Archive for Wednesday, April 27, 2005

A royal day at the K

Chieftains’ first experience at Kauffman Stadium ‘fantastic’

April 27, 2005

Alberto Castillo's walk-off homer against Cleveland electrified the Kansas City crowd April 19 at Kauffman Stadium.

But Tonganoxie High baseball players attending the game didn't see the shot that sailed over the left-field wall.

No, the Chieftains were confined to a hallway under Kauffman Stadium, waiting for their chance to step into the same batter's box that Castillo ignited the Royals crowd from on a sunny spring day.

Once the Royals and Indians exited the field, though, it was time for Tonganoxie and Basehor-Linwood baseball players to take center stage in the Frank White Classic High School Baseball Game.

On the massive stadium scoreboard beyond the center field wall, the dream of playing at a major-league ballpark became a reality.

Names like "Volk," "Wentz-Hall," "Herrstrom" and "Rodell" appeared on the scoreboard.

"Chieftain" and "Bobcats" also was displayed on the scoreboard, noting the two teams ready to play each other.

Normally, Tonganoxie is known as the Chieftains, but the name couldn't fit in the allotted spaces on the scoreboard. And, of course, Tonganoxie, too, was far to long for the limited space.

Although the venue was nothing like Tonganoxie's home field at the Leavenworth County Fairgrounds or Basehor's Field of Dreams, Kauffman Stadium had some local flavor to it.

THS cross country and track coach Phil Williams announced the game, while assistant principal Brent Smith manned the sound system for music in between innings.

In the stands, Tonganoxie red and Basehor-Linwood green filled seats behind the dugouts and home plate.

Ground crews worked the infield as the two high school teams warmed up in the outfield. Photographers later snapped team photos, and before the game, coaches and players lined up along the first- and third-base lines for introductions.

The scene resembled opening day or the start of the World Series.

Moments later, finally, after all the fanfare, the teams took to the field.

Playing at Kauffman Stadium is old hat for the Bobcats.

Last week's game marked the third consecutive year Basehor-Linwood has played at the "K."

The game was more historic for the Chieftains. Before last week, a Tonganoxie team never had played at Kauffman Stadium.

Playing in a major-league stadium can prove to be quite an adjustment. A couple Chieftains became acquainted with the field earlier in the day.

Tonganoxie pitcher John Volk and catcher Phil George formed the battery for the ceremonial first pitch before the Kansas City-Cleveland game. The duo sold the most tickets to the game as part of a fund-raiser for the two high school teams. Basehor-Linwood players followed shortly after.

"I think John was more nervous than I was for the first pitch," George said.

And rightfully so. Volk had to throw the ball, while George was behind the plate.

The pitch was a shot in the dark so to speak for Volk.

"I just closed my eyes and threw it," Volk said.

As the game approached, butterflies formed in players' stomachs.

Playing at such a venue can make a player nervous -- particularly a high school player.

But many THS players noted that once the game started, they relaxed a bit.

"After we got going, I think everybody got loosened up," George said.

Tonganoxie seemed right at home in the top of the first. Daniel Volk led off with a single and advanced to third on a Kirk Rodell hit. Rodell later stole second base as Tonganoxie had men on at second and third with just one out.

John Volk, however, hit an infield grounder as Daniel Volk made his way toward home. Daniel eventually was tagged out in a run-down and the scoring opportunity was lost.

Basehor-Linwood jumped out to a 1-0 lead after the first inning, but pitcher John Volk held Basehor-Linwood in check until the fourth inning.

Tonganoxie committed two throwing errors, helping Basehor-Linwood score three runs. The Bobcats tallied two more runs in the fifth.

Tonganoxie scored a run in the top of the sixth, but couldn't tack on anymore runs as Basehor-Linwood won, 6-1. The Bobcats improved to 3-0 at Kauffman Stadium.

"We've got to put the ball in play," THS coach Andy Gilner said. "That's still our biggest problem."

Senior Clay Lamb was frustrated with the loss, but he was thankful he had the opportunity to play at a major-league stadium.

"It's the last time I'll ever get to do it," Lamb said.

Lamb, however, certainly could grow accustomed to playing at Kauffman Stadium.

"It's in really good shape," Lamb said.

By the same token, there's a lot more real estate in the outfield.

Although no one hit a home run over the fence, Lamb had to chase down a big hit that shot over his head in right field.

"You don't want to let the ball get past you," Lamb said. "It's big back there."

Rodell, who plays next to Lamb in center field, said having all those blue seats behind home plate made it tougher to see balls come his way.

"It was harder to watch the ball off the bat," Rodell said.

But Rodell, who plans to play collegiate baseball, wouldn't mind returning to the stadium in a major-league uniform.

"When you get to play on a field like that, you get a feeling that you want to keep playing," Rodell said.

In the process of playing in a big league ballpark, the players met some major-league players.

Several THS players proudly displayed autographs of Royals' players.

Ryan Stockman had Mike Sweeney sign his Tonganoxie baseball hat, while other players had baseballs signed.

Pitcher Jose Lima was the most eager to sign autographs.

At one point during the day, fellow pitcher Jeremy Affeldt, who is on the disabled list, spoke to the players.

"Jeremy Affeldt talked to us a little bit, which was cool," George said. "He seemed down-to-earth."

In addition to signatures, Wentz-Hall grabbed another souvenir or two.

"I took some dirt and grass from the field actually," Wentz-Hall said.

The loss put a damper on a monumental day for the Chieftain baseball team, but it was a day none of the players likely will forget anytime soon.

Gilner hopes this won't be the last time Chieftain players will be able to experience such an opportunity.

"It's fantastic," Gilner said. "Hopefully it's not a once in a lifetime chance for all of them. Hopefully they can do it again."

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