Monday, April 2, 2007

My "Field of Dreams"

Being as it's Opening Day and all, I think it's appropriate to honor the first Big League stadium I ever set foot in, Kansas City's Municipal Stadium.  It was hardly the prettiest ballpark in the world, and not as fondly remembered as legends like Sportsman's Park, Ebbets Field or even old Comiskey Park in Chicago, but it was very cool in my young eyes.  I was five years old when my folks took me to my first Royals game at this oversized Erector Set, and I fell in love with the place immediately.  If ol' Doc Brown ever does perfect that Flux Capacitor thing, the first place I'm going to time-travel back to is Municipal Stadium.  Ebbets Field might be my second stop...

Municipal began life as a Depression-era park called Muehlebach Field, and was home to several Minor League teams, as well as the legendary K.C. Monarchs of the Negro Leagues.  It was a single-deck structure for over 30 years until the Philadelphia A's moved to Kansas City in 1955, necessitating the addition of the upper deck, which was built in an astounding nine months over the Fall and Winter of '54-'55.  The A's called Municipal home for 13 miserable seasons before bolting to Oakland in 1968, and the expansion Royals played four seasons there before moving to their current palace at the Truman Sports Complex.

The main scoreboard was unique in a couple ways.  First off, it was transplanted to K.C. from Boston's old Braves Field after the Braves moved to Milwaukee, and it listed the strikes ahead of the balls, for some reason.  The houses across Brooklyn Avenue to the right of the scoreboard were often targets of home run balls too.  I would love to have seen one of those Home Run Derbys held there and all the broken windows it would have yielded.  I always loved those "toothbrush-style" light towers too.

The stadium was also home to the Chiefs during their original glory years from '63 to '71, although I never got to see a Chiefs game there in person.  The Beatles also played there in September, 1964 when I was all of three months old.

One of my most vivid memories of Municipal Stadium was the parking (or lack thereof).  There were only a handful of "official" parking lots surrounding the park, so there were numerous enterprising homeowners in the area who would charge a buck and allow you to park in their front yard, which is what we often did.  Unlike in that same neighborhood today, you didn't have to worry about the condition of your vehicle when you returned to it back then, as the people would actually keep an eye on your car during the game.

Some other things I recall about the old stadium include the narrow concrete ramps that led to the upper deck seating area that were suspended over the lower level seating bowl.  Wrigley Field and Detroit's Tiger Stadium have/had similar set-ups, too, and you kinda felt like you were "walking the plank", even though the ramps were lined with chain-link fences on either side.  I also remember the intricate checkerboard patterns that groundskeeper George Toma would put in the grassthey don't call this guy the "Marquis de Sod" for nothing!  And I remember the P.A. announcer, the late Jack Layton, and his distinctive booming baritone voice every time he'd announce "A-mos O-tis" or "Loooouuu Piniella" coming to bat.  Another cool feature of Municipal Stadium was at the end of each game, they allowed fans to walk on the warning track down the third base line toward an open gate in the left field wall to exit the park.

Unfortunately, Municipal Stadium had a short shelf life in the Major Leagues, and it closed after the '72 season when the team moved to Royals (now Kauffman) Stadium.  Municipal sat vacant for four years before being demolished in 1976.  In a rare moment of larceny, my old man and I snuck into the park one Saturday morning in the Spring of '76 just after demolition began and extricated three grandstand seats from the third base side and brought them home.  Unfortunately, for reasons unknown to me to this day, Mom wouldn't allow them in the house, so they sat outside under a tree in the back yard for 30 years and rotted. I'm kicking myself now for not preserving them.

As much as I love Kauffman and Arrowhead Stadiums (two of the coolest man-made things on earth this side of the Gateway Arch, Mount Rushmore and the Golden Gate Bridge), I would give my left nut for just one more visit to the ol' ballpark at 22nd & Brooklyn—it was my personal "Field of Dreams".

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