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.

Video: Jared Hoying gets shaken up after making a catch at the wall

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Rangers’ center fielder Jared Hoying put everything on the line to make a spectacular catch at the wall on Saturday, saving a run during the team’s eventual 3-1 loss to the Blue Jays. In the fifth inning, Kevin Pillar crushed a ball off of Yu Darvish, sending it 393 feet to the warning track in center field. It took Hoying 5.4 seconds to reach the ball, gloving it just before he crashed into the wall at full speed.

The center fielder was down on the field for several seconds and looked to be in considerable pain, drawing the attention of the Rangers’ training staff while he caught his breath. Postgame reports revealed that Hoying had not sustained any major or minor injuries during the crash, but simply needed time to recover after having the wind knocked out of him. He stayed in the game through the seventh inning and was able to field another two fly balls with little trouble, neither of them quite as dramatic as Pillar’s attempted hit off the wall.

With the loss, the Rangers now sit 9.5 games back of the division lead.

Former U.S. Senator and Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Bunning dies at age 85

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Jim Bunning, Hall of Fame right-handed pitcher and former U.S. Senator, died on Friday at age 85. He suffered a stroke in October 2016 and was in hospice care when he died, according to former Senate chief of staff Jon Deuser.

Bunning rose to prominence in Major League Baseball during his first full season with the Tigers in 1957, recording 14 complete games and a league-leading 20 wins. The following year, Bunning pitched his first career no-hitter against the Red Sox, just the fourth no-hitter in franchise history. During his first season with the Phillies in 1964, Bunning followed up his no-hitter with a perfect game against the Mets, marking the first National League perfecto in the 20th century. By the time he retired in 1971, he boasted seven All-Star nominations, 2,855 strikeouts (maintaining his second-place ranking on the all-time strikeout list from 1967-1971) and a 224-184 record over 17 seasons.

Following a storied major league career, Bunning entered politics at age 46, serving 12 years in the House and eventually getting elected to the Senate at age 67, where he served two terms. The Republican senator was famously outspoken for his opposition to steroids in baseball, illegal immigration and an extension of unemployment benefits, among other issues, and drew criticism within his party for his ornery nature and controversial statements. He declined to run for a third term in 2010, citing a lack of financial support from the National Republican Senatorial Committee and choosing instead to throw his weight behind fellow candidate Rand Paul.

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred issued a statement following news of Bunning’s death on Saturday:

Jim Bunning led an extraordinary life in the National Pastime and in public service.  He was a consistent winner and workhorse pitcher for the Detroit Tigers and the Philadelphia Phillies.  Jim threw no-hitters in both leagues, pitched a perfect game on Father’s Day in 1964 and, at his retirement, had more strikeouts than any pitcher in history except Walter Johnson.

“In his baseball career, Jim was proud of always taking the ball.  The work ethic that made him a Hall of Famer led him to the House of Representatives and the United Stated Senate.  He served the state of Kentucky for more than two decades and became the only Hall of Famer ever to serve in Congress.

“On behalf of Major League Baseball, I send my deepest condolences to Senator Bunning’s family, friends, constituents and the many fans who admired his career in our game.