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Oct 19

A look back at my columns about the Kansas City Royals: Part 11 — Surprise Stadium turns 10, first published March 15, 2012, in The Examiner, an Eastern Jackson County, Mo., daily newspaper.

Surprise Stadium turns10

“Baseball? It’s just a game – as simple as a ball and a bat. Yet, as complex as the American spirit it symbolizes. It’s a sport, business – and sometimes even religion.”
–Ernie Harwell, “The Game for All America,” 1955

Last year, I attended our Kansas City Royals spring training in Surprise, Arizona, my first visit to the Cactus League. This, year I went back to what is clearly becoming my spring birthday week pilgrimage to the desert to take in the joys and surprises of spring ball. I don’t mind saying that I am hooked.

And just like a year ago, I found plenty of surprises in Surprise. Here are my three favorite surprises of this year:

Top of my list is the realization that the Surprise Recreation Campus is 10 years old this year. The stadium is the centerpiece, the jewel, of the complex that serves as the spring training home to the Kansas City Royals and the Texas Rangers. The Royals have been there 10 years and that fact alone surprises me. Furthermore, the stadium itself is indeed a sight to behold, but there is much more to Surprise than the stadium.

A decade ago, the Surprise area was nothing more than a small community surrounded by desert.

On its 10th anniversary, the Surprise Recreation Campus now includes a public aquatic center, a tennis and racquet facility that hosts American and international championships, a public library for visitors, a stocked Surprise Lake for anglers, Dreamcatcher Park (full-accessible facility for athletes with special needs to enjoy baseball, soccer and football), and doubles as an exciting location for high school football events and community programs.

I might be guilty of sounding like an exuberant travel agent here, but certainly, the complex surprised me again. Each year, the area grows and adds new recreational attractions.

Second on my list of surprises this spring has a lot to do with seat location and ticket prices. I’ll explain.

If you want to see the Royals in spring training, there still is time. The last KC game at Surprise is March 31st. Ticket prices range from $7.00 on the lawn to $35.00 for the lower dugout. Simply visit cactusleague.com or surprisespringtraining.com, select your seats and print out your tickets.

And speaking of selecting a seat, there is not a bad seat in the house. However because it was my birthday pilgrimage to spring training, I decided to buy my family and myself a birthday present. Good seats, nah, great seats!

The Royals game was almost sold out on the day we wanted to attend, but there to my surprise on the online ticket site were some seats left in Section 102, right behind home plate, $30 apiece.

When we got to the game, we were even more surprised to learn that we were sitting with the major league scouts. How fun was that! We bantered about with them, watched their radar guns record the pitcher’s speeds and eavesdropped as they suggested trades and recommendations for which players should be moved down or kept. Fascinating stuff.

So for $30, one can sit with the scouts in Surprise. I guess I just spilled the beans, but still what a surprise.

My third surprise is more of a quick observation. One meets the nicest people from all over the country at spring training games. Typically, fans visit several ballparks and watch as many teams as they can on their spring ball vacations to the Phoenix area.

For instance, sitting behind us this year were fans from the San Francisco Giants who were just delightful to meet– mom, dad and two grown sons, Barbara, Chuck, Pete and John. I told them I would give them a shout out in my column. So hello Giants fans!

Scenes like this repeat themselves over and over at each of the 11 ballparks in the Phoenix area. Everyone seems to be having a great time, no one really cares who wins, and most of us are there for the fun of watching pure baseball without any hype.

Oh, and did I mention that the grilled peppers and onions and Arizona-style ballpark food are irresistible?

I am blocking off the calendar for this time next year, as we speak, to see what new surprises are in store in Surprise. Hope to see you there Royals fans!