Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of the first game at Royals/Kauffman Stadium. While Kauffman has unfortunately seen more than its share of bad baseball, there have been plenty of special, historical moments. To honor this occasion, I will offer my countdown of the top 50 moments in stadium history, one per week, every Monday from today until April 10, 2023. Of course, this is a subjective list, but I will tend to favor moments that matter to all of baseball history.
By 2003, Royals fans were already starving for success. With no postseason appearances since 1985, there were plenty of young adults in Kansas City who had no recollection of their team in the playoffs. The Royals hadn’t even had a winning record since the 1994 strike. So when the 2003 team, fresh off the franchise’s first 100-loss season, went 5-0 to start the season, there was plenty of excitement. Then they hit the road–even then, the Royals’ habit of a nice home start followed by a brutal road trip was becoming a tradition. But this time, they won six of seven to start the trip. Ah, but then they dropped two in a row in Chicago. Was this the beginning of the end already?
Still, when the Royals returned home for a weekend series, Kauffman Stadium was nearly sold out. Between the hot start and a promotional schedule that included fireworks and a Buck Night, the team had anticipated a crowd of 30,000 with plenty of walkup sales, and set up extra ticket booths for outfield seats. Nearly 39,000 fans crammed into the ballpark, ready to celebrate.
And then the hapless (1-13 headed into the game) Detroit Tigers scored three runs in the first four innings. The Royals clawed back with single runs in the fourth, fifth, and sixth innings, and the score remained 3-3 into the 10th. Detroit left two runners on in the top of the inning, and the Royals loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom of the 10th. But being a bad baseball team is a hard habit to break, and the heart of the order failed to bring the winning run home.
Detroit went quietly in the top of the 11th, and Ken Harvey stepped to the plate to begin the bottom of the inning. Tigers pitcher Matt Anderson threw two wicked sliders to jump ahead in the count. Then he threw another good one, which Harvey just barely fouled off.
And then Anderson threw a slider that hung. Harvey blasted it into the night, an estimated 415 feet into the left field seats. As the crowd chanted his name, Harvey circled the bases with a walkoff home run and was mobbed by his teammates at home plate.
While the 2003 season ended up being an oasis in a two-decade desert of losing, on this night, anything seemed possible. A whole generation of Royals fans got to experience the excitement that older fans once took for granted.