The Community of Kansas City
Giving you a sense of barbecue-baseball bliss
Garrett Kincaid – July 23, 2023
I’m underground. It’s hotter here than the mid-June night outside, because of the heat radiating off of these hundreds of people, trapped at the bottom of a flight of stairs, waiting for the train to take us out of the Bronx. I smell sweat and beer-breath and feel my shorts wet against my waist. Cutting through agitated chatter is the occasional, ungodly screech of an arriving train, dumping more poor people into this snake pit — to hiss and sweat and stress with the rest of us.
No one is comfortable, but the Yankees fans are content, still riding the high of their Red-Sox rivalry win. Everyone is acting as if it's acceptable for this many humans to be this close together for this amount of time. There's less oxygen here than an alpine peak. The dingy, subterranean air is quickly transmuted through a thousand mouths to condiment-coated CO2. If there were a slaughterhouse that led their cattle like this, it'd be condemned by PETA and put out of business.
There are eight different people pressed up against me. I’m trapped. I close my eyes and daydream of home.
In a rosy scene, I see the 19,000 parking spots outside Kauffman Stadium from an aerial view. At ground level, there are tailgates out the backs of Wranglers, Dads grilling brats, and kids in oversized lawn chairs tired out from throwing a football. Everyone has enough space — so much that they’re happy to share. They welcome company.
Sure, that parking lot is an ungodly slab of concrete, and every game, thousands of cars burn thousands of gallons of gas to drive there. Anyone from any big city would tell you how abhorrent that parking lot is and how irresponsible and unethical it is to not have public transportation to a sporting event. But those people in Kansas City, tailgating with their friends and their families, are free — unlike me. I’m in “the greatest city on Earth,” trapped underground, sweating with a thousand strangers.
It took two hours in total to get back to New Jersey from the Yankees game. We went under two rivers via two trains and an overpriced, overpacked cab (because the buses — for no reason at all — had stopped running). In two hours, we covered no more than ten miles.
The next morning, I booked a flight to Kansas City.
EWR → KCI
What New York City lacks, Kansas City has. New York has density and diversity; Kansas City has comfort and community.
The Kansas City Metro Area is made up of 167 cities and has a population of roughly two million. The New York City Metro Area, which includes North New Jersey and Long Island, is made up of 870 cities and has a population of nearly twenty million. By land mass, the Kansas City Metro is 75% the size of the New York Metro, but New York has nearly ten times the population. That makes for a staggering difference in population density. In Kansas City, there are 256 people per square mile. In New York, there are 2,156 per square mile.
Being a Kansas-City native in New York is like trying to play baseball with 25 outfielders. When people are that densely packed, it’s impossible to feel like one cohesive team. In New York, community is hyper-localized. With 25 outfielders, you have 25 positions — Upper-Left Field, the Fringe District, NoFo (north of the foul pole). A trip across the New York Metro, across the outfield, will take you out of your community and through three others before your destination. In Kansas City, everyone identifies as an outfielder — no matter what position you play. You can drive for 45 minutes and cross state lines without leaving your community. Despite the greater distance between people in Kansas City, it’s more unified on the whole than New York. The entire outfield feels like home.
Kansas City is one community; New York City is a collection of communities, and that difference is due to population density. For the last four years, I've lived in Hoboken, which is a square-mile city in New Jersey, across the Hudson River from Manhattan. I've been in that square mile for four years, and — at most — I've interacted with 2% of the 50,000 people that live there. A square mile in Kansas City would be one subdivision, and the 500 people that live there would all be part of the same Home Owners' Association.
We typically think of populated, urban areas as the prime setting for tight-knit communities. But we overlook — or, you might say, "fly over" — the strength of communities in less urban, lower-density areas.
Take baseball as an example. In 2015, the Kansas City Royals beat the New York Mets in the World Series. The Royals hadn't won the World Series since 1985 — a 30-year drought. The Mets hadn't won the World Series since 1986. The Mets are in a city with ten times the population of Kansas City, and they have 4,000 more seats in their stadium than the Royals. So, you'd think that the Mets would sell more tickets in their championship season. But in 2015, 140,000 more tickets were sold to Royals games than to Mets games. The Royals ranked 10th in the MLB for attendance, averaging 33,438 fans per game. The Mets ranked 12th.
New York is dense and diverse. It has people who hail from all states and all continents (many of whom don't care about baseball). They speak foreign languages and have vastly different levels of education and income. There are always other events happening in New York, and the city has two baseball teams. All that makes New York the great city that it is, but it's also why they don't sell out more Mets games.
Kansas City is less dense and less diverse. Many of the people in KC are from there originally (and most care about baseball). Barely anyone speaks a language other than English or Spanish, and the vast majority of people are in the middle or upper-middle class. There is one baseball team. In Kansas City, everyone is a Royals fan.
You’re at least ten times as likely to meet a Royals fan in Kansas City than you are to meet a Mets fan in New York. In Kansas City, you’re at least ten times as likely to meet someone who makes you feel at home, someone who belongs to your community.
In New York, I never feel more comfortable than when I see someone wearing a KC shirt or a Royals hat. I always wave them down, stop to shake their hand, or shout "Go Royals," "Go Chiefs," or "Rock Chalk!" They're like interstate emissaries, and beneath their feet is the sovereign territory of Kansas City, the hallowed ground of home.
It'd been six months since I last visited home, and I'd been missing the Kansas City community. Now that I'm back, I want to feel it again in full. So, I immediately go to the two places where the KC community is strongest: a barbecue restaurant and a baseball game.
It's the Saturday of Fathers' Day weekend. The Royals are hosting the Angels at 3:10 pm. On the way to the game, my dad and I stop at the original Arthur Bryant's for lunch, and about a hundred other people have the same idea. The line is out the door, and it's a privilege to wait here. The smell is strongest outside. Airborne morsels of burnt ends billow out of Bryant's smokestacks. The smell has me even more antsy to get Kansas City barbecue back in my mouth.
This is one of the few places in Kansas City that is as densely packed as the train to the Bronx before a Yankees game. But unlike the people packed into the subway, everyone here is a part of the same community.
As we wait to order, I admire the wall decor. There are pictures of presidents from their visits here and a comic strip from a 1982 issue of the Kansas City Times, honoring the death of Arthur Bryant. The comic depicts A. Bryant ascending to Heaven. As Peter opens the pearly gates, he asks, "Did you bring sauce?"
My dad and I order brisket sandwiches, fries, and I get a side of cheesy corn. As we eat, I try to remember when I last went to a Royals game. It’s been at least three years, which is a shame. My dad and I think back to their World Series runs in 2014 and 2015 and all the play-off games we got to see.
Sitting in Arthur Bryant’s, reminiscing about the Royals’ wins, I feel fully immersed in the KC community. There’s nothing better than barbecue and baseball, baby!
Since the line was so long at Bryant's, we get to the game a little late. The National Anthem starts to play as we wait in line at the gate. I'd forgotten how unifying the "Star-Spangled Banner" feels here. Everyone stops moving, stops swiping their tickets, stops walking to their seats. Everyone is silent and still. The only voice you can hear is the woman singing. Everyone's eyes are either locked on her or on the flag. It's never this still in New York.
The woman sings well, and everyone stays silent until the last line of the anthem. It's a Kansas City tradition — one I've never agreed with or adopted — to shout over the last word, so that the final line is "Home of the Chiefs!" Everyone roars "Chiefs!" in unison as they take their hands and hats off their hearts. (In Kansas City, everyone is a Chiefs fan too.)
We scan our tickets. It’s 3:10 — time for the first pitch. Micky Moniak, of the Angels, is up to bat.
This season is nothing like 2015. The Royals are ranked second in the MLB for worst win percentage, with a record of 19 and 51. They’re on a ten-game losing streak. The Angels have a wining record — 40 and 33 — and they have two of the top three players in the MLB: Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout. It’s a team of rookies vs. a team of veterans.
The Royals only have one veteran on this year’s squad — the eight-time All-Star, five-time Gold Glove winner, 2015 World Series MVP: Salvador “Salvy” Perez. And there’s one rookie who is making his Major League debut, playing left field: Samad Taylor.
At the top of the fourth, it’s tied 2-2. The Angles put up two runs to take the lead. Then Salvy stops the bleeding by catching Shohei Ohtani stealing. The call is challenged, then upheld. The crowd goes wild. In Kansas City, Salvy is more famous than George Clooney.
It’s scoreless again until the sixth. Then Mike Trout kicks off a five-run rally for the Angles. At the end of the inning, the Royals are down 2–7. Facing a huge deficit late in the game, they take the field in the seventh. With one out, and on the first pitch of his at-bat, Shohei Ohtani hits an absolutely demoralizing home-run — 437 feet over dead-center.
At least that's the only run the Angles score in the side. The score is 2-8 headed into the seventh-inning stretch, and it's looking bleak.
Then, the Royals start to rally. Nick Pratto and Bobby Witt Jr. lead the way. Both are first-round draft picks in their second big-league seasons and the hopeful future of the Royals franchise. The Royals score three in the seventh, including a double from Witt. Salvy comes up to bat with Witt on first and Pratto on third. He strikes out swinging, and he's pissed.
In the eighth, the Royals score three runs off of two hits. Hits from whom? You guessed it: Nick Pratto and Bobby Witt Jr. Salvy comes up again with Pratto and Witt on base, and he strikes out swinging. He's even more pissed, but the Royals have still tied it up! It's 8–8 headed into the ninth.
Aroldis Chapman, a former Yankee, comes out to close for the Royals. He walks two batters and gets a strikeout to start the inning. Then Mike Trout — one of the best to ever play the game — drives in the go-ahead run. Chapman finishes the inning with two more strikeouts.
It's the bottom of the ninth, and the Royals are down by one. The fans have faith. Off a bloop-single, a stolen base, and an errand throw, we get a man on third. Then Maikel Garcia drives him in, tying up the game again. With one out, Garcia steals second. Nicky Lopez lays down a perfect sacrifice bunt to advance him to third — two outs.
Samad Taylor steps up to the plate. It's his Major League debut, and he has two walks and no hits. Now, the day-one rookie is up to bat in a tie game, in the bottom of the ninth, with two outs and a runner on third, in the midst of a ten-game losing streak.
All the Royals need is a deep enough sac-fly or a single to win the game. Taylor watches the first pitch — a strike. Then the Angels' closer floats a change-up. Taylor puts a sweet swing on it and takes it deep to center field — a walk-off! The Royals win! Samad Taylor, with his first-ever major-league hit, ends the Royals’ ten-game losing streak.
The energy in Kauffman Stadium was electric, intoxicating. Samad Taylor’s walk-off brought me home.
The Parking Lot
We waited at our seats to watch the post-game interview, and listened as Samad Taylor thanked God for the chance to show up for his team. Then my dad and I strolled out of our section, gushing about how great a game it was. We stopped at the bathroom and didn't have to wait in line.
Then we saw parents playing catch with their kids down on the Royals' outfield. It must have been a special event for Fathers' Day Weekend. There were way more than 25 people down there, and they all looked like they were on the same team. It was a sight to see, and made me even more grateful to be back in Kansas City.
As we approached the gate, I took a big whiff of the humid summer air and caught the last lingering scent of smoked brisket (a concession you will only find at Kauffman Stadium). Then we waltzed out to our car, which was waiting in one of the 19,000 parking spots, and turned on Vern's post-game show on 610 Sports Radio.
Our commute took 30 minutes in total, and we drove no fewer than 16 miles.
- This is data from the 2010–2014 census, published on USA.com.
- When ranked relative to their stadium’s capacity, the Royals were fifth in the MLB, filling an average of 88% of seats per game (according to data from ESPN).
- If the name sounds familiar, you may know it from the TV show Ted Lasso. That’s great! I’m glad Sudeikis is raising awareness for his hometown. But, I’m going to use this space to tell you: No one in Kansas City talks like Ted Lasso. No one says “y’all.” Ted Lasso has a southern accent. There is no Kansas City accent. Being in the heart of America, our dialect is a homogenous mix of all the verbal variety of the USA. The East and West, North and South, are blended so well that we have no detectible accent. Ted Lasso is lying to you.
- Check out the MLB pre-season player rankings for a couple epic highlight reels of these two talents.
- In the box score, Taylor had a walk-off hit to center field, but there's more to it than that. Mike Trout tracked the fly ball, then peeled off and let it bounce on the warning track. Trout is one of the best players of all time. He could have caught that ball. (Just look at this home-run robbery.) But either way, the Royals would have won the game. If Trout had caught it, the runner would have tagged up and scored from third. So, Trout let it drop, and Samad Taylor got his walk-off hit, instead of a walk-off sac-fly. It was a moment of complete class — a pleasure to witness.