The last time I went to Kauffman Stadium, the gates opened two and a half hours early, and I snagged 32 baseballs. Oh, how things have changed…
The gates now open 90 minutes early, so if you want to get inside for the start of batting practice, you have to get one of these:
It’s an “Early Bird Tour” ticket, and as you can see above, it costs ten bucks. The good thing about the tour is that it gets you in the stadium two and a half hours early; the bad thing, unlike the exceptional BP Tour at Great American Ball Park, is that you have to stay behind the dugouts.
(All together now: BOOOOOOOO!!!!!)
Before the tour group got to enter the stadium, everyone gathered around the tour guide and listened to some quick instructions:
She basically told us that we were going to head inside the Royals Hall of Fame, and that after we spent some time there, we’d have a choice of which dugout to go to.
In the photo above, do you see the guy standing just to the right of the tour guide’s hand? He’s wearing a blue, long-sleeved shirt, and his arms are folded. That’s my friend Garrett Meyer. He’s basically the only regular ballhawk at Kauffman Stadium, and as you may recall, he was with me two years ago when I snagged all those baseballs. He was also at BallhawkFest two months ago at Camden Yards, and he was there the following day when I caught Mike Trout’s 1st career home run. Garrett is the friendliest dude of all time, so if you’re ever at this stadium, make sure to find him and say hello. Also in the photo above, do you see the guy to the left of Garrett? He’s partially blocked by the tour guide’s arm, and he’s wearing a tan jacket. That’s a journalist named Reid Forgrave, who was there to write a story about me for FOXSports.com. He was hoping to witness my 1,000th ball of the season, but unfortunately for him, I’d snagged it three days earlier in Cincinnati.
In any case, here’s a photo of Reid and Garrett (and the rest of the group) entering the Royals Hall of Fame:
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not exactly the museum type. I’m more into DOING than SEEING, and on top of that, I was aching to go down into the seating bowl. As a result, I didn’t appreciate everything that the Hall of Fame had to offer, but I did enjoy the ceiling…
…as well as this gigantic sculpture of baseballs:
Royals Hall of Famer George Brett wore No. 5 during his career; the sculpture’s 3,154 balls represent the number of hits that he collected. (Warning: don’t touch those baseballs. I found out the hard way and got scolded by a security guard.)
After about ten minutes, the group was led down into the seats…
…and given a choice of dugouts. Garrett chose the Royals’ dugout on the 1st base side; I decided to stay behind the White Sox’s dugout on the 3rd base side.
This was my view for the first hour:
This was also my view for the first hour:
I would’ve MUCH preferred to be in the outfield with 50 people than behind the dugout with just a select few, but still…not too shabby.
I used all of those empty seats to my advantage, first by getting a player on the Royals (no idea who) to throw me a ball from the left field corner. The ball landed two sections short, so I scooted through my row and grabbed it.
I snagged three more balls during the hourlong “tour.” The first was thrown by White Sox catcher Ramon Castro, and the other two were pulled into the empty seats by righty-handed batters on the Royals. (Once again, I have no idea who. Oh, shut up. I’m from New York. I’m not supposed to be able to identify scrubby September call-ups in the midwest.)
When the stadium opened for real, I headed out to left field with Reid and Garrett. Here they are on the walkway between the seats and fountains:
The last time I was at this stadium, I brought a water-retrieval device to fish balls out of the fountains — and it worked perfectly. This time, however, the water level was so high, at least at the start of BP, that I didn’t need the device; when Alexi Ramirez hit a home run that sailed over my head and splashed down, I simply waited for the ball to float closer.
“You can’t reach over the railing,” said the nearest usher as I was preparing to make my move.
“You’ve gotta be kidding,” I replied.
“I don’t know why that’s a rule,” he admitted, “but that’s just how it is.”
The way I felt at that point went something like this:
1) Wow, Royals, you really suck.
2) At every other stadium, fans are allowed to reach over railings.
3) I’m not gonna stand here like a schmuck and watch that ball sink.
4) Come and get me.
Then I lunged over the railing and grabbed this…
…and whaddaya know? I never got in trouble. I hate rules that exist just for the sake of having rules, and this was clearly one of them.
I headed to the right field “party porch” soon after…
…and when another home run landed in the water, I pulled out my device and flung it at the ball. The nearest usher responded by grabbing my string and yanking it out of the water.
“You can’t do that!” he said abruptly.
“Why not?!” I asked.
“Because if we let you do it, then everyone would be doing it.”
“I’m sorry, but that’s our policy.”
I’m sorry, but that’s lame. What the hell happened in the last two years that caused the Royals to become so anti-fan? First they shaved an hour off the gate opening time, and then they arbitrarily decided not to let fans retrieve baseballs from the fountains? I truly don’t get it. I mean, if the ushers fished the balls out of the fountains and the Royals donated them to Pitch In For Baseball, then I wouldn’t argue, but the way things work now, those balls stay in the water until they sink. And then they stay there some more, sometimes for days or even weeks. And then, presumably, they get thrown out. What a horrible fate for such important objects!
After BP (yes, the Ramirez homer was the only ball I got), I met up with some folks who’d brought copies of my books for me to sign. Here I am with a guy named Kent (whom I met two years ago) and his copy of The Baseball:
(See how important baseballs are? A fancy-schmancy publisher in New York City thought it was worth it to pay me to write a whole book about them.)
Here I am with a gentleman named Tom and his two sons, Zachary and Connor:
In the photo above, Zachary is on the left, holding a copy of Watching Baseball Smarter, and Connor is on the other side of me. Here I am signing the book for the boys:
Tom and I had been emailing back and forth for months, but this was the first time that we’d met in person. Throughout our correspondence, he was incredibly friendly and generous, and he offered to help me (in more ways than I can count) at Kauffman Stadium. He’s been attending games here regularly since it opened in 1973, so he knows the place inside and out. Like Garrett, he’s super-friendly, so add him to your list of people to meet. (Kent is also friendly. Everyone is Kansas City is friendly, except for the people who established the BP policies.)
Twenty minutes before game time, I caught up with Garrett and another friend from out of town named “Big Glove Bob.” Here we are:
Do you remember Bob from 5/5/10 at Target Field? That’s where I first met him. Two years earlier, he’d been inspired by the big glove that I brought on 4/24/08 at Champion Stadium, so he got one of his own and now brings it to every game.
It was time for my “stadium number sign” photo, and I thought hard about what ridiculous facial expression to make. Ultimately I chose this…
…because it represented my two conflicting emotions at the time. On one hand, I was pumped to be at such an awesome stadium, but on the other hand, I was pissed off about the un-fan-friendly policies. And there you have it: 27 stadiums down, 3 to go. Here’s a collage of the first 24.
Reid, meanwhile, kept pace with me and never stopped asking questions about what I do and how/why I do it. Most media people who attend games with me leave after BP. Some stick around for a couple innings. But hardly any stay for the whole game. Reid stayed. I can’t single-handedly give him a standing ovation, so I’m standing as I’m typing this sentence. Seriously. (Okay, I just sat down, but I’m not done. As a bonus thank-you to Reid for all the time he spent with me and all the running he did as I constantly raced back and forth from right to left field, I’m going to link to his writing archive so you can check it out and show him some love. Here it is. And for those of you on Twitter, you can find him @ReidForgrave.)
This was my view for right-handed batters…
…and this was what it looked like on my left:
Why why why why WHY couldn’t someone have hit a home run to deep left field? It kills me when there’s so much room to run, but nothing to run for.
For every left-handed batter, I had even more room to run in right field, but didn’t have a chance to flash the leather. In the bottom of the 5th inning, Mike Moustakas hit a home run RIGHT AT ME, but it fell ten feet short and barely cleared the wall. The other two homers — a solo shot by Alex Rios in the 2nd and a three-run bomb by Jeff Francoeur in the 8th — didn’t come close.
Before the 9th inning started, I got Alex Gordon’s attention and got him to throw me his warm-up ball from more than 100 feet away. Unfortunately he airmailed me and the ball went in the drink. At the time, there was lots of in-between-inning activity (crowded aisles, gimmicky videos on the jumbotron, etc.), so the nearby usher didn’t notice my water-retrieval device until it was too late. I reeled in the ball and was glad that Reid got to witness it. Tom also got to witness it and took a couple action shots. Here’s one of them:
Good times at the K.
Final score: Royals 10, White Sox 3.
On the way out, I got a photo with Reid:
No, I wasn’t pissed off — just being silly and pretending to be serious.
Once I made it outside, I ran into several White Sox players, who (for some reason) were standing around and waiting for a cab. (Don’t major leaguers have helicopters or golden limousines that pick them up whenever/wherever they want? Jeez. Standing around in the parking lot is so bush league.) Here I am with them:
In the photo above, Ramon Castro is wearing the white shirt, Chris Sale is rockin’ the stripes, and John Danks is wearing orange. (Sergio Santos is taking a swig from his soda cup in the background on the left.) All three of these guys were nice enough to sign my ticket:
Sale signed it on the left, Castro signed the middle, and Danks signed it on the right. (Danks complimented my t-shirt, BTW.) I didn’t ask Santos to sign it. If I had (and if he’d agreed), he would’ve had to sign it on the back — and there would’ve been plenty of room:
Garrett informed me that the Royals had run out of ticket stock, so the tickets were all blank and boring as a result. Hilarious. Garrett also deserves a standing ovation (hold on, let me stand up again) for giving me a coupon that essentially got me the ticket for free. (I’m standing again as I’m typing this. No joke. The angle makes it a little tough, but I’m managing.) I had to pay a one-dollar handing fee at the box office, but luckily I’m a high roller, so that was no big deal. (I just sat back down, and it feels really comfortable. I hope I don’t think of anyone else who did me favors because I don’t want to have to get up again.)
• 1,025 balls in 118 games this season = 8.69 balls per game.
• 779 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 304 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 5,687 total balls
(I’m raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to learn more.)
• 59 donors
• $7.36 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $44.16 raised at this game
• $7,544.00 raised this season
Nearly an hour after the game ended, I joined a few friends for a spectacularly unhealthy meal at Denny’s. Here we all are:
In the photo above, you can probably recognize me and Garrett and Big Glove Bob. The man on the left is named Fred, and the boy on his right is his son Colin. I’d met them at Kauffman Stadium two years ago, and I’m sorry to report that when I first saw Fred this time around, I had a brain-fart and forgot his name. I do that sometimes. Forgive me, Fred, and to the rest of you, forgive me in advance.
As for the meal, it started with an order of cheesy bacon fries…
…and continued with this:
That’s chicken-fried steak with gravy, scrambled eggs, and potatoes — and stupid me. I was so busy pigging out that I neglected to photograph my final course: strawberry pancake puppies with cream cheese icing.