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Up To Date

A Fan's Notes: The Stars Align In Kansas City

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The All-Star Game is known as the Midsummer Classic. But for all the attention it's bringing to their team's hometown, many Royals fans won't be distracted from their dreams of a World Series--and a Fall Classic in Kansas City. Victor Wishna explains, in this All-Star edition of "A Fan's Notes."

And so, by the grace of the Major League powers that be, baseball’s elite have come to Kansas City, along with thousands of other visitors and their millions of economic impact dollars. The Chamber of Commerce and the Convention and Visitor’s Association are rightly excited, and proud. Besides blimp’s-eye views of Kauffman Stadium, tonight’s broadcast will be chock full of stock shots of the skyline, the Plaza, the fountains, the barbecue. And Kansas City, meanwhile, gets to watch the All-Stars up close. For baseball fans, this is fantastic.

But if you’re a Royals fan first, it’s a bit more complicated.

Make no mistake—baseball is here because they dig our digs. Two-hundred-and-fifty million dollars’ worth of renovations will get you some attention, deservedly so. But Major League Baseball is like that guy who asks if he can throw a party at your place and then doesn’t let you invite any of your friends. For the ninth year in a row, the Royals have the minimum number of All-Stars allowed: one. No disrespect to DH Billy Butler. When he gets his at-bat, in let’s say the fifth or maybe seventh inning, it will be a beautiful moment. But, otherwise, what are we supposed to do? Go to Kauffman Stadium, home of our Kansas City Royals, and root for Derek Jeter?

Yes, this is a celebration of Kansas City and Kansas City’s own special baseball tradition, from the origins of the Negro Leagues through to the glory days and triumph of 1985. But tradition is history, and, if the Royals’ marketing department is to be believed, this was supposed to be “Our Time.”
 

Of course, we sports fans also love to draw inspiration from history; it’s why records are kept and stats are compared. Eternal hope is the heart of sports tradition, always believing “it could still happen!” Or, even better: “It could happen again!”

The last time the All-Star Game came to town, in 1973, it also had been lured here by the promise of posh accommodations: the pre-K, Royals Stadium was shiny and new then—in a 1970s, twinkling-light-bulb-and neon-green-Astroturf kind of way. The team was new, too, and the local talk was all about prospects: that year, the rookie Frank White made his debut and a hard-hitting third baseman named George Brett would be called up for his first handful of games. The All-Stars came and left, but within a few years, the national networks would be back, and return year after year as the Royals took the division and then the league and ultimately the World Series.
 

The truth is, these 2012 Royals have more to show off than just their tricked-out stadium with its 12-story, HD scoreboard. Butler is a legit All-Star, an actual slugger on pace for 30-plus home runs and more than 100 RBI this season, and the first Royal All-Star chosen for his bat in nearly a decade. Infielders Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar, along with Eric Hosmer and Alex Gordon, are drawing comparisons to that promising Royal talent of the ’70s.

And this past Sunday, at the All-Star Futures Game—the All-Star game that matters for the future—Royals prospects accounted for three roster spots, more than from any other franchise.

So maybe it’s not cynicism but optimism that says: Hey! This All-Star Game in K.C. is great, but we’re waiting for that day—and may we see it soon, in our time—when the national spotlight again shines on the K: It won’t be just an exhibition. The entire Royals team will take the field. And all the stars will be watching Kansas City.
 

After growing up on the east coast and spending his first professional years in classical music, Stephen moved to Kansas City in 1995 expecting to leave after a few years. (Clearly that didn't happen.) More than two decades and three kids later, he doesn't regret his decision to stick around. Stephen began his career in public radio as a classical music host. As the founding producer of Up to Date with Steve Kraske, he received a number of local and national awards for his work on the program. Since 2014 he's overseen KCUR's broadcast operations. When Stephen isn't at KCUR's studios, he's probably adding more stamps to his passport with his KU professor wife and their three kids. His son almost made him cry during a drive through the Rockies when he said at age 8: "Dad, can we listen to public radio?" Sniff sniff.
Victor Wishna is a contributing author and commentator for Up to Date.