Archive for Wednesday, April 7, 2004

Chinstraps and Mouthpieces

Beltran saves opening day for team, fans

April 7, 2004

Blue skies, ideal temperatures and the smell of hot dogs and pretzels.

Ah yes, opening day at Kauffman Stadium was upon us.

Checking the Weather Channel one last time Monday morning, I saw great news. The meteorologist gave forecasts from various opening day locations.

Pittsburgh fans needed to bring heavy coats; Kansas City fans could have packed sunscreen.

The weather was perfect, but everything else about the day seemed downright crummy.

As always seems to be the case at Royals' games, parking attendants direct you through this amazing maze, weaving your vehicle right up to the stadium where you endure frequent stops. Then you're directed to some parking space -- or grassy hill -- that almost is as distant as the entrance you came through.

The parking department at the stadium likely has a logical system in place, but this was my first opening day and I was a bit impatient.

What could I expect, really? This was the Royals' largest opening-day crowd at more than 41,000. That was well worth the long lines of cars and later long lines of fans.

And yes, my friends and I did receive ThunderStix and schedule magnets at the entrance, but the fan experience inside was subpar.

After locating our seats, we discovered the Bad News Beers were a row behind us.

They were loud and cracked jokes and comments that for some reason were even funnier to them after being repeated for a fourth or fifth time.

Then to my right we had lovebirds who didn't seem to have a handle on the game. Instead, their eyes were glued on each other for most of the game.

Midway through the game with Kansas City trailing 5-1, I led my group to ground level from our seats in the upper deck. We'd had it with our suspect neighbors and I thought anything was better than that.

We made our way to the general admission section for a possible standing room view. But the strategy backfired as we ran into even more inebriated fans.

Back up the circular ramp we traveled, back to our seats for a game that wasn't shaping up to be one of the Royals' better contests.

During that time we chomped on hot dogs, a must at a baseball game, but the euphoria of the traditional baseball cuisine just appeased us for a short time. We returned to our seats.

We settled in and endured more of our neighbors' vulgarity.

And then came the kicker: The morons above us spilled beer on my two friends -- twice.

Kansas City was trailing 7-3 and we were just holding out until the game would end.

Trailing by the same score heading into the bottom of the ninth, dark clouds bombarded that perfect sky as the temperature dropped.

This summed up the day perfectly, I thought to myself.

But I forgot that these were the Royals, that Tony Pena was their manager and he still believed.

Two walks and a double later and the score was 7-4.

A nice last-inning effort, but Kansas City still trailed.

Then came pinch-hitter Mendy Lopez, who had five home runs in 384 at-bats before making an appearance on opening day.

Never mind his hitting history. Lopez smacked the ball over the left-field wall and suddenly the afternoon was salvaged.

I finally tuned out the Barley and Hops Brigade above us and, after high-fiving my friends, I slapped hands with Romeo and Juliet.

Moments later, the exhilaration hit its peak. With a man on, Carlos Beltran crushed a ball to center field. The pandemonium was unbelievable. The Royals' 6-run inning made the game one of the strangest I'd ever witnessed.

And to top it off, Kansas City managed 12 hits, which translates into a free dozen doughnuts from Krispy Kreme with a game-day ticket.

Finally, opening day became what it's always hyped to be: hot dogs, home runs and even doughnuts.

I just hope I can keep my ticket stub when I claim my winning pastries.

I've got to have a record of this one for years to come.

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