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Sunday, Mar. 26, 2017

The Quest for Powder Blue

Posted Monday, April 14, 2008, at 10:39 PM

NOTE: This was originally presented as a commentary in Saturday's Herald-Tribune. The follow-up to the trip is added at the end of the blog.

As you read this fine piece of literary commentary, reporters Michael Glover and Jason Silvers and I are at least halfway to Kansas City, Mo., to brave harsh elements and a throng of people who will no doubt be crushing through the gates at Kauffman Stadium hours before the first pitch tonight.

To see the Royals? Um, no, not really. I mean, they'll be playing and all, but....

A few weeks ago, when Mike heard that tonight was going to be the first night the Royals will wear their new powder blue alternate uniform, he thought about going to see the game. When it turned out that the Royals were also going to be giving away replicas with Billy Butler's name and number on them, there was no doubt he was going to go. He asked Jason and I along and we agreed.

We didn't know back then that tonight's forecast calls for temperatures in the low 40's and a chance of showers at game time, so this may be a foolhardy mission. But go we must, for this is a mission born of nostalgia, which is how baseball sells itself these days.

Powder blue uniforms were a product of the 1970's, when wool and flannel uniforms became replaced with polyester double-knits. The uniforms could now be tapered to fit to the player's body better. The materials also allowed for more color than the basic whites, creams and grays of the past.

The first team to try powder blue was the Chicago Cubs in 1941 and 1942 (the same years they became the first team to try a vest). That didn't last long as they were back to gray road uniforms by 1943.

The next team to try powder blue was the Chicago White Sox in 1964. They wore that color through 1968, went back to gray in 1969 and then broke out powder blue as part of a uniform set that emphasized red from 1971-75.

The Montreal Expos wore powder blue road uniforms from their inception in 1969 through 1991. In fact, 1992 was the first time the Expos had ever worn a gray uniform.

Many other teams rocked powder blues at some point between 1970 and 1990: The Mariners, Rangers, Cardinals, Braves, Phillies, Twins, Brewers and Blue Jays -- who are also wearing powder blue uniforms this year, but they're much more of a throwback to the 1970s and 80's whereas the Royals are merely based upon their 1983-91 uniforms. The Cubs had a powder blue road set with white pinstripes.

But then nostalgia came into play. In the late 1980's, uniforms began to go back to the basic white and grays. The Royals and Expos were the last teams to wear powder blue, both turning back to gray for the 1992 season. You see, everything that goes around always seems to come back when a generation begins to look back to their younger years. The generation that was born in the 1950s and grew up in the early 60s were beginning to look back to that time. And during those years, uniforms had button-up shirts and belts -- and they were either white or gray.

That yearning influenced uniform design elements of the 1990s. Color never completely vanished but the palette shrunk. The San Diego Padres abandoned brown, yellow and orange over that time, first dropping yellow, then replacing brown with blue. The Oakland Athletics darkened their shades of green and yellow. Most royal blues became navy. Brighter crimsons became deeper, more toward burgundy. Bold stripes shrunk down to narrow piping.

Toward the end of the 1990's, color began to come back. Alternate uniforms, more often than not either black or navy blue, began to emerge. The expansion teams took advantage of the "hot" colors of the time: Black, purple, teal. All four of the expansion teams -- Colorado, Florida, Tampa Bay and Arizona -- had at least one of those three colors in their scheme when they were founded. Colorado has kept their purple and black scheme but Florida has minimized its use of teal and Arizona and Tampa Bay now have completely different color sets.

But now, there's a new wave of nostalgia. Those who grew up in the early 1980s and remember teams winning World Series crowns in powder blue uniforms -- the Phillies in 1980, the Cardinals in 1982, and, of course, the Royals in 1985.

In response, the Royals -- and, by coincidence, the Blue Jays -- have brought back powder blue uniforms, the first ones in major league baseball since that 1991 season. However, both teams are wearing their powder blues as home uniforms. While the Blue Jays are wearing a throwback modeled on their late 70's-early 80's design (except for the fact that the throwback has belts where as the actual ones had the three-striped waistband), the Royals have brought a 1990's twist to their powder blues.

The 80's-era powder blues had white letter and numbers without any trim. There were stripes at the end of the sleeves and around the collar, but that was all. The powder blues they'll introduce tonight have the Royals script in royal blue trimmed in white. The numbers and players' name will still be white but with royal blue trim. They'll also have piping around the collar and down the front. And, because they're home uniforms, they'll wear white pants instead of powder blue ones.

So the new uniforms are not the same as the classic uniforms children of the 80's grew up with. But they're close enough to quench the nostalgic thirst as evidenced by many postings I've seen on Internet boards that for the most part, show a majority of people like the new uniforms.

And as long as black is gone for good -- for whatever reason, the Royals jumped on that bandwagon for a few years -- I'll take powder blues any day, although after this weekend, the plan is for them to wear them only on Sundays.

I suppose eventually, kids who grew up in the 1990s will be experiencing their own form of nostalgia. But the teams they grew up with were wearing uniforms inspired by people who grew up in the 1960s. So what then, exactly, will they be looking back to? Gray, as in the early 90s? Or teal and purple, as in the late 90s?

As for me, I'm already nostalgic for the rain of two weeks ago versus this cold snap this weekend. I'm not sure which I'd rather sit through but, hopefully, the trip will be worth it. A new jersey and a Royals win will certainly make things feel a lot warmer.

(The follow-up)

We arrived in Kansas City in plenty of time. Had we gone straight to the stadium, we would have gained our prize.

Alas, we figured there wouldn't be so much demand that anyone would gather at the stadium three or four hours in advance. We were wrong.

By the time we arrived after taking a bit of a side trip, there were already at least 15,000, if not 20,000 people in the parking lot.

A few of them, perhaps not surprisingly, were Twins fans who had driven down so they could tailgate. That's not something you can really do in Minneapolis as there isn't an open-air parking lot located near the Metrodome.

We got into the line closest to our seats. But we were about 50 feet from the gate when they ran out of jerseys.

What hacked us off a lot was that there were people who went in, got their jersey and turned right around to leave.

And the game time temperature was 41 degrees with a stiff wind. I, the asthmatic, was prepared. Mike was a little more prepared.

Jason only wore a hoodie. I'm surprised he didn't turn into a popsicle.

And then the Royals lost. We left in the eighth, having decided we'd at least gotten as much for our money from the game itself as we were going to get. We ended up dining at an Olive Garden and then came home.

It wasn't as if all was lost. We got to see the players in their jerseys. We got to see the incredible new scoreboard in center field. You haven't seen Hi-Def until you've seen it 50 feet tall.

All in all, we still managed to have something of a good time.

But next time, I'm willing to bet that we go to one of those giveaways much earlier and on a much warmer day.

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