Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Buck O'Neil's Kansas City

Kauffman Stadium
Kansas City, MO
July 25, 2016
Houston Astros vs. Kansas City Royals


"Kansas City was hot jazz on Saturday nights, listening to Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington and Count Basie, then getting up on Sunday morning and going to the ballpark to see Satchel Paige and the Monarchs. Man, there was nothing better." - Buck O'Neil

July 25th, The Long and Winding Road

I tossed, turned and tried like hell to get comfortable, but it was no use. It was 3 a.m., and we were on a dark, deserted highway, somewhere in the plains of Kansas. We had left Colorado almost five hours before and were only half way to our destination, Kansas City, Missouri. It had been a long night. We hadn't gotten out of Denver as quickly as I had hoped; yours truly had left his cell phone inside Coors Field and had to go back to retrieve it, then we missed the interstate that would take us out of Colorado and, finally, a ten-hour ride didn't sound so bad until you actually had to do it.

I squirmed a bit more, trying to get the ache out of my knees but finding no relief. Silently I cursed the fact that I just couldn't trust myself to stay awake and keep us all safe on this overnight hell ride. I had done pretty well, taking the first three and a half hour shift behind the wheel, but finally exhaustion overtook me as everyone else slept and I woke Rob to tell him it was his turn. Rob had been dozing on and off in the passenger seat, while Tony and Nick were fast asleep in the back and Ryan was in and out of consciousness in the farthest reaches of the Explorer, so we just traded places and got back on the road. The problem was that I don't handle being the passenger well; I couldn't get comfortable and fall asleep and there were still about five hours to go.

This monster drive had become a necessity because we needed to make the Royals game Saturday night, due to the fact that a lot of the things we wanted to see in K.C. were not open on Monday, if we went to the Sunday Royals game, and the Royals didn't play on Monday, which would allow us to see the museums on Sunday. The only saving grace was the fact that the longest part of the drive was being done at the beginning of the trip. At least that's what I kept telling myself as I tried to work the discomfort out of my throbbing knees.

By 6 a.m. Rob gave in to his closing eyelids and Tony took the wheel; there were still about two hours of this agony to go. All of a sudden Tony uttered a magical sentence that ALMOST made everything all right:

"I see a sign for Dunkin Donuts'," he said, tapping me on the shoulder. "Should we stop?"

"Why do you ask questions you already know the answer to?" came Ryan's voice from the back.
 
"What he said," was all I could muster through half-closed eyes, as I yawned and stretched again.
 
"What if they don't have milk for your coffee?" Tony laughed.
 
"That's nothing to even joke about," I said, through a look that could have killed.

This had become a running joke with everyone for the last year. We had done an eight-hour jaunt from Minneapolis to Chicago last summer, and everywhere we went in Wisconsin I was told that there was no milk for coffee, only cream. In fact, one store clerk tried to explain that they only had cream because Wisconsin was "The Dairy State," to which I asked what the hell he thought milk was. In the end there were no problems, as D&D had milk, I got my coffee and was feeling a little more refreshed, but really needed a shower. We had been on the run since 8 a.m. the day before, when we had woken up in Colorado Springs, seen the Olympic Training Center, the United States Air Force Academy, had lunch at the oldest steakhouse in Colorado and, finally, attended the Reds vs. Rockies game at Coors Field. We had been up for 22 hours and weren't planning on sleeping until sometime this evening, when we'd most likely crash.

The sun had started to slowly creep over the horizon, as if it were just awakening and laughing at the five of us for staying out all night. I quickly looked at the thermometer; it read 86 degrees at 7:30 in the morning, so it was going to be a hot one. Sleep would be a welcome relief...in 14 more hours. Ugh.

"I've been thinking," I said to Tony and Rob. "We're HOPING to get an early check-in, but there's no guarantee. Why don't we go see Buck and Satchel now?" It would allow us more time before we left on Monday and I think visiting with two of Kansas City's most famous ballplayers is the right way to start off our visit."
 
"That'll work," Rob said, after thinking it over for a moment.

We quickly plugged the coordinates into the GPS and Tony turned the car towards the outskirts of town.

Honoring Kansas City Baseball Royalty


Resting Place of the Greats 
Around 8 a.m. we pulled the SUV, quietly, into Forest Hill Cemetery, as the sun was starting to trace its arc in the sky and a warm breeze blew among the headstones.

"Where are the burial markers?" Tony asked, as he stopped the car.
"I have no idea, but let's head to the main building, over there," I said, pointing. "I'm sure we can get a map of the grounds."

I hopped out of the car and tried the front door to the building, which was locked. I walked around to the other side to see if there was another entrance, but there wasn't. As I turned to walk back to the car I noticed a huge granite memorial, with a figure of a ballplayer on it.

"It can't possibly be this easy," I thought.

Sure enough, it was.

"C'mon guys," I said, as I came back to the car. "We found one of our gentlemen without even trying."
"Who is here," Ryan wanted to know.
"Buck O'Neil," I told him.
"How can you be sure," Nick wanted to know, as he sleepily rubbed his eyes.
"From the picture on the marker," I told him, "it can't be anyone else."

We quietly walked to the grave marker and sure enough, it was Buck.

John Jordan "Buck" O'Neil is, quite possibly, the most famous sports personality in Kansas City. He was a former Negro Leagues first baseman, for the Kansas City Monarchs, a Negro Leagues manager (also for the Monarchs), the first black coach in the Major Leagues (Chicago Cubs) and, in his retirement, a tremendous public speaker on baseball, and the Negro Leagues, and the driving force behind the long past-due "recognition" of Negro Leagues players by the Baseball Hall of Fame and the creation of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, in Kansas City.

The grave marker stands by itself, alone, in a space devoid of any other tombstones. It seemed a fitting way to honor a classy, dignified man who spent his life in search of love, justice and equality. He had many reasons to harbor resentment and anger for the way he had been treated, but anyone who ever spoke of Buck told of a man who refused to feel sorry for himself, refused to fall victim to despair and always looked for the silver lining in every cloud of gray.

Buck O'Neil's Grave

His memorial stone is made of dark granite and the front has an etching of Buck standing as if he were on the steps of the Monarchs' dugout; left foot propped on the top step, left hand on his left knee. Beneath the picture is his name "John 'Buck' O'Neil," his birth and death dates (Nov. 13, 1911 - Oct. 6, 2006) and the epitaph "A Life Of Learning & Loving." Under that, along the base of the statue is a quote from the man himself, to those who were galled that he, personally, was never enshrined in the halls of Cooperstown: "If I'm a Hall of Famer for you, that's alright with me. Just keep loving old Buck. Don't weep for Buck. No, man, be happy, be thankful!" That, above anything else, is what this great man was about.





The Back of the Grave Marker
The back of the monument was a testament to Buck's lifetime in baseball. At the top was the logo of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, which Buck had helped create, as well as every baseball statistic from his lifetime in the game, which included the teams he played for (Memphis Red Sox and Kansas City Monarchs), his height and weight (6'2, 190), his batting and throwing preferences (bat and threw right-handed) and the positions he played (1B, OF, Manager). Under that were his lifetime achievements, which stretched from 1937 (first year of pro ball with the Memphis Red Sox) to 2007, when the National Baseball Hall of Fame established the Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award, posthumously. In between he played, and managed, the Kansas City Monarchs (1938-1955), served his country during World War II (1943-1945), was named the first black coach in the Major Leagues (1962, Chicago Cubs), became a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame's Veterans Committee (1981-2001), co-founded the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (1990) and in 2006 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, posthumously.  At the bottom of the memorial there was one last inscription: "Monument Gift of The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum," which showed exactly the high regard in which Buck was, deservedly, held.

Inscription on Buck's Memorial
We stayed a little longer, taking pictures, and talking about Buck and the legacy he left for those after him. I have long said Buck was one of the true gentlemen of the game and one of my great regrets was never having had the chance to meet him. He always came across as everyone's favorite Grandpa, laughing, singing, joking and always a kind word, or thought, about anyone who crossed his path. It was just impossible to imagine anyone ever being mad at this man, or him being mad at anyone, at any time. Ryan and I made sure to have our picture taken at his memorial, with hats over our hearts, showing the tremendous amount of respect and admiration for this ambassador of the game.

When everyone was done soaking in Buck's atmosphere we headed back to the SUV, to begin the search for the next grave marker, that of legendary pitcher Satchel Paige.

Satchel Paige

Robert Leroy "Satchel" Paige may well have been the best pitcher to ever lace up a pair of spikes and step on a baseball field; unfortunately, because of the color of his skin he was barred from doing so in the Major Leagues until he was well past his prime, but that didn't stop him from carving out one hell of a legacy for himself.

Born in 1906, in Mobile, Alabama, Leroy supposedly, became "Satchel" when he worked carrying bags at a train station. Legend has it that he created a way to carry multiple bags at the same time and someone referred to him as a satchel tree. He would carry that nickname for the rest of his life.

Young Satchel loved to play ball and he was quite the pitcher, rumored to have the greatest fastball of all time. Folks would come from miles around to see Paige pitch in games and the tales of his exploits reached legendary status. Over the course of his years in the game Satchel would pitch for many teams.

Paige was eventually brought to the Major Leagues in 1948, at the age of 42, where he helped Cleveland win the World Series. Satchel stayed in baseball until 1965, when he pitched his final game of professional ball, at the age of 59, for the Kansas City A's, pitching three scoreless innings, and only giving up one hit (to Carl Yastrzemski) against the Boston Red Sox. Despite having a career Major League record of 28-31, Paige was inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971.

Many a batter would come to the plate against Satchel in his lifetime and almost all of them, including Joe DiMaggio, would call him the best pitcher they ever faced. When one talks about the Negro Leagues the conversation usually begins with Satchel Paige.

It was only fitting that Satchel would be buried in the same Kansas City cemetery, just a bit down the road from his life-long friend and teammate, Buck O'Neil.

Satchel's Memorial
We found Satchel's memorial with ease; in fact it's on an "island" (aptly named, Paige Island), in the middle of the road and stands alone, so you can't miss it. Made of white granite, as opposed to Buck's black, the memorial has three columns, the one in the middle being the biggest, with Satchel on the left, his wife, Lahoma Jean, on the right, and his story and some of his famous quotes in the middle.






Satchel
Lahoma Jean
The two "wings" of the memorial were simple in their construction; having a picture, and the birth and death dates below the pictures, but it was the famous quotes, engraved on the middle section, that drew everyone's eye.




These quotes had been attributed to Satchel over the course of his lifetime and were so much a part of him that he had them printed on the back of the business cards he would hand out at various speaking functions. They read as follows:

Satchel's Famous Sayings
1) "Avoid friend meats which angry up the blood"

2) "If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts"

3) "Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move"

4) "Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society. The social ramble ain't restful"

5) "Avoid running at all times"

6) "Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you"



Satchel was quite the character; some may say he was as interesting a quote as Yogi Berra, and the fact that these sayings have made it to his grave marker are proof.

The back of the memorial, from left to right, had Satchel and Lahoma's wedding date, as well as the names of the eight children they had together (Shirley, Pamela, Carolyn, Linda, Robert, Lula, Rita and Warren), Satchel's story in the middle and, on the right, the explanation OG his Kansas City Ties.

Ryan and I With Satchel
The monument had obviously been visited recently, as we noted baseballs left as offerings to one of the greatest moundsmen the game had ever seen. Ryan and I, once again, made sure to take a picture, with our hats off showing proper respect to this baseball icon.

Finally, after the proper respects were paid to these baseball pioneers, we all climbed back into the Explorer and set the GPS for the hotel. It was only 9 A.M. and we weren't supposed to check in before noon, but we were exhausted and hoping there was some way they could accommodate us at this early hour. It couldn't hurt to ask.

When we got to the hotel everyone piled out of the car and into the lobby, like survivors from a disaster movie. I am sure we looked the part, shuffling to the front desk, eyes at half-mast, disheveled and in desperate need of a shower. I explained our situation to the lady behind the counter and held my breath, hoping for the best.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Kulhawy," she started off. "We don't have anything available for you at this time."

My heart sank.

"I hate to ask you to wait, but I can have something ready for you in about 30 minutes, if that's Okay."

"Okay?" I stammered. "That would be fantastic. I think I love you," I laughed out loud.

"Why don't you all go help yourself to our complimentary breakfast buffet while you wait?" she suggested. "It's the least we can do for making you wait for your room."

I couldn't believe my ears; first we were getting our room six hours early and then THEY felt bad about making us wait, so they were offering free breakfast. This was Mid-western hospitality at its best.

I turned around to tell the others the good news but they had apparently heard, as they were already filling their plates up with omeletes, sausage, bacon, home fries and waffles. All I wanted was more coffee, so I grabbed a refill of my D&D cup and headed outside to call Nicole and let her know we had gotten to K.C. in one piece.

"Let me get this straight," she laughed. "You got up yesterday, spent the day seeing sights in Colorado, went to the ballgame, got in the car, drove ten hours to Kansas City and before you had breakfast, checked into a hotel, or even had a shower, you went to a cemetery to visit two Negro Leagues players?"

"Yeah, that's about the size of it," I replied, realizing how crazy it sounded when told back to me.

"Never wonder why Brendan and I don't do these things with you more often," she, again, chuckled.

I saw the hostess motioning to me that our room was ready, so I said goodbye to my wife and youngest son and headed upstairs to our room. I looked at the clock and saw they had gotten us into the room ten minutes earlier than promised. Mid-western hospitality, indeed.

Once we got to the room we "drew straws" to see who got the first shower. Ryan and I volunteered for the last two, because we wanted to glance over the history of this evening's team, the Royals. So we grabbed the iPad, flopped on the bed and let the internet take us away.

Baseball In Kansas City


Kansas City Blues Jersey

Kansas City is no stranger to baseball; in fact the first organized team (the Cowboys of the Union Association) played there back in 1884. The team folded after one year, but was reinvented in 1886 with the same name, only to suffer the same fate  after one season. Thinking the third time was the charm, the Cowboys returned, this time for two seasons, 1888-1889, before they too faded into oblivion.

In 1898 the town again struck up a team, the Blues, which lasted three seasons (1898-1900), before they moved on, becoming the Washington Senators and later the Minnesota Twins. Kansas City, in the grand tradition of recycling team names, brought another incarnation of the Blues back in 1902, who played in the minor league American Association and stayed in Kansas City until moving to Colorado, and becoming the Bears, in 1954.


Monarchs Hat
During the Blues' second tenure in Kansas City the area also had a tremendously successful Negro Leagues team, the Monarchs, who are sometimes referred to as the Yankees of the Negro Leagues, due to their success and the stars who played there. This powerhouse saw stars such as Buck O'Neil, Satchel Paige, "Bullet" Joe Rogan, Hilton Smith, Willard Brown, Norman Thomas "Turkey" Stearnes, Jackie Robinson, Ernie Banks and Cool Papa Bell, to name a few.



By 1955 the Negro Leagues, and the Monarchs, were winding towards extinction. Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier in 1947 and black players were being funneled off to the Major Leagues, so there was little use for the Negro Leagues anymore. It was at this time the Philadelphia A's relocated to Kansas City and gave the city it's first Major League team.

The A's stayed in Kansas City from 1955-1967 and developed some decent ballplayers. Few of them actually stayed with the A's, however, as it seemed the team had become the "farm team" to the New York Yankees as Roger Maris, Art Ditmar, Hector Lopez, Bobby Shantz, Clete Boyer and Ralph Terry all found their way to New York in one-sided deals that always favored the Yanks.

Reggie Jackson,  K.C. A's
In 1960 Charlie Finley bought the team under the guise that he would keep them in Kansas City, but before the ink was dry on the ownership papers he was trying to sell the team to different markets all over the country. Then just as the team started to get good, with young stars such as Reggie Jackson, Jim "Catfish" Hunter, Rick Monday and, the emerging Vida Blue, Finley was granted permission to move the team to Oakland, California, for the 1968 season. This outrage prompted Senator Stuart Symington to threaten a lawsuit challenging baseball's anti-trust exemption and Major League Baseball quickly awarded Kansas City an expansion franchise, which would start in 1971. This, however, was not good enough and Symington pressured MLB to allow the expansion teams (KC and Seattle) to start up in 1969 instead.

The Royals

The first owner of the team was a pharmaceutical executive from the area, Ewing Kauffman, who named the team "Royals" after a western livestock and rodeo show called the American Royal, which took place in Kansas City every year. There was speculation the name was also paying homage to the Monarchs, of the Negro Leagues, but they were never confirmed. It was also noted that the name Royals kept with the tradition of other Kansas City team names; Chiefs (NFL), Kings (NBA), Wizards (MLS) and Monarchs (Negro Leagues). The team's logo, the letters "K.C." inside a shield with a crown atop it, was created by a Kansas City artist (Shannon Manning) and further exemplified the team's name.

Kansas City's first G.M., who was in charge of the 1968 expansion draft, was Cedric Tallis and he was charged with putting together the best team from a group of players put forth to the four expansion franchises: K.C., Seattle, San Diego and Montreal. Tallis drafted a few good players, such as Roger Nelson (first overall) from Baltimore, Ellie Rodriguez (Yankees), Dick Drago (Detroit), Fran Healy (Cleveland) and Hoyt Wilhelm (White Sox), but it was a trade he struck with Seattle that brought his best player. Lou Piniella was originally taken by the Seattle Pilots, but was traded to K.C. on April 1, 1969, for John Gelnar and Steve Whitaker. It was a steal of epic proportions for the Royals.

Municipal Stadium
The team's first home would be the ancient Municipal Stadium, located at Brooklyn Avenue and East 2nd Street. This ballpark had been built in 1923 and was the home to the Blues and the A's, as well as the Monarchs. The name had changed more than a few times since it opened its doors, originally known as Muehlebach Field (1923-1937), Ruppert Stadium (1937-1943), Blues Stadium (1943-1954), and, finally, Municipal Stadium from 1955 to the present. At the time of the Royals' inception it held 34,164 and would top out at 35,561 before the team moved to its new home in 1973. The field, which was natural grass, had dimensions of 350' to left-field, 450' to center and 350' to right when the Royals came into existence and were changed to 369' to left, 408' to left-center, 421' to center, 382' to right-center and 338' to right, for the 1972 season. In addition to housing the Blues, Monarchs, A's and Royals it would see NFL (Chiefs) and NASL (Spurs) action, as well as a concert by the Beatles.

The Royals inaugural game was played on April 8, 1969 and the team defeated the Twins, 4-3, in extra innings. Joe Gordon guided his team to their first victory and soon-to-be Rookie of the Year Lou Piniella went 4-5 with a double (the franchise's first hit), an RBI (another franchise first), a run scored and a walk. Wally Bunker was the starting pitcher and Moe Drabowski would pick up the win when Joe Keough singled home Joe Foy with the winning run.

The Royals First Star: Lou Piniella
This may have been the high point of the team's first season, as they finished in fourth place, 69-93, 28
games behind the first-place Minnesota Twins in the Western Division. Lou Piniella, however, would cement himself as a fan favorite, with his hard-nosed play and work ethic, winning the Rookie of The Year, with 139 hits, 43 runs scored, 21 doubles, 6 triples, 11 home runs, a .282 batting average and 33 walks.1970 wasn't much better for the team as they finished 65-97 (fifth place) for new manager Bob Lemon, this time 33 games behind the Twins. On the field things were a bit rough, but behind the scenes the Royals were wheeling and dealing to make themselves a quick contender. They would acquire Amos Otis from the Mets for Joe Foy, as well as making trades to bring in Fred Patek, Cookie Rojas, John Mayberry and Hal McRae, while at the same time drafting well and bringing Paul Splittorf, Frank White, Steve Busby, Al Cowens and future Hall of Famer, George Brett.

1971 saw the team have its first winning season, 85-76, good enough for second place, but the following year they stumbled, falling back under .500 (78-76) to a fourth-place finish.

1973: A Home of Their Own


Royals Stadium, 1973
On Opening Day 1973, April 10, the team opened it's new ballpark, Royal Stadium, to a capacity crowd of 40,625 people, who saw the Royals defeat the Texas Rangers, 12-1. The team presented its new manager, Jack McKeon, his first win, behind the complete-game effort of Paul Splittorff and an offensive explosion where eight different players got at least one hit. Amos Otis secured the first hit in the stadium's history, Freddie Patek scored the first run and John Mayberry hit the first home run, sending the fans home happy.

It was also on this day the Royals chose to debut their new powder-blue, pajama-type uniforms for which the team would come to be known. Some would come to love the double-knit polyester nightmares, while others (author included) cringe every time they see it.

Another MLB milestone came at Kauffman on May 15, 1973, when Nolan Ryan throw the first of his record-holding seven no hitters, beating KC, 3-0. All in all the season was a success, as the team bounced back to second place in the Western Division, at 88-74. After the season fan favorite Lou Piniella would be traded to the Yankees, for Lindy McDaniel, but it would not be the last time Piniella and the Royals would cross paths.

The team's yo-yo ride continued in 1974 as they fell back to fifth place, finishing under .500 again, at 77-85 and McKeon was replaced with Whitey Herzog for the 1975 season, which would see the Royals jump back to second place (91-71), seven games behind the Oakland A's. Though they would fall short, the Royals let it be known they were knocking on the door and were about ready to kick it down. The 1975 season would become a launching pad for the next decade-and-a-half as the team was primed for both success and heartbreak.

1976-1979: Heartbreak City

By 1976 the Royals would no longer be denied in the Western Division. Led by George Brett the team went 90-72, finishing 2.5 games ahead of Oakland and capturing the team's first division title. Brett, the youngest of four sports-playing boys from West Virginia, was drafted by the Royals in the second round (29th overall) of the 1971 Entry Draft. He spent the next few years steadily climbing the minor league ladder. Brett was originally drafted to play short, but trouble going to his right convinced the Royals to switch him to third base and they were glad they did.

A Young George Brett
Brett came to the big club in 1973, for 13 games, but won the starting job in 1974, though he did have issues with the offensive side of his game. He went to hitting coach Charlie Lau for help and was tutored on how to protect the plate better than he had been, and closing up the hole in his swing. This change propelled Brett to become the most dangerous hitter in the league, and one of the most feared in the game, able to hit for both average and power at any given time. In 1975 he led the league in triples and hit over .300 for the first time (.308), and won his first batting title a year later, leading the American League with a .333 average, barely beating out teammate Hal McRae for the lead.

By the end of the season the Royals found themselves face-to-face with the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series, with a trip to the World Series on the line. New York was starting a resurgence of its own, having come back from the dog days of 1965-1974, when the team could barely scrape itself out of last place and was a shell of its former dynastic self. George Steinbrenner had purchased the team in 1973 and promised a return to glory within three years and he had delivered on his word. Led by team captain Thurman Munson and A.L. Home Run Champ Graig Nettles, the Yankees were rounded out with players such as Chris Chambliss, Willie Randolph, Oscar gamble, Roy White, Catfish Hunter, Ron Guidry, Sparky Lyle and former Royal Lou Piniella. There was even a family connection as George Brett's brother, Ken, was on the Yankees' pitching staff.

The teams traded victories in the first four games of the best-of-five series, with the Yankees winning Game 1 in K.C. (4-1) and Game 3, in the Bronx (5-3), while the Royals took Games 2 and 4, by the scores of 7-3 and 7-4. The first two games of the series in Kansas City drew over 41,000 fans each, and provided a raucous atmosphere for the franchise's first trip to the post-season.

Chambliss' Dramtic Homer Decides The '76 Pennant
The deciding Game 5 was played at Yankee Stadium, as New York had the home field advantage based on a better regular season record, and the Royals struck first, for two runs in the top of the first inning. Yankees pitcher Ed Figueroa, starting on three days' rest, gave up two runs on a Brett double and a Mayberry homer, but the Yankees quickly answered with two of their own in the bottom of the inning on a Mickey Rivers triple, a Roy White single and a Chris Chambliss sacrifice fly. The Royals scored another in the top of the second, but the Yankees countered with two in the third and two in the sixth, to build a 6-3 lead heading into the eighth. The Royals tied the score, in dramatic fashion, in the top of the eighth when Cownes and Wohlford singled and Brett mashed a game-tying home run, which shocked the crowd into silence. Neither team scored in their next at-bat and when the bottom of the ninth rolled around the score was still tied at six.
The Yankees sent Chris Chambliss to the plate to start the bottom of the ninth. He wasted no time, swinging at a letter-high offering from Mark Littell and depositing it over the right field wall for a pennant-winning, walk-off home run.

Thousands of fans poured on to the field as the Royals quickly made their way to the dugout to digest the gut-wrenching loss. Things were so out of control that Chambliss had to get a police escort back out to home plate, after the crowd had been brought under control, to ensure he touched it. The only problem was that there was no home plate; the fans had pulled it out in the mayhem. Chambliss touched the area where the plate should have been and, officially, ended the Royals' season sometime after midnight.

As the 1977 season opened the Royals were a team with something to prove. They wanted to show the baseball world they were not a one-year fluke and that they, not the Yankees, should have won the 1976 American League Championship. The team was stacked; led by the core of Brett, Otis, Mayberry, White, Cowens and McRae; they had added depth with players like Willie Wilson, U.L. Washington , Darrell Porter and pitchers Leonard, Quisenberry, Splittorff, Bird, Hassler and Gura. They blew through the A.L. West, with a record of 102-60, finishing eight games ahead of the second-place Texas Rangers and heading back to the ALCS, for a rematch with the Yankees.

The Yanks had done some reworking of their roster in the off season, landing premier free agent Reggie Jackson, as well as outfielder Paul Blair, catcher Cliff Johnson and shortstop Bucky Dent. Behind them was ace closer Sparky Lyle, who was the top reliever in either league and shortened the game by coming in and closing the door as early as the seventh inning. The Yankees had racked up 100 wins and had beaten out the Baltimore Orioles by 2.5 games.

Everything about this series was the opposite of the year before. Games 1 and 2 were played in New York, as the Royals had the better record, and Kansas City took Game 1 and Game 3, by the scores of 7-2 and 6-2, but the Yankees took Games 2 and 4, 6-2 and 6-4, setting up another winner-take-all Game 5, this time back in Kansas City.

Nettles and Brett Mix It Up
The over-the-top-intensity was on display in the very first inning when George Brett tripled home Hal McRae and slid into third base too hard for Graig Nettles' liking, so Nettles kicked at Brett, who got up and threw a punch, as both benches emptied. Neither player was ejected and Brett came around to score later in the inning, making it 2-0, Kansas City.

The Yankees would cut the lead in half, in the top of the third, when Munson provided an RBI single, but the Royals got that run back in the bottom of the inning on an Al Cowans single to restore the two-run lead. The Yankees manager had seen enough from Ron Guidry and pulled him in favor of Mike Torrez, who promptly went out and shut the Royals down for the next 5 1/3 innings.

New York clawed back to make the score 3-2 in the eighth, on a Reggie Jackson pinch-hit single, and when Sparky Lyle blanked the Royals in the bottom of the inning KC was three outs away from going to the World Series.

Whitey Herzog seemed to have little faith in his normal closer, Mark Littell, so he sent out Dennis Leonard to end the game. Leonard, who was not accustomed to pitching in these situations, promptly gave up a single to Paul Blair, walked Roy White and had to be removed for Larry Gura. Gura fared no better as he gave up a game-tying single to Mickey Rivers and sent White scampering to third. Not willing to take his chances, Herzog made another pitching change, now bringing in Littell who gave up a sac fly to Randolph, giving the Yankees a lead they would never relinquish.

For the second year in a row the Royals lost the ALCS in heartbreaking fashion, in the ninth inning, to a team they had come to despise.

By 1978 the Royals were tired of being referred to as the team that couldn't close the deal. They had come so achingly close to the World Series, only to be knocked out at the last possible moment, they vowed that would not happen again. There was a big change to the team's make-up in the off season as manager Whitey Herzog told management he could no longer co-exist with John Mayberry and would quit if the team wouldn't trade the temperamental star. Mayberry was eventually sent packing for Toronto.

The '78 version of the Royals was not as good as the '77 team, they finished with ten fewer wins, but that was still good enough for 92 wins and a five-game cushion over the second-place California Angels. The team, once again, cruised into the American League Championship Series against...you guessed it, the New York Yankees.

The Yanks were beset by internal fighting all summer long. No one could get along, the team had been dubbed "The Bronx Zoo" and they had fired manager Billy Martin in July, after a nasty, public spat with star Reggie Jackson and owner George Steinbrenner. At one point the team was 14 1/2 games behind the division-leading Boston Red Sox, but new skipper Bob Lemon's calming influence allowed the Yanks to roar back, pass Boston, drop back into a tie and then win the epic one-game-playoff in Fenway Park, aided by Bucky Dent's unlikely home run.

For the third straight year the Royals would be meeting the Yankees, with the winner going to the World Series and the loser going home. "It got to the point that we were openly rooting for it NOT to be the Yankees," Brett would say, many years later. "No one wanted to play them again, not after the last two years, and when they won the East it was a tough mental hill to climb."

Unmatched Intensity
The Yankees would once again have home field advantage (based on their 100-63 record), so the series would start in Kansas City. The Yankees wasted no time in taking control of the game, scoring four times in the first five innings, and cruising to an easy 7-1 victory. The Royals fought back in Game 2, scoring 5 runs in the first two innings and then adding five more in the seventh and eighth, to win the game 10-4 and send the series back to New York tied at one game each.

In Game 3, George Brett led the K.C. attack with three home runs; unfortunately for K.C. they were solo shots and the Yankees were able to win the game, 6-5. This put the Yankees one win away from sending Kansas City home for the third consecutive year, a thought no Royals player, or fan, wanted to endure.

Game 4 started out with a first-inning George Brett triple (he couldn't be stopped), and when Amos Otis singled him home the Royals took a 1-0 lead. The Yankees, however, tied the score an inning later, on a Graig Nettles home run, and won it when Roy White hit a solo shot to put the final nail in the Royals' coffin.

Most teams would have been thrilled to have reached the Championship Series three years in a row, but it was bittersweet not being able to win one of those match-ups and the fact that they lost all three times to the Yankees made things even worse for the Royals and their fans.

The Royals took a step back in 1979, winning 85 games but finishing three games off the pace of the Western Division Champion California Angels. They looked to rebound in the new decade and finally make a World Series appearance.

The 1980s: Pennants, Pine Tar and Pinnacles

During the 1979 off season the Royals made a managerial change; Whitey Herzog was fired and replaced with Jim Frey. Many people speculated that Herzog was let go not just due to the fact he couldn't get past the Yankees, but also because of the rumors that he could not get along with the team's G.M. (Joe Burke) and owners (Ewing and Muriel Kauffman). Either way, Frey came in, fired up the team, and with the help of George Brett's almost-.400 season and AL MVP Award, led them back to the ALCS, with a 97-win season, where they would face...the New York Yankees.

The Royals swore they were no longer going to play second fiddle to the boys from the Bronx and came out with a chip on their shoulder. The Yankees were, once again, the team with the better record (103 wins to the Royals' 97), but they were not the same team that had swept the 1976-1978 meetings. Gone were Mickey Rivers, Roy White, Sparky Lyle, Ed Figueroa and Chris Chambliss, being replaced with Gaylord Perry, Jim Kaat, Ron Davis, Louis Tiant, Bobby Murcer and Bob Watson, but the biggest loss, both on and off the field, was Thurman Munson, the Yankee Captain, who had been killed in a plane crash on August, 2, 1979.

Game 1, in Kansas City, was dominated by the Royals. The Yanks jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the second inning, on a pair of solo home runs by Lou Pinella and Rick Cerone, but K.C. scored two in the bottom of the second and two in the third, taking a lead they would never relinquish, en route to a 7-2 victory.

Game 2 also went to the Royals, 3-2, after scoring three in the third and holding off an atempted Yankees' comeback. This sent the series back to New York, where the Royals were looking to finally eliminate their nemesis and move on to the World Series.

Brett Bombs Gossage
The Yankees held a 2-1 lead heading into the seventh inning, and looked on their way to staving off elimination, when George Brett hit a mammoth three-run home run off of Goose Gossage, stunning the Bronx crowd and giving the Royals all the runs they would need to close out the series, 4-2. Kansas City had finally done it; they had deposed the Yankees and were headed to the franchise's first-ever World Series, against the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Phillies, managed by Dallas Greene, were led by future Hall of Famers Steve Carlton and Mick Schmidt and had a roster filled with very good players, such as Tug McGraw, Bob Boone, Pete Rose, Larry Bowa, Tim McCarver, Lonnie Smith, Greg Luzinski and an old nemesis from years past, former Yankee Sparky Lyle. They had won 91 games that year, six fewer than the Royals, but were a well-rounded, solid team that could not be taken for granted.

The Phillies had the home field advantage for the World Series and they used it to their advantage in Games 1 and 2, winning both by scores of 7-6 and 6-4, to take a quick leg up on the Royals. George Brett was playing well in the Series, but he had to be removed during Game 2 because of hemorrhoid pain, which had been troubling him. He would have minor surgery between Games 2 and 3, but would be playing when the series shifted back to K.C.

Home cooking seemed to be just what the Royals needed, as they took Game 3, 4-3, in extra innings, but the main story was Brett, who homered in his first-inning at-bat to give Kansas City a 1-0 lead. Asked how he was feeling after the game, Brett joked that his "problems are all behind him now."

The Royals were again all smiles, after winning Game 4, 5-3, and evening the series, but they dropped Game 5, 4-3 and had to head back to Philly down three games to two, one loss from elimination. This game was especially heart-breaking as the Royals were up 3-2 in the ninth, but gave up two runs in that inning and then left the bases loaded in the bottom of the inning.

Brett and Mike Schmidt, 1980 World Series
Game 6 would be an extremely frustrating one for the Royals. They could not solve Philadelphia's pitching, scoring one run on seven hits, and falling to the Phillies 4-1. The Royals were paced by Brett, who hit .375 in the Series, but they just couldn't keep the Philly offense at bay and were stymied, except for Brett, at the bat. They were, however, looking forward to moving forward in 1981 and defending their A.L. crown. Unfortunately the 1981 season was awash with discontent as a work stoppage shortened the season and the Royals never really got on track, finishing 50-53, their first sub-.500 season since 1974. The one noteworthy event in 1981 was the hiring of a new manger, long time Yankee coach and manager, Dick Howser.

1982 and 1983 wouldn't be any kinder to the team; they would finish with records of 90-72 and 79-83, respectively, finishing in second place both years. In '82 they would end up finishing three games in back of California, in the West, while the following year they would be blown away by the White Sox, finishing 20 games behind the Western Division winners. There was, however, an on-field field incident in 1983 that would become forever known in baseball lore as "The Pine Tar Game."

On July 24, 1983, the Royals were playing the Yankees (who else?), in the Bronx, when a weird set of events unfolded that would produce one of baseball's memorable incidents.

With New York ahead, 4-3, with two outs in the top of the ninth inning, George Brett came to the plate with a man on base. Yankees closer Rich "Goose" Gossage was on the mound, trying to close out the game for New York, and he served up a two-run home run that gave the Royals the lead. Yankee manager Billy Martin immediately came out to home plate to talk about something with home plate umpire Tim McClelland. Earlier in the season New York's third baseman, Graig Nettles, had noted that Brett's bat had too much pine tar on it, which was against Rule 1.10(C) which stated that a bat may not be covered by more than 18 inches of a foreign substance from the tip of the handle upward. Nettles had brought the "issue" to Martin, who tucked it away for future use and decided now would be the time to use it.

Brett Being Restrained During The Pine Tar Game
Brett, who had already circled the bases, was now sitting in the Royals dugout as McClelland examined the bat, measured the amount of pine tar on it, and decided that Brett was in violation of the rule. He reversed the home run call, declared Brett out, and the game over, for use of illegal equipment. Brett came storming out of the dugout to confront McClelland and had to be forcibly restrained by his manager and some teammates, while another teammate, Gaylord Perry, handed the bat off to the bat boy to hide and keep it from being confiscated. Security had to intervene, chasing the bat boy into the clubhouse, in order to get the bat, so it could be sent to the American League Office and inspected.

The Royals protested the game and American League President Lee MacPhail sided with them. He determined that although the rule had technically been broken, Brett had not violated the spirit of the rule, nor had he purposefully altered the bat. The home run was re-instated, the Royals were given the lead back and the two teams were required to return to Yankee Stadium on August 18, to finish off the game. Martin, livid at the decision, decided to make his displeasure known to the world and inserted pitcher Ron Guidry as the center fielder and a left-handed rookie, Don Mattingly, at second base for the conclusion of the game. The Royals ended up holding on to the lead and eventually won the game. (Jim note: the author was at the Pine Tar Game, as a 14 year-old).

1984 saw the Royals once again win the American League Western Division and advance to the ALCS, this time against the Detroit Tigers. Though the Royals finished the year with a 84-78 record, they were no match for Detroit, who went wire to wire as the best team in baseball, finishing the year 104-58. The Tigers swept the Royals out of the playoffs in three games, winning 8-1, 5-3 and 1-0. Once again the Royals were sent home from a Championship Series and not moving on. 1985, however, would prove to be different.

The 1985 Royals would battle the California Angels all summer for the American League West title, eventually finishing ahead by one game. The core of the team had remained the same, with some minor tweaks to it, and they advanced to their sixth ALCS since 1976, where they would face the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Jays were starting to come into their own as an AL powerhouse. Led by pitchers Jimmy Key, Dave Stieb, Tom Henke and Doyle Alexander, Toronto also boasted a powerful lineup with Jesse Barfield, Willie Aikens, Cecil Fielder, Al Oliver and Tony Fernandez in the lineup. They were not a team to dismiss and it took the Royals all they had to prevail in the series.

Toronto took Games 1 and 2, by scores of 6-1 and 6-5, at home in Toronto. The Royals won Game 3, back home in K.C., 6-5, but lost the next game, putting the Jays one game away from the World Series. It was time for the Royals to dig deep and show the baseball world what they were made of and they did, winning the next three in epic fashion, 2-0, 5-3 and 6-2, sending them back to the World Series for the second time in franchise history. This one, however, would be extra-special, as they would face their in-state rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals.
I-70 World Series

The 1985 World Series, also known as the "Show Me Series" (both teams being from the "Show Me State"of Missouri), or the "I-70 Series" (I-70 is the interstate that connected both cities), would be the first time two teams from one state played one another since 1956,when the Yankees took on the Brooklyn Dodgers. These two teams each had passionate fan bases, but this series would take things to an all new level.

The Cards, managed by former Royals skipper Whitey Herzog, were a formidable team, balanced and deep. Led by future Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith, the team had a roster featuring Andy Van Slyke, Lonnie Smith, Willie McGee, Vince Coleman, Jack Clark, Darrell Porter and pitchers John Tudor, Andy Hassler, Bob Forsch and Joaquin Andujar. They had finished atop the MLB standings with 101 wins, which was ten more than Kansas City had, and were considered the prohibitive favorites.

The Royals held the home field advantage, which meant they would host Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 (the latter two if needed). They were counting on feeding off the crowd's excitement and energy and hoped that would help to play a pivotal role in the series. Unfortunately they came out flatter than a 14th Century globe and quickly found themselves in a three-games-to-one deficit.

The Cards swept the first two games in K.C., 3-1 and 4-2, behind the stellar pitching of Tudor in Game 1 and the faltering of Charlie Leibrandt in Game 2. Leibrandt actually had a 2-0 lead in the ninth inning, but Howser did not go to his ace closer, (Dan Quisenberry) for the save and Leibrandt gave up a bases-loaded-double to Terry Pendleton, which gave St Louis the victory.

Back in St. Louis the Royals won Game 3, 6-1, which cut the deficit in half, but the Cards came back strong in Game 4, behind the shutout performance of Tudor to take the game, 3-0, as well as a 3-1 lead in the series. A lot of baseball people had now written the Royals off for dead, but the team believed in itself and staved off elimination in Game 5, winning 6-1, and sending the series back down I-70 for the remainder of the games.

Game 6 was a pitcher's duel between hard luck Charlie Leibrandt and Cards starter Danny Jackson. Leibrandt kept the Cardinals' bats in check, scattering just five hits over eight innings, but the Cards had the games only run (an eighth-inning Brian Harper single), heading into the ninth. Herzog decided to replace Danny Jackson with his closer, Todd Worrell, to secure the win, and the series, but something happened on the way to that place that is talked about in baseball circles to this day.

He Was Out
Jorge Orta led off the bottom of the ninth and sent an infield chopper to the right of first baseman Jack Clark. He fielded the ball cleanly and tossed to Worrell, who was covering the bag in time, but first base umpire Don Denkinger called the runner safe. Replays showed that Orta was clearly out but, being the night's crew chief, Denkinger refused to reverse his call. The Royals had life and things started to unravel for St. Louis after that.

The next batter, Steve Balboni, lifted a foul pop-up near the first base dugout and even though Clark had a bead on it he misjudged the play and the ball dropped. Balboni singled two pitches later, so instead of having two outs and none on the Royals had two on and no outs. Catcher Jim Sundberg tried a sacrifice bunt, but with two strikes he bunted back to the pitcher, who went to third to get the lead runner. Unfortunately Worrell then threw a passed ball, negating the out, giving the Royals men on second and third with one out, as they had been trying to do with the sacrifice.

With first base open Herzog decided to walk pinch-hitter Hal McRae intentionally, to set up the double play, but when Dane Iorg blooped a single into shallow right field the Royals had won the game, staved off elimination and set up a Game 7, for the next night. The stunned Cardinals had to gather their wits and get ready to play the next night, when they, to a man, believed they should have been the ones celebrating right then and there.

Champions
St. Louis never got its heads, or hearts, back into the series and the Royals steamrolled them in Game 7, winning 11-0. The Royals put five runs on the board in the first three innings, then tacked on six more in the fifth, and coasted to the victory party when Quisenberry got the final out. The long, sometimes nightmarish, wait was over; the Royals were finally champions and Kansas City partied long into the night.



Falling From The Throne

The Royals and their fans were looking forward to defending their crown in 1986, but the team suffered from a World Series hangover and finished the season 76-86, 16 games out of first place. Making things even worse they made one of the biggest blunders in franchise history, trading a perennial All Star pitcher, David Cone, to the Mets, for back-up catcher Ed Hearn, who ended up playing less than a month for the team. This, however, was not the biggest gut-punch to the team. During the All Star Game it was noticed that manager Dick Howser was botching the signals as he was changing pitchers, and in other points of the game. After admitting he'd been feeling sick for some time, the team had him checked out and doctors discovered he was suffering from a brain tumor. He would attempt to rejoin the team as the manager in Spring Training, but found he was not up to the job and Billy Gardner took over.

The 1987 season provided a bounce-back year as the team finished 83-79, which was good enough for second place in the AL West (behind the Minnesota Twins), but not a playoff berth. The season was considered a success, considering how poorly they'd fared in 1986, but it was ultimately overshadowed by Howser's death, on June 17th. His number was retired (the first in Royals history) on July 3rd, in a very emotional ceremony and his loss cast a pall over the entire baseball world.

In 1988, under new manager John Wathan, the team slipped to third place (84-77), but they rebounded in 1989, climbing back to second place with 92 wins. In any other year that might have gotten them back into post season play, but the A's ran away with the division, sporting a record of 99-63.

During this time the Royals did develop some very good players, most notably Tom Gordon, Kevin Seitzer and Bo Jackson, but they also made some incredibly head-scratching trades as well, sending out Charlie Leibrandt, Bud Black, Danny Jackson and Brett Saberhagen, while bringing back Kevin McReynolds, Gaylord Perry, Pat Tabler and Kurt Stillwell. These trades, as well as injuries to key players left the team floundering and things were made worse when Jackson was waived after suffering a hip injury playing football for the Oakland Raiders.

A Twenty-Year Death Spiral

From 1993-2013 the Kansas City Royals were a franchise adrift, lost in the baseball wilderness. They would finish higher than third place only once, in 1995, when they went 70-74. They would finish in third six times (1993, 1994, 1998, 2003 and 2012) and the rest of the time in fourth or fifth place. Their collective record during this time was 1464-1869, which included four 100-plus loss seasons (2002, 2004, 2005, 2006), as well as three additional seasons of 97 losses (1999, 2001 and 2009). Also during this time the Royals were hit with the loss of their G.M., John Schuerholz, who went to the Atlanta Braves in 1990, and the death of owner Ewing Kauffman, in 1993. Kauffman's death left the team without solid ownership until 2000, when Wal-Mart executive David Glass bought the team.

Hall of Famer, George Brett
The biggest loss to the team was that of George Brett, to retirement, after the 1993 season. In 21 seasons he had been a 13-time All Star, a three-time Silver Slugger Award winner (1980, 1985 and 1988), a three time Batting Champion (1976, 1980 and 1990, making him the only player in MLB history to have done it in three different decades), a Gold Glove Award winner (1985), an AL MVP (1980) an ALCS MVP (1985), and a World Series Champion (1985). He had a lifetime batting average of .305, with 3,154 hits, 317 Home Runs and 1,596 RBIs. His number was retired by the team in 1994, and in 1999 he became a first-ballot Hall of Famer, with 98.2% of the vote. To say he would be missed would be an understatement, and his retirement coincided with the team slipping into non-contender status.

During this time the franchise became a "farm system" for the rest of MLB, as they would develop young players, such as Kevin Appier, Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye, Mike Sweeney and Carlos Beltran, but they would be traded, or leave via free agency, once the team could no longer afford to pay them. The team would also cycle through managers during this time, a total of eight (Hal McRae, Bob Boone, Tony Muser, John Mizerock, Tony Pena, Bob Schaefer, Buddy Bell, Trey Hillman and Ned Yost) between 1993 and 2010. With players and managers coming and going through a revolving door, it was no wonder the franchise was in disarray.

The Royals were also offered the option of switching leagues in 1997, when realignment occurred, to make room for Tampa Bay and Arizona, but the team declined to make the switch and Milwaukee went instead. During this time the team was criticized for not switching leagues because some said it would put them in the same division as the Cardinals and the Cubs, which might increase attendance and rid the team of carrying an expensive veteran as a DH. THAT'S how bad things had gotten for the franchise.

By 2013 the franchise seemed to be coming out of it's funk. GM Dayton Moore had assembled some very good, young talent. Mike Moustakis (2007's #2-overall pick), Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Wade Davis and Alex Gordon were all with the big club, contributing and helping the team to a second-place finish. It was the first time in ten years the Royals finished over .500 (86-76) or even reached as high as third place in the division. It was a very successful season, considering where the team had been, and set them up nicely for a magical next season.
2014: A Return To Glory
Royals Return To The Fall Classic
2014 started out looking like a dud. By late July the team sat two games under .500, eight games behind Detroit, but roared back to life with a 22-5 run over the next month and took over first place. They finished the season one game back of the Tigers, but secured a Wild Card spot, with a record of 89-73, and the team's first post season berth in almost three decades.

The game, played in K.C., was a back-and-forth affair that saw Oakland score two in the first and the Royals cutting the lead in half, in the bottom of the inning, before taking the lead with two more in the third. The A's put a five-spot on the board in the fifth, to make the score 7-3, but Kansas City scored three in the eighth and another in the ninth, to send the game to extra innings.

Wild Card Winners
The game stayed tied until the twelfth inning, when the A's took the lead on a walk, a sacrifice bunt, a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly, but the Royals weren't about to go down swinging. With the stadium  wilder, and louder, than it had since 1985, Lorenzo Cain grounded out to start the bottom of the inning. The crowd took on a hushed tone, but that quickly changed when Eric Hosmer played a poorly-fielded ball off the outfield wall into a triple, and Christian Colon brought him home, tying the game, with an infield single. Colon then stole second and was brought home, with the winning run, on a single to left field by Salvador Perez. The Royals had won the Wild Card Game and were moving on to the AL Divisional Series, to face the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

The Angels were a powerful team; led by manager Mike Scioscia, they had compiled a 98-64 record, which was the best in the American League. With players like Albert Pujols, Mike Trout, Garrett Richards, Josh Hamilton, Raul Ibanez, CJ Wilson, Jered Weaver and Huston Street, many predicted a quick end to this best-of-three series.

The series was a three-game-sweep, though not for Anaheim. The Royals ambushed the Angels, and the baseball pundits, by taking Game 1, 3-2 in 11 innings; Game 2, 4-1 in 11 innings; and Game 3, 8-3. The team was coming together and their never-say-die attitude had them always believing they would be the ones with the "W" next to their name at the end of each game. With that in mind, Kansas City headed off to Baltimore, to face the Orioles, with a trip to the World Series on the line.

The O's, managed by Buck Showalter, had finished the season with a record of 96-66 and had defeated the Tigers three-games-to-none in the other ALDS. Their lineup was a balance of power, speed and line drive hitters (Chris Davis, Manny Machado, Nelson Cruz, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, Delman Young and Matt Wieters), while the pitchers (Ubaldo Jimenez, Andrew Miller, Bud Norris, Darren O'Day and Zach Britton) could find a variety of ways to get hitters out. This should have been a close series, with the Orioles, perhaps, having the edge, but once again it wasn't.

Game 1 was another tight affair, with the teams tied after nine. Kansas City was up 5-1 after four and a half, but the O's tied the game on three in the fifth and another in the sixth, so the teams found themselves going to extras. In the tenth the Royals struck for three runs; a solo shot off the bat of Alex Gordon and a two-run blast from Eric Hosmer, and hung on for the 8-6 lead, after the Birds plated one in the bottom of the inning.

Game 2 again saw a tight affair, 4-4 going into the ninth, when the Royals once again provided late heroics, this time with two runs in the top of the ninth (a double from Alex Escobar and a Lorenzo Cain single) to take the game 6-4.

Back in Kansas City, the Royals finished off the series with back-to-back 2-1 wins, sending the crowd into delirium and the team to its first World Series since 1985. They would, however, be meeting the San Francisco Giants, who were winners of two of the previous four World Series and knew a thing or two about post season success.

The Giants featured a lights-out staff of starting pitchers, led by Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Ryan Vogelsong, Tim Lincecum, Jake Peavey, Tim Hudson and Jeremy Affeldt, as well as a core of good young position players (Buster Posey, Joe Panik, Brandon Belt, Pablo Sandoval, Hunter Pence, Angel Pagan and Brandon Crawford), and were led by a manager, Bruce Bochy who always seemed to get the most out of his players when the games were biggest.

Non-Stop Action
The teams split the first two games at Kauffman, both 7-1 blowouts, before heading out to San Francisco, where the Royals stunned everyone with a 3-2 victory, taking a 2-1 lead in the series.

The Giants seemed to have been hit with a bucket of cold water and came back to win the next two games, 11-4 and 5-0, behind the solid pitching of Yusmeiro Petit and Madison Bumgarner, who was now 2-0 on the series and had throttled the Royals at every turn.

Facing elimination, the Royals headed back to K.C. and promptly blew the doors off the Giants, 10-0. They scored seven runs in the second inning and never looked back, which sent the series to a winner-take-all seventh game.

The Giants struck first, scoring two in the second inning, but the Royals came back with two of their own in the bottom of the frame, which chased Giants starter Tim Hudson from the game and had Jeremy Affeldt replace him. The Giants, again, took the lead in the fourth on a pair of singles (Sandoval and Pence) and an 0-2 base hit off the bat of Michael Morse. After Affeldt pitched a scoreless bottom of the fourth, San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy turned to his ace, Madison Bumgarner, to keep the Royals in check.

Bumgarner already had two wins in this series (Games 1 and 5) and had kept the Royals bats silent. He was just as dominant on this night, going five scoreless innings, though not without a "hiccup" in the ninth.

Giants Capture The Series
Bumgarner had retired the first two batters, his thirteenth and fourteenth in a row, when Alex Gordon lined a shot into left field that was misplayed for a hit/error combination. When the dust cleared Gordon was standing on third base, as the tying run, but was left stranded there when "MadBum" got Salvador Perez to pop out, in foul ground, to Pablo Sandoval, ending the game and the series.

Just like that, the Royals' magical season was over. The crowd stood in stunned silence for the next few minutes, but then broke out into a standing ovation for their team, whom no one had expected to get this far. The Royals' season may have ended in dramatic, heartbreaking fashion, but they had proven they could play with the best teams in the game. The big question was whether they could carry this emotion, momentum and excitement over, into the 2015 season.

Barbecue, Baseball and Mid-Western Heat


Part of Our Lunch




After looking through the Royals' history with everyone, Tony and I decided to head across the street to grab some beer, soda and water for the room. After all, if we were going to be here for the next two days it would be a good idea to have some provisions.

By this time we returned, everyone else was showered and relaxing on the beds, drifting in and out of consciousness, when there was a knock on the door. It was our friend Justin, who had traveled down from Nebraska to join us for the weekend.

Justin, who I dubbed "Probie" many years ago (ask him, he'll tell you why and he doesn't mind anyone calling him it), is a fantastic guy. He's a sports junkie who is raising three boys (Kenny, Baylor and Easton) to be the same and has always wanted to join us on one of our road trips. The one "downside" to Justin is that he's a fan of everything Boston; now that's not a problem when he's rooting for the Terriers, Celtics or Patriots, but it sure as hell poses a dilemma when we have to talk baseball, as he's a Red Sox nut. In the end, though, we all have a lot of fun and a lot of laughs at one another's expense, because he is a bigger fan of the game than he is a team. One of these days we're going to get all the kids together for a trip, but right now they might just be a bit too young, at 6, 8 and 10, to keep up with our hectic pace.

We each grabbed a beverage and toasted to a fun-filled weekend that was about to start, then headed out to the SUV to meet up with some others for our first taste of Kansas City's famous barbecue, at Joe's. Rob and Justin had been to KC before and had regaled us with stories of the deliciousness that we were about to experience, but Ryan, Tony, Nick and I had been waiting for this mouth-watering treat for a long time and were extremely excited to dig in.

Our First BBQ Stop
Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Cue has become a Kansas City staple thanks to Joy and Jeff Stehney, who attended a barbecue contest in 1990 and were "bitten" by the love of this style of food. They decided to form their own team, naming it Slaughterhouse Five and competing in every competition they could enter. For the next few years they won many awards, including 25 Grand and Reserve Grand Championships, as well as being named Kansas City Barbecue Society's Team of the Year in 1993.


By 1995 Jeff and Joy were joined by Joe Don Davidson and together the trio created Oklahoma Joe's Barbecue and Catering. The first store was opened in 1996, in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and later that year a small gas station/convenience store in K.C. closed and the group decided that would make the perfect location for a Kansas City store.

A little over a year later Joe sold his shares of the company to Joy and Jeff and ever since then they have been the owners of Joe's Kansas City. Over the years they have expanded to three stores: the original in Kansas City; another in Olathe, Kansas; and a third in Leawood, Kansas. They have been the #1 rated barbecue restaurant in Zagat, for Kansas City, every year  since 2004, and are famous for both the "Z Man Sandwich" and their ribs. As I said, we were very excited to be starting our "Kansas City Culinary Journey" here.

"Better eat carefully," I warned Ryan. "It's hot as hell out here and you wouldn't want to overdo it."
"Yeah, let's go with that," he laughed and rolled his eyes.

It was getting hot, though, dangerously hot. The car thermometer read over 100 degrees and it was only noon, so I was getting worried about how the rest of the day was going to pan out. Ryan and I don't do heat well, and I mean  REALLY DON'T DO HEAT WELL, as in "get sick to our stomachs and feel dizzy and nauseous" and a copious amount of salted meats were not going to help that problem. Unfortunately, that thought went out the window the moment we stepped inside the Olathe location and could smell all the different meats at the front door.

"I think I love this place," Tony turned and said to me.

"Wait'll you eat the food," Rob laughed. He knew, he'd been here, many times, before.
"Hey, there's Sheri," Probie pointed across the room.

Sheri Cox is one of Justin's friends who live in the K.C. area. She is a fun-loving sports junkie, who has brunette hair and a bubbly personality. Justin said would make a perfect addition to our traveling
contingent and he was correct. She quickly came over, introduced herself with a laugh and a hug for everyone, and then turned to introduce her friends, Dana and Todd Gerstner, whom she felt would be a great fit for us as well.

Dana and Todd were a bit more reserved than Sheri, for all of about a minute. Dana is a brown-eyed, blonde lady, quick with a joke, a wise-ass comment and an infectious laugh, while Todd looks (and speaks) a bit like Bill Engvall was open, friendly and as welcoming as you could hope for. They must have quickly felt at home with us, even though we can be a bit overwhelming at first, and we were all soon laughing, joking and interacting as if we'd all known each other for years. Justin and Sheri were both right; everyone here was a perfect fit and we were going to have a good time, starting now...with barbecue.

We stood in line to wait our turn to order; Rob was in charge of everything since he had been here, many times, before. I ran over to the beer stand (yes, they have a beer stand) where I was able to order a few pints for everyone while we waited. I made sure everyone got a Boulevard brew - after all, when in K.C. you must go K.C. all the way, and Boulevard is the local standard - and settled in to inhale the delicious aromas and sip my pale ale. It was a nice, crisp beer, with a smooth hoppy flavor and a light, citrusy, aroma. I made a mental note that this would probably go best with lunch, as a finish to each and every bite.

Tony Enjoys Some Ribs
Finally I got tired of waiting in line and helped the boys find a table for all of us. Not long after everyone else joined us with more food than I thought could be consumed. There were racks of ribs, heaping plates of burnt ends, pulled pork, brisket, cornbread, baked beans, cole slaw, potato salad and the sandwich everyone was waiting for...the "Z Man."


The "Z Man" is a Joe's original and is easily one of, if not the, best-selling items on the menu. In 1997 a gentleman, Mike Zarrick, was a regular at Joe's and said he was starting his own sports radio station. Joy and Jeff decided to take a chance on becoming a sponsor because he was so passionate about the barbecue, and decided to have a "name-a-sandwich campaign." Zarrick would tell all his listeners to come in and try his favorite sandwich, which had yet to be named, and they would have a chance to name it. Well, the folks came in all right, but they always said "we'd like to try that Z Man sandwich" and that's how the name came about.

Ryan and The Z Man
Ryan and I had been hearing legendary stories about the Z Man, from Rob, for years and it was now time to see if he was being honest, or just exaggerating. One bite in and I found out he was telling the truth. The Z Man starts with a kaiser roll, piled high with smoked beef brisket, covered in smoked provolone cheese, topped with onion rings and covered in Joe's famous sauce. It was unlike anything I had ever eaten before. The salt of the meat was perfectly balanced with the rich cheese, and the crunch and "bite" of the onion rings made for a perfect triumvirate of taste. There was just enough sauce on top to keep it from being dry, but the sweet-smoky flavor just accentuated everything and made this one of the best sandwiches I had ever bitten into. I was in love and I hadn't even gotten to the rest of the food.

The sandwich didn't stand a chance; it was gone in about three and a half bites. I quickly looked over at Ryan, who had just finished his, and nodded. He nodded back, and no words were necessary; it was THAT good. Next up were the ribs, which fell off the bone as I picked one up, so I scooped up the meat with a fork and quickly stuffed it in my mouth. It was everything ribs should be, smokey, salty, sweet and juicy. I quickly grabbed another and downed that one as well, before moving on to the burnt ends.

Tony and Justin, Enjoying Lunch
Burnt ends are pieces of meat gathered from the point end of the brisket. Traditionally the brisket is cooked as a whole, but the points are sliced off and re-smoked and cooked, as they take longer to get just right. By the time they are finished they have a burnt "look" to them, but they comprise some of the juiciest barbecue you will ever eat, and Joe's is said to have the best, even though they are not always available. We were lucky, as they were on this day, and we made sure to get a lot of them.

I can't even begin to describe how good this delicacy was. The meat itself was moist and tender, with a lot of smoky flavor coming through the rich and sweet sauce. They were cooked to perfection and almost fell apart in your mouth, not needing anything added to enhance the flavor. I could have eaten these all day, but I had to leave some for the others and move on to the brisket.

The brisket was good, though not my favorite. That, however,was no fault of the chef, but rather a numbersmgame. There was so much food and something had to be rated last, even if it was delicious. Had there not been all the other meats I would have rated the brisket higher, but how could I choose from all the perfection that was before me? Even the sides were something to behold, though no one was happy that I consumed so much of the beans...especially Tony, who had been on the receiving end one night while we drove from Detroit to Pittsburgh. I think he was having flashbacks as he watched my intake with horror in his eyes.

Eventually we pushed back from the table, all the food gone, and looked around the room. It was only then obvious to us that people, including Dana and Todd, were watching us devour what seemed to be pounds and pounds of food. It was right then and there I wondered if Dana, Todd and Sheri were having second thoughts about what they had gotten themselves into. Either way, they were stuck with us now. I had the baseball tickets and it was time to get to the stadium.

"That was the greatest meal since yesterday," Ryan laughed, wiping his face with a napkin.
"Was it better than The Buckhorn?" Tony wanted to know.
"Well there were no fried balls in this meal, so what do you think?" Rob asked, half-jokingly.
Dana and Sheri looked at us like we had three heads.

"I'll explain later," I assured them.
We headed back outside, into what now seemed like a convection oven. The car read 105 degrees and that was parked in the shade; I had a feeling this was going to be a long afternoon/evening.

Kauffman Stadium

Outside of The K
It took us about 20 minutes to get to Kauffman Stadium and by then the heat was unbearable. The park was not open yet, it wouldn't be for almost an hour, and there was no shade in which to hide. We slowly made our way to the gates, only to find dozens of people already lined up, sweating their behinds off, just to ensure they got one of the bobbleheads that were being given away on this day.

"There's no way I'd be standing out in this heat just to get a bobblehead," Nick said, shaking his head.
"Yet here you are," laughed Probie.
"This is gonna suck," I said, to no one in particular.
"It'll be all right," Ryan said, looking around, excitedly. "There's baseball soon."

I liked his attitude, but I was still worried about this heat. Thankfully we made friends with the people next to us, who had a bag of ice and were quite happy to hand some out to the boys so they could put it on their heads and keep cool. That, however, wasn't going to work long for me; I needed to find air conditioning and I knew just where to look: the clubhouse store.

"I'm going for a walk around the stadium, to get a program and a scorecard," I told everyone. "Who wants to come?"
"You're going walking...in this heat?" Sheri asked. "You're out of your mind."

"Ryan, you want to come?" I wanted to know.
"Nah, I'm staying by the ice lady," he said, while asking for another chunk.
"OK, but please keep that ice on your head, and drink the water I gave you," I beseeched him.
"I'll be OK," he assured me.

I wasn't convinced, but I knew I had left him in good hands as I started to walk around the outside of the ballpark.

Over-sized Baseball Cards
I specifically took the long way to the clubhouse store; that way I wouldn't feel inclined to give up early, because of the heat, and go back. Unfortunately there wasn't much to see on the outside of the stadium. The team's name was imprinted at one spot and there was another that had super-sized Royals baseball cards of some of the players, but aside from that there really wasn't anything remarkable about the place; no statues, no monuments, no plaques. I was feeling a little let down and hot as hell.

After what seemed like forever, I found the team store entrance. As I walked inside the air conditioning nearly knocked me off my feet. I can NOT adequately express how hot it was outside and the fact that the stadium is in a sports complex that offers not a speck of shade didn't exactly help the situation.

As I walked into the store an older gentleman, who worked for the team, struck up a conversation with me.

"You're a long ways from home, son," he laughed, pointing to my Yankees' shirt.

"Yes, sir, I am," I smiled back. "But I'm from New Jersey, not New York," I continued.

"Either way, that's a ways off," he laughed again. "What brings you to visit us?"

I don't know how many times I have told our story, but it never gets tiresome and always brings a smile to my face. I explained how we began this journey, three years prior, where we had visited, what we had seen and where we were headed after Kansas City.

"Now that sounds like a lot of fun," he told me. I wish I had done something like that with my daddy, but I suppose I could always take my son and grandson."

"It's never too late," I told him. "Trust me, you won't be sorry you did."

"My name's Jack, what's yours?" he asked, extending a hand.

I suddenly remembered I hadn't introduced myself and felt a quick pang of embarrassment.

"I'm Jim," I said, reaching back for his hand. "Is there anything I need to know about this place?" I asked, hoping to get a little bit of the history.

"If you have a few minutes, I'll give you the story," he told me, smiling and extending a chair, which I gladly accepted.

A History Lesson
Truman Sports Complex

In 1967 the city of Kansas City floated a bond to build Truman Sports Complex, which was designed to hold stadiums for the NFL's Chiefs and the Kansas City A's. The A's owner, Charlie Finley, had just signed a lease to keep his ballclub in K.C. for the foreseeable future and the city decided to build a stadium for each. This was not the "normal" thinking of the time, as many municipalities didn't find it viable to have separate facilities and "cookie-cutter stadiums" were popping up to house more than one tenant and it seemed more ludicrous when Finley broke the lease and moved his team to Oakland the next year.

After Finley vacated the city, Missouri's Senator Symington threatened to have the U.S. government look to revoke baseball's anti-trust exemption if K.C. wasn't given another team quickly. MLB caved and offered an expansion franchise for 1971, but Symington got that pushed to 1968 and ground was broken on the yet-to-be-named facility on July 11, 1968.

A local architecture firm, Kivett and Meyers, was given the job of designing the ballpark. They handed the blueprints over to Sharp-Kidde Webb and five years later, on April 10, 1973, Royals Stadium opened. It cost $70 million at the time, which translates into $373 million in today's dollars, but Royals fans say it was worth every penny, as they didn't have to share it with another sports team, which allowed for a "baseball park-like" feel, when watching a game.

Royals Stadium was actually the last baseball-only facility built in the majors between 1966 and 1991 and is only one of two that are still active and were never converted to a multi-purpose facility. (Dodger Stadium is the other.) The architects did, however, take some "designs" from the multi-purpose parks of the time. The main section of the ballpark is made of concrete and has an uncovered facade. The stands went from foul pole to foul pole and had smaller bleacher sections in the outfield.

The playing surface was a super-fast draining Astro-Turf, designed to make sure games could be played to completion. Being the western-most ballpark, outside of California, the Royals had fans who would come from all over the Mid-west and the front office did not want to have those fans go home unhappy in the event of rain.

One of the ballparks main features was the outfield waterfall display, which consisted of a fountain that throws water in the air before and after games, as well as between innings, and a waterfall that runs constantly. Another feature that would become synonymous with Royals Stadium was the giant "crown-shaped" scoreboard in center field. This 12-story scoreboard can be seen for miles around, and is easily one of the most recognizable features of the ballpark.

Left Field View
Right Field View
On Opening Day 1973, the ballpark had a capacity crowd of 40,625 fans, who squeezed into maroon, gold and orange seats, these colors were chosen because they were said to represent royalty. The playing surface dimensions were 330' feet to left field, 387' to left-center, 410' to center, 387' to right-center and 330' to right. The back stop was 60 feet behind home plate, and the fans throughout the ballpark felt as if they were part of the action.

View To Center Field

Between its opening, in 1973, and the early 1990's, very few changes were made to the ballpark. It was the host to an All Star game (1973), as well as plenty of post-season action, but never another sport besides baseball.

The first change that came about was renaming the ballpark. On July 2, 1993, Royals Stadium was renamed Kauffman Stadium, in honor of the team's only owner, Ewing Kauffman, who, sadly passed away a month later, on August 1, 1993.

Another big change to the park came about 18 months later, when the franchise decided to move away from an AstroTurf field to a natural grass playing surface. The renovations were completed over the winter and the field was ready to begin play on Opening Day 1995. As of today the field is a mixture of Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass.

By 2000 all of the original seats were replaced by ones that were Royal blue, but the big changes came between the 2007 and 2009 seasons.

In April of 2006 the citizens of Kansas City voted a sales tax increase that would cover the cost of renovations for the Truman Sports Complex, including both Arrowhead and Kauffman Stadiums. As part of the goodwill towards the fans the Royals offered every household in Jackson County a voucher for a pair of discounted (50% off) Royals tickets for certain nights during the upcoming season.

Buck O'Neil Seat
Buck's Legacy
The first order of business came in 2007, when the franchise had one
red seat placed behind home plate to honor Buck O'Neil who had passed away in October of 2006. Mr. O'Neil was a beloved member of the Kansas City community and was frequently seen at Kauffman Stadium, watching a Royals game from this very location (Section 127, Row C, Seat 9). Every game the Royals pick a person, from a list of nominees, who embodies Buck's spirit, to sit in this seat.

 There was a ceremonial "groundbreaking" after the 2007 season and by the time the doors opened for 2009 Kauffman's reconstruction had been complete. The refurbishment was done in stages, over the course of the course of the 2008 season and off season but when the fans got to the ballpark on Opening Day 2009, they were in for quite a treat. Although the seating capacity had been reduced to 37,903 there were many new and improved features to the stadium. There were wider concourses, four new ticket-holder entry gates, upgraded concessions and bathroom amenities, an outfield concourse area, a kids' play area, new fountain view terraces, a right field sports bar, a left field Royals Hall of Fame building and the icing on the cake: a new HD scoreboard, which was named "Crown Vision." The cost for this enormous undertaking was almost $250 million, but the fans who flock to the park each year think it was worth every penny.

In 2012 Kauffman Stadium, once again, hosted the MLB All Star Game, which showcased the beauty of the ballpark and showed the MLB world that it was a special place to be.


Starting Lineup
Sheri, Me, Tony, Ryan, Nick, Rob, Justin
Not Pictured: Dana, Todd, Russ, Rose

Jim Kulhawy
Ryan Kulhawy
Rob Zoch
Tony D'Angelo
Nick D'Angelo
Justin Kirkpatrick
Sheri Cox
Dana Gerstner
Todd Gertsner
Rose Schwartzseid
Russ Schwartzseid

I quickly glanced at my watch and noticed I had been gone a little longer than I had wanted. I had lost track of the time while learning about the ballpark's history, from Jack, but in all honesty the air conditioning felt sooooo good.

I high-tailed it back to the group and knew with one glance at Ryan that I should have insisted he go with me. As I said earlier, neither of us does well in oppressive heat, and he was pale and drawn and looking very unstable. I was worried about heat exhaustion, or heat stroke, or any number of heat-related emergencies, and quickly took my son and headed towards the gate, where there was a bit of shade. The usher there took one look at Ry and got us a large cup of ice and three bottles of water, which I had him sip, slowly. I was very much afraid the heat had done him in and that we might not be seeing this game, but after about 15 minutes, some ice under his hat and the water he started to come around. He was not going to be bouncing all over the place anytime soon, but he regained a close-to-normal color and got some of his energy back. Thankfully for us, the gates were soon opened and we were able to head inside, where I quickly took him to the men's room and made sure to get some cool water on his head, neck and back. That was the final piece of the puzzle and he was soon as close to normal as he was going to get, but we all agreed we had to keep an eye on him for the rest of the afternoon.

The first thing we always do when getting inside a new stadium is to get our picture taken behind home plate, but this time we were going to make an exception and wait a little longer. I wanted to keep Ryan out of the sun as long as possible, and we were going to walk around the stadium and head to the Royals Hall of Fame, where we knew there would be A/C.

1980 ALCS Plaque
World Series Champs Plaque
We started behind home plate and walked down the first base line, around the stadium. The concourses were clean and wide and allowed us to stay in the shade, while still looking at the field, so this was the perfect plan. As we walked around we noticed there were plaques mounted to the beams, which told the story of the Royals in pictures. There was one for the team's inception, one for the first ever game at Royals Stadium and one for winning the team's first ALCS in 1980 (over the Yankees), while others depicted the Pine Tar Game and Games 6 and 7 of the 1985 World Series.

As we walked closer to the outfield concourse I kept my eyes on Ryan, he was decidedly quiet, listless and, most certainly, un-Ryan-like.

"You okay, buddy?" I wanted to know

"I have a headache and I just feel weird," he told me.

"You need to sit down? Some more water? You tell me and you got it."

"I will," he smiled and gave me a quick hug.

I was more than a little worried.

He seemed to perk up a bit as we got to the outfield section of Kauffman Stadium, which has been known as the "Outfield Experience" since the park was renovated. The wide, open-aired, concourse offers a spectacular view of the playing field and it was nice to have a lot more room.

Right Field Fountains
We were all fascinated by the world-famous fountains and stopped for a bit to see them. These fountains have been called the "best ballpark feature in the country" and have a half a million gallons of water that flow through a retaining pool, above, into two pools below. Between innings, and after a Royals home run, the pools shoot water in the air and at night there are multi-colored floodlights, which change the color of the water and bring "ooohs and ahhhs" from everyone in the stadium. We spent a few minutes here, hoping, to no avail, to get a bit of mist to hit us and cool us down a bit.

Ry and I At Brett's Statue
Frank White Statue
As we reached the center field area we came across four statues, honoring Royals immortals Dick Howser, Frank White, George Brett and the owners, Ewing and Muriel Kauffman. The statues are made of bronze and each one is depicted in a way that evokes memories of them. Dick Howser stands posed with his foot resting on what would be the top step of the dugout; Frank White is "frozen" in the middle of a double play throw to first, while George Brett is in his famous batting stance and the Kauffmans are waving to the crowd. I quickly snapped some pictures, but Ryan was, understandably, less than agreeable and looked miserable, so I didn't make him pose for more than one.

As we walked a little more Ryan noticed a team store and decided we had to go in and find Brendan a replica batting helmet, which we bring him home from every ballpark. Once inside we quickly found the helmet he wanted, with the help of Sheri's brother who works there, but I was in no hurry to pay and rush out. I could see Ryan just soaking in the air conditioning and I didn't want to take him back outside so quickly, so I asked him to see if he could find anything else his brother might like, just to keep him in there.

The "Little K"
Eventually we did have to continue on our journey and the next spot we found was a kids' area, which housed a wiffleball "stadium," known as "The Little K." Here kids could take their hacks and run the bases, all in a self-contained "ballpark" and feel as if they too were playing for the Royals. We had seen something just like this at Cincinnati's Great American Ballpark, back in 2013, and, in fact, Ryan and Nick both hit homers out of that "field." They didn't seem too interested this time and I don't know if it was the heat, or the fact they were two years older, but I was hoping they would want to, just because.

"Can we go to the Royals Hall of Fame?" Ryan practically begged me.

I could see in his face that he was fading fast and I figured 45 minutes to an hour in the air conditioning would be the perfect "pick-me-up" for everyone, so we made a bee-line to the building over in the left field concourse.

Royals Hall of Fame, in Left Field
Located in the "Outfield Experience," just inside Gate A, is the Royals Hall of Fame. Established in 1986, the Hall celebrates the accomplishments, both on and off the baseball diamond, of people who have made a mark on the Kansas City franchise. Some of the current members include  Ewing and Muriel Kauffman, GM Joe Burke, Amos Otis, Hal McRae, Frank White, Fred Patek, Lary Gura, Paul Splittorff, Dan Quisenberry, Brett Saberhagen, George Brett and former managers Whitey Herzog and Dick Howser. Even longtime head groundskeeper George Toma is enshrined.

As we walked into the building we were treated to the history of Kansas City baseball, going back to the 1800s, with photos, stories and news-clippings on the giant wall that greeted us. There is a theater, where Buck O'Neil tells about the history of the "Kansas City Game", as well as artifacts from those times.

Royals, and Affiliate, Jerseys
1985 World Series Trophy
A little farther down the hall we came to a display that showed the jerseys of the Royals and all their minor league affiliates, as well as a case for the Gold Gloves and Cy Young Awards that have been won by Royals players. We were also able to see the 1985 World Series Trophy (behind glass), which is ooh'ed and ahh'ed at to this day and has a prominent display that cannot be missed.

Baseball Homage To Brett
All of Brett's Hits
In another corner of the building is a shrine to the franchise's most famous player, George Brett. Standing front and center is a collection of 3,154 baseballs, which signify Brett's career hit total, in the giant shape of his jersey number, # 5. In the center of the number is an acrylic display case, which holds the famous "Pine Tar Game" bat and ball. Of course I meandered over and struck up a conversation with one of the employees about how I had been AT "The Pine Tar Game," which made me a "celebrity", of sorts, for about 15 minutes. It was an impressive display, though I am unsure if it was more so than the "Pete Rose Wall," at the Reds Museum, which has a ball to recognize each of his 4,256 career hits, taking up three floors.


Fred Patek
Dick Howser
The final room, before exiting, was the enshrinement room. Here is where the plaques and stories of all the members of the Royals Hall of Fame are located, and we stopped and took some pictures of some of the guys I remembered as a kid: Dick Howser, Freddy Patek and, of course, George Brett. There was even a Buck O'Neil bust right at the exit. It was not lost on me that Buck was EVERYWHERE throughout the city; then again he IS Kansas City's favorite son.

As we walked outside the Hall of Fame I could tell Ryan was feeling a little better; he asked me to take a picture of him in front of the giants Royals piggy bank. We had the same shot in Milwaukee and he wanted another. I quietly chuckled to myself and was glad to see some extended time in the air conditioning had helped him. I had been worried for a bit, but I soon realized he was feeling much better.

"Hey, grab the camera," he motioned to me.

"Why, what do I need a picture of now?" I wanted to know.

"Just follow me, I saw something I need a picture of."

As I followed him I broke into a huge grin. Sitting at a table, talking to the fans, were the beautiful Royals Girls and Ryan was insistent on having his picture taken with them. My son seems to have an eye for beautiful ladies and whatever city we are in he seems to find them and end up having his picture taken, and this would be no exception. He walked up to the table, struck up a conversation telling them all about our trip and how we had come to be in Kansas City and, politely, asked if he could have a picture with them. Now I'm not sure exactly what he said, but they quickly told the gentleman at the front of the table to let him back with them and they made sure I got the perfect picture.

Ry and The Royals Girls

"That's getting posted on the internet," I told him.

"Yeah it is," was his response.

"Hey, I'm hungry," Ryan said, seeming surprised.

"It's about time you said something to that effect," Rob told him. "I was starting to worry about you."

"He's back to normal," Justin laughed.

"Well as normal as he gets," I interjected.

"Just feed me, please," Ryan said, with mock annoyance.

"If he wants to eat, that's a good sign," Tony whispered.

I agreed, wholeheartedly.

Concessions

As in every new ballpark we visit, the idea is to try something indicative of the home town. However we had already had barbecue for lunch and I wasn't sure that putting smoked, salty meats into Ryan (or any of us for that matter), was such a good idea. We decided to search for the perfect Kansas City ballpark food that didn't happen to be barbecue, and found that Kauffman Stadium had quite a few choices.

If you are interested in meat on a stick you can try Andrew Zimmern's Canteen Skewers for some grilled beef, chicken, pork or lamb, with some crispy mashed potatoes. If it's burgers you're after, try Bud and K.C.'s steak burgers for some of the juiciest cheeseburgers you can find. Farmland Grill will tempt you with all kinds of french fires and nachos, while the Kansas City Steak Company Cart will entice you with burgers, brats and dogs. Of course there is barbecue, at Sweet Baby Ray's Barbecue, in the Outfield Experience, but because of the heat and the fact nothing was going to compare to what we had for lunch, that was out. There was a local craft beer stand (Boulevard Brew Pub), but it was so hot, and we were so dehydrated from the salty meats that beer wasn't even an option...yet. Then we found it....

"There," Ryan called out. "That's it."

"What are you pointing at," Rob asked him.

"THAT," he reiterated, pointing again.

"That's perfect," I told him.

"Follow me," he laughed, leading the way.

I could see right away where he was taking me: Belfonte's Ice Cream.

"That's PERFECT," Sheri laughed.

"It's also cool inside, because they need to have all the freezers going too," Ryan laughed.

"Food with an ulterior motive, nice job son," Rob said, tussling his hair.

"They can take their time waiting on us, too," Ry continued.

The Perfect Ballpark Food on a 100 Degree Day
Belfonte's Ice Cream is a Kansas City original, started in 1969 by door-to-door milkman Sal Belfonte. He had always dreamed of an ice cream business and Belfonte Dairy Distribution Inc. was the fruit of his hard work. With his wife doing the books and his children loading trucks and answering phones the family business took off and in 1985 Kansas City got its first-ever locally-owned ice cream production plant. Today their product is distributed across Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma and there are over 190 different products bearing the Belfonte name being served in supermarkets, convenience stores, schools, hospitals, country clubs and food service facilities.



Considering we always look to try a local culinary item, this was the perfect choice. It didn't get more "Kansas City" than Belfonte's and the fact that it was over 100 degrees out, and we had already had barbecue for lunch, made this a no-brainer.

We stood in line for about ten minutes, enjoying the mix of air conditioner and cool blasts that came from the walk-in freezers every time the door was opened by an employee. By the time we got to the front of the line everyone seemed to have settled on the ice cream helmet sundaes; I 'd like to say because the kids were collecting them from every stop, but more likely because they held the most ice cream.

Ryan had a vanilla and chocolate triple scoop, with whipped cream and hot fudge, and quickly started to dig in.

"Slow down," Justin warned him. "You're overheated and don't want to end up puking."

"He's right," I concurred. "You don't want to "boot" right here in the middle of the concourse."

"You just don't want me to eat it so fast because there'll be nothing left for you," he half-jokingly protested.

"Well, yeah, there's that too," I said, taking the spoon from him. "But mostly, I don't want you to hurl."

I am not a big dessert person, but after taking my first bite even I was impressed. The sweet, creamy ice cream was something close to heavenly on this ridiculously hot day and the flavor was out of this world. The vanilla had a bit of a sharp taste to it, whereas most vanillas are plain and non-descript. The chocolate was smooth, rich and sweet, but not overpoweringly so, and I could have eaten my own sundae, but Ryan, sensing this could become an issue, quickly took the spoon back.

"Okay, that's enough," he joked. "You're not a dessert guy, so don't get any crazy ideas."

I laughed and steered the group back towards the home plate area, as it was time for our pre-game picture.

We all had a good laugh and headed towards home plate, where we were going to get our picture taken.

The Famous Scoreboard
In Park Picture
The "in-park-picture" has become a staple of our trip. Starting back in our first summer on the road we had always wanted a group photo somewhere in the ballpark and eventually it became a must-have to get one as close to the field, as near to home plate, as possible. Unfortunately Dana and Todd were nowhere to be found; they were looking for some cool "adult" refreshment and we had somehow lost them, so we had to take the picture without them. In fact we took two - one of all of us, as a close up, and another with the giant crown-capped scoreboard in the background, between home plate and first base.


"Hey," Nick said. "Why does the scoreboard say 'Los Royals?"

"Crap, they're doing one of those stupid 'use Spanish names for the teams' nights," Ryan said, disgustedly.

"Please tell me he's wrong," I looked at the others.

"Nope," Sheri informed me, "Look at the scoreboard AND and the uniforms."

"Ugh," was all I could manage.

"Let's head to the seats," Tony said. "The game will be starting in about 25 minutes and we should get seated."

The Game
View From Our Seats

We always like the same seats, provided we can get them, for each game and this was no exception: directly behind home plate and upstairs. This provides the whole park to be laid out before us and just about every angle is covered, so we almost never miss a play. As we sat down our friends from Iowa, Rose and Russ Schwartzeid, joined us to make our group complete. It's always fun to have folks join us on the road and Rose and Russ were a fun addition, having first joined us the year before in Minnesota, and they definitely know their baseball. They root for the Mets, but we don't hold that against them, and enjoy traveling to games all over the country as well, so it's always a great time when we are able to get together for a game.

This was a game we had circled on the schedule for the last month and a half, because of possible playoff implications. The Royals were easily the cream of the Central Division, but the Astros had surprised everyone by being as good as they were this quickly. For years Houston had been cellar-dwellers, but they had been busy rebuilding and now were reaping the rewards sooner than anyone had dreamed possible. In fact the teams were so evenly matched that two games separated them, with the Royals at 57-38 and Houston at 55-43, so tonight's match up was sure to be a good one.

First Pitch
As we sat down Rob noticed there was no noise, other than the crowd, in the stadium. This is unusual as most public address systems blare non-stop throughout the game, but apparently the P.A. wasn't working, so it would really be like old fashioned baseball and we loved it.

Danny Duffy was starting for the Royals and he navigated the top of the first with relative ease, setting down the Astros 1-2-3 on three fly balls, two to center and the final to right.

The crowd came alive as Kansas City came to bat in the bottom of the inning, but the Astros starter, Scott Feldman, was equally up to the task as he struck out the lead-off batter, then gave up a single to Mike Moustakis, but finished the inning off by inducing a 4-6-3 double play, off  the bat of Kendrys Morales.
Each team went down 1-2-3 in the second, before the Astros got their first hit in the third, a Jose Altuve single, but they also couldn't push a run across the plate and the score stayed tied at 0-0.

Slugrrr Helps The Crowd Get Ready
As the game moved along we noticed the crowd was extremely into every pitch. They were on their feet cheering each Royals at-bat, as well as every defensive play in the field. I couldn't remember a crowd this electric since we had been in Pittsburgh a few years before, and I was extremely impressed. Some might say they had been waiting a long time to be this excited about their team, while others might have wondered where all this passion was for the last twenty years, but the fact was these fans were into the game and showing their team the love; unfortunately it wasn't being reciprocated with the bats, but I had a feeling this place might explode if and when the Royals scored.

The teams traded punch for punch for the first five innings, and it was the Astros who drew first blood, in the top of the sixth. The inning started out innocently enough, with a lead-off strike-out to Marisnick and another single by Altuve, but then Marwin Gonzalez doubled, putting runners on second and third with one out, and rookie phenom Carlos Correa lifted a sacrifice fly to center field, scoring Altuve.

Even though the Astros had taken the lead, the crowd was still as rabid as before. There was no sitting and sulking, or cursing and head-hanging; they roared as one, as if trying to will a run out of the home team, as it came to bat in the bottom of the inning. Unfortunately the Royals went down 1-2-3 again, but so did the Astros in the top of the seventh.

As we got to the seventh inning stretch I noticed Ryan was looking a little peaked again, so I told him we were going for some water and to move around a bit. There had been no breeze and even though the sun had gone behind the clouds the air was thick and full, continuing to make things a bit uncomfortable. Thankfully the Royals realized the weather conditions and had set up hydrating stations, with free ice water, outside each bathroom. I had been going back and forth between innings to refill my cup, but this time I was going to take Ryan and dump some over his head.

He gave me very little problem when I told him my plan, but he didn't like the way I handled things. He thought he was going to get a whole cup dumped on him at once and be done, but I didn't want to shock his system like that, so I told him I would pour a little at a time to get his body slowly acclimated. He wasn't happy, but he dealt with it.

We got back to our seats just in time for the bottom of the seventh to begin. Alex Escobar led things off with a single, then Mike Moustakis flied out to center and that's when the fun began. Kendry's Morales hit a ground rule double to right-center, which put runners on second and third, and when Scott Feldman was intentionally walked the Royals had the bases loaded, with one out, for Salvador Perez.

The crowd, sensing the possibility for a big inning became even more amped up, but the best Perez could do was sacrifice the runner in from third. If you thought this would quiet the crowd you'd be wrong; they were thrilled the game was now tied, and could smell blood in the water as Alex Rios strode to the plate. Amazingly they screamed even louder when he grounded out to end the inning.

"This place is nuts," I turned and said to Rob.

"This is exactly how it was for Games 6 and 7 of last year's World Series," he told me, having attended those games the previous fall and witnessing the Kansas City energy firsthand.

"Amazing," was all I could manage to say.

Both teams again went down 1-2-3 in the ninth inning, but not without some drama in the Royals' half. After the first two batters didn't reach base Eric Hosmer nearly hit a walk-off home run, but the ball just missed going all the way out and he had to "settle" for a triple. Unfortunately he was left stranded there when Alex Rios grounded out to end the inning. This set up our third straight extra-inning affair. We were hoping it was going to end as the other two had, with a home team walk-off win, and continued screaming right along with the rest of the rabid Royals fans.

The tension built when the Astros' Preston Tucker singled to start the tenth inning, but he was quickly erased when Chris Carter lined out to first baseman Eric Hosmer for a double play. The Astros challenged the call, but the umpires upheld the ruling on the field and when Colby Rasmus flew out to left field the crowd, unbelievably, screamed even louder.

"We're winning it here," Ryan told Todd, with a high five, as the Royals sent Omar Infante to the plate for their half of the inning.

Infante flied out to left, but the next batter, Paulo Orlando, singled. Jarrod Dyson then lined out to right field for the second out of the inning, but Orlando then stole second, putting the winning run in scoring position.

The decibel level grew as the crowd sensed a big moment and Alcides Escobar delivered, by lining a single into center, which allowed Orlando to come streaking home with the winning run. If I thought the building was loud before I was sadly mistaken. The K now sounded like the old Yankee Stadium after a playoff win, as fans were screaming, shouting, jumping, hugging and high-fiving their neighbors. It was total bedlam and we were right in the middle of it.
Final Score:


Royals 2, Astros 1
Herrera (W) 2-2
Harris (L) 4-2

Post-Game Wrap Up


It took about 10-15 minutes for the crowd to start dispersing and we enjoyed every minute of the craziness. We were having a blast celebrating an incredible extra-innings, walk-off, win, our third in three games.

"I told you we were winning," Ryan shouted to Todd.
"Your Yankees even helped us by beating the Twins," he called back.
"Wins all around," Tony said, hugging Sheri.
"LETS GO YANKEES, LETS GO ROYALS," I tried to get a chant started.
"Uh, NO!" Dana said, laughing.

It took us another 20 minutes to get from the seats back to the car. The concourses were jammed with Royals fans who were chanting, hugging and celebrating the great game they had just witnessed. I still couldn't get anyone to chant "LETS GO YANKEES", so I gave up and joined in with the many "LETS GO ROYALS" chants as we made our way outside and over to the car.

"So, what's next?" Sheri wanted to know.
"Sleep," Tony told her.

It just dawned on me that we had now been up for 38 straight hours and as the adrenaline wore off we were going to crash...hard.

"Yeah, I think it's back to the hotel for us," I told Sheri, Todd and Dana.
"I'm kinda beat, myself," Dana replied. "The heat's taken a lot out of us."
"It's all good," Rob told everyone. "Besides, we have a big day tomorrow, so rest up and be ready to go."

We all said goodnight and headed back to the hotel. Everyone was in agreement that we wanted (NEEDED) another shower and then it was time to turn out the lights. By the time we got back the kids were almost asleep, so we let them shower and get into fresh pajamas first, then we cleaned up and got ready for bed.

Of course the day wouldn't be complete without one more bit of drama, which was finding out that Justin had to go back home the next morning, instead of Monday as planned, when his ex-wife refused to take care of the kids, as she had promised to do. Being the great dad that he is, Justin dealt with the issue and reluctantly told us there was nothing he could do; he HAD to be back for the boys in the morning. He promised to be quiet when he left, so as not to wake the rest of us, then we all turned off the lights and promptly fell asleep within 10 minutes. It had definitely been a loooooong day.

Day Two, July 26th: Buck O'Neil's Kansas City

As the morning light flooded the room, and hit me square in the face, I blinked a few times to get acclimated. The clock on the nightstand said 8:15 a.m.. and after quickly doing the math in my head I realized I had slept for almost ten hours. I quickly surveyed the room and found that Probie was gone, as promised he was so quiet he hadn't woken anyone - and everyone else was still asleep. I took a shower and then started to wake the rest of the crew. Today was going to be something special; it was our first "off-day" and we had planned to see what Ryan called "Buck O'Neil's Kansas City."

Back in Buck's time a Sunday in Kansas City meant church (which we would NOT be attending), brunch (which we would), a Monarch's baseball game, a dinner of barbecue and a late night of "Hot Jazz," in one of the clubs down at 18th and Vine. We had a day just like this planned, but not necessarily in that order. Our first stop would be a jazz brunch, downtown, with Sheri, Dana and Todd.

The Majestic
We drove downtown, to 931 Broadway, met the others and proceeded to go inside. It was already starting to get a bit warm, so we were all anxious to get in to the air conditioning. Yesterday had been more than enough heat for all of us and we were NOT anxious to experience it again. We quickly walked in and felt a wave of cool air rush over us; it took a moment for our eyes to focus to the dim lighting, as opposed to the bright sunshine from which we had just come, but when we did it was as if we had just stepped back in time, simply by walking through the front door.

  The Majestic is a premier steakhouse and jazz joint in the downtown area that has been catering to the public since 1992. Originally the Fitzpatrick Saloon Building, it was purchased in 1983 and refurbished over the course of two years, by two couples (Frank and Mary Ann Sebree and James and Annabelle Nutter), before local restaurateur Doug Barnard decided he wanted to give the town what he called "the ultimate Kansas City experience" of food and live music. The place was renamed "The New Majestic Steakhouse" and stayed in business until 2008 when it was sold to the Sebree's son, Frank III, and his wife, Jolyn. They renamed the place "The Majestic" and have been serving Kansas City ever since.


The Majestic is on The Historic Registry
This historic landmark is open seven days a week, serving lunch and dinner, as well as brunch on Saturday and Sunday. Their jazz club is open nightly and you can walk in on any given night and hear some of the local musicians belting out their tunes as you, happily, dine on aged steaks, chops and fresh seafood, or just sit back with a glass of scotch, whiskey or a locally brewed beer. We were coming for the Sunday morning jazz brunch and were more than excited to be part of this time-honored Kansas City tradition.


A Jazzy Brunch

The first thing I noticed as we walked in was an old jazz piano, at the front of the room. This thing looked like it was from the 1920's and the player, who was busily tapping the keys, was a gentleman who also looked to have been from that era. To see him just sitting down there was no way you would think him to be a jazz musician, but once he started playing, there was no doubt this guy knew his stuff. He was a natural and I instantly found myself snapping my fingers and tapping my feet.




K.C. Mural
The Restaurant
I looked around the dining area and noticed a mural on the left wall, near
the bar, of famous people who had strong ties to the area. This painting was commissioned by a local artist, named Jack O'Hara, who called it "From Kansas City To...Fame" and featured Charlie "Bird" Parker, Walt Disney, Count Basie, Ernest Hemmingway, and others, as well as some skyline shots as. Just past the mural was the 40-foot oak bar, brought up from New Orleans, which was trimmed with polished copper. Along the right-hand wall, adjacent to the bar and running the length of the building, were rows of tables for the patrons. There were also tables on the left hand side of the room, after the bar ended and the kitchen was in the back.

Dana, Todd, Ryan, Nick, Tony, Rob, Sheri, Me
We were quickly seated at a large table off to the side and a friendly waitress came over to give us the morning specials, as well as the regular brunch menus. There were all sorts of omelettes, steak and eggs, Eggs Benedict and other brunch items, as well as specialties such as banana toffee french toast, granola pancakes and banana pecan pancakes. Ryan said he wasn't really hungry, which perked my ears up, and asked if we could split something. We agreed on the Majestic Omelette (eggs, and a choice of three fillings (the choices were: tomatos, spinach, red peppers, mushrooms, onions, bacon, sausage, cure 81 ham, Cheddar, Swiss or pepper jack cheeses), served with brunch potatoes). He had some orange juice, while I had a beer (stop judging me, I was on vacation) and we both had a few complimentary muffins and water, while waiting.

While we waited for our food, we listened to the gentleman at the piano play some tunes that were exactly what I would expect to hear in a jazz club. I was more than happy Rob had found this place and couldn't wait for the food to arrive as we talked, laughed, joked and got to know one another better. Everything was so comfortable, it was hard to believe we hadn't even known these folks for 24 hours yet.

The food, when it arrived, was fantastic, better than any brunch I have ever had, though that could have been a mixture of the perfect place, company, music and food. However you sliced it, The Majestic was definitely THE place to have a meal in Kansas City, though I was a little worried about Ryan. He was just picking at his food, not really eating and saying he didn't feel right. Dana felt his forehead and said he wasn't warm, so I chalked it up to still being "out of sorts" from yesterday's heat.

As we headed to the door we were approached by the manager, who asked us how we liked our meal. We told him it was delicious and explained what had brought us to his establishment, which immediately brought about a sly smile and you could see he was up to something.

"You guys came all the way here from New Jersey?"

"Yup," I smiled. "We're a long way from home."

"I can't let you leave without showing you the behind-the-scenes tour," he laughed.

"Sounds good to me," I shrugged. "Lead the way."

He took us through a closed door and led us up three flights of stairs to the top floor of the building.

"What you are going to see, when I open this door, is something very few get to see," he told us.

"What do you think it is?" Nick wanted to know.

"It's one of those places with 'upstairs' rooms,'" Rob told him.

"Doesn't every place with an upstairs have 'upstairs' rooms?" Nick wanted to know.

"Nope," I laughed. "Some have downstairs' rooms?"

"Wait, what?"

Upstairs Cigar Lounge
Old Time Card Table
The manager opened the door and spread out before us was an old-
time smoking lounge, complete with leather furniture, dark paneled walls accentuated by the original bricks and a humidor. There were three rooms, one on each side of the building and another in the middle, which was sort of a living room. One of the "off" rooms was lined with Kansas City sports memorabilia and there were tables and chairs for dining, while the other had a large oak table that looked like it belonged in a mob movie, where the heads of the families met and discussed business.

Hangin'Out
Ryan and I grabbed a seat and relaxed for a bit, while the others looked around. He was, again, looking a little pale and had this tired smile on his face. I could see something wasn't right, but he told me he felt fine and just needed a few more minutes to relax; apparently breakfast wasn't sitting well and hearing him say that worried me because he hadn't really eaten anything. I mentioned this to the others on the way out and we all agreed to keep an eye on him.

After thanking the manager for the "behind-the-scenes tour" of The Majestic, we headed to the cars and were off to our next stop: The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and the American Jazz Museum, located in the same building at the historic intersection of 18th and Vine.

Cool Baseball and Hot Jazz

The Epicenter of Kansas City

18th and Vine, in Kansas City's Historic District, is understood to be the historic center of Kansas City's African American culture and it is recognized as one of the birthplaces of jazz music, along with Basin Street (New Orleans), Beale Street (Memphis) and 52nd Street (New York). It was here, at 18th and Vine, that jazz and blues melded together to form the distinctive Kansas City sound, and where the notable musicians of the day stayed when performing in the city.

Along with the music scene, the area around 18th and Vine was notable for being the epicenter of another African-American cultural experience: Negro Leagues baseball, and Kansas City had, possibly, the most famous team in Negro Leagues history, the Monarchs. Baseball, jazz and barbecue were always the big three in Kansas City, and they still are today.

The Historic Museums
Charlie "Bird"Parker's Street Plaque
As we pulled up to the front of "The Museums at 18th and Vine" we were all glad both museums were in the same building, and that we were going to be spending the day indoors. The mercury was climbing and the heat, though not as bad as the day before, was still very oppressive, so the air conditioning was going to be very much appreciated. As we walked to the front of the building Ryan noticed there were Jazz Hall of Fame "plaques" built into the street, right outside the front door, and quickly stopped and snapped pictures of those for Charlie Parker and Count Basie, before heading inside.

As you enter the building, the Negro Leagues Museum is on the right-hand side, while the Jazz Museum is on the left. I love jazz; I can distinctly remember it being on all the time when visiting my grandparents, as a youngster, and Ryan has developed a liking for it as well, but our trip was all about baseball, so there was never a doubt as to which museum we were headed into first.

Buck O'Neil's Legacy


Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

Me, Rob, Sheri, Todd, Dana, Tony
Ryan, Nick
Founded in 1990, by former Negro Leagues players John J. "Buck O'Neil, Horace Peterson and Alfred Surrat, The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is a privately-funded, not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving the significance and history of African-American Baseball. Originally located in a small space in the Lincoln Building, the museum was moved to its current location in 1997 and tells the important story of the Negro Leagues, in chronological order, through it's many exhibits, movies and presentations. The facility brings to life the rich heritage that Negro Leagues baseball brought to the fans of the game, both black and white, from a time when the "powers that were" would not let the talents of African-American players shine through simply due to the color of their skin. Thankfully men such as Buck O'Neil, as well as other former Negro Leagues players, executives and family members have brought the talents of these men and women to the forefront of the baseball world, so all can learn about the wonderfully talented players who were hidden from the public for far too long. Here players such as Satchel Paige, "Cool Papa" Bell, Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston, and many others, get to have their stories re-told to a new generation of fans who, thankfully, don't see black and white, only talent.

Rube Foster Statue
The Negro Leagues has a rich and storied history, founded in 1920 by Rube Foster, a former player, owner and, at that time, executive, who wished to create a professional league where black players could shine on the diamond, since they were barred from competing in the major leagues. Foster's original league, the Negro National League, founded in Kansas City, was made up of eight clubs: the Chicago American Giants, Chicago Giants, Cuban Stars, Dayton Marcos, Detroit Stars, Indianapolis ABC's, Kansas City Monarchs and St. Louis Giants. Foster was named the league president and controlled everything about the league, including where and when the teams played, as well as who played on what team. The inaugural game was played on May 2, 1920, when the Indianapolis ABC's defeated the Chicago American Giants, 4-2.

Over the years other leagues popped up, such as the Negro Southern League and the Eastern Colored League (Atlantic City Bacharach Giants, Baltimore Black Sox, Brooklyn Royal Giants, New York Cuban Stars, Hilldale and New York Lincoln Giants), but these soon folded and the American Negro League (Atlantic City Bacharach Giants, Baltimore Black Sox,  New York Cuban Stars, Hilldale of Darby PA, New York Lincoln Giants and Homestead Grays, of Pittsburgh) took their place. The American Negro League lasted about one season and then folded, while the Negro National League was out of business, due to the Great Depression, by 1932.

By 1933 the Negro Leagues were making a comeback, starting with the second coming of the Negro National League II. This league was filled with teams from New York (the Black Yankees), New Jersey (Newark Eagles), Philadelphia (Stars), Baltimore Elite (pronounced EEE-LIGHT) Giants and Pittsburgh (Crawfords), as well as other teams that didn't make it more than a few years. In 1937 the Negro American League II started up and had teams represent Alabama (Black Barons), Chicago (American Giants), Kansas City (Monarchs), Memphis (Red Sox) and Ohio (Buckeyes), as well as a host of other locations.

Over the years there were many star players who showcased their talents in the Negro Leagues, hoping to one day be allowed to play in the major leagues and compete on the same field as white ballplayers, showing they were just as good, if not better. Finally, in 1947, Jackie Robinson (Kansas City Monarchs) was brought up to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers, which was both a blessing and a curse for the Negro Leagues. FINALLY, black players were getting their chance, and over the next 13 years an amazing amount of talent came to Major League Baseball. Men such as Hank Aaron (Milwaukee Braves), Willie Mays (New York Giants), Monte Irvin (New York Giants) Larry Doby (Cleveland Indians), Roy Campanella (Brooklyn Dodgers), Don Newcomb (Brooklyn Dodgers), Joe Black (Brooklyn Dodgers), Elston Howard (New York Yankees) and, thankfully, Satchel Paige (Cleveland Indians) all got their chance and shone brightly. The "downside" was that with all the talent going to Major League teams, the Negro Leagues' candle flickered out slowly, until 1960 when it finally was extinguished.

Though the Negro Leagues ceased to exist after 1960, they have forever been immortalized in books, movies, word of mouth and, definitely, this museum. Here is where real fans of the game can find the stories, the legends, the characters and, most importantly, the vibrant history of this colorful time, and leagues, of professional baseball.

A Dream Come True

I was very excited to finally be at the museum and able to see some of the game's history I had only heard snippets of while growing up. I had become much more acquainted with the Negro Leagues in the last decade and was passing that knowledge down to both of my sons, so it was nice to see Ryan was as excited as I was to be here.


Field of Legends
The first thing we noticed when we walked in was that we seemed to be in a baseball dugout, looking out onto a playing field, but separated from the actual field by chicken wire. Immediately we walked up to the wire and looked out upon the exhibit known as the "Field of Legends." This field has a statue of a Negro Leagues superstar at every position, even in the "dugout." Ryan walked over to the first base side of the catcher, put his left foot on the lip of the wall, rested his left elbow on his knee, with his right hand on his right hip, and peered out at the field.

"This is so cool," he whispered, in a reverential tone.

"Jimmy, look," Tony whispered and pointed to my left.

Buck O'Neil
Ryan Looks Like Buck
Standing just to the third base side of the catcher, in the EXACT same pose as Ryan, was the first statue: Buck O'Neil as the manager of the Monarchs, looking out at the field. I quickly grabbed my camera and took a picture of Ryan first, while he was still oblivious to his pose and before he could become embarrassed. I then swung to the left and took a picture of Buck, knowing no one would believe me unless they saw it.


Martin Dihigo
After taking a few more pictures and discussing who we thought we were going to see, in statue form, we walked out into the exhibit to see if our guesses were correct. The first place we stopped was home plate, seeing if we had guessed correctly on the catcher and the batter.

The batter was a difficult guess and neither of us got it; it was Martin Dihigo (pronounced Dee EEE-Go). Dihigo, nicknamed "El Maestro," who played for the Cuban stars, was often compared to Joe DiMaggio due to his style, grace and athleticism on the ball field. He was always mentioned as one of the best all-around players in the game.

Josh Gibson


The catcher was a no-brainer; it was Josh Gibson. Gibson, of the HomesteadGrays, sometimes called the "Black Babe Ruth," was quite possibly the greatest power hitter the Negro Leagues had ever seen. It was said, but never proven, that he was the only man to ever hit a fair ball out of the original Yankee Stadium, and had he been allowed to play against white players he might have broken the Babe's home run records. He might just be the second-most-famous Negro Leaguesa player of all time, behind the man standing on the mound.


Satchel Paige
Ryan and I With Satchel
There was no question who stood on the pitcher's mound, in front of us. It wasLeroy "Satchel" Paige. Paige, who grew up a poor child in Alabama, is undoubtedly the most famous of all the Negro Leagues players to have donned a uniform. Paige was as much a carnival showman as he was a baseball player, but he might have been the best pitcher who ever lived. He continually bounced from team to team (but is most famous for his time with the Monarchs), from league to league, generally to whomever paid him the most. He was the biggest draw in black baseball and folks would come from miles around if they heard he was pitching. Called up by the Cleveland Indians in 1948, Paige would help win a World Championship and then continue to pitch in the majors until 1965, when he was 59 years old, for the Kansas City Athletics. Joe DiMaggio once called him the greatest pitcher he ever faced and Bob Feller said he was the best there ever was, it was a shame the Major Leagues never saw him in his prime.


Buck Leonard
Over at first base was Walter Fenner "Buck" Leonard. Leonard, sometimes called the "Black Lou Gehrig," played for the Homestead Grays and was the left-handed portion of the power tandem, with Josh Gibson. A slick-fielding first baseman, he was offered an MLB contract at the age of 45 but turned it down because he said he was too old.

John Henry "Pop" Lloyd


Second basewas patrolled by John Henry "Pop" Lloyd, who played for 27 years and posted a .343 lifetime average, with a .457 slugging percentage. Lloyd played for the Cuban Giants, the Philadelphia Giants, the Leyland Giants, the Columbus Buckeyes and the Harlem Stars, to name a few.





Judy Johnson


At shortstop was William Julius "Judy" Johnson, who played for the Hilldales, the Crawfords and, later, became a manager for the Grays. He was said to have been the best-fielding infield player of all time and was captain of the Crawfords team that, at the time, had five future Hall of Famers on its roster (himself, Satchel Paige, Cool Papa Bell, Josh Gibson and Oscar Charleston).



Ray Dandridge

Third base was manned by Ray Dandridge. Dandridge played for the Detroit Stars, Newark Eagles  and New York Cubans. He was a slick fielder, in the vein of Brooks Robinson before there was a Brooks Robinson. He played for the Minneapolis Millers (a NY Giants farm team), at the age of 37, and helped the team win the championship, as well as the league MVP Award.

Cool Papa Bell
In left field was James Thomas "Cool Papa" Bell, a man so fast it was said he could turn off the light switch and be in bed, under the covers, before the room got dark. Satchel Paige once said Cool Papa once hit a line drive past his ear and was hit by the batted ball while sliding into second. Given the nickname for his calm composure on the diamond, Bell played for three of the greatest Negro League teams assembled, winning three championships, each, with the Stars, the Homestead Grays and the Pittsburgh Crawfords.



Leon Day
In right field was Leon Day, who played for the Newark Eagles in the outfield on days he didn't pitch. It was said he was better than Bob Gibson, and could be twice as mean, but was just as good in the field, and with the bat, as he was on the mound.

Oscar Charleston
Last, but certainly not least, in center field, was, perhaps, the greatest Negro Leagues player of all time: Oscar Charleston. Buck O'Neil once said, of Charleston, "Charlie was a tremendous left-handed hitter who could also bunt, steal a hundred bases a year and cover center field as well, or better than, anyone before him, or since...he was like Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and Tris Speaker rolled into one." Over the course of his career he played for the Indianapolis ABC's and the Pittsburgh Crawfords. Even Satchel Paige, a man who was never awed by anyone, once said of  Charleston: "You had to see him to believe him; he was that good."

"What do you think?" I asked Ryan.

"Those were some pretty impressive players," he shook his head.

"Too bad people were dopes and didn't let them play," Rob chimed in.

"You think Satchel was the best there ever was?" Ryan wanted to know.

"That's what was said, by fans, as well as Major Leaguers," I told him.

"It would have been better had they been allowed to play," he said, shaking his head in disgust.

"You got that right," I told him, as we walked to the first base dugout.


Original Headstone For Satchel Paige

Over on that side of the diamond was a "dugout" exhibit that allowed you to stand inside with pictures of Homestead Grays right behind you. On the far side of the wall was a picture of, perhaps, two of the most famous Negro League players, Paige and Gibson, as well as the original grave marker from Satchel Paige's tombstone.



"Why is there a question mark where his birth date should be?" Ryan wanted to know.

"For years it was speculated what the exact date was," I told him. It was only recently agreed upon.

"This was his marker before the grave we saw was put up?" he asked.

"Yup, it's called 'Paige Island' because it stands alone in the cemetery," I let him know.

"Interesting," he said. "I need to get a book on him when we get home."

"I know just the one," I told him, mussing his hair. "You'll love it."

With that we were off to the corner of the museum behind the right field wall, to sit down and watch a 20-minute movie on the history of the Negro Leagues, in the baseball stadium-styled theater. It would be good to sit for a bit, as my legs were tired and I noticed that Ryan seemed a little worn out. He stretched out and put his head on my leg as the movie started. I was worried he would fall asleep; he made it through the whole feature, but didn't want to get up when it was time to move on.

Night Ball Before MLB
Negro League World Series Poster
Finally he said he was ready to move on and we started to tour the rest of the museum. If you start your journey behind the right field wall and walked around the outfield fence the story of the Negro Leagues is told in chronological order. There were old posters for night baseball (brought to fruition by the Kansas City Monarchs long before it was fashionable in the Major Leagues), grandstand seats from Monarchs Stadium (in Kansas City), a poster of the World Champion Monarchs and plenty of posters promoting games pitched by Satchel Paige.

Listening To a Game
As we walked a little farther there was a living room exhibit, showing how the families would sit around and listen to the games on the radio. It was here that Ryan and Uncle Z sat down and Ryan just refused to get up. When he did he practically collapsed into my arms, crying. My 14-year old son, with the pain threshold of an elephant was finally giving in to whatever was bothering him for the last 24 hours and it was not pretty.


"I'm sorry," he sobbed, tears rolling down his cheeks. My throat hurts and I don't feel good."

"Don't ever be sorry for not feeling well," I told him. "You didn't do anything wrong."

I had never seen him like this. I wasn't sure if he was crying because he was in that much pain, was upset that he thought he was going to ruin the afternoon, or a combination of both.

"You sit here with Uncle Z," I told him, after he calmed down. "I'm going to find water and Advil."

"C'mon," Rob told him, gently guiding him back to the chair. "Let's relax and listen to the game."

Quickly I sprinted to the museum store for a bottle of water and some Advil. I ran into Dana and Todd on my way and told them what had been going on. We had all been wandering the museum separately, so they weren't with us. Dana went over to check on Ryan, Todd went to grab the water and I found him some Advil. When we all got to Ryan and Rob, Sheri, Tony and Nick were already there and trying to comfort him. I couldn't have asked for better people to have been around; some of them barely new us and they were treating us as if we were their family. I was very overwhelmed by their kindness and caring; these were great people and I was so glad we had them, especially now.

Dana told me Ry wasn't feverish, so maybe with a little rest and some meds he'd be better soon. I handed him the Advil and Todd gave him the water and I sat down with him for about 20 minutes. I thanked everyone and told them to look around and that we'd be along shortly; I didn't want to take them away from the museum.

Buck O'Neil Exhibit
Sure enough, about 15 minutes later the meds kicked in and Ryan was, at least, feeling a little better, so we slowly continued our tour, but at his pace. We got to see an exhibit on Buck O'Neil, who seemed to be everywhere in Kansas City, which included a golden home plate with engravings of him as a player, a coach, a manager and an elder statesman . He really was beloved here in K.C. and with good reason; he was the keeper of these treasures all those years. A wonderful ambassador to a time when the color of your skin dictated your place in life, but Buck was never bitter, or jealous. He always conducted himself with class and dignity throughout his life.

The Great Satchel Paige
If Buck O'Neil was the driving force around the museum, its most famous member was definitely SatchelAS the Negro Leagues. He was, most likely, the most popular draw, the biggest character and, quite possibly, the best pitcher to have ever laced up a pair of spikes and stood on a professional mound. He was as much showman as he was athlete, and could always back up his words with his ability. He will forever be linked to the Golden Age of Negro Leagues baseball, as well as having his place in MLB secured by his pitching prowess after the age of 40. For some folks Satchel is baseball and baseball is Satchel. His story is a fascinating one and anyone who considers themselves a baseball fan should become acquainted with it.
Paige. There were mementos to him everywhere - posters, pictures, autographs, statues, jerseys, paintings and much more. There is good reason for that though, as Satchel will be forever thought of

Satchel's Locker
"Mule" Suttles
The final exhibit in the museum, which we hadn't seen, was the "Legends of the Game Lockers." Here is where the game-used artifacts from the most prominent Negro Leagues players are kept. There are uniforms, spikes, gloves, hats and personal items that might have been found inside the player's locker, as well as a plaque for each player that commemorated who they were and what they accomplished. Among the many players who were represented you could see Satchel Paige (of course), Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, "Turkey" Stearnes, "Mule" Suttles and a wide array of others.

Josh Gibson Postage Stamp
The Black Babe Ruth
As we were walking out of the museum the lady at the gift shop told us there was one more exhibit, in a room adjacent to the actual museum, which housed a collection of Negro Leagues paraphernalia, which included paintings, lithographs, newspaper articles and a lot more. We were told it was for the museum's 25th Anniversary and was one of the traveling exhibits that encouraged fans from all over to learn more about the history of Negro Leagues baseball, so of course we had to go and peruse. We found it fascinating, as we had no clue Satchel and Josh Gibson had been honored with a U.S. postage stamp, or that the Monarchs had so many jerseys. There was a great painting of the Monarchs' dugout, which was managed by Buck O'Neil, as well as newspaper articles that showed Buck and the Satchel statue and another that compared Josh Gibson to Babe Ruth.

By this time Ryan was tired again and needed to sit down before heading into the Jazz Museum. I was amazed he was still on his feet, but he wasn't giving in to not feeling well and was pushing through to see all he wanted to see. On one hand I was proud of him, while on the other I was more than a little concerned, but he promised to tell when he couldn't go anymore and would want to leave.

Jazz: A Kansas City Original


Jazz Museum
We quickly walked across the lobby and headed into the American Jazz Museum, which told the story of this completely American musical genre and how it became a Kansas City institution. As a youngster I can distinctly remember being at my grandparents house and hearing the soulful sounds of this iconic music coming from their record player in the living room, so to hear it today always brings back fond memories, and starting a few months earlier I had been playing the various artists, so I could get Ryan ready for this experience. He too enjoyed the sounds, especially since he has been playing the clarinet in the school orchestra, so we were both excited to see what we would find inside.

Piano Cover Dedicated to Jazz Legends
The museum, a Smithsonian affiliate, was founded in 1997 and its mission is "to celebrate and exhibit the
experience of jazz as an original American art form through four pillars: research, exhibition, education and performance – at one of the world’s greatest jazz crossroads – 18th & Vine." It has features on the musicians who made the genre what it is - Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, and many others. It even has a functioning jazz club inside, The Blue Room, where live music is played seven nights a week. The Museum "hosts thousands of students, scholars, musicians and fans of the arts for over 200 performances, education programs, special exhibitions, community events and more each year, providing an opportunity to learn about the legends, honor their legacy, or simply enjoy the sounds of modern day jazz." If you are a fan of jazz music, this is definitely a place to visit.

The first thing we did, once inside, was head to the theater where they were showing a movie on the history of Kansas City jazz. It was the perfect starting point, not only because it gave us an overview of the city, the people, the times and the music, but also because it gave Ryan another chance to sit down and recharge his batteries.

Jazz and Baseball Go Hand in Hand In K.C.
The movie was about 20 minutes long, which was the perfect length, and there were many portions where Buck O'Neil was a prominent feature. He told the audience how jazz and baseball, in Kansas City, were intertwined and how all the ballplayers would come home from the ballpark and go to the jazz clubs in the evening and the musicians would go to the ballpark before going to work in the clubs at night. They would get to know one another and appreciate each other's craftsmanship and the people in the community would come out and support everyone, giving Kansas City a very small-town feel.

After the movie, we walked out of the theater and made our way around the museum, which seemed smaller than the Negro Leagues one, but I am not sure. It did feel cozy and intimate and I was about to learn things I had been unaware of, so I was pretty excited.

18th and Vine: Back In The Day

The first thing we saw was a recreation of a Jazz Era street corner. There were neon signs promoting different clubs, hotels, restaurants, bars and boarding houses. If they were looking for a way to transport you back to a certain time period, they had surely nailed it.





Jazz Legends of Kansas Coty
Satchmo's Trumpet
One of the first stops we made was to the "Icons Exhibit," where we were able to see the stories of such great performers as Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Parker and Louis Armstrong. There were placards telling their stories, and their importance in the musical history, as well as some of their personal belongings. We saw letters that had been written, records that they collected and even Satchmo's (Louis Armstrong) trumpet.

There was a section on the evolution of jazz, as a musical genre, where it came from, how it came about and what it morphed into, as well as a section honoring the great local performers of Kansas City, Count Basie and Charlie Parker, both of whom made jazz the music it became.

Brass Section
Ryan and The Reeds
One of the biggest sections of the museum was dedicated to the instruments that have been used in making jazz the art form it is; there is the rhythm section (bass and drums), the brass instruments (trumpets and trombones), the reed instruments (saxophones and clarinets), the keyboards and guitars and, of course, the fact that jazz was also played by the big bands of the era. I wanted to get Ryan to take a picture with the reeds, since he played the clarinets; he was starting to feel a little "low" at this point, but he indulged me anyway.

The Blue Room Jazz Club
Our final stop was "The Blue Room," which, as I said before, is the jazz club that is on site at the museum. Named after a famous nightclub in the 1930s and 1940s, this lounge harkens back to a time when clubs like this were operating all over the city, were open 24 hours a day, and were open to anyone who wanted to just "drop in and play." The walls are adorned with montages of the history of the genre, as well as memorabilia from some who have played there. There are more than a few tables, a fully functioning bar and appetizer specials, nightly. Unfortunately there was nothing scheduled for the time we were there, but I promised Ryan we would return and catch a show here someday.

At this point we had seen everything there was and Ryan was giving me the sign that he had had enough, and was looking to sit down for a bit. Of course he was hungry, too, so we agreed we would grab a small bite to eat and then head back to the hotel. We said goodbye to Dana, Todd and Sheri, but made plans to meet up later that evening at the hotel restaurant where Ryan and Nick could stay upstairs, but we could hang out and relax a few yards away.

Barbecue and More Barbecue

As I had said earlier, Kansas City is world-famous for its distinctive barbecue and we needed to sample everything we could. Our first stop, the day before (Joe's), had been a winner, and Rob had wanted us to try two more, so we were going to be able to have a good cross-section. Ryan couldn't promise that he would be up to two restaurants, back to back, so we agreed that we would go to one and then, if he wasn't feeling well enough, we'd go to the other and bring the food back to the hotel.

A Kansas City Legend
Our first stop would be Arthur Bryants, which many consider to be the most famous barbecue joint in the world. The restaurant can be traced back to a gentleman named Henry Perry, who is considered the "father of Kansas City barbecue" and started smoking meats back in 1908. Perry moved his stand from an alley to a store in the 18th and Vine neighborhood and when he died, in 1940, two brothers who worked with him, Arthur and Charlie Bryant, took over. In 1958 Bryant moved the restaurant to it's present location, 1727 Brooklyn Street, where it has flourished ever since. Though Arthur Bryant's serves a wide variety of barbecue, its specialty is burnt ends, which have been enjoyed by many folks, both plain and famous, over the years. Some of the more notable customers have included, Harry Truman, Stephen Spielberg, Bill Clinton, George Brett, James Spader, Bryant Gumbel and Harrison Ford. When Bryant passed away, in 1982, the restaurant became owned and operated by Gary Berbiglia and Bill Rauschelbauch. Needless to say, I was very excited about trying this famous cuisine.

You'd Never Guess This Was The Place
As we pulled up to the front of the restaurant one would never have guessed this was a world-famous establishment, had they not seen the sign. It is a nondescript brick building, very much looking like a warehouse, with a red and white awning and a sign at the very top of the building. There is a much bigger sign on the side, befitting what a world-renowned restaurant should have. Either way, it didn't matter to me. All I knew was I was about to try another round of one of my favorite kinds of food.


If I thought the outside of the building was non-descript, the inside wasn't much fancier but apparently that was part of the charm. The restaurant has a two-roomed dining area, with Formica tables and jars of their own sauce on every table. The kitchen is in the back and you walk to the window to place your order, cafeteria-style, and then move along to pay your bill and pick up your food. They do have a liquor license (what self-respecting barbecue joint wouldn't?), so we were also able to order some Boulevard I.P.A.s with our meal.

Since Rob has been to K.C. many times, on business, he knows the ins and outs of the barbecue joints and what to order, so we let him take the lead. Once back at our table there was a rack of ribs, an order of burnt ends, a brisket sandwich, and a bowl of beans. It wasn't as much as we would normally order, but there was another place to try, for dessert, in just a little while, so we kept the portions small.

I was very anxious to dig into everything, though I will say the others were not thrilled that I was (again) going to be having more than my share of baked beans. There was a good reason for their fear, but I wasn't going to let that stop me.

A Mid-Afternoon Snack
Happy Boys
We piled our plates high and began to dig in. The ribs were very meaty, had that smoky, tangy flavor that is indicative to Kansas City barbecue, but I didn't find them as good as Joe's. I found them a little "dry" and in need of some added sauce, but they didn't fall off the bone the way they had done at the other restaurant, the day before. The burnt ends looked more like pulled pork then actual chunks of meat, as I had thought was to be the case, but they were very flavorful and were cooked just right. Still, I couldn't rate them higher than Joe's. The brisket, on the other hand, was cooked to perfection, and just melted in my mouth. This was a fantastic sandwich, which I enjoyed very much. Tony was hoping I would hate the beans and not want any more, but that was just not the case. They were piping hot, cooked to perfection, and had a hint of "heat" that never overwhelmed the flavor of molasses and brown sugar. Much to everyone's unhappiness I ate practically the whole bowl.

"Okay," I announced, pushing away from the table. "Who's ready for a dessert of more barbecue?"

"When are we going there?" Ryan wanted to know.

"Now," I told him.

"You're kidding, right? Can't we go back to the hotel for a bit?"

"It's on the other side of town," Rob told him.

"I don't feel well," he said, almost crying.

"Okay, how about we get it to bring back to the hotel and we can pick on it?" Tony offered.

"Done," I replied. "That way we have more for later, Ry can rest and no one feels overstuffed now."

We all agreed that would be the best option, so we headed out the door and to the SUV, where Ry laid out, across the back seat. The ride over was about five minutes long; after all it was on the same street as Arthur Bryant's, located at 1221 Brooklyn, but Ryan was almost asleep by the time we got there, so Rob and I went inside and placed the takeout order.

The Original Gates Location
Gates Barbecue is a family restaurant that dates back to 1946, when it was a single storefront at 19th and Vine. The founders, George and Arzelia Gates, their three kids and the cook, Arthur Pinkard, who had worked for the "father of Kansas City barbecue," Henry Perry. In fact both Gates and Arthur Bryant's are able to trace their roots all the way back to this man, who gave us the delicious taste we all love today. I have been told the success behind Gates is the sauce, for which there is such a high demand they have their own manufacturing plant to handle it. As of today there are six restaurants in the Kansas City area, known by their logo (the man in the top hat) and all employees are trained at "Rib Tech," which is the Gates College of Barbecue Knowledge, right in Kansas City.

Like Arthur Bryant's, the original Gates is not much to look at. It is a storefront in a strip mall, but don't let the looks deceive you; behind those walls are some very enticing aromas that will make your mouth water just by walking through the door. We ordered a Small Party Tray, which consists of ribs, brisket, pulled pork and burnt ends, and supposedly feeds four to five people. I will say that if this is a small tray, I would hate to see the amount of food on the President's Tray. We of course ordered slaw and more beans as well. I figured I could do it since Tony wasn't there to say no.

The food smelled absolutely wonderful as we got back to the car and, of course, Tony wasn't happy about more beans for me, but bringing it back to the hotel was the right decision. No one felt much like eating again so quickly, especially after being back out in the heat of the late afternoon and, besides, Ryan was fast asleep and we wanted him to rest.

A Snack For The Room
Apparently the ride back to the hotel, and the walk inside, rejuvenated everyone's appetite, because they were all dying to dig into the tray as soon as I put it down on the table, so we grabbed some plates, knives, forks and spoons and dug right in. The first thing I stuffed in my face was the beans, much to Tony's unhappiness. They had a nice maple-flavor, but not the "bite" of Arthur Bryant's, which brought out more overall flavor. Arthur Bryant's won that round. The cole slaw was creamy, yet still had that good crunch and had a slight "tang" to it; I voted this a winner, right away. The ribs were big and juicy, falling off the bone, and slathered in that wonderful hickory-flavored sauce; they rated behind Joe's but ahead of Arthur Bryant's, as did the burnt ends, which were nice, big chunks of meat, also slithered in the Gates sauce. They were also better than Bryant's, but not as good as Joe's. The pulled pork was amazing, just enough sauce, but not enough to drown out the hickory flavoring and the brisket was good, though a little dry. In the end Bryant's brisket was better.

After about 20 more minutes of taste-testing we still had half a tray of meats left over, that's how much food was on this platter. We agreed to take a break, the boys wanted to go swimming, and Rob and Tony wanted to lay down for a bit. I agreed to take the kids downstairs, to the indoor pool, for a while, so the others could rest and then would come back upstairs so the adults could go to the lounge with Dana, Todd and Sheri and the kids could rest. It was the perfect ending to a great day.

Swim Time
We stayed at the pool for about an hour. I was surprised Ryan had that much energy in him after how he felt earlier in the day, but he knew his body best and he told me he wanted to swim, so we did. We splashed around, threw a tennis ball, played tag and just blew off some steam. It was good to see Ry feeling a bit better and knowing he was going to stay in the room and sleep made me feel better.


Eventually we made our way back upstairs, cleaned up and headed down to Barley's Brewhaus to meet the others for a nightcap and to thank them for such a great experience in their city. When I walked in I couldn't believe my eyes; this place had beer taps that were lined up for what seemed a mile and a half, and there was a multi-paged beer menu as well. There was even a fire-pit outside, which we'd been hoping to use, but it was too damn hot, so we nixed that idea.

Beer Taps at Barley's
I didn't know where to begin, so I just had the waitress bring me a local I.P.A, and she didn't disappoint. It was a The Calling I.P.A., brewed by Boulevard, and was clean, crisp, earthy and very hoppy, just as I like them. The APV was 8.5%, so of course I had two. We sat and talked, laughed, joked and didn't want the night to end, but we knew we had to be up and out the next morning. St. Louis, and the Cardinals, were calling us for the Monday night game against the Reds, so we watched what we drank and were back in the room by 11:30.

Once there we made sure everything was packed and ready to bring to the car the next morning and settled in for the evening. The boys had been watching Sunday Night Baseball, on ESPN, and were just about ready for sleep when Ryan sat straight up and bolted for the bathroom.

"I think I'm gonna be sick," was all he said.

"Please, dear God, just make the...." was all I got out before I head "the sounds."

"Sorry...I'm so sorry...I tried to get there," was all he kept saying, with tears running down his face.

"It's Okay, buddy," I told him. "You're not feeling well, there's nothing to be sorry about."

"Yeah," he sniffled, "But I know how you can't stand to clean THAT up and it's all over."

I closed my eyes, shuddered and turned to Rob and Tony.

"I'll pay you $50 to clean up the bathroom," I laughed.

"Not a chance in hell," Tony replied.

Rob just laughed, shook his head and offered to get Ryan some Gatorade.

I wasn't going to get any help here; that was for sure. So I went downstairs, grabbed some fresh towels for the morning, used the others to clean and disinfect the bathroom and then took another shower.

"It was bound to happen," I thought. "I'm just glad it wasn't earlier today, while we were out in public. That would have made him feel even worse."

It was a great day and a half. I couldn't believe all we had squeezed in since Saturday morning: visiting Buck and Satchel's graves, going to the Royals game, hitting three barbecue joints, the Negro Leagues and the Jazz Museums, and meeting some absolutely wonderful people whom we were going to be calling friends for the rest of our lives. I called Kansas City a rousing success. I just wished Justin had been able to stay for the whole weekend, but we'd make sure to invite him back for more - and that Ryan hadn't gotten sick - but this was going to be one city that was going to be hard to beat.

The last thing I remember thinking, before I fell asleep, was "I have got to get back here; there's so much to do and so much I want to share with others." I knew I'd be back, sooner rather than later.


Next Stop:
Monday, July 27
St. Louis, MI
Busch Stadium
Cincinnati Red vs. St. Louis Cardinals