It was a great day to be Kevin Kietzman on Wednesday. The 34-year old sports radio talk show host had a hard time finishing his lunch in a suburban Kansas City restaurant because of well wishers coming by his table.
They wanted to shake his hand, offer encouragement and just plain meet the man who is trying to send a grass-roots message to Major League Baseball.
To protest the inequity between large and small market franchises, Kietzman has organized a fan protest during the Royals-Yankees game Friday night. As he chows down on a taco sub, Kietzman, an afternoon host on KCTE-AM, was amazed at what he has wrought. A projected 5,000 followers will descend upon Kauffman Stadium Friday to protest what the Yankees represent to small markets like Kansas City.
It's not fair, Kietzman stresses, that the Yankees will make approximately $500,000 in broadcast rights off Friday night's game while the Royals will get $25,000. It's not fair that there isn't either A) revenue sharing or B) a salary cap. The result, he says, is the Royals 0-10 record against the Yankees last season. That marked only the second time in the franchise's history it had been swept in a non-strike season.
"I want my kids to get up in the morning and read boxscores every morning again," Kietzman said, "to care and have reason to believe every spring that their team has a chance. My nine-year old wears an Indians hat. Everybody's a front-runner, I understand that but there's no foreseeable time in his childhood that the Royals have a chance of competing."
Not only the Royals, who haven't had a winning season since 1991, but franchises like Minnesota, Milwaukee and Cincinnati. Kietzman is getting his point across in a way that would make Ghandi and Dr. Martin Luther King proud.
It's not fair to compare minority oppression to baseball's inequality but the two situations have a commonality. The oppressed are fed up.
"They need to know that we the fans understand that they are idiots," Kietzman said of baseball's hierarchy, "that they are stubborn and bull-headed and we know that. If they know that we know that, that may change something. They take us all (fans) for fools."
"They've got a dirty little secret in baseball. (It is) that they can't hurt the game. It's a great game no matter what they do. They are wrong."
Kietzman is small-market baseball's preacher of the airwaves. Most of his followers will come to the stadium wearing T-shirts that read "$HARE THE WEALTH". They plan to greet the Yankees team bus by waving dollar bills at players. Kietzman was giddy Wednesday about an anonymous tip he received. The Yankees already have made plans to avoid them and use an alternate entrance to Kauffman Stadium.
Once inside, the fans have been instructed to turn their backs to the field when the Yankees bat. After the first out n the top of fourth, they will walk out en masse and tape paper skeletons to theirs seats that will read "Small markets are dying."
Who knows what effect it will have but the walkout already has gone national. On Wednesday alone, Kietzman switched roles and became the interviewee on stations in New York, Thunder Bay, Ontario, and Jacksonville, Fla.
ESPN's Baseball Tonight has called and wants some of the T-shirts to show on the air. The Associated Press ran a story on the walkout Tuesday night. The New York Times, USA Today and several other newspapers picked up the story in Wednesday's editions. By lunch, Kietzman was -- dare we say it -- a national celebrity.
It was an idea that was literally brainstormed over the air. The first day the walkout was announced, Kietzman got 800 e-mails. At last count, the supply of 3,000 T-shirts was exhausted with fans paying a $5 donation to cover costs. The sign company that Kietzman's wife works for donated a billboard. A nearby Hooter's restaurant is being used as a staging area for protestors who plan to gather at 1 p.m., six hours before game time.
One ditzy couple is planning its rehearsal dinner tailgate-style in the parking lot to support the walkout. "I thought people were nuts when they said between 5,000 and 10,000 were going to come but I gotta think that's what it's going to be," Kietzman said.
An overall crowd of 20,000 is expected Friday. If half the crowd walks out at the prescribed time in front of the New York media, it could have a significant impact.
But there is always the chance the hype will be hollow. We are, after all, talking about sports radio where it sounds like the same five guys calling in every day.
Kietzman has heard promises and pledges from plenty of faceless callers. He won't know until Friday if Bill from Lee's Summit or Harvey from Blue Springs will follow through.
| The protest could lead to more celebrations for the Royals. (AP)|
"What you don't want to happen is ... they show the highlights of the Yankees game and it's 4-1 Yankees in the fourth," said Mike Levy, Royals marketing director. "They show all the fans walking out and the person goes, 'There goes all the disloyal Royals fans walking out on their team.' If they don't get what it is, that would be bad."
It is equal parts '60s protest march, athletic populism and passion for baseball. KCTE signed on the air as a sports talk station three years ago with a balky 40-year old transmitter that threw out a weak signal.
Kietzma and a group of investors purchased the station last year and have made significant inroads in the city's bland radio landscape. But it is still AM radio, a dying breed according to industry experts. The station was knocked off the air when fire broke out in its transmitter.
Add Wolfman Jack broadcasting out of an outlaw station in Mexico and it might be a scene out of American Graffiti.
What the conservative Royals would have never dreamed of, might be the best single piece of marketing in the franchise's history. Kietzman has been Rodmanesque in his planning. You create a stir, the networks broadcast it and you get free publicity.
The franchise is wisely staying neutral on the subject following a directive from Major League Baseball.
"We're not saying we don't want you to do it," Levy said. "If people want to buy a ticket and walk out of the game it's their business. They mean well. I think his intentions are good."
The Royals won't add extra security despite some minor warning signs. Two fans ran onto the field last weekend against the Angels. If fans start drinking their lunch at 1 p.m. Friday, things could easily get out of hand.
"Ultimately," Kietzman said, "I would love some major news organization to get somebody on record to say, 'Yes, we're aware of what happened in Kansas City and we're going to do everything in our power in a couple of years to make sure this problem is rectified.'"
"People want a reason to go out to the ballpark."
At least on Friday, they've got one.
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