Aboard the plane going to Kansas City on my Field of Dreams trip, I got to talking with the passenger beside me, V, who grew up in the suburbs of Kansas City. We discussed my quest to see a game at every big-league ballpark. I asked him about Municipal Stadium in Kansas City, the long-demolished home of the Kansas City Athletics and the first home of the expansion Kansas City Royals. Before that it was a prime venue for the Monarchs, a premiere franchise in the Negro Baseball League in segregated America.
I told V I was going to Brooklyn and 20th, the site of the razed stadium, to walk around the footprint of the old structure. He grew concerned and claimed, correctly, that it is in an economically depressed area. That was his euphemism for-It’s in a black neighborhood.
He asked me who I would tour the site with. Just me, I replied.
I did it in many cities, I said. For instance, last summer when I was visiting both major league ballparks in Texas, in Houston I walked around the perimeter of the abandoned Astrodome, the home of the Astros before they moved to Minute Maid Park in 1999. I also perambulated one corner of the parking lot where I supposed the old Colt Stadium used to be, a temporary wooden structure which housed the team, then known as the Houston Colt 45s, before the Astrodome was completed in 1964. (Right: Colt Stadium with the Astrodome being built next door.)
Claiming I wouldn’t be safe at that location, V made me swear that I would stay in my car when I toured the area. I lied when I made the promise, and the next day I spent a lovely two hours tramping around that neighborhood, now a single-family housing development on a little level plateau in the hilly part of Kansas City. The people I encountered were hospitable and accommodating, and frequently inquired in response to my questions whether I was from Minnesota. You see, the Royals were playing the Twins that weekend, and everyone had me pegged for an out-of-towner.
After I completed my walkabout in the area of the old ballpark, I went to Kauffman Stadium to watch the Royals beat the Twins in 12 innings in a pelting rain. It was a cold and miserable four and a half hours, but the Field of Dreams quest is not all open air and sunshine.
I didn’t care too much for Kauffman Stadium, plunked down as it is next to Interstate 70, miles from downtown. As I huddled under the eaves of the stadium trying to stay dry, I found myself fascinated by the juxtaposition of the glacially-paced baseball game unfolding in the foreground at three innings per hour while a never ending stream of whining vehicles raced by in the background at a mile a minute.
Before I left town, I sampled burnt-end barbecue sandwiches at both Arthur Bryant’s and Gates’, two famous local culinary establishments. The fare at Gates' was hotter and caused my face to stream with perspiration, while that at Arthur Bryant’s was sweeter and less sweat-inducing. Both meals were very different from each other and very delicious.
Next up for me was the third annual Bucket Trip in a week’s time with my old college buddies. This year we were rafting down the Dolores River in Colorado, and I was inexplicably experiencing unease about the impending trip.