Editor’s Note: Mark Cryan, former MiLB general manager and Ballpark Digest contributing editor, is embarking on an epic ballpark tour this summer, and he’ll be filing regular dispatches from the road. Today’s stop: Kansas City’s Community America Ballpark.
If you are a baseball hardcore visiting the Kansas City area, you would be missing out if you don’t visit Community America Ballpark, located in Kansas City, Kansas, about 25 minutes west of Kansas City, Missouri. Independent baseball can be hit or miss, even in the established leagues, but this is a better game experience than you get in some affiliated parks. GM Chris Browne and his Kansas City T-Bones crew are running a first-class operation in a very nice facility. The place was packed on the night we were there, but there were almost no lines for anything, and people were clearly enjoying themselves.
The location is unique. Community America Ballpark shares a large parking lot with a Target and a hotel, and NASCAR’s Kansas City track is right next door. MLS’s Sporting Kansas City is also in the neighborhood. This seems to make Kansas City, K.C. the capital of Kansas City-area sports, or at least a rival to the complex on the east side of Kansas City hosting the Royals and the Chiefs. The T-Bones relocated from Duluth’s Wade Stadium in 2003, and clearly it has been a good move for the team and the community.
The beef theme is carried to entertaining extremes here; there is a “mooing” sound effect that is used quite a bit, and some fans sported bovine head gear with horns, available in the souvenir stand. There is also a wide variety of food options here, from T-Bone steaks, of course, to bratwurst (excellent) and all the ballpark standards, as well as a wide variety of beers.
The ballpark itself is very standard in its design, including brick structures housing team offices and the walk-in souvenir store. Like most parks built over a decade ago, it has been adapted with various small stands, carts, and portable building added to offer addition point of sale locations. The original design, with a sunken seating bowl and a ring of very nice luxury boxes stacked above, allowed for spacious concourses that accommodate a big crowd.
There was plenty of sponsorship in evidence by the signage and the onfield contests, and we were provided a freebie program when we came in. There is a large grass berm in right field full of families, and beyond the berm, an indoor hitting facility. This must be an attractive place to play for an indy ballplayer, with the crowd support, the attractions of the KC market, and such a nice facility.
There are also all the bells and whistles you’d expect at a Double-A or Triple-A game; the pitcher’s speed is flashed on a digital display in the outfield, the on-field contests are shown on the video board, and the lineups and updated stats are displayed during the action. There are also lots of group spaces, which were, of course, largely empty on the night we attended (what company books their ballpark outing over the July 4th weekend? None, that’s who). But the seats were packed, and many fans were taking advantage of the 360 degree concourse to stroll, see and be seen. The aptly named bullpens are located right below the outfield concourse, and the T-Bones relievers had a nice little game going, where fans, mostly kids, could try to toss a quarter into a cup in exchange for a ball. I believe the monies generated were deposited in the “T-Bones Relief Pitcher’s Benevolent Fund.”
Fireworks in Reverse
The strangest thing about the night was the post-game fireworks show, which due to space constraints, are set off behind the grandstand, meaning you had to go to the outfield concourse to see the fireworks, but this is simply a byproduct of being in a bustling location, and the locals seemed accustomed to it.
Kids’ Eye View
The ballpark has a couple of places in the park for the kids. Behind the berm in right field there is a section with two bouncy house and a good playground. The things I found most interesting though is the basketball court in center field and the drone that flew around the field.
A visit to the T-Bones is a reminder of the why independent baseball has been so successful since Miles Wolff and the Northern League reintroduced the concept. The fans at this game see great baseball being played by guys who were almost all under contract to Major League teams and playing in affiliated Minor League Baseball sometime recently. Only a very serious baseball observer could really distinguish the brand of baseball being played in a good established independent league like the American Association from affiliated ball. And, any experienced baseball team operator would have to respect the excellent crowds, first-class facility, strong sponsorship support, and friendly and efficient staff.
If you are in Kansas City on a baseball trip, do NOT miss the chance to see the T-Bones.
Life on The Road
Our visit to the T-Bones was the last part of our itinerary in the Kansas City area. Our next stop was Denver, so after debating our lodging choices, we decided to just head west and see what happened. We had identified two Wal-Marts as potential stopping points. As we rolled through the Kansas night, we were struck by several things. First, the terrain was not quite as “table-top flat” as we expected. Secondly, after hours of driving, we ran into a veritable sea of small red lights that we thought were an airport, but turned out to be a massive wind farm. Each light marked a windmill, and these are not something from a fairy tale. These are massive poles rising up into the air with spinning blades that look like enormous airplane propellers. There had to be at least several hundred towers.
With that excitement behind us, we pushed all the way through to Hayes, Kansas, where we had a very comfortable night of Wal-Mart camping. We woke up to the table-top flat terrain we had expected, and were struck by one young man dressed in full cowboy regalia, with wrangler jeans, cowboy boots, a first-class cowboy hat, and a long billfold with a silver medallion sticking half way out of his back pocket. He wore these clothes without a trace of irony or self-consciousness, and not a soul in the store paid him any mind. Ty and I dubbed him “The Slim Cowboy.” Welcome to the Plains!
Next stop: Denver’s Coors Field.