I am lucky enough to have a wife who lets me visit baseball parks almost every summer. I think we have been to about 20 cities now with my favorites being Wrigley, old Yankee, PETCO and Camden and my least favorite is a battle between RFK and the Metrodome.
This summer we made it to Dallas for the first time and after a cousin’s wedding in Iowa we are making a trip through a couple of favorites: Chicago and Kansas City. With me growing up a Cubs fan I like to try to make it to Wrigley when I can and she grew up in Western Kansas so she is a Royals fan (and they are growing on me, too). The Cubs stand 20 games under .500 on this Wednesday morning and the Royals do it one game better at 19 games below the breakeven point. We usually make it to one or both of these two parks every summer.
Both stadiums are great. The fans are even better.
There are a lot of stadiums built in the middle of downtown, a trend that turned, thankfully, with the addition of Camden Yards about 20 years ago. But none of these new stadiums, at least the ones I have been to (Coors Field included) have the same feel as Wrigley. I cannot speak for Fenway as I haven’t been there yet, but it is just a different feel around Wrigley before a game than PETCO, Coors or even Busch. The sidewalks are narrow, the land is valuable (even on those sidewalks) and the word “crowded” does not do it justice. It is plain hard getting around the outside of Wrigley because of the dense crowd and narrow pathways. The newer stadiums have sidewalks wide enough that probably eight people could walk shoulder to shoulder and have room, not around Wrigley.
At the “K” in Kansas City the unique feel comes from all the tailgating that happens before the game. With the expansive parking lot that surrounds Kauffman Stadium and the Chiefs digs right next door a lot of fans arrive early and tailgate; something that is only seen before a football game in most cities. As we sat outside before the game last night there were countless fans walking to the gate with a can or bottle of their choice adult beverage in hand (those choices were awful choices like Bud Select and I even saw a Bud Light Lime. Shameful considering Boulevard is such a great local brew).
Kauffman is an underrated park and next year when the All-Star game is in KC it will be showcased. The place is amazing. There is so much to do that you almost forget there is a game being played until you look almost anywhere and spot a hi-def flat panel TV showing the game live. From a putt-putt track, to a merry-go-round to a small water park the kids are entertained. There is a very nicely done Royals Hall of Fame and the newly widened concourse is well lit and spacious. The fact that fans can walk in front of the fountains is a great addition they made when they updated the park and there isn’t any reason to believe the Royals will need a new home in the next 40 years.
In Chicago the home of the Cubs still feels like 1914. From the obstructed views in the lower level thanks to pillars to the bleacher seats Wrigley field takes the fans back to the early 1900’s. We met up with some friends in the bleachers (Al Yellon from Bleed Cubbie Blue is a vat of Cubs knowledge and Miriam Romain from Examiner is one of the nicest people anyone could ever meet). Everyone at Wrigley is watching the game and not to knock on Coors Field too much, it is great, but too many fans at Coors are more concerned with where they are drinking after the game or if they can start The Wave. The best line of the night was when one of the ladies was chatting about her new boyfriend this is the conversation that transpired:
Lady: “He is great, but you will never guess what he is.”
“He isn’t Republican!?”
Lady: “No, worse.”
You could almost see the gears working in some of the listeners heads, then a light went off:
“A Cardinals fan?”
A combined sigh erupted from the group of Cubs fans that was loud enough that it could be heard on Michigan Ave.
The sort of script that could be found only straight out of a Billy Crystal movie, unless you are at a Cubs game.
It was my son’s first trip to Wrigley (he is 2.5) and his second to Kauffman. The fans in both places, probably mostly because it is the Midwest and people seem nicer here, were great. Lots of random pats on his head, lots of smiles at him even as he ran wildly at their legs. The employees at both parks were more than helpful in pointing us in directions where there might be a water mister or playground. Here a kid running up and down the rows of seats is a sight that can be seen for the joy, sometimes in Denver it appears that it is more of an annoyance than pure bliss.
The people of the Midwest are fantastic and it makes me want to move back every time I come back. But then I run into the heat and humidity and I ache for Denver. Last night the news in KC said it “cooled down”, jokingly, as the heat index was still over 100 degrees at 10:30pm. The dew point was over 70 degrees in Chicago at 8am on Tuesday morning and it is unbelievably uncomfortable. Denver is such a beautiful place and even when it is 100 degrees in Denver it is nothing like the smothering heat and humidity of the Midwest.
So while both of the teams we visited on this trip are awful in the standings the trip was amazing. From the people to the parks to the atmosphere it was great. If you haven’t been to either of these parks they are both a day’s drive (OK, Chicago might be two days) from Denver and both worth the trip. I would suggest going in May or June, however.
I am looking forward to getting back to Denver and a tasty craft beer in the early evening hours under the cool Colorado sky. Better than a musty major brew in the blistering heat at 11 o’clock at night in Chicago, where shirts soaked with sweat after dark is a common sight.