Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Mini Helmets and Mini Golf Or: How a 10-Year-Old Non-Baseball Fan Endured a Game at Kauffman Stadium by Aaron Rennie

When I was a kid, my favorite sport was baseball. I grew up in central Connecticut, the unofficial Mason-Dixon line of Boston-New York rooting interests, and would get up at the crack of dawn to race to our doorstep, bring in the Hartford Courant and immediately flip to the baseball standings. In 1983, when I was seven, my mom gave in to my relentless hounding and got our family four tickets to see a Red Sox-Yankees game (I didn’t care where, and it turned out to be Fenway Park).

We had four separate rooting interests. My mom, a Brooklyn Dodgers fan as a girl in New Jersey, hated the Yankees and pulled for the Red Sox. I sided with the Bronx Bombers, although my favorite team was the Cincinnati Reds. My older brother, who didn’t care about sports in the slightest, rooted for the Fenway Franks. (Every other inning it was, “Mom, can I get another hot dog?”) And my curmudgeonly father was rooting for a pitchers’ duel. (“Goddamned traffic. Massachusetts drivers don’t know how to drive. I want to get the hell out of here.”)

Nearly 35 years later, our rooting interests have changed somewhat. My mom has become a big-time Red Sox supporter. My brother, who still doesn’t care about any other sports, to my amazement has become a Red Sox fan. My dad still thinks “watching baseball is like watching paint dry.” And I’ve come around to my dad’s point of view more than I want to admit.

Well, that’s not exactly the case. Whereas my old man “would rather watch grass grow,” I thoroughly enjoy going to one or two games a year, usually at Citi Field. It’s just I can’t be bothered with the day-in, day-out grind of the endless regular season. The pennant race? Sure. The playoffs? Definitely. But I simply can’t get emotionally invested 162 times a year like I could when I was a kid.

In fact, my fandom has dwindled over the past couple decades to the point where baseball’s probably my seventh favorite sport. College football is first, followed by World Cup soccer, then the NFL, NBA, college hoops, and tennis in some order. Baseball and hockey are next, sports I enjoy come playoff time but mostly ignore the rest of the year. (I don’t care much for golf and can’t be bothered with the Left Turn 500 circuit.)

That said, I still enjoy heading to a ballpark on a sunny day, and the chance to check out a new stadium always piques my interest. So when I booked a mid-July trip to the Heartland with my 10-year-old daughter, Alex, I was geeked that the Royals would be playing a home game the night before we were to fly home, as I’d never been to Kauffman Stadium before and it always looked beautiful on TV.

Before the trip, I told Alex that we’d be doing a lot of things that she wanted to do, like ziplining and going to a water park (not that I’d necessarily be opposed to either), but that there were two things I wanted to do in Kansas City: eat barbecue and go to the Royals-Rangers game. She was amenable, especially since we added indoor skydiving to the docket, but I knew she’d be less-than-enthusiastic about the game.

When I asked her how excited she was on a scale of 1-10 to be going to the game, she said, “I would probably say about a 3. I don’t like baseball but I'm excited to go to a new stadium and experience something new.”

We got to the stadium only about a half hour before the first pitchgoddamned trafficbut we had plenty of time to get food, as the lines weren’t long at all. The Royals have a promotion on Fridays where peanutsand hot dogsare just a dollar, so I grabbed a bag and Alex excitedly got Dippin' Dots in a mini plastic Royals helmet.

“I think it's adorable. It's so cute,” she said, admiring the blue brim handle of her new helmet. “It's, like, a bowl cup, and the head thingI don't know what to call itbut you can pick it up from there. It's adorable and I love it.” 

We then hustled to our seats I had gotten that afternoon on StubHub, in the front row of 439, the farthest section in right field, near the foul pole. They had a great view of the outfield fountains.

“I think (Kauffman Stadium) very interesting,” Alex said once we got to our seats. “It’s a lot different from the Mets’ stadium, which is the other one I’ve been to, so it’s a new experience and it’s really cool…I like the huge screen with the crown on it, and also the fountain, water thing. It’s so cool ‘cause, like, if you sit right by that then you’re gonna have such a nice breeze and you’re gonna have such a nice view, too. It’s really cool.”

Alas, I had made a tactical error when selecting our tickets. I failed to account for the fact that the sun would be directly in our faces for the first several innings, making viewing very difficult for someone who didn’t care at all for baseball. Fortunately, I have a creative daughter.

To pass the time, Alex made up a game where she was the proprietor of a store that sold peanuts. She cracked open the shells and dumped the contents into the mini helmet that earlier had contained the Dippin’ Dots. (Yes, it was still sticky.) She had me pretend to be a customer and request a certain number of peanuts to be cracked.

“It is very messy but it’s pretty fun ... just getting to crush something.”

Two innings in the blazing sun were enough, and we headed to the concessions behind the outfield for some Belfonte’s ice cream. Yes, it came in another mini helmet, and it was awesome. We watched most of the third and fourth innings behind the fountains, which was a great vantage point.

Then Alex discovered something else miniature she liked at the ballpark: mini golf. The planners at Kauffman Stadium had thought of everything. In order to attract families, or at least placate kids, they built an area behind the outfield with a carousel, a playground, a picnic area and a five-hole mini golf course, which cost $2 to play.

As Alex and I got our putters and balls, a perky young woman wearing head-to-toe Royals gear asked if she could play with us. Her name was Alyson, a college student whose summer job is being a fan ambassador. She roams throughout the stadium and interacts with fans, making sure they are having a good time. In our case, she asked how we were enjoying the stadium experience, and peppered us with questions about our trip to the Heartland and what it’s like to live in New York.

After our brief game, Alex and I parted ways with Alyson and saw the Royals had added a run to extend their lead to 3-0. It was only entering the sixth inning, but Alex asked if we could go. It was already nearly 9 p.m., we had a half-hour drive back to our hotel and I had set my alarm for 5:30 a.m. to head to the airport, so I agreed. By the time we got to the hotel, the game was tied, and the Rangers wound up winning 5-3.

I figured the sport itself didn’t really captivate Alex, but I was curious about her stadium experience. I still have fond memories of the sights, sounds and smells of Fenway from when I was a kid, and I was hoping the Kauffman Stadium fountains, or at least the mini helmets and mini golf, would rub off on Alex.

They had, to a degree. When I asked her how she would rate her stadium experience, she said it was a six.

“Well, there was mini golf, and I love mini golf,” she said. “But baseball, like I said, is not my favorite sport. I wasn’t enjoying the baseball that much, but it was exciting because we were winning for most of it. (But overall) it was enjoyable, yes. It was fun.”

Finally, I asked Alex if she would go to another baseball game.

“ depends on what team it is, and if the stadium has mini golf.”

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