Dispatches from Kansas City: “It’s a sea of tents and smoke”

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HardballTalk’s Drew Silva is filing regular stories from this year’s MLB All-Star Game festivities in Kansas City, Missouri. Check out Part One here.

“What’s the best barbecue joint in KC?” I asked my Aunt Mardi, foolishly, after getting in last night. “Our front porch when your uncle is home,” she replied in a tone that was matter-of-fact but deservedly so.

My Uncle Chuck can wow you with a simple grilled chicken thigh, prepared on a classic black Weber. Or knock your teeth out with a pork butt, smoked over low heat for nearly a full day in a cast-iron tank.

There are different kinds of people in every town — some who don’t necessarily involve themselves in local culture — but it seems like a good majority of the folks I’ve encountered in my 15-or-so visits to Kansas City have possessed a well-above-average knowledge base in the art of cooking meat. Having good ingredients is crucial — and the animals are indeed raised well around here — but it’s the technique that makes BBQ sing.

And that technique isn’t something that can be learned; you have to grow up doing it. In KC, it’s a hobby.

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Uncle Chuck is pulling lobsters along the tip of Massachusetts this summer, fulfilling a lifelong dream while waiting out a tough economy for sales people. He, along with my cousin Joe and Uncle Rick, hauled in 500 lbs. on Wednesday, a high-mark since they started dropping traps in May. I’m visiting them later this month.

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With no front-porch feast on the docket at the Silva house due to an absent pitmaster, I headed out on my own this afternoon. I wanted to hit up Oklahoma Joe’s — a favorite spot among the baseball beat writers I follow on Twitter — before the arrival of the rest of the Major League Baseball media horde later this weekend. Those lines are long enough on days when it’s just people from the neighborhood.

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“Okie Joe’s” has three locations, all on the Kansas side of town. I went to the one on 47th and Mission. It’s built into a gas station and it can be hard to find a good parking spot, but no one seems to notice or care.

Perhaps that’s because there’s a company-owned liquor store right next door. Convenience, after all, is king.

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I ordered a “Z-Man Sandwich, a side of fries and a side of beans,” while trying my best to sound and look like a frequent visitor. The Z-Man is a pile of sliced beef brisket, smoked provolone cheese and two hulking, flaky onion rings tucked into the center of a buttered kaiser roll. It’s the kind of concoction you’d slap together after a long night of drinking in college. Yet with meat that consistently medals in international barbecue competitions, including the American Royal which is held every October in an area of town called the West Bottoms. “It’s a sea of tents and smoke,” my cousin Jake says. He works on a team called Junkyard Barbecue, founded over 25 years ago by the Davis family — regional BBQ royalty.

The “Okie Joe’s” beans hit sweet and spicy notes simultaneously. They have the texture of chili and a finish like candy. The fries were as good as fries get, crispy but mushy. I washed it all down with a pink lemonade.

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Tonight, we drink. Jake has outlined a list of his favorite dive bars in the city — places where we might be laughed at for squeezing lemon slices into our glasses of Boulevard Wheat. Of course, we’ll do it anyway.

Blue Jays, Josh Donaldson to table extension talks

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Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith reports that the Blue Jays and third baseman Josh Donaldson are tabling extension talks as the two sides weren’t able to build any momentum towards agreement on a new contract.

Donaldson said, “We’re not quite there. That, to me, right now is not the major focus and I’m turning the page.” He added, “I want to play this season and really focus on winning games because, ultimately, our goal is to win a World Series and I don’t want to hinder that at all.” Donaldson also said he expects to hit free agency.

The 32-year-old avoided arbitration with the Blue Jays last month, agreeing on a $23 million salary for the 2018 season. He’s a free agent at season’s end. Last year, the three-time All-Star hit .270/.385/.559 with 33 home runs, 78 RBI, and 65 runs scored in 496 plate appearances. Donaldson missed six weeks in the first half with a calf injury, but was able to return and post terrific numbers, so his health — at least that aspect of it — shouldn’t be a concern going into spring training.

If Donaldson does reach free agency, he’ll join a star-studded group that will likely also include Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Charlie Blackmon, and A.J. Pollock.