More than 7,000 turn out to see T-Bones debut in KC

Sunday, June 8, 2003

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- It was standing room only at the debut of the Kansas City T-Bones Friday evening, the first professional baseball team to begin calling Kansas City home since the Royals put down roots in 1969.

Every one of the 4,500 seats at the brand new CommunityAmerica Ballpark was filled and many more fans spread out blankets on the grassy knoll in the picnic area behind right field. But the 7,014 officially in attendance left disappointed, as the Sioux City Explorers beat the new hometown club 1-0.

Casey Baker drove in the winnng run in the fifth after a two-base throwing error by T-Bones third baseman Jeff Brooks.

As the T-Bones prepared to meet the Explorers, cheerleaders danced atop the dugouts and skydivers came tumbling out of the white, fleecy clouds above this once-depressed but now-vibrant corner of Wyandotte County.

If a skydiver lands on a spectator, the public address announcer intoned, "you get a free hotdog."

The team mascot, "Sizzle the Bull," came snorting onto the field and the T-Bones theme song rocked the ballpark. Sizzle looked very much like a guy dressed in a comical cow costume and the tune sounded suspiciously like a ripoff of the theme song of the Flintstones.

But nobody seemed to mind.

"I think this is going to be a lot of fun," said Lisa Palmer of Lawrence.

"As long as the team is competitive and the prices are kept down, I think the T-Bones will be a big success," said Logan Weber of Kansas City, Mo. "I love baseball but I don't go out to see the Royals very much anymore because I'm tired of those spoiled brats."

Top to bottom, the T-Bones are the cheaper cut. The most expensive seat in Kauffman Stadium costs $140. At CommunityAmerica Ballpark, the "Prime T-Bone" seats cost $13.50. Box seats are $22 to see the Royals while the equivalent for the T-Bones are $9.50.

While Royals' star Mike Sweeney carries a five-year, $55 million contract, nobody on the T-Bones can make more than $3,000 a month according to Northern League rules.

The players are mostly college and low-minor league veterans, playing in an independent league for a team without affiliation to a big-league club. Some still harbor dreams of playing in the big leagues, while others have come to grips with reality.

"The guys play baseball because they love it and want to get to another level," Ehlert said. "But they also realize, 'Hey, I am playing baseball for a living. This kid wants my autograph and I'm going to sign it.'

"They appreciate playing baseball for a living, and that's a pretty cool deal. They tend to have the mindset, 'I could be released tomorrow and back to a normal job."'

The way the T-Bones came by their catchy name says a lot about how Kansas Citians view their town. Shortly after announcing they were moving from Duluth, Minn., the Ehlert family conducted a name-the-team contest and received about 3,000 entries.

"Almost all of them could be divided into three categories," Adam Ehlert said.

One drew from Kansas City's famed jazz heritage and played off a musical theme. Another third made connections to the nearby Kansas Speedway.

"But the other third all had to do with meat," said Ehlert. "The T-Bones seemed natural."

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