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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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My Missouri Adventure

I’ll admit this: I never thought Fred Wilpon’s line about meaningful games in September was so embarrassing. Granted, I would have revised the line to “meaningful games in the last week of September.” If you’re playing those, your team’s kept you scoreboard watching, hoping and dreaming almost until the end, which I’ll always sign up for. But even without my suggested tweak, I thought Wilpon’s formulation was the product of baseball wisdom more fans should internalize: winning is more about luck than we like to imagine, a season can be great even without a World Series trophy at the end, and a sense of entitlement makes you a toxic shithead. If you disagree with all that, there’s a team in the Bronx tailor-made for you.

But this week is a reminder of something else: Meaningless September games can be just fine. Not the meaningless kind where you try to convince yourself that a second-tier prospect’s garbage-time quality start will mean great things in a couple of years, but the meaningless kind we’re playing now. In Philadelphia tonight, the Mets lost. Bartolo Colon and Jon Niese weren’t great, Carlos Torres returned and looked OK, Lucas Duda hit a pair of home runs, and brothers Travis d’Arnaud and Chase d’Arnaud seemed to have a pleasant time gabbing at home plate. That’s about it.

If you weren’t paying attention, you get a mulligan. The Mets are auditioning starters for bullpen roles, trying to figure out how to fill the last couple of roster spots, and looking to strike a balance between rust and rest. The only thing left to play for is home-field advantage over the Dodgers, which would be nice but isn’t worth an all-out sprint; the team also has to face the possibility that they may not get to play baseball for a ridiculously long time, what with multiple fronts and a hurricane converging on the East Coast.

In all likelihood nothing that happens this week will be remembered come October 9, which is fine. Baseball’s one of humanity’s greatest artistic achievements, but there’s nothing wrong with a bit of a break from it. This is a fine week to take your spouse out to dinner, take your kids to the movies, or pursue whatever evening plan normally gets neglected between April and October. Next month you’re going to be frantic and delirious and terrified and delighted and mostly tired, for at least a long weekend and hopefully the whole month. So rest up, y’hear?

This concludes the Mets-related portion of today’s blog post. Now I’m going to tell you about my adventures watching baseball in Missouri.

A few weeks ago I noticed that I had a $200 Delta credit that was about to expire. After various ideas proved unworkable, I hit upon one I should have thought of earlier: I’d go to one of the 11 big-league ballparks I’d never visited before.

I eliminated Pittsburgh because Emily wants to go. I tossed out Detroit, Cleveland and Cincinnati because I’ve always imagined combining them with Pittsburgh in a baseball great circle route some summer. I dropped Milwaukee and New Comiskey because Emily wants to go to Wrigley (I went last year), and it and the other two could be combined in a single trip.

That left Minnesota, Texas, Miami, Kansas City and St. Louis. I started checking Delta airfares and schedules and StubHub, and then realized that if I was willing to drive for a few hours, I could knock off Kansas City and St. Louis in one trip, with enough room to pursue a little genealogical exploration as well.

Done — and for surprisingly little money. The credit took care of most of the airfare, even with me flying into K.C. and out of St. Louis. The one-way car rental was reasonable. I used points for hotel rooms. And I found pretty great seats that weren’t crazily expensive, a surprise given both teams were headed for the postseason.

My biggest worry was that the Mets would falter and I’d be stuck halfway across the country freaking out and blowing my data plan watching At Bat. But that didn’t happen either — I returned to a magic number of one.

So, the parks.

Kauffman Stadium dates back to 1973, though it got an extensive renovation a few years ago. It’s not bad for what it is — a pretty nice park from an era of lousy park design, given a thoughtful coat of paint.

Which isn’t enormous praise, granted. The biggest problem is one that can’t be solved: Kauffman isn’t in Kansas City proper, but plopped down east of the city next to Arrowhead Stadium and surrounded by highways. Behind those iconic fountains (about which more in a bit) are some statues of Royals greats, a few nondescript eateries (none of which feature local barbeque, for some absurd reason), and then this view:

21638335250_ea10f83a94_z

Yeah, that’s not inspiring. People tailgate like fiends before Royals games because there is absolutely nowhere else to go.

But the park itself isn’t bad. The fountains are a bit doofy — after hearing about them for years, I was as underwhelmed as Greg to see them in action, which is probably a reflection of my enthusiasm for fountains rather than any failure of the park’s. (I don’t know what the world’s greatest fountain is, but I bet it’s a bunch of pipes that make water go up.)

fountains

But I liked the big gold crown atop the massive video board, and the Royals flags snapping in the wind, and even the arches on the concourse.

arches

No, that isn’t old-timey brickwork or black iron. It’s just a bunch of concrete. But for 1973 it isn’t bad — Kauffman could have been some brutalist doughnut horror, but it has some nice sweeping angles and good bones that elevate it above such parks.

One thing that might have colored my perceptions is the fans are great. My pal Sterling and I were sitting in good seats behind first base, and we happened to be there on the night the Royals clinched the American League Central, which you might argue is the kind of thing that leads to grade inflation. And perhaps you’re right. But the folks around us in the good seats were into it from the first pitch, in a way the folks in a lot of good seats aren’t. It was rare to see anyone not clad in royal blue, and I was surrounded by baseball conversations all night.

in-kauffman

Kauffman’s stadium-operations folks set the right tone as well, seemingly determined to get every cute kid a few seconds on the video screen and to find every banner exhorting the Royals to a division title, looking for romantic attention from Eric Hosmer, or both. The Royals won and mobbed each other on the field, the fans cheered and high-fived and took inept cellphone videos from the stands (I looked at mine and deleted it), and then everybody wandered out into the vast parking lot and waited in their cars to get somewhere else. But they seemed pretty happy doing it, and I found I felt the same way.

The next night brought me to Busch Stadium, a visit that will need a few asterisks upfront:

  1. The Cardinals are far from my favorite team.
  2. St. Louis is far from my favorite town. (Well, except for the bourbon shake at Baileys’ Range, which is awesome.)
  3. I was there last year but the Cardinals weren’t, which I resented even though it’s nobody’s fault.

busch-2

Busch Stadium opened in 2006, the third park to bear the name (here’s Greg on Busch II), and if you’ve been to more than a couple of HOK parks you’ll instantly recognize this one — brick and arches, ironwork, a level that’s suites-only, fancy seats with waiter service behind home plate, quirky seating areas in the outfield, a gathering place for families and big parties on the top deck behind home plate. None of this is a bad thing — heck, I just described Citi Field. But Citi’s a lot more distinctive than Busch, somehow. Busch feels like it was assembled by a committee flipping through a Retro Stadium pattern book.

It does have some nice touches. I liked the Scoreboard Patio seating area in center field, and the statues of Cardinal stars outside (including Jack Buck), and the place is properly festooned with Cardinalia no matter where you are. Walking up the stairs you find images of team logos, and the signs for sections are topped with cardinals in various poses. Even this Mets fan found those pretty adorable.

cards

The customer service at Busch is also top-notch. There are people everywhere to help you, and they’ve been trained to actually do that, rather than assume you’re the enemy. There are about a billion places to get something to eat, meaning lines are pretty short even with a packed house. No matter where you are there’s a TV showing the game or you can hear the radio feed, which is the kind of simple thing a lot of parks can’t manage. And the out-of-town scoreboard is great, packing a lot of information into an easy-to-read space.

not-wrigley

But there’s also a certain too muchness going on. For example, that thing above is Ballpark Village, an appendage of Busch that’s basically a TGI Friday’s on steroids that only serves Anheuser-Busch products. (If that sounds great to you, we probably shouldn’t hang out.) Besides the invocation of fandom as a nation, which works a lot better as ironic shorthand than as a massive expanse of neon, that AT&T Rooftop contraption is a blatant ripoff of Wrigley Field’s neighbors, which you’d think the Cardinals would have shied from copying. And I can count three Ford logos and three Budweiser ones in that picture, which is approximately 0.00000000000000001% of the number of each you’ll find at Busch. St. Louis feels like a company town, the Cardinals feel like a company team, and Busch Stadium feels like a company headquarters.

I don’t mean to be too hard on Busch. It’s a perfectly nice park. I enjoyed myself and the fireworks show after the Cardinals lost, then took myself across the street to the Hilton at the Ballpark, which has pictures of Cardinals in every room. I had a perfectly good time — as I will most anywhere you give me a beer, something to eat and let me watch baseball. But I was relieved when the next day was Cardinal-free, and I don’t think that was just the Mets fan in me.

7 comments to My Missouri Adventure

  • BlackCountryMet

    Hi Jason, was interested to read this review as I’m in pursuit of visiting every Major League park. Currently done 15 but that includes Shea and I’ll lose the Braves in 2018 so will have to do the new one. I did Busch in 2013, really liked and agree with you about the customer service, friendly and excellent. As I’m a craft beer devotee, I struggled to find anywhere selling it in the park and eventually gave up but this was no big deal

    Next yrs 1st trip involves Mets series at Royals so am intrigued as to how you get to the park if you don’t drive? Is there shuttles from Kansas City itself?Any how, looks a reasonable ballpark and I’m looking forward to another “baseball buffet”(Copyright G Prince)

  • Ken K. in NJ

    Nice writeup, thanks. I always enjoy reading about Ballpark Trips. I actually did St Louis and KC stadiums on consecutive days too, in 1976. My game in St. Louis (Busch II) was the day they went over One Million in attendance for the year and they gave out souvenir keychains, which I foolishly used as my everyday keychain for several years until it fell apart. Not that it would have been worth all that much, just that I should have saved it.

    PS: Even then, it was all Bud products all the time. Never could drink Bud, but for some reason, Busch has always been OK by me in a pinch, so I made do with that. Did the tour the next morning before heading off to KC.

    I’m sort of glad The Ballpark Formerly Known as Royals Stadium still exists. Going there in 1976 was such a prototypical 1970’s experience, from the suburban setting to Paul Splitorff’s hair and glasses, to The Royals being a superior team. It’s comforting to know the stadium is still in place. And, as you said, for a stadium of that era, it’s pretty nice.

    • I drank Bud Light at Busch, pausing after each sip to sigh. Though there is a pretty good craft-beer place across from the ballpark. Plus Baileys’ Range has good stuff on tap.

  • Eric

    My last remaining regular-season goal for the team is 90 wins. I agree that HFA over the Dodgers would be nice, but it’s not crucial.

    Given that these resilient 2015 Mets have performed best while bouncing back, the perceived disadvantage of going on the road to Greinke and Kershaw’s home with Utley and Rollins eager to relive their glory days and Turner eager for payback may be a better advantage than HFA at Citi Field.

    However, I disagree with the gist that these post-clinch games while we wait for the play-offs are meaningless and less worthy of our attention.

    As you said, “The Mets are auditioning starters for bullpen roles, trying to figure out how to fill the last couple of roster spots, and looking to strike a balance between rust and rest.”

    For the next 10 days, including today, or until the play-offs actually begin, we can bask as Mets fans in being the 2015 NL East champion while still current in the 2015 season. We can giddily, leisurely nitpick and prognosticate the Mets-Dodgers DS. For the next 10 days, the Mets are a division winner anticipating the next level of competition for the ultimate baseball prize. For the next 10 days, the Mets cannot lose (meaningfully) or disappoint us.

    Anyone who’s competed in organized sports and qualified for the post-season can appreciate that the interim between clinching 1st place, or just a play-off berth, and the start of the play-offs is quietly one of the best times to be a member of a team.

    Once the play-offs actually commence, the excitement is a high, but that point is also the beginning of the end – sooner or later.

    Now, with the satisfaction of the regular-season won and anticipation of coming play-off glory with no immediate risk of defeat, is a subtle part of the meal, but it is one of the most savory parts of the meal.

    This interim will be over soon enough. I recommend drinking it in while we can.

  • Great read, but pretty absurd to decry Busch for too many ads and too much “muchness” when Citi has ads on the OUTSIDE of the stadium. Approaching from 126th St and Shea Rd? You’ll be greeted by giant ads for Goya and Geico. I can’t think of another ballpark that has ad billboards hanging from its facade on the outside like that.
    And try and find an angle anywhere where you won’t see the illuminated words ‘Citi Field”

  • sturock

    Do they still sing “I Got Friends in Low Places” at Royals Stadium? I like that!