Tuesday, August 14, 2007

"Mmmm, Mmmm, Good!"

I’m not a virgin any more. KC-wise, that is.

In a matter of a few hours this past weekend, I finally entered the Kansas City barbecue world and … went to my first Royals’ baseball game. And for anyone who knows me, the idea that it took me over two months get to a major league ballgame is pretty out there. Honestly, I don’t know what got into me.

My friend Howard called me a couple of weeks ago to let me know that his cousin and some college buddies were heading into town for a few days, as part of their annual baseball pilgrimage. Each year they pick a city and head that way – taking in games, seeing that city's park, and enjoying the area's particular epicurean delights. 2007 meant Kansas City, Kauffman Stadium and smoked meats. So, when Howard informed the boys I was a new Kansas City citizen – I was called into action from the pen.

After picking up the guys at their hotel, it was just a three minute drive up Main street to one of Kansas City's best - Gates’ Barbecue. (On my second hand recommendation, the guys had already experienced Arthur Bryant's the day before. After what they told me, I know it won't be long before I'll be heading there as well). Once in the door, we grabbed our trays, stood on line and stared at the menu board, posted with photos of various grilled meats, fries and sides. I'm sure we looked pretty confused as the Gate's regulars shouted their orders over our heads. We did our best to make our decisions and, I don’t know about them, but my mouth was watering up a storm as I took in the ambiance. As much as I’ve worked to stay healthy and away from such treats, there is nothing, I mean nothing like the smell of barbecued meat. The counter folks and some fellow diners helped the foreigners and, as it turned out, once we got our orders straight, the four of us ended up ordering the same thing: the mixed meat platter. I don’t know, it was something like sliced pork and beef plus a bunch of ribs with fries and pickles - lots of each, trust me. Of course, each plate came with a short stack of wonder bread, which one uses to wrap around a generous helping of the meat of the moment.

"Mmmm, Mmmm, Good!" - I mean finger lickin' good. Those were possibly the best barbecued ribs I've ever tasted. Then again, how many times did I say that in Texas? Of course, the meal's highlight was Za’s dumping of his Pepsi into his mixed meat plate. (I’m sure he’ll just love that I’ve printed that here). He claims to have discovered a new type of barbecue sauce, with a new type of zest to it. Still, a little extra cola flavor didn't stop him from enjoying his meal. If fact, none of us complained as we chowed down our pre-game meal.

Well fed and ready to take naps, it was time to head out to Kauffman Stadium.

Franchise On The Rise – I’ve been in Kansas City almost three months now and can honestly say I have a taste for what’s brewing with the Royals. They’re young, talented and definitely on the upswing. As a true baseball fan, I know this; one can almost smell it. And it's kind of exciting to be here now, with the franchise armed with a young and talented general manager, Dayton Moore. Groomed by the Atlanta Braves' guru, John Schuerholz, Moore appears to be making all the right moves with this bunch. Moreover, this fans here seem content and patient in knowing that it’s going to take some sacrifice to get the Royals to where they want to be. But I have news for you, it’s not that far away, you can feel it. One or two more free agents and ... we'll see. This once great franchise (Mayberry, Otis, Patek, Rojas, White, Jackson (Bo), Brett & Saberhagen - on the left) is making its comeback and it’ll be fun to witness it firsthand. By the way, that's the "CT-Crew" up and on the right, standing in front of George Brett. From left to right - Za, Gary and Oakie. Can you see the extra 50 lbs. of Gates' on them?

Cookie Rojas Bobble-Head Day - Were we lucky or what?! Each of us is now the proud owner of a Cookie Rojas doll. I actually loved that guy when he played. (Note: Cookie was short enough. When they designed the doll, you'd think they'd at least have him standing on two legs.)

As always, the game was great - the Royals beat the Blue Jays, 4-1 and we were able to watch a future hall-of-famer at work - "The Big Hurt, Frank Thomas." The only downer was that Gary and I, being hard-core Mets’ fans, kept checking his phone to see how our boys were doing. And the news wasn’t good. In fact, it hasn’t been good for a healthy stretch now. I don’t know about him, but I’m a bit worried about my Mets. All I know is they’d better stop talking about playoff plans and take care of business. Now.

The Levee Wasn’t Dry – Leave it to a bunch of guys from Connecticut to introduce me to one of Kansas City's best night spots - The Levee. And it’s pretty much right up the block from where I live. Live music, good food, drink and pretty women, what more could a person want?

“One beer. That's it!”

I must’ve said that 40 times during my Levee experience. Well, one beer and several shots later, I was still there – much longer than expected. As it turns out, we met a nice bunch of folks (there must have been five bachelorette or birthday parties happening at once in that place) and ended up hanging out with birthday girl, Julie, and friends. Still, being that much older and wiser these days, I knew when it was time to check out since I had to get up for some early morning interviews. One last toast, some hugs and I wished the boys well on their trek back to Connecticut. I was out the door.

Epilogue - Sore throat. No voice. Four Cookie Rojas bobble-head dolls. That's what I was faced with when my eyes opened early Sunday morning.

I'm heading up to NYC in October so I'll reacquaint the boys with their Cookie dolls if we have a chance to get together. As far as the throat and lack of voice? You know … It’s why I don’t go to bars with loud music anymore. What’s the point? I ended up talking ... no ... screaming for two straight hours and couldn’t hear myself think the entire night. And that was on top of some solid play-by-play analysis at the game, topped off with shouting and high fives whenever the Royals did something exciting. Still, it really was a great day and the company was terrific, so I am most definitely not complaining here.

And, who knows? What's on the short list of cities for next year, Oakie? The pulled pork should be out of my system by then.

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