02/24/09 11:45 PM EST
New life dawns for Kauffman Stadium
More than just baseball will be available at Royals' park
By Dick Kaegel / MLB.com
Still, the scope of this project defies that term.
"It's amazing," said Royals president Dan Glass, who regularly tours the site. "I know a lot of people have seen the outside of the building, the exterior, and it's as much a drastic change on the inside, the interior, as it is on the exterior."
Glass paused and smiled as he mentally paged through the $250 million undertaking.
"We used to call it a renovation, but it really is a brand new facility," he said.
The facility will have its formal unveiling on the afternoon of April 10, when the Yankees come to Kansas City for a three-game series. There's some poetic symmetry in that because it was the Royals' rivalry with the Yankees, notably in their American League Championship Series, that gave the KC stadium its coming of age.
Royals Stadium, when it was unveiled in 1973, was a marvel of modernity. Instead of following the multipurpose mode of other cities' stadiums of that era, Kansas City settled on two -- one for baseball, one for football. Originally, one would house the Kansas City Chiefs, the other the Kansas City Athletics. But A's owner Charles O. Finley couldn't wait, and he moved his club to Oakland.
When Ewing Kauffman was granted the new American League franchise in KC, the Jackson County, Mo., complex named in honor of President Harry S Truman continued to take shape.
The Royals copied generously from the positive lessons in the Los Angeles ballparks, Dodger Stadium and Anaheim Stadium. And Kansas City had its own characteristics.
The baseball side included a signature amenity in the City of Fountains -- fountains along the center- to right-field perimeter. There was wall-to-wall carpeting, a first for the American League, and a handsome stadium that was roomy but at the same time seemed cozy -- at least for the Royals, who used speed, pitching and defense to build teams to fit the ballpark.
The stadium held up remarkably well. For years it was a benchmark of a fan-friendly, family-accommodating spot in the nation's heartland. But when new ballparks began springing up around the country in Baltimore, Cleveland, Chicago, Toronto, Seattle, Detroit, Texas and several National League cities as well, the KC franchise fell behind.
Kevin Uhlich, the Royals' senior vice president of business operations, arrived in November 2006 to oversee the reshaping of Kauffman Stadium. He had a background of renovating Angel Stadium in Anaheim and for helping plan the new Washington, D.C., park for the Nationals.
"If you look at the old building, you were really limited on your upside," Uhlich said. "You didn't have a stratosphere to sell tickets in. You didn't have the amenities. Like it or not, baseball for a lot of the younger crowd is more than just what's happening between the white lines. It's an experience."
So that was the primary consideration: bringing Kansas City baseball into the high-tech, cranked-up, multifaceted, exciting world of entertainment that typifies the 21st century game. The basic beauty and simplicity of the game endures, but the accoutrements have expanded dramatically.
Royals/Kauffman Stadium has seen its off-field advances over the years: a JumboTron scoreboard, new waterfalls cascading behind left field, seat replacements, a Royals Hall of Fame display, a Crown Club behind home plate, Dugout Suites, the Picnic Pavilion, the Little K field for kids, statues remembering the Kauffmans, George Brett and Frank White, some new stores and concessions improvements -- and, of course, new ownership with David Glass and his family in 2000.
Glass realized the Royals, in order to keep up on the field, needed more revenue-producing approaches off the field. In short, to meet the increasing demands of player salaries, they had to have more money flowing in.
Some things had not changed very much. The limited number of luxury boxes on the press-box level had few upgrades over the years. The concourses were narrow, and lines at concession stands and some restrooms were long on busy nights. The Stadium Club was not a big moneymaker.
As Uhlich put it: "For the Royals to be viable and to make a long-term commitment to be here for the 22 years or 25 years, you not only needed to update the building -- after 30 years, the pipes and a lot of things aren't working the way they should be -- but to add these other revenue streams you need to really be competitive."
For a time, there was talk of a possible downtown location for a new ballpark, but that eventually faded into the background. No conclusive reason to move was evident.
"It would have been a shame to move it somewhere else and start over," longtime Royals player, coach and manager John Wathan said. "I always thought it was the perfect setup, and I'm just glad it's still there."
The clincher for the renovations at the two-stadium Truman Sports Complex came on Election Day, April 4, 2006, when residents of Jackson County, Mo., voted to approve funding through a 25-year, 3/8-cent sales tax. That assured the Royals and the Chiefs would remain for another 25 years.
The Kauffman Stadium cost was pegged at $250 million, with the Royals contributing $25 million.
It's hard to believe, considering its youthful, well-kept appearance, but Kauffman Stadium is the sixth-oldest among the ballparks still in operation in the Major Leagues.
There still are Boston's Fenway Park (1912) and Chicago's Wrigley Field (1914), both approaching a century of use. Then there are Los Angeles' Dodger Stadium (1962) and Anaheim (now Angel) Stadium (1966) and the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum ('66).
The two New York ballparks, Yankee Stadium (1923) and Shea Stadium (1964), are being replaced this year. So, industry-wide, the "new" Kauffman Stadium's debut will be overshadowed by the New York unveilings. That's an old story: Gotham's glitter gets noticed more than Cowtown's dust.
Kansas City, though, is up to date.
"We set out to enhance what we have and improve on what we have, and I think we've hit almost every mark. I think there's something for everybody there now," Dan Glass said after touring the construction site this winter.
"The goals that we've set out and told the taxpayers that we wanted to accomplish, I think we really have. I don't think we've missed anybody in there, from the lowest-priced ticket to the higher-priced ticket. It's all in there. We walked around there one day and you start thinking about all these new areas that didn't exist last year and the years before. There really wasn't a whole lot to do except watch the game. Now, like you see in these other ballparks, there's going to be this mingling, this flow that's going to go around the ballpark to different areas."
The mingling will start with a full house on April 10.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.