Outfield Experience is a big hit
New Kauffman Stadium provides attractions for parents, kids
KANSAS CITY -- A beer vendor lifts his cooler off the ground and bellows out his sales pitch as he slowly wades through a crowd of fans standing above the right-field wall on a chilly April night at Kauffman Stadium.
A few feet away, Michael Duvall and Joe Onofrio peer down at the scene from their right-field seats. The Royals are playing the Indians, music is playing, fans in powder blue Royals jersey are talking baseball, and a cool mist from the bubbling outfield fountains fills the air.
Duvall begins to speak. He and Onofrio are recent college graduates. They were raised on Royals baseball, and they bought nine-game season ticket plans this year for the first time. Their season tickets are above the first-base dugout along the right-field side, but they'd rather be out here in the outfield.
This is where the party is.
The Royals have only played six games in their newly renovated Kauffman Stadium. But already, fans have turned the new Outfield Experience into a living, breathing baseball carnival. The Outfield Experience -- a major part of the $250 million renovation project -- is a make-shift Kauffman Stadium Main Street, extending 180 degrees behind the outfield wall and complete with restaurants, ice cream vendors, a carousel and baseball clowns on stilts. The fans, especially the one's leaning against the ledge on the new Pepsi Party Porch, can't stop raving about it.
"It just really caters to young people," said Duvall, whose seat was about 20 rows above the Party Porch, Kauffman's new two-tiered, standing-room-only section in right field. "It's a very different view. I've never really watched a game from the outfield before, but I'm digging it."
And even on a night like this, a chilly Tuesday night in April, the Pepsi Party Porch is packed.
From Duvall and Onofrio's seats in right field, they can see almost everything.
They can see fans wandering into the Party Porch and trying to find an opening on the ledge. Behind them, people mill around the statues of former Royals' greats George Brett, Frank White and Dick Howser. A hundred feet away, or so, fans file into the new Rivals Sports Bar. In left field, the new Dri-Duck Fountain Seats are mostly filled, and bartenders scurry around taking orders at the new fountain bar.
"I came on Opening Day, it was unbelievable," said Onofrio, who grew up in Paola, Kan. "It makes it look like a real stadium, it enhances everything. It's so cool just being out in the outfield, being able to watch the game. I feel like we got a chance to get an All-Star Game, and get more and more people here."
From his seat, Onofrio pauses and glances down at the Pepsi Party Porch.
"I like the fact that everything out here is packed, you can tell people love it," Onofrio said. "People love sitting out here."
The view is the first thing people want to talk about.
The outfield at Kauffman Stadium used to be forbidden territory. With the lush grass hills beyond the outfield walls and the massive Water Spectacular, the outfield had seemed like a country club with "Private Property: Keep Out" signs. Home runs that ended up out here seemed to disappear into a mysterious outfield abyss.
Not anymore. Now you can watch the game from any angle -- right field, center field, left field, you pick. Ralph Sauceda, a native of Kansas City, called it newfound freedom -- or would that be new fan freedom?
"I would give it an A," Sauceda said. "They have done an excellent job. Now you just don't have to sit in your chair. You can move around."
Sauceda is standing in the first level of the Party Porch. From here, you can see Royals outfielder Coco Crisp dig into the batter's box from 387 feet away. You can watch as Crisp swings and connects on a fastball. You can watch as the the ball rises into the air, a white projectile coming straight toward the Party Porch. The ball lands a few feet short, one-hops against wall, and the people of the porch erupt as Crisp digs into third for a triple.
"People like to go to sports bars and just watch the game, " Sauceda said. "Well, it's like the same thing. It's like going to a sports bar, but it's live baseball. Every time we come out, we're going to hang out here."
That's what the Royals had in mind when they designed the Outfield Experience.
Old Yankee Stadium had the bleacher bums in center field who chanted Derek Jeter's name, Wrigley Field has the sunbathers who hang out on Waveland Avenue and Fenway Park has the members of Red Sox Nation who sit perched atop the Green Monster.
Now Kauffman Stadium has its own destination outfield options. You can sit in the Dri-Duck Fountain Seats in left (caution: you may get wet), you can mill about the Party Porch and enjoy a cool beverage in right, or you can venture up to the Rivals Sports Bar and its upstairs party deck.
And the Royals are hoping that these new attractions will attract people like Dave Reichert.
Reichert, who stood along the first level of the Party Porch, said he used to come to games all the time in 1980s. Then sometime earlier this decade he stopped. But here he was, hanging out on Party Porch, his first time back at Kauffman Stadium in five or six years.
"I looked out and it looked like a brand new stadium to me," Reichert said. "The outfield was so much different. And it doesn't look like something that has just been added. It looks like something that has been here for awhile."
Reichert and his friend, Kirby Boeschling, said they'd probably be returning to another Royals game soon.
"There's all this stuff out here to experience, and you can just walk all the way around," Boeschling said.
Perhaps the key word is "Experience."
There's a lot for the little ones to experience too.
Families can experience the new attractions in left field. Kids can take a crack at a home run at the new "Little K," they can take a ride on the new carousel, and they can test their pitch speed and baserunning skills in the new interactive baseball area. And, there's miniature golf and a playground too.
So as the Party Porch sways along to the music, parents hand over tokens to their kids so they can ride the carousel or try the other new attractions. A few feet away from the carousel, the Royals' mascot, Sluggerrr, holds court and poses for pictures.
There's also a baseball game to watch, of course. And back in right field, Duvall and Onofrio lean back in their seats. The Royals are batting, and catcher John Buck ropes a double to left field. The Party Porch is buzzing again.
A few feet away, the lights on the fountains turn on. The Water Spectacular gushes upwards into the night. The fountains are the same, but everything around them has changed. There's an overall feeling of change around here, and Duvall and Onofrio can sense it.
"I've been to a lot Major League stadiums," Duvall said. "And this feels like the real deal now."
Rustin Dodd is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.