Baseball From Chicago To Houston, Part 4: Kansas City

Kansas City, Missouri. Lawrence & Wichita, Kansas. (Map)

Spring 2015



For whatever initial reason, my favourite college basketball team has always been the Kansas Jayhawks. As their home of Lawrence Kansas is only 45 minutes away from Kansas City, it was an easy decision to drive west this morning.

Unfortunately the Jayhawks' home court, the Allen Fieldhouse, was under renovation and we weren't allowed inside anyway. Apparently giant American universities aren't as slack as the St. Denis Centre at the University of Windsor! Who knew!

My consolation would be that the Jayhawks team store was open, even though it wasn't game day. Entering into the lengthy area chalked with KU blue, I was suddenly a kid in a candy store. In the end I was happy with reeling it in and only spending about $100.

Afterwards I wanted to walk the sprawling campus for hours, but I knew there were probably better ways to spend our time - especially as I'll be back here one day for a Jayhawks game. We grabbed some gas in Lawrence and headed back to Kansas City.

When it comes to being known for your BBQ, Kansas City is right up there with Memphis and Texas. Now I'm not the biggest BBQ guy, but I still had brisket in Texas & I was now going to see what Kansas City BBQ was all about.

I had looked up KC BBQ joints prior to leaving for this trip. There were places with hour-long lineups in popular neighbourhoods, but there were also smaller spots that were supposedly just as good, located in what may be rougher or off the beaten track neighbourhoods.

LC's Bar-B-Q didn't seem to be located in a rough neighbourhood, but more of a light industrial area. It was one of the first places I googled and I thought the outside looked just perfect. This was the type of place where I wanted to try KC BBQ.

Another pro? There wasn't a line and I was ready to eat.

Finding one of the few empty parking spaces, the dining room at LC's is small, but there was still enough space with almost everyone already sitting and diving into their meals. Clarkman and I approached the old school, pressed letter, plastic menu board and took turns leaning over to each other and asking questions, having no idea what things like "short end ribs" or "rib tips" meant.

Approaching the counter with that inexperienced trepidation, there was extra intimidation because of the giant smoker right behind the lady taking my order. In between being amazed at the daunting hunks of meat coming out of the smoker, I put in my order for short end ribs and fried okra.

Now let me say this about the meal: People. Holy frigging cow.

If I were to be put to death for going in empty buildings or fibbing border guards, I'd hope it was in the state of Missouri, so that they could acquire some of this for my last meal. The sauce on the ribs was this tangy, sweet dose that manages to make my mouth water even as I write this. The fried okra was also the best fried okra I've ever had hands down.

Or put it this way, writing this update has made me think about escaping Newfoundland in the winter and going to Kansas City. Aeroplan flight, BMX in the 50 degree temps, eat BBQ everyday...I am incredibly tempted.

That was a lot of okra and a lot of beef & I was still weighing trying to stuff more down, knowing that this was probably it until the next time I found myself in Kansas City. In the end I was already gluttonous enough, leaving behind LC's for the Workhouse Castle over in the 18th & Vine neighborhood.

As fun as castles seem for exploring, they're often so coveted and have to fight extra hard against people going inside, that they're usually sealed up pretty good. Thankfully, this one was right by our next destination, so what hurt was there in stopping for a second and taking a chance walkaround?

The Workhouse Castle wasn't the typical castle you picture with an old hermit or crusty millionaire standing by the turret window, waiting on anyone trying to approach their intimidating home.

Here in Kansas City, this castle was the local prison for minimum security types - petty offenders, the homeless and those who owed the city money. Instead of being kept in cells at all times, they were put to work for the Kansas City public works department (men) or in sewing uniforms for prisoners (women). Prior to working for the public works department and living here at the Workhouse Castle, the future prisoners themselves actually quarried the limestone that comprises this building.

Kansas City would use this building for other purposes after the jail closed in 1924, but the whole thing would eventually be abandoned in 1972.

The roof and floors are long gone and there are only a few opportunities to even climb up a single level. Clarkman remained focused on getting higher up in the turret, but I saw no way outside of bringing a ladder.

While I resigned myself to only climbing on top of walls, I was thankful that I was uncharacteristically wearing sunglasses as I went to pull myself up onto a wall, but instead pulled a big piece of limestone right towards my face. The limestone would hit the rim of my sunglasses and a bit of my cheekbone, only leaving a small red mark that could've been much worse.

The Workhouse Castle was abandoned for an amazing 42 years before seeing some forward progress.

Hoping to hold their wedding here in 2014, Daniel Edwards and Ebony Burnside negotiated an exchange of being able to use the property, as long as they put in the time to clean it of garbage and debris. They were additionally granted $12,000, which they then used with 350 volunteers to clean out trash for six weeks.

After the wedding, Edwards felt a need to continue this path with the castle and put out a call for redevelopment. Nothing has come yet, but the castle is still cleaned up and in parts it felt like we were exploring the backyard of some music bar instead of an abandoned building.

After the Workhouse Castle, we drove 500m (0.3 mi) up the road to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. This was Clarkman's call and I'm thankful in hindsight. They didn't allow cameras, but it was interesting to walk through the advancement of the Negro Leagues, checking out the autographed baseball collection from their stars, the old jerseys and walking the interior field with outfield walls and statues of stars like Satchel Paige.

It was now into the afternoon & there were still plenty of places left to see in Kansas City. With probably one more tourist stop remaining before the game, I decided on Kansas City's Union Terminal, which was an intriguing place in terms of it being abandoned at one time & now revived, and imagining the same thing possibly happening with Detroit's own Beaux-Arts train station one day. I was jealous of Kansas Citians being able to come read or take dates to such a place.

Back in the car, we were now going over to the Westport neighbourhood that I considered taking a taxi to by myself last night. Along the way I was impressed with the diversity of buildings and the overall size of Kansas City.

Reaching Westport soon enough, both of us wanted a place with a rooftop patio, but after parking the car in the busy neighbourhood and walking up to the bar we found, the patio was closed for a private party! We made the best of it though, myself enjoying the feel and bustle of this Westport hood much more than the Power & Light District. If I were going back to Kansas City on a trip like this, I would probably stay around Westport instead of downtown. It seemed like a much better stop for food, drinks and liveliness.

Another thing cutting into our time was the fact that there's well known tailgating at Kauffman Stadium. While Westport was fine, the sooner we got over to Kauffman, the sooner we could settle in, maybe play some bean bag toss with others, but generally just relax and enjoy the fine day that this Thursday had become.

The first pitch was getting close by the time we got there though. We only had 3 or 5 not cold beers lingering in the car after a long day of driving, but they were put to good use regardless. I was simply happy to be in an unfamiliar midwestern city, drinking some moderately cool beer and leaning against the rental.


Kauffman Stadium was my 20th MLB stadium. Only 10 more to go after Kansas City!

Throughout the trip we had to endure some stinky games, usually involving one awful team against a much better opponent. That would change in Kansas City, as one of the first things both of us noticed was that their matchup was against the Tigers. Remember that this was 2015, following the Tigers making the playoffs and getting swept by Baltimore (heh!), then Baltimore getting swept by the Royals (d'oh!). These were two teams that had just been in the playoffs and were both thinking of the playoffs again in 2015. We were both excited at the thought of a very good baseball game being on our hands.

Financing for Kauffman Stadium was approved in 1967 and ground was broke in 1968. In a time of cookie-cut, multi-purpose (baseball & football) stadiums, Kansas City bucked that trend by building separate stadiums for both baseball and football.

(The Chiefs play only a stone's throw away and Arrowhead Stadium is prominent during your Kauffman visit. It's so close that there was once a proposal to build a sliding roof that would have covered Arrowhead at times and also moved to cover Kauffman at other times.)

In bucking that trend of not building a multi-purpose stadium for Kansas City, Kauffman Stadium has outlasted many of the other stadiums that were built around this time; stadiums like Shea Stadium, Busch II, Three Rivers, the Astrodome, etc.. In addition, the only cookie-cut 1960s stadiums that remain in use are being used by billionaire owners right now as reasons to possibly leave San Diego and Oakland.

I'm so salty that I wonder whether the owners of the Royals sometimes wish they would have built a cookie-cut football/baseball donut like the others, just so that they could use taxpayer money to have a fancy new stadium now. Instead they were forced to pass measures to finance extensive renovations for Kauffman in 2007.

Kauffman Stadium is 6th oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball.

There's a group who wants to fleece taxpayers into building a new stadium downtown, but thankfully they've gained little traction amongst a fan base happy with their current stadium, who also remember spending their tax dollars on renovations not long ago.

It's not hard to imagine my excitement to see Kauffman amongst the stadiums I had remaining. Built in the 60s, with unique features like waterfalls and a giant crown scoreboard, as well as the fact that I've never been to the other 1960s stadium, Dodger Stadium?

I went for a walk sometime in the 4th or 5th inning, loving the exposed concrete underbelly that curved around showing all of the upper deck supports. The sun was setting off into Kansas somewhere and I was drunk with late day magic, happiness and maybe a few plastic cups of beer.

Speaking of that, back at our seats, this girl took her seat next to me and told me to have some of her popcorn. I had one handful, then she told me to eat all I wanted, that she would have more than she ever could eat. She was quite adamant, but then also didn't say anything more.

So I sat there, frozen with shyness and ineptitude, thinking about how it's just reaching over and grabbing some popcorn, "do it, she said to have some, don't sit there like a weirdo" I repeated to myself in my head. Even more amazing, I wasn't exactly sober at this point. This also occurred to me - I had pints in Westport, parking lot beers and Kauffman beers. I was half in the bag and still didn't have it in me to relax and just grab some damn popcorn? Good Lord.

In addition, Clarkman was feeling comfortable and talking with some good ol', dip chewing Kansas City boys about the Chiefs. It was the night of the NFL draft and we (the Chiefs and I) had taken Marcus Peters, which led to an in-depth discussion about our defense, where I watch the Chiefs enough to know how we're doing, but not enough to discuss how some corner from Washington (aka Marcus Peters) would fit in. I was intimidated by this as well.

The girl would leave and tell me to have some popcorn yet again - which I did now that the popcorn was sitting alone on the seat - and the Chiefs talk died off with those guys. I made off up the aisle to get one last call beer and try something I had read about beforehand: Kauffman's own pulled pork-mac n' Monterrey Jack cheese-bacon-scallions sausage.

Forget that girl, good Lord to this! I know it certainly took a couple of days off my life, but it was also incredible. One of the better things I've ate in my life & I was left wondering whether this was one of, if not the best food day I'd ever lived. What the hell did I have for breakfast?

And oh yeah, there was also a guy who ran on the field. I can't remember seeing that at a live baseball game before!

The game wasn't the best, especially for a couple of guys who don't mind the Tigers, with KC getting out to an 8-0 lead by the end of the 5th inning. We would leave a tad bit early to tackle the drive, something I appreciated Clarkman taking on himself and allowing me to booze through the evening.

As for the drive ahead, inexplicably in looking up the schedule for this trip, I somehow messed up the Detroit-Kansas City series and thought the first game was Wednesday. I even went on for months thinking that we had a Wednesday KC game, then all of Thursday to dawdle about Kansas and Oklahoma before getting to Dallas on Friday. I was beside myself with joy during these days, fantasizing about free time in Topeka, Wichita, Tulsa & Ardmore.

Unfortunately that was all wrong & now the part that I was most excited about was country that we'd have to rush through to get to Dallas by tomorrow night.

With that, we had 8 hours of driving to cover before the 705pm first pitch tomorrow. Clarkman wanted to drive until he was tired & I had my fingers crossed that we'd stop in Wichita. Thankfully these things aligned as we ended up at a Motel 6 on the outskirts of Kansas's most populous city.

In the morning, while Clarkman showered, I went for a stroll and checked out the homes behind the Motel 6. We were far enough from the city center that it wasn't the most exciting.

Leaving the Motel 6 behind, Clarkman was upset with forgetting to take a picture of me in the motel shower. Apparently the showerhead was so low that even he had to bend down? (Clarkman is a man of average height.) Asking me about this, I didn't notice at all, but I'm so used to bending down in motel showers that I wouldn't notice unless the thing was only something silly like 4ft high. Well the one here in Wichita was apparently so low that it would have been hilarious.

As for breakfast, I had looked up a semi-downtown place prior to this trip. The food was good, but in looking up the most popular breakfast place in Wichita, it was jam-packed with people (we had to wait for a table) then the food took some time to get to us as well. There was an Arby's across the street & I thought about why I didn't grab a quick breakfast instead, which would have allowed us more time to explore.

Looking at downtown Wichita from behind the breakfast restaurant.

The food was pretty good though, but the one thing I enjoyed most was going to pay and the lady obviously picking out my not-from-southern-Kansas accent. Upon telling her horrid tales of our snowfall amounts and winter lengths, she exclaimed that she "couldn't do" what I just described.

"Yeah, me too lady."

There were now 5 hours of driving ahead between Wichita & Dallas, with pressure to get going. Regardless, I timidly asked Clarkman if we could take a quick spin through downtown. This was one of those familiar mid-size American cities that I longed to explore (especially considering that Wichita is in the midst of the Great Plains), and I was loving every minute of the two or three blocks we drove.

Unfortunately time was of the essence and we had to get going. I know I dropped the ball by not looking up motels closer to downtown prior to the trip, which cancelled worthwhile early morning walkabouts.

Ah well. I was still happy to finally see a bit of Wichita.

Continue to Part 5...


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Southwest Detroit's Hotel Yorba

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Baseball from Chicago to Houston,
Part 3: Through Missouri


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Part 5: Dallas

1 - What Is That? Kansas City's Vine Street Castle - KCUR 89.3
2 - Negro Leagues Baseball Museum - Wikipedia

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