In Kansas City, with Adam Dunn’s 400th career home run headed toward Kauffman Stadium's iconic fountains, a Chicago White Sox fan reacted the way a handful of others have done in similar situations.
He dove in to the water head-first after the historic souvenir.
And while other fans might be tempted to try something similar, Royals Hall of Fame Director Curt Nelson says that’s as frowned upon as running on the field during a game.
“It will get you thrown out of the ballpark and it’s trespassing to go in there,” Nelson said. “It’s really a safety issue to keep people out of there because it can be dangerous to get in those fountains.”
The fan was reportedly arrested, fined and had to forfeit the ball he risked his well-being for. The fan was not injured despite his awkward-looking dive and should probably be thanking his lucky stars for that.
“Getting in there is really treacherous and you can really hurt yourself if you don’t know where things are,” Nelson said.
He should know.
Nelson is one of the privileged few who can say it was once his job to control the fountains, which have for years provided an inviting target for sluggers. While Dunn’s historic ball was retrieved quickly, others haven’t enjoyed a similar fate. Nelson said it’s common for balls to simply sink to the bottom and be lost until the Royals go out of town.
“They do drain the fountains every now and then to keep them clean during road trips,” he said. “When they do drain them, they will find a lot of baseballs down at the bottom. We usually try to give them away to fans as mementos when we have some dried-out waterlogged baseballs.”
The 322-foot-long fountains use about 1.5 million gallons of water and take more than a day to completely fill up. They were the brainchild of then-owner Ewing Kauffman and were the largest privately funded fountains in the world when they were first installed.
Originally, engineers used toggle switches to control them, such as making them shoot higher when the Royals hit a home run. Now, there’s a computer touch screen in the control room that runs the show.
“When somebody would hit a home run and I would be able to flip that toggle switch to go to the home run, that was kind of a thrill for someone who grew up as a Royals fan coming to this ballpark,” he said.
The original setup included a rather unique perk for the owner because after all, when you spend a couple million bucks installing fountains in a ballpark, you want to be able to play with them yourself.
“The original controls were in both the control room and because Mr. and Mrs. K loved them so much, there was also a control for them inside the owner’s suite and they would occasionally control them,” Nelson said.
Up until recently, fans could only view them from afar because the ballpark’s concourse dead-ended in the left and right field corners. Now that it wraps around, fans can walk right up to them and enjoy the cool mist that was once available to players.
“Willie Wilson played center field out there for many years on the hot artificial turf and he would always say he would hope for a windy hot day because he would get a nice mist coming off of those fountains to cool him off in center field,” Nelson said. “In that way, it was sort of an advantage to the players who were out there.”
Waterlogged baseballs aren’t the only foreign objects engineers find in the fountains when they clean them.
With the Royals mired in last place for much of the past two decades, fans are also taking advantage of their newfound ability to be able to walk up to them hoping to change the team’s fortunes on the field. If Ned Yost and the team’s current front office can’t get the home nine in the win column on a consistent basis on talent and moxie alone, maybe a couple of lucky pennies will do the trick.
It couldn't hurt, right?
“The other thing that’s happened recently because you can walk up to the fountains is that most people do throw coins in the fountain,” Nelson said. “You always make a wish into the fountain and hope that it comes true. We had a big event, the Midsummer Classic, we’re looking forward to hosting the Fall Classic again and we’re hopefully on our way to doing that and hosting a big event in October.”