I drove out to Kauffman Stadium around 10 a.m. this morning to pick up my press credentials — a badge on a lanyard, basically, with my headshot and “NBC SPORTS” emblazoned across the bottom. “Must be worn at all times,” it states. “No autographs.”
Kauffman is a few miles east of downtown, right along the interstate. It shares a sprawl of asphalt parking lots with Arrowhead Stadium, a cathedral for football fans and home to the beloved Kansas City Chiefs. I’ve been to Arrowhead twice and left without a voice on both occasions. Chiefs fans don’t sit down. The bright red seats are merely noisemakers, and if you’re not screaming your face off you’re the enemy.
I’ve never been inside Kauffman Stadium, not yet at least. The media stuff was handed out at a ticket window.
FanFest is the first event on MLB’s All-Star schedule. It’s being held over the next four days at the Kansas City Convention Center, a long, modern-looking building adjacent to the Power & Light District — a kind of planned nightlife and entertainment center, the likes of which can be found in most medium-sized towns. A blues band was rocking close by, but the 106-degree heat drove most of today’s attendees indoors.
I love irrational fandom. You should have a favorite team and you should buy a jersey of your favorite player and you should sit in seats that you can’t really afford and you should get overly optimistic during five-game winning streaks. Because in the grand scheme of things, a professional sport is a pretty silly concept. We should all be out saving the planet.
If this is what we’re doing instead, then dammit let’s do it with passion.
FanFest is a celebration of that irrationality. Adults wait in line in jersey shirts to meet retired players and kids slide onto pads while videos of famous stolen bases play on giant screens. You can test your fastball at radar-ready pitching stations or work on your swing in batting cages.
On a turf field in the middle of the warehouse-like space, former Royals first baseman Mike Sweeney taught a clinic on plate approach to a group of preteens. A kid in a royal blue Mike Moustakas tee listened intently.
Jack Morris and Jeff Nelson took questions from fans on an MLB.TV broadcast near the back of the Fest. There were sponsored booths from Rawlings, Phiten, Taco Bell and various baseball memorabilia companies. Dave Winfield was inside a fabricated clubhouse by the exit, talking about his upbringing in Minnesota and recalling some memories from his playing days. All-Star Game-themed artwork was on display. There was a stand for ice cream sundaes. The ice cream bowls were plastic Royals helmets.
Tomorrow is the Futures Game and the Legends & Celebrity Softball Game. I’ll get my first feel for Kauffman Stadium and work for the first time from a big-league press box. Tonight, it’s more Boulevard and barbecue.