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June 21, 2010
Goin' to Kansas City
Bud Selig rolled through the Midwest last week and bestowed upon Kauffman Stadium the 2012 All-Star Game. Though the official announcement had been something of an open secret for months, it provided long-suffering Kansas City baseball fans with a rare bit of good news. With their hometown team hovering around last place for the better part of 15 years, it has been a while since Royals fans have been paying much attention by the time the All-Star break rolls around each July. The Royals have not placed multiple players on the American League All-Star team since 2003, when Mike Sweeney and Mike MacDougal turned the trick.
Nevertheless, an All-Star Game, coupled with an improved farm system, has sparked some excitement in Kansas City. As the Royals took the field last Wednesday after Selig’s announcement, fans watching on television were asked to predict how many Royals will make the 2012 AL All-Star team. More than three-quarters answered two or more. Hope springs eternal.
Kansas City last served as an All-Star Game host in 1973, so by the time July 2012 arrives, it will have been a 39-year wait. Fans on the eastern side of Missouri waited 43 years—from 1966 to 2009—for the All-Star Game to return to St. Louis. Only the Mets have waited longer. They’re at 46 years and counting since newly-built Shea Stadium played host to the 1964 Midsummer Classic. But New York has not gone unnoticed, with the Yankees hosting All-Star festivities in 1977 and 2008.
Some cities are more equal than others, it would appear. But Major League Baseball uses the All-Star Game as a carrot to encourage local officials and taxpayers to provide financing for new or renovated stadiums. The strategy began in earnest in 1998, when MLB rescinded its award of the 2000 All-Star Game to the Marlins. With owner Wayne Huizenga putting the Fish up for sale and an effort to build a new ballpark in South Florida underway, the game instead was awarded to the Braves and their new home of Turner Field.
Though experts such as Smith College economics professor Andrew Zimbalist and our own Neil deMause minimize the widely touted economic impact of All-Star week, there is no shortage of cities and teams lining up to bid for the privilege. Of the 15 ballparks built from 1970-97, 13 hosted All-Star games within five years of opening, and 2012 will mark the 13th consecutive year the game will be held in a new or newly-renovated stadium. The last All-Star Game played in an old ballpark was the memorable 1999 game at Boston’s Fenway Park, which also served as the site of the 1946 and 1961 games. (Boston’s Braves Field served as the host for the 1936 game.) Red Sox officials unsuccessfully bid to host the game in 2012, which will be Fenway’s 100th anniversary.
The Royals do not have a new ballpark, but that doesn’t mean the fans in Kansas City aren’t paying for the privilege of their All-Star experience. Voters approved a 2006 sales tax increase to finance a renovation project of more than $575 million for Kauffman Stadium and neighboring Arrowhead Stadium, home of the NFL’s Chiefs. The Royals contributed $25 million to the effort, while the Chiefs contributed $75 million. In exchange, both franchises agreed to extend their leases through 2031. Voters rejected a second ballot measure which would have financed a $200 million roof capable of rolling between the two stadiums, which presumably would have made Arrowhead Stadium the future site of a Super Bowl. So as difficult as it will be for visitors from the coasts to spend four days in fly-over country, look on the bright side: You won’t have to come back for a Super Bowl.
Besides, Kansas City deserves its day in the sun. Yes, Fenway is wonderful. But beyond the symmetry of a 100th anniversary, do we really need to spend the better part of four more days genuflecting before the Green Monster? We were just there 11 years ago, and we pay homage just about every October, anyway. The Red Sox can’t sell any more tickets, and the atmosphere will still be there in 2018, which would be another anniversary worth celebrating in Boston.
Kansas City, on the other hand, could use the buzz of an All-Star Game. You might even say Royals fans need it. Just how long ago was Kansas City’s 1973 All-Star moment? Before the game, the crowd observed a moment of silence for Pirates star Roberto Clemente, who died tragically during the previous offseason. Two of the game’s ceremonial first pitches were thrown by Lefty Gomez and Wild Bill Hallahan, the starting pitchers from baseball’s first All-Star Game in 1933. It was the 24th and final All-Star appearance for Willie Mays. The game’s MVP was Giants outfielder Bobby Bonds, who had two hits, including a two-run home run—on the day his son, Barry, turned nine years old. The day after the game, Nomar Garciaparra was born in California. So for Kansas City, it’s time. Past time, really.
Don’t expect Damon and Affleck to show for the celebrity softball game. And it’s safe to assume Lady Gaga won’t be making a visit to the locker room at any point during the week. No, the logistics won’t be perfect. But really, can it be any worse than Houston or Anaheim?
The barbecue alone will be worth the effort. You’ll hear the place to go is venerable Arthur Bryant’s. And yes, it’s great, but there are at least two dozen other barbecue places in town, and you can’t go wrong with any of them. Among the best: Gates & Sons, Fiorella’s Jack Stack, and Oklahoma Joe’s. Bring your appetite.