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Renovated Kauffman a sight to see

Renovated Kauffman a sight to see

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- If you closed your eyes and combed your memory bank, you could almost remember what Kauffman Stadium used to look like.

But on Friday afternoon, with the sun escaping from the clouds, the Yankees in town and the Royals taking batting practice, there weren't many fans doing that. Instead, they were basking in the shine of a newly renovated Kauffman Stadium.

Ushering in a new era of Kansas City Royals baseball, the team unveiled its new $250 million renovation of the 36-year-old stadium as the Royals hosted the Yankees in their home opener.

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On Friday morning, with rain still falling outside, Royals owner David Glass, team president Dan Glass, general manager Dayton Moore and a host of government officials gathered inside one of the newly renovated concourses and christened the new Kauffman Stadium with a ribbon cutting ceremony.

"I've looked forward to this day for a long time," David Glass said.

Royals Hall of Fame third baseman George Brett was on hand for the ceremony as well, which took place 36 years to the day after what was then called Royals Stadium opened in 1973.

"This stadium still has the charm of 1973 when it opened, and it has the modern amenities of a 2009 stadium," Brett said. "And I don't think you can duplicate the charm of a '73 with all those great memories here."

The old Kauffman staples are still there. The fountains that rise above the outfield walls in left and right field are present. The golden crown scoreboard in center field still exists -- although the new Kauffman Stadium features a shiny new high definition version, as opposed to the old-fashioned light-bulb kind.

But those old staples have been surrounded with new restaurants and suites, new features for fans, refurbished and widened concourses, more seats beyond the left-field wall and a multitude of other new additions.

And for the Royals, the key word around here is "new".

"All the polls that I've seen over the years -- Kauffman Stadium is always ranked in the Top 5," Glass said. "The players love to come here and play. The fans love to come here and watch the games. It's truly a great baseball stadium."

And many fans filed into the new stadium more than three hours before the game. Some had a drink at the new Rivals sports bar behind the right-field wall. Others walked around the new Royals Hall of Fame in left field, which won't open until July. Most just wanted to take in the scene.

"It's just a great day to hang out," John Wills of Shawnee, Kan., said, as he stood along the new party porch in right field and watched batting practice.

"This is beyond expectations, it's absolutely beautiful. It's just so open, the scoreboard is incredible. I think it's the best in the country."

Randy Gochenour, a native of Overland Park, Kan., watched batting practice with his son and took in his eighth consecutive home opener at Kauffman Stadium.

"Wow," Gochenour said. "It's absolutely amazing. I got tickets that we just spent a fortune on, but we could just stand here and watch the whole game."

Before the game, Royals manager Trey Hillman took some time to enjoy the new stadium, too.

"I walked through the tunnel and up the dugout steps, and it's certainly an eye-opener and eye-catching," Hillman said. "It's beautiful."

The Royals held two other special ceremonies before the game. The club honored former manager Dick Howser with a statue along the new Outfield Experience. Howser, who managed the Royals during their only World Series championship in 1985, passed away in 1987 after a battle with brain cancer.

And then the Royals, who are celebrating their 40th year as a franchise, gave a nod to their history and tradition during a pregame ceremony.

Forty people lined up along the outfield, each carrying a flag commemorating a year of the Royals existence, as fireworks exploded behind the massive scoreboard in center field.

The Royal Lancers, the original booster that has been with the franchise since its inception, joined 27 former Royals players on the field for the ceremony.

The crowd saved its loudest ovations for Brett and three fellow Royals Hall of Famers -- second baseman Frank White, pitcher Paul Splittorff and outfielder Willie Wilson.

The first pitch was thrown by Anita Porte Robb, the daughter of Sanford Porte, who helped name the Royals in 1968. Porte submitted the name "Royals," which was chosen from more than 17,000 suggestions.

Saxophonist Michael Phillips performed the national anthem and a military flyover from Whiteman Air Force base followed.

Glass made sure to point out that the stadium renovation isn't finished.

"As fantastic as everything looks, you're going to find little things that are left to be done," Glass said.

But on this day, with the Yankees in town and the sell-out crowd decked in all shades of blue, most fans didn't seem to mind.

"We all believed," Glass said, "that keeping the very best of what everyone liked about Kauffman Stadium, but then modernizing it, bringing it up to current day standards was the right thing to do."

Rustin Dodd is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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