Tunnel visions: Inside the secret connection between Arrowhead and Kauffman stadiums

See the underground tunnel players use between Kauffman and Arrowhead

A tunnel beneath parking lot M connects Kauffman and Arrowhead Stadiums, which baseball players use to enter and exit Kauffman as well as inventory and concessions delivery to both venues.
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A tunnel beneath parking lot M connects Kauffman and Arrowhead Stadiums, which baseball players use to enter and exit Kauffman as well as inventory and concessions delivery to both venues.

Since the invention of football and baseball in the 1800s, writers, poets, screenwriters and other ink-stained wretches have felled entire forests committing to paper the literary struggles of burly men waging sport on eternally green patches of earth.

But win or lose, something strangely poetic occurs after each home baseball game in the tunnel connecting Arrowhead and Kauffman stadiums.

When the millionaires on Kansas City’s baseball team depart the clubhouse after an evening of chasing a little white ball around an impeccably manicured field in front of thousands of blue-bedecked fans, nearly all of them have to walk through the pungent waft of fans’ ballpark garbage to get to their Escalades and tricked-out pickups.

That last swallow of Miller Lite tepidly sloshing in a recyclable aluminum bottle. The final remnants of cotton candy hardening like sinew on the cardboard bone on which it was spun. The remaining smears of chili cheese left unwiped from the container once holding delectable ballpark french fries.

What was fan enthusiasm only moments before hangs thick in the air as fan effluvium.

“That part’s not the best, that’s for sure,” said Pat Tangen, principal for Kansas City’s Populous architecture firm.

Tangen was one of a cadre of Populous architects and professionals who worked on the Royals side of the 2009 stadium renovations. Most of his work actually ended at the underground tunnel that connects the Kauffman and Arrowhead stadiums. But he found the idea no less fascinating.

“I cannot think of another set of stadiums that have this type of situation between the two,” Tangen said. “It’s a great use of space. It’s a great consolidation of services. Instead of having to do it twice, you do it once.”

Called the “commissary,” the tunnel begins at a loading dock off of the coveted “M” parking lot between stadiums. The tunnel dips below ground and splits into a T. Turn right for the Royals, turn left for the Chiefs. If one were to miss the directional signage, one could always follow the blue or the red.

(In an ironic nod of coincidence, the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts does something very similar at the back of the house: The backstage area of Muriel Kauffman Theatre is red, and Helzberg Hall’s is painted blue. In common areas between, the walls are painted a delightful nacho cheese gold.)

Chief among the Truman Sports Complex underground commissary’s purposes is providing a throughway for pallets of soda casks and beer kegs.

On the Royals side, the tunnel opens again in Kauffman Stadium in the bowl behind home plate. On the Chiefs side, it rises, turns slightly and empties out onto the southeast side concourse at about the 15-yard line.

(In case you’re wondering, the commissary is not the same tunnel where Warpaint awaits his post-touchdown sprint on the field or where petulant tight ends retreat after being ejected by half-blind officials. Those egresses, as well as the player entrance and locker rooms, are on the west side of the stadium at ground level.)

For the most part, the single commissary serves the two teams fabulously. The stadiums are rarely used at the same time, only for the Chiefs’ two preseason dates in August and a couple of regular season games in September. There have been other exceptions: Kenny Chesney concerts and the long-awaited Royals postseason runs.

“We’ve really had to work together the last two Octobers,” said Toby Cook, the Royals’ vice president of publicity. “They’re full on with their season, and we were still playing baseball.”

On Thursday at Arrowhead, painters applied final touches to the tunnel walls on the Chiefs side of the commissary. One side reads, of course, “This Is Chiefs Kingdom.” The other features the numbers and names of Chiefs Hall of Famers, from Lenny the Cool to Willie Lanier.

The Chiefs don’t keep a whole lot of personnel in the tunnels, about 50 during the week, with about 2,000 on game day. It’s mainly a conduit for staff and the two teams’ food service contractor, Aramark.

The Royals keep some personnel and offices in their tunnel year-round, from engineering to waste management. There are more workers in the tunnel during the season, of course, including the seamstress who repairs players’ torn pants or adds American League Championship patches to jerseys.

The Royals also have dressed up their hallways in recent years, including a 100-foot mural by local artist Phil Shafer of SikeStyle Industries (he had a hand in designing the Chiefs’ mural, too). Shafer said the mural took more than a week to complete.

“Working underground messes with your equilibrium,” he said. “I remember going to a brunch a day after I finished and thinking, ‘Whoa, sunshine.’ 

Shafer said staff primed the wall for him, which saved him and his crew a bunch of time. And, artists should take note: Math is important. Shafer said the biggest challenge might have been converting what he designed onto such an enormous canvas.

He painted the mural after the 2014 World Series run. He had to return to repaint a World Series championship logo in 2015.

“So, really, I painted them a good luck charm,” he said.

Down the hall from the mural is painted a baseball diamond with photo displays of Kauffman MVPs fans have never heard of and probably have never even seen. It’s the stadium’s employees of the month board, with spots to recognize up to 10 “Employee All-Stars,” and staff members walk past it every day.

In addition to all the incoming food and supplies, the commissary is the aforementioned channel for much of the stadiums’ trash.

The Royals say they move more than 890 tons of waste through the tunnel in a year, the equivalent of much more than a Boeing loaded to the max with overweight Americans.

That sounds like a lot until you hear Kauffman is recycling and composting even more garbage. Travis Bryant, director of guest experience at the stadium, says nearly 200 tons of glass, plastic, aluminum and cardboard are recycled, and more than 70 tons of food are composted.

On the Arrowhead side, about 20 tons of trash and recycling move through the tunnel on game day, according to Brandon Hamilton, the Chiefs’ director of facilities. Most of the stadium waste is cleared out within 48 hours of the start of the game.

It goes without saying times have changed in the four decades since the complex was built. And even though the single commissary still functions well, each team might like to one day have its own.

“The needs for broadcasting and truck deliveries and trash have changed,” Tangen said. “You didn’t recycle back then, and now it takes a number of different recycling bins just for that. And I think if you asked the Royals and the Chiefs today, they’d like to have twice the space for those functions.”

Building something new or expanding what’s there would take some doing. The concrete walls are at least a foot thick, and the whole area would need to be excavated to be expanded.

When Cook gave us a tour a week ago, the Friday before the Chiefs outlasted the Jacksonville Jaguars, the tunnel walls were lined with food carts and beverages, and the halls were filled with the incessant back-up bleeps and blorps of forklifts, golf carts and gators.

“Until you’re down here and watching things get moved,” Cook said, “you don’t realize how many hot chocolate jugs there are.”

David Frese: 816-234-4463, @DavidFrese