Even though I attended last Wednesday’s game against the Atlanta Braves, I decided to save this piece until the conclusion of the 2019 season, which formally ended today with a walk-off 5-4 win over the AL Central Division Champion Minnesota Twins. The win was a nice conclusion for a variety of reasons: it helped secure a better record than a season ago (albeit by one; the Royals finished the 2019 campaign 59-103), and it also allowed manager Ned Yost to finish his managerial career with a memorable win, which was properly and emotionally celebrated by the loyal faithful at Kauffman Stadium at the conclusion of the dramatic win on Sunday afternoon.
Furthermore, today was also momentous as slugger Jorge Soler who not only hit home run number 48, which further put him as the American League home run leader, but his first inning blast also set the record for home runs in a season by a Cuban-born player. Without a doubt, it will be difficult to wait until Spring to see #SolerPower mesmerize Royals fans with moonshots such as this one:
While I wanted to attend at least one of the games of the Royals’ final series of 2019, it was a busy weekend for me professionally due to a commitment to a school event. Furthermore, the fact it was against the Twins, a team I had seen before, made the decision a little tougher, as I would rather have spent my last game at the K seeing a new team that I hadn’t seen in person either ever or in a while.
So, I decided that my last game at the K would be the series finale against the Braves, which ended up being not exactly the smoothest game to watch (as you will learn in the post below). And in that spirit of “finality”, I will be mixing in my thoughts about the 2019 season as a whole as I describe the experience of my final game at Kauffman this year.
A little different I know…let’s see where this takes us, Royals fans.
Pregame dinner: LC’s BBQ in the K parking lot
So for my last game at the K for 2019, I decided to go solo. Considering it was a Wednesday night game, and the Royals’ had already clinched a 100-loss season at that point, many of my friends weren’t chomping at the bit to join me for evening baseball at Kauffman. So with that being the case, I decided to swing by LC’s BBQ to grab dinner, which is located right off of Blue Parkway and is about five minutes roughly away from the stadium.
Due to LC’s location, I rarely visit the establishment unless I am going to a Royals game and/or Chiefs game (which is a lot rarer). While LC’s has some of the better BBQ fare in the city, I am also not willing to drive 15-17 minutes away when I can take a five minute walk to Slap’s BBQ, which is not only the closest BBQ establishment to me, but also my favorite in the KC Metro in my opinion.
Though I had been to about six games this year, three of those games were attended with my girlfriend at the time (we are no longer together), and she was a vegetarian, so that ruled out the idea of hitting up a barbecue joint for a pregame dinner (and other than the fries and maybe potato salad, there aren’t a whole lot of vegetarian-friendly options). The other two times I did go I went with friends where we tailgated, so there was no need to stop by LC’s since the group had brought plenty of food and one guy had a grill. Thus, with this being my last Royals game of the year, and not social commitments, I figured going to LC’s was a must, especially since I probably wouldn’t patron the place until the start of the Royals’ 2020 season.
I got in pretty early, and per usual for LC’s, the wait felt longer than the line, as you can see below:
LC’s has an interesting restaurant set up with the smoker being inside the building. The place reeks of smoke and BBQ, which makes the place smell good from the outside, but can be a bit of a nuisance when you’re waiting in line, which goes especially slow. Since I had plenty of time before first pitch, I wasn’t in a rush, so the pace didn’t bother me much. However, if I had come later and was on a time crunch, I probably would have been more frustrated, since I’m used to Slap’s speed when it comes to service.
At the same time though, I do think that the wait gives LC’s a bit of charm, much like the rugged decor of the restaurant itself. I’m pretty sure LC’s has not exactly “passed” cleanliness scores from the city with flying colors, though I did notice that the floor wasn’t greasy as it had been in visits past, so it appeared that they are improving in some area. Despite the wait and conditions, LC’s makes pretty damn good BBQ, and with me taking it to me to the park, I wouldn’t have to worry about the restaurant “atmosphere” for very long. Starving after a long day at work where I had a peanut butter sandwich and pretzel sticks for lunch, I decided to gorge on my LC’s order: a mixed plate with ribs, sausage, burnt ends, and fries with a strawberry soda to go.
The food order moved quicker than the waiting line, but they were running low on slabs, so I had to settle for rib tips as a substitute. With my BBQ in hand, made my way to the stadium, where as expected at around 6:15 for a 7:15 first pitch Royals game this year, there was little traffic when it came to getting into the stadium parking lot. I was able to get a spot in the lot close to the exit, another plus of arriving early during a 100-plus loss season.
It was a nice cool early evening at the K, so I took out a lawn chair and plopped down ready to gorge into my BBQ. The sight of it made me realize two things: I wouldn’t be needing to buy any food inside the stadium and I would definitely be having a better lunch for work the next day.
For about 21 bucks, I would take the LC’s mixed plate combo against any similar BBQ combo in the city (it definitely is better quality and a better value than the mixed plate you can get at Gates). I would rate the overall meal about a 9 out of 10. The sausage is definitely underrated, as it definitely has a homemade quality to it, as it is a case-less sausage that has a nice flavor to it, and is great wrapped around LC BBQ sauce-drenched white bread. Even though I didn’t expect to get rib tips, the substitute ended up being a blessing in disguise as I actually enjoyed the rib tips more than the ribs from LC. They were fatty and flavorful with plenty of meat and drenched nicely in sauce. LC’s may be one of the rare places where the rib tips may be a better value than a long end or short end of ribs. And the fries were hot, crispy, fresh, and thick cut, which is not exactly easy to master especially when it comes to the latter category.
My only issue with the meal was the burnt ends, which had a nice smoke to it, but were far too chewy for my liking. Burnt ends should be fatty and tender, but LC’s ones felt like they were akin to chuck steak cubes or something, which was really disappointing, because I remember LC’s burnt ends being some of the best in the city in some of my previous visits. I don’t know if it was just a bad day for them or if they have gotten different cuts of meat or what but next time I will just be getting brisket rather than burnt ends if I get the mixed plate.
Pregame from inside the K
Originally I got tickets from the view level, as I had half price tickets from a previous promotion, and I decided to go as cheap as possible. The tickets came to about 8 bucks, which is not bad at all, especially for a game against a good team like the Braves which would be preparing for the postseason.
Usually when I go to games, I like to kind of wonder in the outfield experience and/or Craft and Draft before heading to my seat. However, when I headed to the Craft and Draft, it was pretty packed, and without Boulevard Vamos on tap (which has become my favorite beer to have at the K; but since it’s Fall, they are not selling it anymore since it is primarily a summer beer), I spent more time in the Outfield Experience than usual. I have begun to appreciate the Outfield Experience more as I continue to visit the stadium: the statues and the fountains just seem to get better and better each time I come to the K.
With the stadium having a 25 percent off of team merchandise stadium-wide, I decided to buy a new Royals hat. I already have a Royals Spring Training hat as well as an old school baby blue Royals hat which they stopped using maybe five or six years ago (they used to wear it with their day game baby blue uniforms). However, I didn’t have a traditional blue and white Royals hat, so I decided to buy one along with a scorecard to fill out for the game, which would give me something to focus on in the game.
With new Royals gear, a scorecard in hand, and with a sudden appreciation of the Outfield Experience, I decided to see and look for upgrades to seats in the outfield area. I was able to upgrade for about 16 bucks, which I figured “eh…why not? It’s the last game.” Amazingly, upgrading is an incredibly easy experience on the MLB Ballpark app, as it took maybe two minutes to get an outfield seat.
When I headed to my newly changed seat, I found out I was in the middle of a large group. One of the guys who apparently bought the seats for his company did ask me if I had tickets in that section, and I showed him, and then he asked me why I was taking score of the game, and I felt like I was some student being grilled by a teacher for not doing his homework. Thankfully, when more of his co-workers arrived in their seats, he left me alone, and I was able to fill out my scorecard in preparation for the game.
While attendance at Kauffman stadium was down once again, it still strikes me how loyal Royals can be and how certain sections can almost be community events. Billy Hamilton was starting in center field for the Braves, and before the game, one season ticket holder and her baby went down to the fence to say “hi to Billy.” Say what you want about Royals fans, or at least the casual ones who abandon ship once the NFL season starts. But it always amazes me not only how loyal they are, but how polite they are as well. If this was Yankees Stadium, I guarantee Hamilton would be greeted with expletives, not greetings from a fan and her baby.
‘Hey this is great!’: Innings one through four
Bubba Starling started in center field in what would be his last game of 2019. As predicted, there were plenty of “He’s from Gardner!” conversations from the crowd around me. Seeing him in person so up close, it’s easy to forget how good of an athlete he is. While he didn’t have a ton of difficult plays to make, he looks good in the field and was able to make routine plays with ease. “Bubba mania” was an early story of the year that fizzled out after Starling lost playing time toward the tail end of the year, but I still think Bubba can be a productive starting outfielder for the Royals in 2020. It’s too bad he injured himself on what appeared to be a diving catch later in the game, as it would have been nice to see him play a little in the final series of 2019.
Also, getting to see Ryan McBroom and Alex Gordon up close was another treat, as McBroom looked more decent in the outfield than I thought he would for a guy who regularly played first in the minors when he was in the Yankees organization. When Yost made a pitching change in the game, the outfield trio produced this pretty solid yet candid photo:
Yep…that’s Gordo who’s just chilling with his glove on his head. It’s pretty much a symbol of this 2019 Royals season, though I do not know if that was intentional on Gordo’s end.
Mike Montgomery was on the bump, and as usual he was inconsistent. The former Royals top prospect who was acquired from the Cubs for Martin Maldonado has been a bit of a mixed bag in his return to the Kansas City organization. He ran a high pitch count in the game, and it always seemed like he was behind the count each and every batter. I know he has had issues with umpires before, but at the end of the day, Monty tends to nibble more than he should and that was on full display against a pretty good Braves lineup. He doesn’t have the stuff to properly attack batters, and that is going to be a problem if he’s not getting the calls on the corners, which was the case on Wednesday night’s game.
Thankfully for the Royals and those in attendance at the K (or at least the Royals fans anyway), he was able to get out of multiple jams between innings 1-4, which is a big reason why the Royals held a lead going into the fifth. Nicky Lopez probably had the best game at the plate early, as he launched a triple in his first at-bat in the second (and later scored via a Meibrys Viloria double), and also got an RBI on a bunt single. Lopez has always been hot and cold as a hitter this season, but his triple showed the potential of Lopez’s ability as a hitter if he gains a little strength this off-season. He has the swing and his plate discipline is only getting better as he gets more at-bats. With his speed and a little more pop, it’s not out of the question to think that Lopez could be a leadoff hitter for the Royals as soon as 2020, especially if Whit Merrifield is traded this off-season.
‘The wheels come off’: Innings five through nine
After the Royals scored the second run thanks to a Lopez bunt single, Monty came into the 5th and looked prime to get through the inning easily. He got Hamilton and leadoff hitter Dansby Swanson to fly out, and he had an 0-2 count on Ozzie Albies. Not only did it look like the lefty would get through five innings with a lead, but it was possible that he could stretch into the six, a surprise considering he was struggling with his command in the early innings.
And then…welp…it just got rough from from there:
Monty lost Albies to a walk, and then Josh Donaldson proceeded to score Albies with a double. Then with two outs, Nick Markakis came through with a clutch single, and suddenly, the Braves transplants in the crowd who had remained dormant the whole game until that point suddenly came alive. After the Markakis RBI, Yost pulled the plug on Monty, who finished the year 2-7 with a 4.64 ERA over 13 starts with the Royals this year. It will be interesting to see where Monty falls in the rotation, as he was not a complete tire fire unlike some starters (Jorge Lopez and Glenn Sparkman, for example), but he may be replaceable due to his lack of top-notch stuff.
Unfortunately, much to the dismay of my scorecard, things only got worse. Jacob Barnes, who has been the second-worst reliever for the Royals this year according to WAR (only Wily Peralta was worse and he was released in July), couldn’t do much to hold the tie, as Barnes struggled with his command, walking two batters and allowing a hit in only 0.2 IP (though he did strike out two batters). Former starter turner reliever Heath Fillmyer did his best to limit Barnes’ damage, but unfortunately, the Braves drove in all three runners Fillmyer inherited, and the bleeding only continued from there for the Royals and the fans in attendance.
After Fillmyer went 0.2 IP, the Royals used four more relievers over the course of this laugher: Tim Hill, Jesse Hahn, Josh Staumont, and Kyle Zimmer. Hill has been the only worthy reliever this year of the bunch, and it was interesting to see the other three in action, as in a sense they are somewhat auditioning for spots on the 2020 40-man. Hahn was a disaster, as his stuff looked electrifying in person, but he too struggled with command, as he allowed four runs on two hits and two walks and was only able to record a single out. It definitely was not the best impression for Hahn to leave on Royals management to end 2019, as there was some thought that he could turn into an Ian Kennedy type next year in the pen (i.e. failed starter turn top notch reliever), but it looks less likely after a few bad outings inflated Hahn’s era to 13.50 for the year.
The two most interesting reliever for the night though had to be Staumont and Zimmer. Both are poster children of why Moore and the Royals’ struggles with pitcher development in the post-World Series era. Both Staumont and Zimmer started off as top prospects, as they were second and first round picks respectively, and expected to be top-of-the-rotation guys for the Royals shortly after being drafted. However, neither pitcher has showed much at the big league level. Staumont sports a decent ERA at 3.72, and gave up no runs in 0.2 IP on Wednesday night, but his FIP is 6.06 and he sported a WAR of -0.2 for the year in 19.1 IP. Zimmer’s traditional numbers are even worse, as he posted an 11.42 ERA of 18.1 innings with the Royals this year, but his stuff looked probably the best out of all the relievers on Wednesday night, as he struck out the first two Braves he faced before giving up two hits and a run. It will be interesting to see how Moore will handle these two going forward. While they will still be under team control, the future looks a bit bleak for both these guys. And while there is hope they could turn it around in the pen with a full year at the big league level, it may be better for these two former top prospects to start from scratch and figure it out in another organization.
As for the hitting…well…much like the Royals in 2019, there wasn’t much to get excited about after so much early promise. The Royals scored zero runs after the fourth and only managed to accumulate one hit after the fourth inning, as the Braves relievers made the Royals batters look lost and silly for the remainder of the evening. It’s quite amazing, that in this year of amazing feat (Soler’s home run chase; Whit Merrifield leading the league in hits; Mondesi, Merrifield, and Dozier leading their positions in triples), that the Royals as a whole struggled offensively as a team. Despite the accolades of their individual stars, the Royals ranked fourth to last in wRC+ and RBI. Yes, Whit and Soler and Doz and Mondi are great building pieces for next season. However, if this Royals want to see more impact in the W-L column, Moore will need to build the lineup 5-9, as that part of the lineup was wildly ineffective in 2019.
The one positive of the night between the 5th-9th innings was Brett Phillips’ incredible catch near the wall to rob Francisco Cerveli of an extra base hit. I was in the outfield beyond the Boulevard Wall, and if you look at the GIF below closely, you can see a brief glimpse of me in my Royals light blue shirt.
I have been to a lot of baseball games, and in that moment, I didn’t think Phillips had a shot in hell at making the catch, and yet he laid out and made an incredible play that everyone in the stands will remember for quite some time. When it comes to outifeld defense, there is no better player currently on the Royals roster. As for hitting though?
Well…let’s just say Phillips fits the 2019 Royals type well.
Driving back listening to 610: Postgame and the drive home
The 2019 season for the Royals was a microcosm of my last game at Kauffman in 2019: so much potential, some highs, a great experience at times, but ultimately disappointing and underwhelming. As I have said many times before on this blog as well as on Twitter, this was a much more interesting season than 2019, and I kept thinking about that as I listened to the Royals postgame show on 610 Radio while I drove out of the stadium and back to my home in KCK (one of the easier exits I have had…a 10-2 laugher will doo that).
There is no question that I love the Royals and appreciate Royals baseball in Kansas City. An experience at Kauffman is not perfect: it would be nice to have a downtown ballpark where public transportation could make getting to games easier and limit the hassle of having to park in a crowded lot. At the same time though, being in the stadium, I just realize how much I appreciate the experience of a MLB stadium in my hometown, for it is an experience I have never had the pleasure of having in any of the previous cities I lived in prior to my migration toward KC. If I wanted to go to a Giants game, it was a two hour endeavor. Now, it’s a 20-minute one, and that’s including traffic. To be able to go to Royals baseball games at the K on a whim on a Wednesday night is an experience I appreciate as I grow older as a baseball fan.
At the same time though, the losses can mount and can be frustrating. This city is so much better when the Royals are competitive. Even when the Royals were winning 80-plus games and not winning a World Series, KC was a better place. There is a special vibe the Royals give KC when the Royals are competing, and it’s unfortunate that the special aura that was present from 2013-2017 has faded away the past couple of years.
It will be interesting to see what new ownership does and how they turn around this team this offseason. Will Whit stay a Royal? What about Soler? What do the Royals do with Gordo? Who will be the manager? These are all huge questions, because this team needs a major jolt, and it may come at the cost of a fan favorite in order to provide that much needed rejuvenation the club and fanbase is starving for.
Despite everything though, I enjoyed this season, and even as I drove back home, knowing that was the last game at the K I would be attending, I still appreciated the 2019 Royals season overall. I appreciated Soler Power and Doz’s bounce back. I appreciated Vamos beer more and doing a scorecard during the game. I appreciated Yost going out as gracefully as he has, and I like the promise of new ownership being committed to building a winner in Kansas City.
2019 won’t be the season a lot of Royals fans will tell the grandkids about. That will be reserved for 2014 and 2015. But for me, it will always be one of my most memorable as a Royals fan, not only up there with those two, but also 2013, my first year in Kansas City as a resident.
I know…a 59-103 as one of your most memorable Royals season? That sounds crazy at the surface.
But then again, when it comes to enjoying sports, one has to dive into the particulars in order to truly appreciate everything, and I felt that in 2019 I did that with this Royals club more than any other season. And for that, I felt truly invested in this team, this city and this sport more than ever. I may not have been #RaisedRoyal, but I’m totally #AlwaysRoyal from here on out.
And to be a Royals fan, you have to appreciate everything, both good and bad. For every 2015, there is a 2019, and real Royals fans love both incarnations, though in different and specific ways.
To be a Royals fan, it’s not all about the wins.
I have learned that now after six years of watching baseball at the K.
I look forward to creating more scorecards in 2020.