All-Star Game will be big deal for Kansas City
KANSAS CITY -- I was standing on the corner of 10th Street and Main. Not quite the corner of 12th Street and Vine -- famously referenced in the Leiber and Stoller-penned tune "Kansas City" -- but, well, close enough.Across the street sat the yellow cab, empty but for the driver. I flagged him down, and he pulled up. Abbas was his name. He hails from Africa, and he's lived here for the last 16 years. "Thank you," Abbas said. "I've been driving around [looking for a customer]. There's nobody around."
This was Thursday afternoon, 4 p.m. or so. And Abbas was right. Downtown was dead. The Power and Light District looked unplugged. The only action in Allis Plaza, right outside the Convention Center where FanFest will be held, was in the fountains, where the blue water (and I mean that very literally ... this water is Royal blue) flowed as a backdrop to the "2012 All-Star Game" signs. Abbas, though, knows something about the calm before the storm, the preparation before the performance. In his spare time, he's in a two-piece African/Jamaican fusion band (he plays keyboards; his buddy sings) with no name. (Really, they have no name. His buddy wants to call it the Abbas Band, but Abbas prefers the Unknown Band. They can't agree, so they have no name.) He's set up his keyboard in empty spaces that eventually filled with hundreds of people (and from what Abbas tells me, the women love Abbas). That's what it was like in Kansas City on this day. The downtown hotels, the airport, the taxis were all eerily quiet and all eagerly expectant of the upcoming All-Star festivities. "It's going to be big," Abbas promised. "Believe me." You know what? I believe him. I'm a sucker for the All-Star Game. I love its pomp and pageantry. I love seeing all the game's biggest names interact with each other in the same clubhouse. I really love that MLB has never stooped to having its All-Stars wear anything other than their regular team uniforms in the game itself. Sure, I'm not a fan of the game counting for home-field advantage in the World Series. But then again, that system is no more or less fair than the alternate-years arrangement that preceded it. So, whatever. The point is, the Midsummer Classic is supposed to be fun. And it's all the more fun when the host city truly gets behind it. Kansas City, moreso than the major markets, is going to get behind this event in a big way and for a wide variety of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it will attract people to an area they'd otherwise fly right over. This, I can assure you, is a truly wonderful city, from the River Market section to the north (hit up Cascone's Grill for a greasy breakfast ... and then come back for some pasta at lunch), to the aforementioned Power and Light District in the center, to the Country Club Plaza area in the south, with many a BBQ joint and a flood of fountains (reportedly, only Rome has more ... fountains, I mean, not BBQ joints) around and in-between. The ballpark's a little bit of a hike, but well worth it. It was an underappreciated gem before its recent $250 million renovation, and now it's up there with the best of the bunch. The scoreboard is a huge, high-def hit. My only complaint about KC? The airport. It's north of, well, everywhere, and it can be hard to find a flight to, well, anywhere. You know all those houses out by the Kansas City airport? Those aren't native Missourians; those are people who couldn't find a flight home. That is but one minor grumble about an otherwise special place. And as excited as I am to see Kansas City play host to the Midsummer Classic, I know that excitement pales in comparison to what born-and-bred Royals fans are feeling right about now. This, after all, is the Royals' shot at significance, and, as you know, it's been a long wait to get to this point. The Royals have had just one winning season in the last 17. It came in 2003, when they finished four games over .500, good enough for third place in the American League Central. They were so inspired by this upswing that they went out the next season and lost 104 games. Yeah, it's been rough here. Twenty-two years ago, the Royals, believe it or not, had the highest payroll in the game. Five years before that, they were World Series champs. Today, an entire generation of baseball fans neither know nor understand a world in which the Royals are relevant. That tide is turning, or so we assume. The Royals' farm system is one of the most heralded in the game. The Major League club is one of the game's youngest, but, when healthy, it's loaded in the lineup. Ask any veteran player who's seen Eric Hosmer in action, and they'll talk about him like he's the second coming. Of course, this hasn't amounted to much in the present. The Royals went winless in their first, 10-game homestand this year and lost a straight dirty dozen altogether. Maybe they can still hang around in what has been a weak AL Central Division, but injuries and ineffectiveness have made this entire year an uphill battle. They will be represented solely by Billy Butler on Tuesday, so this All-Star Game will not serve as the national coming-out party this club had hoped it would be.
So here in KC, they appreciate the present that the All-Star Game provides, because, frankly, they're tired of dwelling on the past and tired of waiting for the future.
"This All-Star Game has re-ignited baseball excitement in the Kansas City metropolitan area," said Mike Swanson, the club's vice president of communications. "The anticipation of all of the activities has invigorated this community, and after the game, it will be on us to maintain that level of excitement with the young players we have making their way through the system to the big leagues."
On Thursday, they were still waiting for that excitement to give way to action. But the cabbies, the bartenders, the stadium workers, the hotel staffers and the baseball fans here all know they won't have to wait much longer.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.