Archive for Wednesday, July 2, 2003

Chinstraps and Mouthpieces: Negro League tribute puts incing on Royal weekend

July 2, 2003

After the Cardinals and Royals played part two of the I-70 series last weekend in Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City can stick its chest out with pride and once again proclaim itself as a baseball town.

Nope, the Royals didn't win the series. Instead, the Cardinals offered up clinics on proper offensive production Saturday and Sunday at the K. All those St. Louis fans boasted two big wins after Kansas City claimed Game 1 Friday with a 6-3 win. The Cards actually needed those games to even the season series at three games apiece.

But the brunt of Kansas City's pride didn't come solely from getting a few verbal jabs in on the visiting St. Louis fans Friday.

What took place before Sunday's rubber match-up proved to be the true indicator.

I arrived at the stadium about an hour before the first pitch in hopes of snagging that game day's promotional item -- a Kansas City Monarchs replica hat.

Surely arriving an hour beforehand would guarantee me being one of the first 22,000 fans at the stadium.

Absolutely not.

A friend and I were seconds shy from grabbing the final two hats from the ball cap distributor. She announced both available gates were fresh out of hats.

Did I mention we arrived at the stadium an hour early? Promotions always bring out the fans, but excitement for a division contender this year -- and having the despised Cardinals in town -- never hurt attendance. Nearly 38,300 fans came to Kauffman that day.

But then came the pre-game ceremony, the true reminder of what a baseball gem Kansas City actually is.

Fans stood as former KC Monarchs players were introduced near home plate. The lineup included 100-year-old Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe and 91-year old Buck O'Neil, an obvious crowd favorite.

The two then combined their efforts for the ceremonial first pitch -- the energetic O'Neil crouched near home plate and Radcliffe, in a wheelchair, positioned near the pitcher's mound.

Moments later, the breath escaped my mouth into the humid air. With a little help, Radcliffe ascended from his wheelchair and stood upright.

After entertaining the crowd with some arm stretches, Radcliffe had his sights set on O'Neil's glove. After a few hops and a roll, the ball made its way to a jubilant O'Neil, arms flopping with excitement in the air as the vibrant former Monarch greeted his teammate near the mound.

Baseball is alive and well when O'Neil is near, and when the Royals are in a pennant chase, a fan is in a prime location in Kansas City.

Although Royals fans weren't treated to victories during the weekend, Friday's series opener indicated why Kansas Citians need not use lazy summer days to dream about Chiefs football this year.

In front of almost 40,200 KC and St. Louis fans, the Royals grabbed an early 1-0 lead.

The Cardinals answered a bit later with two runs.

Kansas City eventually tied the game at 2-2.

Then came a game-saving leaping catch from right fielder Aaron Guiel, robbing Bo Hart of extra bases in the fifth and preventing a probable big St. Louis inning. The K was beaming with energy it once enjoyed in the 1970s, the '80s, and for a short time, in the '90s.

In the seventh inning, some timely St. Louis errors helped the Royals move into the lead for good, sending the decibel level at the K to a level it truly deserves.

Since opening day back in April, the once-proud Royals franchise has worked on its old swagger.

Yep, the Royals are a bit fortunate to be pennant racing in the somewhat slow American League Central.

Kansas City doesn't have Seattle or Oakland to deal with regularly in the west, or heavy-hitting New York, Boston and Toronto in the east.

Realizing his team was on the brink of defeat Friday, a Cardinals fan fired back at a happy Royals supporter.

"When you get past the Yankees, we'll talk," the rowdy redbird chirped.

By the time October rolls around, the youthful Royals might just be ready to chat.

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