When you retire, you may want to visit the grandeur of Machu Picchu, the stunning beauty of Phuket, Thailand, or repose in one of the geo-thermal lagoons outside Reykjavik - I want to do that too, but first, Donna and I are taking in something of equal interest and esthetic: we're visiting baseball stadiums around the country.
When you watch the games on TV and the camera scans the stadium, you get a sense of the fans. Boston fans have the look of people that were subject to the business end of a Tazor, New York fans are constantly on their cell phones, St. Louis fans are engaged in the rhythm of the games in a knowing way, San Diego fans are happy and smiling (Is it possible to live in San Diego and be depressed?), Seattle fans look distracted as if they're trying to remember the last time they saw someone within the City limits who exceeded their body mass index. Baltimore fans tend to have jerky eyes, as if trying to follow the ball and not succeeding..
But some of the best fans though, seem to be in that Paris of the Plains, the City of Fountains, the Mecca of the Mid-West: Kansas City, Missouri. And go there we did: Red Sox versus the Royals. Kaufman Stadium in KC was constructed in the second half of last century. During that period, stadiums were poured concrete: it's a building material that oozes coldness, density, and a paucity of personality. When they get torn down, no one's going to buying a chunk of stadium concrete as a memento. If you have any doubt, I give you the baseball fields in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Comiskey Park in Chicago as examples, but Kaufman's concrete must have been poured by people with good karma. The Park is friendly and impressive. The concrete smiles.
Red Sox lost and the game set a record for having three balks by pitchers - never been done before, but the KC fans made the game enjoyable with an air of good feelings.
They reward a good plate appearance with a cheer even if it's not productive. Good people, good barbeque.
The baseball fans in Boston, before the game, get their game faces on and fret about how the upcoming game might be lost. In KC as you can see from the picture above, it's a time to party. I do have a complaint though, but it's not directed just at the Royals. Baseball was always a game of leisure - the national pastime- where you could bring a book, take a cell call, and talk to those around you. Watching the game was one of many options. No more. From the lst inning to the last the air is filled with as much noise as a NASCAR event. PA announcements, loud music, overblown baseball commentary fills the air every second. If you go to a hockey, football, or basketball game, loud noise is part of the experience, but baseball was always a venue where we, the fans, make the noise, not them. I always liked going to the Durham Bulls games and listening to the triangle high tech guys or the Duke students sitting around me and planning exactly where they were going to vacation in the South of France or other places I couldn't afford. The conversations provided comity and a certain egalitarianism. Now I can't even yell at the umps. They can't hear me. It's like deciding to go vegan after you're dead. What's the point?
Leslie is pictured above. She was one of the Royals staff who covered our section. She did something I've never seen at any sporting event. She went up and down the steps asking people in our seating grid if they were enjoying the game and if she could help in anyway. She was magnanimous to everyone, even the guys on their fourth beer. The first time she approached me, I was suspicious and looked at her as if she was passing the church collection plate and was expecting me to top it off, but it turns out she was the real deal and just wanted Donna and I to enjoy the game. I finally responded with, "Get Gonzalez to hit a two-run homer in the 8th," and she good-naturedly said she would see what she could do. Leslie, you were worth the trip.
The next day we drove to downtown to see what we could see. The City is impressive. They built buildings downtown, maintained them, then left them alone. They did not second guess with renovations or re-development - no "Kansas City 2.0".
On our last day we were having breakfast at our hotel across from the stadium. As happens in the Mid-West, we started up a conversation with the next table, a couple from Tuscaloosa. Turns out the couple were there for the afternoon game even though the man said neither he nor his wife followed the Royals in particular or baseball in general. His wife left the restaurant, but he stayed and told us she was being honored in a ceremony before the game for her work in the community of Tuscaloosa.
That City had a deadly tornado the year before. Deadly. An 80 mile path and a width of a mile and 1/2, destroying the City and in the area encompassing surrounding towns, in four days, over 300 people died. The tornadoes did not ask for any financial statements of its recipients, but cut through the area structures like it was tearing through the federal income tax tables; from "0" worth to infinity. The destruction involved mansions and it involved shacks... and his wife was the city planner who had to help put the City back together again.
He told us she had been working 11 months without a day off and her work was gradually getting harder. Finding financing for the high end property was difficult but doable, for the marginal properties it was something else. He knew she liked to sew, and in the past would get together with other ladies that sewed... and talked about, well, sewing I guess. So six months ago, he started building a concrete block building the size of a small garage next to his house. Last month, she finally took a day off and he hung a sign above the door that said, "Sewing Shop" and she got to enjoying herself.
If you're expecting me to connect the 118 stitches on a baseball and the sewing shop and come up with something of significance, you're wrong. I'll leave that to the smart people.
But we can all think about it.