“They say that these are not the best of times, but they’re the only times I’ve ever known” –Billy Joel, “Summer, Highland Falls” 1977
Kansas City is in the national spotlight so rarely. Sure, there’s the occasional Monday Night Football game; sometimes the President makes a visit in an election year and occasionally a funny car chase through a cow pasture might go viral on YouTube. But I can count on one hand the number of times Kansas City has been truly in the national storyline in my lifetime.
This weekend, we had an opportunity to witness the greatest of these in decades as the city played host to the Major League All-Star Game, Fan Fest, Home Run Derby and countless events ranging from talks by Hank Aaron at the Negro Leagues Musuem to an All-Star Game watch party at Zona Rosa.
This really WAS “Our Time” as the famously infamous slogan goes.
But with every reminder of how great our town was and how we fell back in love with our city, it was balanced by constant barrages and reminders of our place in the ecosystem of the country.
The All-Star 5K Sunday morning raised more money than any other All-Star 5K in cities that included New York, Miami, Phoenix and Boston. But oppressive heat kept crowds down in the days leading up to the All-Star Weekend. My car thermometer ready three digits for an entire week as a reminder that there were, in fact numbers over 100, 103, 106 and even 108.
Downtown had never sparkled like I saw it sparkle this weekend. Curbs had been swept. Traffic cones had disappeared overnight. All Star signage was everywhere. Busses were free. City workers handed out bottled water to strangers… and smiled. But that didn’t stop the security presence on foot, four-wheeler and horse mount. There was even a brief bomb scare while we were recording a podcast in Power and Light Sunday night.
The Fan Fest allowed fans to mingle amongst Hall of Famers, All-Stars and even the team’s owner. That is, until that owner walked out of an interview and became a virtual ghost the rest of the weekend.
The real drama continued the next night as the Home Run Derby took center stage and Royals Fans reminded the rest of the country that we still believe in values such as truth and honesty – oh, and our blatant contempt for the Yankees. What followed was such a rain of audible venom upon Robinson Cano that my ears rang for two hours after I got home. Kansas Citians let out every ounce of hatred and contempt – not just for Cano, who went back on his word to put Billy Butler in the Derby, but also on 27 years of futility by the Royals, on decades of failure and years of being the also-ran’s of Major League Baseball.
The next day, however, we awoke to the same place in the standings. We were called “classless” by the same “East Coast media” that we raised a collective middle finger to the night before. Hell, I even felt bad about using a New Yorker for the quote that opens this article.
The All-Star Game finally got to Kansas City. The pregame show brought Joe Buck and Erin Andrews and someone named Phillip Phillips and all of these larger than life characters. And we let them into our house and we even gave a standing ovation to Reggie Jackson for some reason. Then, in true Royals fashion, by the time the second inning rolled around, the score was 5-0 after the greatest pitcher of a generation, Justin Verlander shared the same Kauffman pitching funk as Jonathan Sanchez and Vin Mazzaro by giving up five earned runs in 35 pitches.
And, finally, when Butler did get into the game, after David Ortiz took an extra at-bat after promising all but one to Billy, Country Breakfast grounded meekly into a 5-3 ground out, then struck out while swinging at Ball 4.
Kansas Citians are famously sensitive about criticism of their town. The shame of it is that our town is no better or worse than any other town. A city being “better” or “worse” than any other city is simply a exercise for talk shows out of topics and politicians.
The spotlight was never brighter than it was this weekend on my hometown. And now, once the spotlight shines on you, you notice the darkness even more when it goes out.
As the Billy Joel song concludes, the line rings true of our weekend: “It’s either sadness or euphoria.”