By In Stuff

Kansas City

Enjoy it while it lasts: Kauffman Stadium probably won’t host another All-Star Game. (US Presswire)

I used to love listening to Skip Prosser talk about Pittsburgh. Skip was a very successful college basketball coach at Xavier and Wake Forest — he died when he was still the coach at Wake Forest five years ago this month. More than coaching, though, Skip was a great guy, and sometimes he would just talk about his hometown of Pittsburgh, and it was so great to hear. I remember he used to say all the time, “Coming through the Fort Pitt Tunnel into downtown is the most beautiful thing in the world.”

Then I would try to kid him. I’d ask him about Paris at night, Maui with the waves crashing in, the Grand Canyon at sunset, Darling Harbor in Sydney, the seventh hole at Pebble Beach or just a spot of beach looking out over the Mediterranean. He’d never even crack a smile.

“Coming through the Fort Pitt Tunnel into downtown,” he’d say again, “is the most beautiful thing in the world.”
That view coming out of the Fort Pitt Tunnel is a beautiful thing, by the way, but the larger point is how cool it is to listen to someone who has fallen in love with a city. Let’s face it, you can mock any place. You can gripe about any place. You can complain about the traffic or lack thereof, about the prices or the fact that no place is open, about the heat or the humidity or the lack of variety, about the signs of wear or the missing character, about the noise or the boredom, the crime or the tumbleweeds, the crowds or the emptiness.

That kind of talk can be entertaining for a while, sure, but you know what I like even more? I like hearing Boston people talk about Boston, New York people talk about New York, Chicago people talk about Chicago, San Francisco people talk about San Francisco. I have a friend from Houston who insists that the best Chinese restaurant in the entire world — not America, understand, but the world — is in a Houston strip mall. I have another who will talk about how much better the cherries and peaches and grapes are in California than any place else on earth. I was given a tour of Louisville by someone who loves Louisville, and I came away starstruck. I have friends who talk about New Orleans and Seattle and Washington and Austin and Cincinnati and a dozen other places, and after I hear them talk I want to move there. Of course, I love talking with Cleveland people about Cleveland. That’s where I grew up. I always feel a certain joy there that I don’t feel anywhere else in the world.

This is not to say that those people are blind to the problems of their hometowns. They understand those problems better than anyone and talk about them more than anyone. But the problems are easy. Problems are always easy. Get stuck in L.A. traffic, feel St. Louis’ heat, walk around Detroit’s downtown, try to find a good meal after 10 p.m. in Birmingham — that’s easy. The charms and wonder of a place, though — that might take a little explaining and a little bit of patience. Maybe it’s just me. But I love listening to someone who loves a place.

* * *

Kansas City is not a town you fall in love with on the first day, or even the second. The first thing you discover is probably the barbecue. It’s amazing and it’s everywhere. You walk into Gates the first time, and someone yells, “Hi may I help you?” at you, and maybe you are flustered and order the first thing you see on the menu. A short end. A long end. The sliced beef. The beautiful thing is that it doesn’t matter. It’s all amazing. You go to Arthur Bryant’s, the real one, 18th and Brooklyn, and it looks dingy, and you hear that screen door slam behind you, and you ask what burnt ends are. They plop them on your plate. They don’t look great. But it’s the most delicious thing in the world. You go to Oklahoma Joe’s, and while you may have heard it’s in a gas station you don’t realize until you arrive that it’s really in a gas station, and if you arrive at lunch hour the line backs up all the way to the gas pumps, and you try their brisket and fries, and it’s heaven too, and you understand why Kansas City always does so poorly in those “healthiest American cities” studies.

Over time, you find your way around. You park for free in the Plaza — the outdoor shopping area that is as close to the heart of Kansas City as anything else — and maybe you are there when they have lit up the place for Christmas. You go to Crown Center, the mall Hallmark built, and you take your child to the Crayola Cafe. You go to a Chiefs game and watch the giant parking lot outside the two stadiums turn into an enormous picnic. You wander to this beautiful little church borrowed often by Rainy Day Books and find that America’s best authors and most interesting people — almost all of them — come here to talk about their books and their lives. You drink a Boulevard Pale Ale, you listen to Kansas or Kansas State or Missouri football on the radio, you go to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, right next to the American Jazz Museum, and there’s something about being there that transcends the displays and the exhibits. It used to be that when you walked in here, the great Buck O’Neil was likely to greet you, give you a hug, tell you a story. You can still feel his presence there.

Kansas City’s public relations people used to brag about the city having more boulevards than Paris and more fountains than Rome, and though there are two problems with the statistic — (1) it probably isn’t true and (2) it doesn’t matter even if it is true — those boulevards and fountains become a part of your daily reality. You drive up Ward Parkway, past the majestic homes, and along the various boulevards that are divided by green islands, and you see fountains all over the place, in Overland Park, in Lenexa, in Lee’s Summit, in Independence, in the Northland, and without even noticing it, those things get inside you. They offer a one-second reprieve from the everyday and remind you where you are.

You get a burger at Winstead’s — the thinnest anywhere; as if the burger was reduced to its essence — or you stop in for a drink or a meal at Governor Stumpy’s or you go to watch some sports at Nick & Jake’s or you see George Brett at Garozzo’s or you take the family to the zoo or to the Nelson-Atkins Museum (where they can stare at the giant shuttlecocks on the greenway) or to the new Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts or just to see a quartet singing Sinatra songs downtown or a former TV star in a play at the New Theater Restaurant*, none of these are pleasures are easily explained to friends or visitors.

*Barbara Eden is coming in August!

But those things — and a million more — build the mosaic of Kansas City. This is an early rising town, I think. The traffic generally moves. The baseball voices on the radio don’t yell at you, the faces on television are friendly, the letters to the Kansas City Star tend to take different points of view rather than a flood of the same voices, again and again. The weather is generally harsh throughout the year — scalding and deadening in summer, howling in winter, with spring and autumn never lasting long enough. This is a city of neighborhoods, more than most places because a street called State Line Road cuts through it, dividing Kansas and Missouri. Most of those neighborhoods have pools. Those pools, perhaps more than anyplace, are where Kansas City people lose their summer days. That and the mall. That doesn’t make Kansas City very different from anywhere else. There are farmers markets everywhere. Fast-food service is almost always fast.

And, more often than not, all of this brings out the generosity of Kansas City people. I’ve always said, people are people, but the place you live might highlight certain traits. I’ve never thought people in New York are rude, but the rush of the town might make them so. The traffic in L.A. and Miami and other places can turn drivers hostile and cutthroat. Kansas City’s general ease, its often brutal weather, its great restaurants, its neighborhoods tend to spark friendliness. It also tends to spark hopefulness. Some of the most optimistic people I know live in Kansas City.

This, of course, includes Royals fans.

* * *

You could not blame Kansas City Royals fans for expecting the worst. What else could they expect? Unless it turns around this season — something that seems more unlikely every day — this will mark the 27th straight season that the Royals miss the playoffs. No other team in baseball has a streak that long or even particularly close to that long.* But it’s much worse than just missing the playoffs. Not counting the strike year — which is a shame because the Royals actually got hot that year — Kansas City has only finished within five games of the lead once over that time frame, and that was 25 years ago. The Royals have finished an average of 22 games back since 1986. They haven’t made the playoffs, true. But, more dizzying, they also have not been in contention.

*The Pirates have the second-longest streak — 20 seasons — but the Pirates are also in first place at the moment.

Alex Gordon is arguably baseball’s most
underrated player. (US Presswire)

And yet, I have been back in Kansas City for only a day, in preparation of the All-Star Game, and I’ve heard from a dozen people already about how hopeful they are about this Royals team. This is not to say Kansas City people lack skepticism or cynicism. There’s plenty of it here like everywhere else, and it’s not hard to find people who will say the Royals will never win, and the ownership is a scandal, and the management is a travesty and all that. But let’s face it, skepticism isn’t always fun, and cynicism doesn’t feed life, and the Royals are mostly young. Alex Gordon has developed into a sensational player*. Billy Butler can hit, Mike Moustakas had a terrific first half, Eric Hosmer is showing signs, Alcides Escobar plays a fantastic shortstop, Bruce Chen is surprisingly entertaining to watch in the same way the movie “Rudy” is.

*You could make a pretty compelling argument that Gordon is the most underrated player in baseball. Last year, Gordon had a 7.1 WAR, which makes it the best season by WAR for any Royals player since George Brett in 1985. Gordon got off to a dreadful start this season, and he’s a bit down on home runs. But he has been killing it the last month and a half. He’s a good hitter, gets on base, smashes a lot of doubles, he’s a terrific fielder and an excellent base runner. I was happy for Billy Butler when he was chosen for the All-Star team — he’s a great guy, and a line-drive machine — but Gordon is easily the best player on the Royals, and he should have been the Royals’ representative in Kansas City.

This is not to say that people here believe the Royals will win next year or the year after that. Royals fans know better than anyone what has been going on here. It’s more subtle than that. For many years, Royals fans have been forced to watch unlikable teams featuring grizzled veterans who had no place else to go. Sometimes those veterans would have pretty good years — Jay Bell did, Paul Byrd and Tim Belcher did, Rey Sanchez and Jose Offerman and Mark Grudzielanek did — in which case they would find the first train out of town. Anyway, more of them were disasters. The team never got better, and because of this and because the Royals have so much less money to spend than some others, the few impressive young players who came along, like Johnny Damon and Jermaine Dye and Zack Greinke and Carlos Beltran, would leave first chance they could. It was a concentric circle of agony.

So this team, hey, at least its young, and there are some players who could be stars, and there are a few more on the way. The hope is not that the Royals will suddenly emerge, the way the Nationals have or the Rays did a few years ago. No, this is a much more vague kind of hope — that good things might somehow happen.

See, people in Kansas City love baseball. They love all sports really — this is a great sports town. When the Chiefs were good (not great, mind you, but just good), no place in America cared more. This is a real college basketball hotbed, and college football captures the imagination when the teams show signs of life. But baseball fits the cities rhythms. Baseball goes back here to those years long before anyone thought Kansas City was major league. Lou Gehrig played his last game here, you know. Mickey Mantle almost quit baseball here. Jackie Robinson started his baseball career here. The 1939 Kansas City Blues might be the greatest minor league team ever. And the 1942 Kansas City Monarchs — with Satchel Paige and Hilton Smith and Willard Brown and the like — might be one of the greatest baseball teams ever, period.

For that decade between 1976 and 1985 when the Royals were winning, the Royals were always in the top five in attendance, the Royals talk consumed the city and, even more, the region. The Royals were Oklahoma’s team and Nebraska’s team and parts of Iowa and Arkansas, too. Of course, the Cardinals had owned the Midwest for a half century, and largely still do, but the Royals meant something. They wore blue, and they turned singles into doubles, and they broke up double plays, and they caught everything, and they didn’t need the home run to win but when they hit one the fountains in the outfield would dance. This was the spirit of Kansas City baseball, the spirit that the last 25 years has stepped on and kicked and stabbed.

But that spirit is still around. The forecasters are calling for it to be 106 degrees today, and the grass has yellowed, and the Royals are 8 1/2 back already, and the Royals still have unhelpful veterans like Jeff Francoeur and Yuni Betancourt in their everyday lineup, and Jonathan Sanchez wrecks things every fifth day while the guy he was traded for, Melky Cabrera, is hitting like .789 in San Francisco. But people still care. They still care enough to want GM Dayton Moore to be pushed out and owner David Glass to sell. They still care enough to check Wil Myers’ amazing numbers in the minors (.327/.403/.676 with 20 doubles, five triples and 27 homers in 83 games between Class AA and Class AAA), they still care enough to notice Hosmer’s coming on, and Moustakas is playing a nice third base and to check in on how the surgeries for Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino are going.

Kansas City is probably the smallest market in baseball. There are numerous ways to judge such things — population in the city, population in the metro area, population going out 100 miles, television market size, radio reach — and in all of those, Kansas City and Milwaukee scrape bottom. If Major League Baseball was starting a 30-team league right now, Kansas City almost certainly would not get a team. The Royals are here for the effort and obsessive believe of a few people who loved this town — mainly owner Ewing Kauffman and sportswriters Ernie Mehl and Joe McGuff — and stayed here because people cared, and have kept caring. It isn’t easy. There are some inside Kansas City who think the city would be better off without the Royals, and many, many more outside the city limits who think baseball would be better off without Kansas City.

But enough people still love the Royals, and every summer the Royals play, and people keep hoping for the best.

* * *

Kansas City gets the All-Star Game, and it’s likely that this will be the last time Kansas City will be in the national sports spotlight for a long time. Kansas City used to be in the spotlight with regularity. There have been 10 Final Fours here, more than any other city. The NCAA was based here. There were two World Series here, a Davis Cup semifinal, numerous NFL playoff games including the Christmas Day game that is one of the best ever played. Tom Watson stayed here, so did George Brett. They kept Kansas City in the news. Heck, they played the Pro Bowl here if you can believe that.

But times have changed. Unless something dramatic changes — and it almost certainly won’t — there won’t ever be a Super Bowl here, a U.S. Open here, another Final Four here. There’s a beautiful arena downtown that was built largely for an NBA or NHL team that almost certainly won’t ever come. Another World Series seems as distant as anything. The All-Star Game won’t come back for a long time.

So this is it: Kansas City’s time to be at the heart of the sports world. But what will people really see in just a couple of days? I hope they will enjoy what’s here. I hope they go to the Negro Leagues Museum* and appreciate the history of 18th and Vine. I suspect they will try the barbecue and have their own opinions about that. I hope they will drive around a little bit, see some of those boulevards and fountains, shop a bit at the Plaza and all those sorts of things. Baseball stars will be all over the place, and there will be many celebrations, and it will be fun.

*I will be there often, but especially on Tuesday morning. At 9 a.m. I will be talking about Buck O’Neil and signing “The Soul of Baseball” for anyone who brings a copy. And then, around 10:30 — this is really cool — I’ll be talking hitting with Tony Gwynn. Come on out.

Let’s be honest: There will be wisecracks. There are always wisecracks. People will come here and they will feel the oppressive heat, and they will see some empty stores downtown, and they will find that the stadiums are kind of in the middle of nowhere. They will see that Kansas City isn’t a good public transportation town — no light rail, no subway, cabs are as rare as 60-degree summer days. They will see a city without a real center; there have been so many efforts to resuscitate downtown but, meanwhile, the people keep moving south. They will land at an airport that feels small and has few restaurants or shops and isn’t particularly close to anything.

But, in a way, that airport is a perfect way to describe Kansas City. Those things I just said are true — the airport does feel small, and it isn’t close to much, and it isn’t particularly attractive for tourists, and unlike the airports in so many places there are is no great food court, no cool stores. But you know what? It’s my favorite airport in the country. Because if you live in Kansas City, the parking is easy, and the walk is easy, and unlike any other major airport there are a dozen or more entry points so the security lines are almost always short. Picking someone up or dropping them off is easy. The stores have what you need. And like every place in Kansas City, the people are friendly. The airport, for a traveler who lives in Kansas City, is something close to perfect. It may not impress anyone just coming to visit, but once you’ve lived here for a while you realize: It’s an amazing place.

88 Responses to Kansas City

  1. Josh Brown says:

    But seriously, the best Chinese food in the world IS in a strip mall in Houston.

  2. Mikey says:

    I think that as you get older it just becomes tiresome to hear people talk about things that suck and more fun to hear people talk about things they have passion and enthusiasm for.

    I leave for KC and the ASG tomorrow afternoon. Been thinking about Arthur Bryant’s for weeks. Can’t wait to get there.

    • bankmeister says:

      Don’t waste your time on Bryant’s. Go to Joe’s and Gates and JackStack. Seriously.

    • Brian says:

      I’d say skip Gates. It’s still good but for me it’s Joes, Bryants, Jack Stack in that order.

    • Unknown says:

      The real city secret, and it aint far from the stadiums, is LC’s BBQ.

    • Best pizza is Funhouse and Waldo pizza. Best bars are the drop-ask for Eddie, the Granfalloon, and the peanut on main street-ask for tony. Seriously. Best steak n best service is in Capital Grille-ask for Stephanie. Best burgers are Blanc burgers and Bottles and Westport Flea Market. Best BBQ are Woodyard-ask for Ciaran, Oklahoma joes, and Jack Stack. Promise all these are correct. —spoken from a true native of Kansas City. 🙂

    • David says:

      You can go to the Capital Grille in any major city and get the same steak. The best steak in KC is at the Majestic, where Tom Pendergast used to run the KC Democratic Machine that got Harry Truman in office.

      Best burgers are the Westport Flea Market and Winsteads.

      Best beer dive bars are The Brick, The Record Bar, and Grinders

      Best BBQ is Oklahoma Joes, Smokehouse, Rosedales, Bryants and then Gates.

    • erik says:

      I’ll agree about LC’s and I love Winslow’s on the River Market. All of the places mentioned above are better than any bbq I’ve gotten anywhere else in the world. I left KC in 1994, but am still a fan of the place, the people, and the teams. I found a KC sports bar here in the Seattle area with passable KC-style BBQ, and it gets me by, at any rate. All of you in KC tonight, have a ball!

    • kalvarnsen says:

      @Rachael, I worked in the restaurant industry in KC for 15 years. For God’s sake, don’t “ask” for a bartender, anywhere. If they’re behind the bar, they’re working. We all HATE name-droppers.

    • KCExile says:

      @erik where is this KC sports bar?

  3. Heather B. says:

    Pretty much all of my childhood vacations involved Pittsburgh, and the drive out of Fort Pitt tunnel into downtown – especially at night – really is the most beautiful thing in the world. If I’d fallen asleep in the car, my mom knew to wake me up before we came out of the tunnel.

    I moved to Buffalo 13 years ago, and I could sub it in for Kansas City throughout this column. It’s a wonderful thing to really fall in love with a place, even one that most people just don’t understand from the outside.

    For the record, the way you described what’s going on with Royals fans right now – a vague hope that good things might somehow happen – is exactly how I’d describe my feelings about the Pirates the last few years so you never know. Here’s hoping for a lot more good for both of us.

  4. I left NW Missouri in 1972, when I graduated from high school. But I love Kansas City, my parents’ home town. I love the Royals. And I love Joe Posnanski (or, to be clear, his writing).

  5. Great story Joe. You really have summed up the way I feel. Not too much hustle and bustle. A great hope in a young team where we feel we know the players. I don’t feel they’re “above” us and i love that. Its great to show your kids a hero they can relate to.

  6. drunyon says:

    I also live in Houston. I have to agree with the statement that the best Chinese food in the world is in a strip mall in Houston. I’m guessing your friend was referring to Doozu dumplings, Joe?

  7. CSChaplainKC says:

    Great job Joe! I was raised in KC but have lived abroad for years. I dream of returning someday. Keep helping others understand what a wonderful place it is.
    Oh, and don’t worry, there WILL be playoff games played in Kauffman Stadium again! Have faith 🙂

  8. Stephen says:

    The Cardinals owned the Midwest for a half century & didn’t even own their stadium for much of that.

  9. Chip says:

    If you can’t go tonight, on your next trip back to KC you need to get out to Livestrong Park and watch one of the greatest KC sports story since you moved. It wouldn’t be at all surprising if the best owners in professional sports bring another championship to the city this year, either in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup (which Sporting KC would host if we beat Philly next week) or the MLS Cup (which Sporting KC would host if we finish the regular season with the most points). You would have a blast watching a game in The Cauldron.

  10. One Sock On says:

    Something’s been bothering me about the Negro Leagues Museum. Joe’s posted a couple time to request money for them — a great cause. But I can’t help but thing that MLB should simply call up the Board of Directors and say, “For a long time, people in this office did a terrible, indefensible thing. I cannot defend it, and I won’t. But I will give you all the money you need to sustain this museum. It is Major League Baseball’s fault that this museum exists, and we will make sure it always does.”

    • The HOF not inducting Buck O’Neill is the second terrible, indefensible thing. The NLBM was his front porch; he’d sit and talk baseball and welcome anyone who approached. It would be great if MLB made a donation to keep it running. I just hope they never get their hands on it….

    • The HOF not inducting Buck O’Neill is the second terrible, indefensible thing. The NLBM was his front porch; he’d sit and talk baseball and welcome anyone who approached. It would be great if MLB made a donation to keep it running. I just hope they never get their hands on it….

    • The HOF not inducting Buck O’Neill is the second terrible, indefensible thing. The NLBM was his front porch; he’d sit and talk baseball and welcome anyone who approached. It would be great if MLB made a donation to keep it running. I just hope they never get their hands on it….

    • The HOF not inducting Buck O’Neill is the second terrible, indefensible thing. The NLBM was his front porch; he’d sit and talk baseball and welcome anyone who approached. It would be great if MLB made a donation to keep it running. I just hope they never get their hands on it….

    • The HOF not inducting Buck O’Neill is the second terrible, indefensible thing. The NLBM was his front porch; he’d sit and talk baseball and welcome anyone who approached. It would be great if MLB made a donation to keep it running. I just hope they never get their hands on it….

    • The HOF not inducting Buck O’Neill is the second terrible, indefensible thing. The NLBM was his front porch; he’d sit and talk baseball and welcome anyone who approached. It would be great if MLB made a donation to keep it running. I just hope they never get their hands on it….

  11. katy ryan says:

    I’ve lived in Kansas City since 2004 (I’m a Columbia, MO native – go Tigers!). And since then, I’ve grown to love – *LOVE* – this city. Joe, you nailed it with this one – so much so that, as I’m reading this in the All-Star Game Social Media Command Center at which I’m volunteering – I have tears in my eyes, and I can’t wait to share this brilliant piece of writing. Thank you for showing the world how great Kansas City is, Joe. And for those of you who haven’t yet been to KC, you’re always welcome — we’re ready to show you a good time.

  12. N8 T8 says:

    Really like the article…kinda sad to not see Cliff Drive get a mention, though.

  13. Dana King says:

    Born and raised in Pittsburgh. I know exactly what you’re talking, both with Prosser’s comments about the Burgh, and about people talking about their home towns.

  14. livehead16 says:

    Terrific piece, Joe. And I 100% agree about the KC airport, for all the reasons you mentioned. It s awfully far away from town, but it’s the easiest airport in the world to navigate.

  15. Judy Minkin says:

    Hi, Joe. My brother and I are both from K.C. and he sent me the link to your piece. I thoroughly enjoyed it, hearing about the places from my childhood, learning about some of the new spots, and, in general, feeling nostalgic and proud to be from K.C. I’m in N. Texas now and have new sports loyalties, but I grew up collecting autographs from and baking cookies for the players on the 1953-1955 K.C. Blues. I remember fondly sitting behind the bullpen and chatting with those guys. Thanks for a great read about my hometown.

    Judy Minkin

  16. Sean Malone says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  17. Sean Malone says:

    Kansas City is insular in the way that other cities aren’t allowed to be anymore. Tourism and attracting outsiders has become the hallmark of a truly “great, American city.” K.C. reserves its greatness for those who live here (me, my entire life) or those that arrive by accident but stay for a duration (Mr. Posnanski). Kansas City will continue to be a wonderful city long after the hordes have left the All Star game on Tuesday. And be sure, the Royals will win again…soon. And when we do it will be sweeter than when the Yankees win every third year or when other teams win once a decade. Losing will teach you more than winning ever can, and it’s taught me that truly transformative and meaningful moments are rare and fleeting. When the Royals or the Chiefs win we’ll forget it for a brief period, but the decades of loses will make our ultimate triumph that much sweeter.

  18. Mo Cabrera says:

    I can identify exactly with your feeling when you said KC is not a town you like the first or second day. When I arrived here back in 2003 I was disappointed because I expected something different, but a couple of years later I went to work out of state and not even 4 days later I knew in my heart KC was my home because I missed it so much I just wanted to come back. Now, over 9 years later and a daughter that was born here I can tell I love this place and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Its people, history and the “small town” feeling are the main reasons but I can list a lot more. I feel blessed and thankful everyday of my life for the opportunity to live in such a nice place. God bless you all.

  19. mragan says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  20. mragan says:

    I love Kansas City. The West Bottoms, the East Bottoms, the Crossroads district, the way the old downtown area has come back to life. The great BBQ, the wonderful restaurants (the best steak is at JJs, and only people who live here would know that), the fountains, boulevards, some of great neighborhoods. And what you said about the airport is “spot-on”. And Kansas City has some of the best local musicians you could hope for. More than I can keep up with on any given weekend. I, too, feel blessed to live in KC.

  21. Savo says:

    I’m an artist and have traveled a bit and have met numerous people from all over. They ask…what’s KC like. I say no one moves there, or leaves the. You feel you know everyone and everyplace, whereever you are in the city. The outside world just doesn’t seem to matter on a daily basis. It’s our home and we love it.

  22. Well done! Well said! Joe, you have an incredible knack of organizing thoughts and feelings into eloquent phrases and sentences, which paint really clear pictures of what you want to say. That’s a gift, in my opinion. Thanks for sharing time with us. You’ve captured the essence of why so many people really love this city! I hope the people visiting here will catch a glimpse of what we get to experience all the time! Thanks again!

  23. frightwig says:

    Several years ago, I visited Kansas City for a long weekend and thoroughly enjoyed it. If I could stand the weather extremes, I could easily picture myself living there. But one odd thing is how large swaths of the city were just boarded up and abandoned. It wasn’t even like Baltimore, where you can wander a few blocks away from Camden Yards and run into boarded-up, depressed areas but some residents are still hanging on, or may be stuck there. “White flight” didn’t seem to adequately explain it. The areas were just empty, left behind by everyone. There were even big thoroughfares connecting different parts of town, which I found useful to avoid the Interstate traffic jams in the evening, that seemed to be forgotten and left to the weeds. Then, suddenly there would be the 18th & Vine development, or another thriving commercial area, or some perfectly nice residential neighborhood that you’d be glad to call home. A puzzling mystery.

    • Olin says:

      I agree w/ your point completely.

      Ive been in KC for a year now, and most of what Joe states rings true. The people here are great! This community is tight-knit and always happy to help.

      However, that being said, I cant help but think thag KC is a case study for urban planning gone wrong.

      The entire city is split up w/ large gaps of nothing in between. I find it frustrating and unfortunate. The stadiums, zona rosa, legends (and Sporting KC), lees summit on one end, and a continued desire to expand down south (Olathe).

      KC needs to figure something out. It is getting out of hand, and it is going to kill downtown. To Joe’s point, the city isnt big enough to fragment itself. And the farther it grows apart, the more you notice a need for light rail.

      10 years ago they should have blown up Kauffman Stadium and put it downtown. And Livestrong should be downtown. KC should be focusing on growing together at its core. Revitalize downtown.

      If it doesnt, I dont see how it will continue to be one of “America’s great cities”.

      It feels like such an easy fix…

  24. contrary to your contention, i fell in love with kc on my first visit, within a day or two. in large part, because of giants broadcasters mike krukow and your main man, duane kuiper.

    watching a giants game a few years ago, the kruk and kuip were speaking with anticipation about their interleague trip to kc the following week. hearing them talk about the barbecue had my mouth watering. they mentioned the negro leagues museum, which i had always wanted to visit. i had some some money in my pocket and a free weekend, so i flew in to see some baseball.

    after touring the harry truman library, and the harley davidson factory between ballgames, i got to the negro leagues museum.

    i didn’t even know there was a jazz museum sharing space with the baseball museum. i learned about charlie parker’s early influence by the great bands playing in kc: count basie, benny moten, jay mcshane, coleman hawkins, et al. i had always thought of parker as a new york city creation. and at the negro leagues museum, i did meet buck o’neill–and barry bonds, who was receiving some kind of honor. i had the memorable experience to be in the gift shop, chatting with barry as he shopped, when he pulled out his cell phone, called his godfather,(willie mays) to ask what number he wore with the birmingham black barons, so he could buy the appropriate jersey.

    and of all the great barbecue, i did not expect to enjoy the best fried chicken i have ever tasted, before or since (Stroud’s). great town.

  25. Mike Brown says:

    Kansas City has two NASCAR races, which a lot of places would love to have. NASCAR gets national attention, especially races during the chase, which Kansas City has. So I think saying this is “the last time Kansas City will be in the national sports spotlight for a long time” holds until October 21.

    • Nate says:

      I think Joe’s point is a bit different than that, Mike. Yes, NASCAR comes to town twice. The IRL comes, too. But when each league comes to town, it’s just another week in the racing season. I think Joe’s point is that when a Final Four comes, or when an All-Star game comes to a city, there is an unusual amount of attention given to the city that isn’t part of the normal sports hubbub. And for that reason, Kansas City will be out of the national sports spotlight for a while.

  26. Nathan Mize says:

    This was an amazing article, Joe. I live in Kansas City and could not imagine living anywhere else. This article reminds me that it is a great day to be from Kansas City. Loved this.

  27. Outstanding article. I was born and raised in KC, lived the first 32 years of my life there and have lived the last 8 years in the Dallas, Texas area. I’ve been lucky enough to travel all over. While there are many places bigger, better, more exciting and diverse than KC, I truly believe KC is unique in that people from KC are extremely proud to be FROM KC. People here in Dallas where I live now, are proud…Proud to be Texans. There isn’t the “civic” pride here for Dallas, that you get from people from KC. I’ve noticed that difference all over the country. I’ve always believed that one of the charms of KC, is that it has the perfect mix of big city/small town appeal. There’s something for everyone. Naturally, it’s not easy being a Royals’ and Chiefs’ fan down here in the land of the Dallas Cowboys, and Texas Rangers and while I get good natured ribbing when I mention my allegiances…Even though in my 40 years of life there hasn’t been much of anything outside of 1985 to hang my hat on, I always feel a huge sense of pride, regardless of the win/loss record currently, when I tell people, I’m from KC, and the Royals, Chiefs, and Sporting KC are MY teams, and KC is MY city!

  28. VP81955 says:

    You could not blame Kansas City Royals fans for expecting the worst. What else could they expect? Unless it turns around this season — something that seems more unlikely every day — this will mark the 27th straight season that the Royals miss the playoffs. No other team in baseball has a streak that long or even particularly close to that long.* But it’s much worse than just missing the playoffs. Not counting the strike year — which is a shame because the Royals actually got hot that year — Kansas City has only finished within five games of the lead once over that time frame, and that was 25 years ago. The Royals have finished an average of 22 games back since 1986. They haven’t made the playoffs, true. But, more dizzying, they also have not been in contention.

    *The Pirates have the second-longest streak — 20 seasons — but the Pirates are also in first place at the moment.

    If you count the Expos/Nationals as one franchise, its streak is 30 seasons (1981). And the Washington market hasn’t had postseason play in 79 years –– OK, 33 of those summers there was no team in town, but even subtracting that, it’s still nearly as long as Cleveland’s 41 years in the wilderness prior to 1995.

    For many of those 79 years, D.C. was essentially K.C. today, the smallest market in the majors. Not until the ’60s did Washington begin to diversify in employment and grow into a top 10 market. Today it certainly has the affluence Kansas City lacks, but the very concept of winning D.C. baseball, much less championship D.C. baseball, seems like something that simply does not compute unless you’re a lifelong resident in your upper eighties or nineties.

    Much of the Washington baseball fan’s inherent fatalism comes from the many what-might-have-beens. Suppose Calvin Griffith decides to keep the original AL Senators in town past 1960, and the team experiences success comparable to that of the Twins in their first decade in Minnesota. Suddenly, D.C. pro sports history — a wasteland post-1945 — becomes considerably different, as the Senators reach the postseason promised land well before the Redskins in 1971 (curiously, the fall the second Senators left). Washington became a “football town” by default.

    Or suppose the Padres aren’t rescued by Ray Kroc, but instead move to D.C. in 1974 (remember those Topps “Washington, N.L.” baseball cards?). In his autobiography, Bill Giles said he’d agreed to become the Washington team’s GM, and while they would have had trouble contending for a few years, Giles certainly would have made RFK Stadium a fan-friendly, fun destination.

    In other words, Washington baseball fans have long lived with Al Capp thunderclouds over their heads, even after the game returned to town in 2005. It appears Mike Rizzo (with the aid of Davey Johnson, Ryan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Bryce Harper and others) has chased them away.

  29. Carter! says:

    I grew up in Kansas City and just moved back here last fall after spending many years in San Francisco. I can’t believe how much I’ve fallen in love with this place – yes, the BBQ is amazing, the new Kauffman Center for the Arts features the outstanding Kansas City Symphony and very good opera and ballet companies, the Plaza is great for strolling – but to me the residents are the best thing about the city. I knew none of my neighbors in San Francisco but here I know everyone. We exchange tomatoes and other stuff from our gardens, help our elderly neighbors with mowing and snow shoveling, and we look out for each other. There’s a feeling of community here that makes me want to stay more than anything else. Love the city, thanks for a great article.

  30. Nate says:

    Joe, excellent post. One of the things I am most grateful for in your writings are your Thanksgiving columns, because you talk about everything that makes you happy. It’s really unusual to hear someone, when it’s not Thanksgiving, talk about why they love a city they reside in. It’s really easy to get down over all the frustrations a city causes for you, but the fact that you try really hard to be positive about what is good in sport makes you a necessary read.

  31. Unknown says:

    Joe… Great piece on Kansas City. I would like to hear your thoughts about “falling in love” with Cuba (Kansas that is)…

  32. KHAZAD says:

    You mention a lot of great things in the city. I suppose other people could do the same about other cities, or mention different things about KC. (I love the barbeque, but I’m a Jackstack man) A detractor could come with bad things to say about it. (Not close to mountains or an Ocean,horrible schools in the inner city, the weather extremes, the unworkable city government etc), but in the end those are just things. It’s about the way it feels.

    I grew up in this town, dreaming of visiting all the other places I had heard about and finding a place that would be my own. I went to all those places and came back here.

    An author I like to read (T. Jefferson Parker)talks about women who may not be the most beautiful or have one thing about them that stands out, but still are the most attractive to you even though you can’t quite put your finger on why. He calls it TUT. (The Unknown Thing) Though he is speaking of women rather than cities, As far as cities go KC is teeming with TUT.

    • Mikey says:

      Oh man, I went to Jackstack last night. What a meal, although all morning I felt like I was pregnant with a cannonball. The guys at our table were saying that your dinner there should come with a defibrillator and a bowl of Lipitor.

  33. Sherril says:

    My very close and wonderful friend, Kathy from Kansas City (I live in the NY metropolitan area, i. e. New Jersey) sent me a link to your article. It struck home for me. I most enjoyed the first part where you spoke of favorite cities. I lived in Wichita, Kansas for my graduate school years, and at the time, I would have said it rated as one of my favorite towns. My first time in Boston, it became my favorite city, then, Providence, RI, then San Francisco became my favorite city, then it was Chicago, then New Orleans, then Blaine, Maine, then Savannah. I have blogged about many of these visits. Recently, before I travelled, I went on Craig’s List to find a special person who was a native to show me around “his” town and it has worked out beautifully. But, Kansas City holds a most special place in my heart, because it is the home of Kathy from Kansas City, and she has shared her love of her hometown with a “New Yorker”, who thought she may be just a wee bit more sophisticated than most mid-westerners. Boy, was I wrong! Oh, and one more KC place. I don’t remember where exactly we were, but Kathy took me somewhere where we saw and learned about Hemingway’s short stay at the Kansas City Star.

  34. RH in Austin says:

    Born and raised in Kansas City (Kansas, at that!) — but gone to Texas since 1984 — my heart holds a cherished spot for the Heart of America. Let me offer three quick thoughts?

    First, Joe, you’ve graciously neglected to mention the years that KC fans suffered the perennial cellar-dwelling Kansas City Athletics. Despite 100% certainty that they’d spend May to September in tenth place in a ten-team league, and the less-than-luxurious venue of Municipal Stadium, a generation of parents showed their kids how to enjoy a day or night at the baseball park. (Thanks, Dad!)

    Regarding the airport… It is my recollection — but check me, because I was young then — that KCI may have been the last major airport designed prior to the skyjackings of the early 1970s. Without security as an overriding priority, the C-shapes design successfully minimized the distance a passenger would have to travel between the curb and the gate. It was design genius, quickly trumped by the newfound need to secure the tarmac behind several layers of metal detectors.

    Finally, regarding the people… While waiting on a wide-body that was flying from the east coast to Dallas, I overheard a conversation two rows back. Two passengers were discussing the relative friendliness of various cities, using the hypothetical of an obvious tourist asking for directions. In certain cities (not necessary to name here), they agreed that said tourist was at risk for mugging or mayhem, and in other cities, both said that people would either not volunteer their knowledge or deliberately provide incorrect information. But in Kansas City, one said, “you can half-expect the person you ask to stop what they’re doing and just take you there themselves.” True story.

    Russ in Austin

  35. Zach says:

    Barbeque is the perfect metaphor for Kansas City. It’s not expensive, it’s not superficially impressive, it’s not exclusive. It’s just really, really good. And in Kansas City, it’s really good everywhere. Nobody in the thread has even mentioned Rosedale Barbeque or the Woodyard on Merriam Lane.

    • Mike says:

      Can’t comment on the Woodyard, but my grandparent’s home was within walking distance of Rosedale BBQ. As Siskel & Ebert would say – “two thumbs up”

  36. Terry Ray says:

    I do like Woodyard, and the burnt ends at Big T’s Bar-B-Q….but I lived in Austin for several years and would rather eat bbq at Mueller’s in Taylor, City Market in Luling, or those places in Lockhart…

    KC is real cheap and fine museums and fine symphony for city of it’s size!

  37. thangers says:

    Never really thought too much about Kansas City, been around town for almost two decades but I don’t remember a time actually sitting down to think about the city itself. Thanks for putting this idea down, I found myself involuntarily nodding at all the different little points and surprisingly felt proud of the city. Always a good read, I always appreciate authors that show that they are passionate about what they write. Something I find is lacking in a lot of writing out there nowadays.

  38. MJSamuelson says:

    Kansas City native here, though long removed. This is an excellent, slightly melancholy tribute to one of the great old-time baseball towns. Thank you for sharing.

  39. Betty Thomas says:

    I especially love Sporting KC. It is the best atmosphere of any of the pro games I have been to in Kansas City, and I have lived here 14 years. The people are so friendly and it is such a good family environment. They made the right decision putting it at Legends, Soccer is a huge business in JoCo. This way they draw all the suburbanites out to the games.

  40. Brent Doane says:

    Thank you Joe! Moved away 10 years ago and still get homesick!

  41. Mike Cumming says:

    Great article as always, Joe, and yet another that hit home for me. I have lived in KC for just over a year now and have been fortunate to experience many of the highlights mentioned in this article. I thought moving here from Chicago would be a letdown, and it is in some ways, but we have found many of these charms in the city that will make it a great place to call home for a long time. Can’t wait to head out to the All-Star Game tonight!

  42. It sounds exactly like you’re describing Rochester, NY, and probably a million other small cities as well.

  43. NMark W says:

    I’m way too late to the game here to do much good helping ASGame visitors find other great things to do in KC but here a couple anyway. I’m not sure if these were mentioned above…

    The WWI Museum is absolutely fantastic. Seriously, you want to learn even just a little bit more about “The Great War”? , this is definitely the place.

    Also, the museum about the Steamship Arabia tells one of the most amazing stories about sunken (and then found) steamships one will ever find. How many sunken steamships from 1850s era are recovered in the middle of a Kansas cornfield in 1980s with much of the cargo intact and well preserved? This is a great story told extremely well! Very well worth a 1-2 hour visit.

    KC also has a wonderful Union Station train station with lots to see, do and eat while at the station. Amtrak stops there.

    As far as the BBQ, Jacks was fine. The steak at Capitol Grille was to die for….Yes, maybe you can eat at a dozen other Capitol Grilles around the USA but I would go to each and every one if you could guarantee me that great of a meal every time.

  44. Annie Krieg says:

    Thank you. Truly, thank you for this.

  45. Paige Geiger says:

    Thank you for this great tribute to KC. As someone who has grown up in the area, I think the city just keeps getting better! I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

  46. Joe likes hearing people love their cities. I just interrupted my reading of “The Big Red Machine” to check this out. I’m glad I did. He may have adopted KC or been adopted by it, and moved on, but he’s made me want to move there, at least for this moment.

    I live in Toledo. Some times that’s a challenge.

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  48. Tom Kat says:

    We miss your columns in The Star. Times have changed. You have moved on, but river city is the same as it has always been. I am the fella that welcomed you here in the early days of the internet when you started at The Star. I told you about a city in Poland named Posnan you should go visit some day. Its a neat place.

    Good luck,

  49. Mike says:


    You have a gift for writing, the extraordinary art of taking real life, distilling it, and putting it into words on paper, all while making it seem effortless. I can say with some authority* that you have captured the essence of the city, and the essence of its sports fans. Kudos. It makes me want to go to a gas station and eat some BBQ.

    *I am a Kansas Citian by birth, one who spent the first 27 years of his life there, one who attended (at age 15) the Christmas Day football game to which you allude. And game seven of the I-70 series. And, in 88, the last Final Four game ever played there. Rock Chalk. BTW – the gas station we know as Oklahoma Joe’s sits right across the street from (the place that was) Caper’s Corner, the place to go when you wanted the best concert tickets in the city.

  50. bella swan says:

    It’s my BIG 25th birthday and my friends and I are planning a getaway to Kansas City. I would love some ideas as to where to go for fun shopping, hip hop dance clubs, and special sights to stop and see. Even a hotel that’s nice and affordable would be great!! I appreciate any and all ideas! Thanks!

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  52. Ozsportsdude says:

    Small correction Joe, but it is Circular Quay that is the beautiful part of Sydney (Harbour Bridge, Opera House) Darling Harbour is a concrete monstrosity.

  53. Jess Holmes says:

    I’ve been looking up Kansas City activities for my first visit there and came across your blog. I appreciate your insights- even though the city is small, it is unique and has a lot to offer!

  54. Thank you Joe! Moved away 10 years ago and still get homesick!


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