Royals break ground for renovations

Royals break ground for renovations

KANSAS CITY -- There were moments of nostalgia for Royals fans.

Paul Splittorff, who threw the ballpark's first pitch in 1973, tossed the last pitch in "old" Kauffman Stadium.

George Brett, who kissed home plate as he closed out his career with Kansas City in 1993, laid another smacker on the dish.

However, the emphasis on Wednesday afternoon at the groundbreaking for the renovations at Kauffman Stadium was on the future.

The ceremonial shoveling of dirt around home plate signaled the start of a two-year, $250 million project to bring the stadium up to date and make it more fan friendly.

"We started 10 years ago when the big move was on for building new stadiums. We all believed what we had was where everybody wants to wind up today," owner David Glass said.

"It's like anything that's 34 years old, it needs to be renovated and remodeled and upgraded. We didn't have the room for the fans on the concourses, we didn't have the restroom facilities or the point-of-sale at the concessions and those sort of things. So what we wanted to do was keep the best we had and bring it up to current standards."

By the home opener next April 8 against the New York Yankees, completed areas are expected to include the new bullpens, expanded Dugout and Crown seating, expanded entryways to the Field Level concourse, and a new video display.

The video board will be a whopper.

Daktronics, Inc., will install what the company describes as the world's largest high definition (HD), light emitting diode (LED) video display.

Think of the current scoreboard and envision something that's about twice as big. The display area will be 105 feet high and 85 feet wide. And it will be topped, as is the present board, by a four-pointed, gold Royals crown.

"When we started this, we knew two things we couldn't touch were the fountains and the scoreboard [crown] -- two icons of Kauffman Stadium," said Kevin Uhlich, Royals senior vice president.

Parts of the present crown will be incorporated into the new Royals Hall of Fame at the stadium.

In addition to the center-field video display, Daktronics will install another video board on the left-field fence which will give out-of-town scores and other information. The current JumboTron will be removed.

Details of the video boards were announced Wednesday prior to the groundbreaking.

Beneath a Royal blue, cloudless sky on a delightful afternoon, club officials joined representatives of Jackson County, Mo., the Jackson County Sports Authority, Hunt Construction Group, Walton Construction and HOK Sports architects in turning earth with silver shovels.

Attending were civic leaders, Royals associates, the Royal Lancers booster group and a couple thousand season-ticket holders.

Glass struck a recurring theme that Kauffman Stadium, which opened as Royals Stadium in 1973, has maintained stature as a model facility throughout baseball for decades.

HOK's Earl Santee, a Kansas Citian, said he's been involved in the designing of 16 Major League parks through the years.

"I always used Kauffman Stadium as kind of a benchmark," Santee said. "We're taking all the experiences that we've learned from all these ballparks from all over America and applying them here. And we believe this will be the greatest ballpark in America."

Residents of Jackson County approved funding for the renovations of Kauffman and Arrowhead stadiums in the Truman Sports Complex on April 4, 2006. The Kauffman project is expected to be completed by Opening Day 2010.

The irrepressible Brett, re-enacting his dramatic 1993 moment, kneeled in the dirt and kissed home plate.

"Come down and kiss it," he told the audience. "It's a pretty good kisser."

Splittorff recalled starting the Royals' first game at the stadium.

"On April 10, 1973, I had the honor to start the first game in the newest, brightest facility in Major League Baseball. Today, it's an honor for me to join George and all dignitaries in attendance and you, the fans, as we collectively welcome the newest chapter in Kansas City Royals history."

With that, Splittorff stepped back and lobbed a ceremonial pitch over the microphones and podium to Brett.

"This is a historic day for all of us," Glass said.

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.