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What Opening Day Feels Like When You Work At Kauffman Stadium But Aren't A Player

Luke X. Martin
KCUR 89.3
Nicole Averso's job as director of event presentation is a year-round one. "Even though there's a whole lot of stress, there is a whole lot of fun that goes with it too."

Despite rain showers that delayed the start of the game by two hours, thousands of baseball fans turned out at Kauffman Stadium for Opening Day of the Kansas City Royals' 2019 season.

It was the first opportunity for fans to see this year's team in action, but Royals staff have been preparing for months.

"As soon as one season ends," says Nicole Averso, "we're getting ready for the next."

Averso is director of event presentation at the K, which puts her in charge of just about everything a fan sees during a game.

"(In) October, November we are hiring game crew or production staff, we're hiring K Crew, our full-time intern, we're getting all of their uniforms prepared. We're brainstorming as a whole department, sitting down, coming up with all the end-game features," she says. "All of that takes months to plan, and months to link up with sponsors and marketing and have the season prepared by the time we get here in March."

Opening Day is their first chance to see the result of all that hard work.

"I always try to take a moment to myself and just remind myself that there's not a lot of people that get to do what I do," Averso says. "I love Opening Day."

Credit Luke X. Martin / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Vincent Key says his work with youth who have suffered sports-related injuries has changed his perspective on the game. 'I've been sitting out at the ballpark where a kid's throwing 110 pitches in a game and he's shaking his elbow. It breaks my heart actually.'

Vincent Key is the Royals' head physician, but his job as an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Kansas Hosptial is his primary one.

"I tell (the players) all the time, 'You guys are my side gig,'" he says. "My real gig is, you know, the 14-year-old kid that comes in with shoulder or elbow issues, or the 60-year-old person that needs a knee replacement."

Even when they're not on the field, major-leaguers can be injured year-round and there's always preventive work to be done.

"I do quite a few Tommy John surgeries," Key says. "Actually did one yesterday. There are other issues that crop up. Guys have hernia problems, guys have different medical issues ... and we have a whole legion of physicians at the University of Kansas Health System to provide care for the athletes."

Credit Luke X. Martin / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Dan Nash has sold food and drinks at Kauffman Stadium for 40 years, and has seen the team's fortunes wax and wane. 'There were a few bad years, but when it's baseball it's always good.'

If you've been to a ball game at Kauffman in the last 40 years, Dan Nash might've sold you a bag of peanuts or two.

"You'll see me (on) the whole first base side, lower level, probably about 90 percent of the time, sometimes on the third base side, and almost always selling peanuts," he says.

Nash, who can accurately fling a bag of legumes to a customer from two sections away, says the secret to a successful pitch-and-catch is adjusting the natural shape of the bag.

"Just kind of a crunch it up like a baseball, so it's not long," he says. "You gotta be careful when it's windy."

In the off-season, Nash works at a law firm — "not as a lawyer," he says — and he sells concessions at Chiefs games. His approach to preparing for Opening Day is a little more laissez faire.

"I should have a training regimen, but I don't," he says. "Every once in a while, like during the summer, you might get cramps. I've never twisted my ankle or anything like that, which is probably lucky in all these years."

Nicole Averso, Dr. Vincent Key and Dan Nash spoke with Brian Ellison on KCUR's Opening Day episode of Up To Date. Listen to the entire conversation here.

Luke X. Martin is associate producer of KCUR's Up To Date. Contact him at luke@kcur.org or on Twitter, @lukexmartin.

As culture editor, I oversee KCUR’s coverage of race, culture, the arts, food and sports. I work with reporters to make sure our stories reflect the fullest view of the place we call home, so listeners and readers feel primed to explore the places, projects and people who make up a vibrant Kansas City. Email me at luke@kcur.org.