem like anybody (other than a few Twins fans) left the game unhappy. Truly one of the nicest and most well-rounded ballpark experiences we’ve visited yet. A


  1. No fountians were harmed in the renvation of the this stadium: Glad you enjoyed what I have gotten to enjoy for the last 37 years. Thanks for the kind words.
    Just one point of clarity. None of the fountians were removed for the renovation. The original configuration had the full "Water Spectacular" on the right field side and just one small section of fountians to the left feild side of the batters eye (looke like a number one when viewed from above). 80% of the space between the batters eye and visitors bullpen was a grassy berm. In 1990 when they put in the first jumbotron in left field (the base is now the raised circular bar in the Left field seats) they added the waterfalls in left field. But they still never extended as far as the right field fountians.

  2. Great review. As a native Kansas Citian, I think you nailed it. The K is a lovely park now, although you are spot on about the concrete. My only real beef with the stadium is the location. While everyone else is revitalizing their downtown with a new stadium, we still have ours in the middle of nowhere, with little access other than by car. I suppose it is symptomatic of our suburban sprawl mentality here.

    Great write up, I look forward to reading your other stadium reviews as I would like to hit all 30 ballparks myself (I'm only up to seven!)

  3. Yeah, I think KC is the best kept secret in America. The renovated ballpark is nice, but clearly in the wrong part of town. Glad you enjoyed your trip here; hopefully you come back again.