The Kansas City T-Bones originally started as the Duluth-Superior Dukes when the Northern League was re-established in 1993. The Dukes had some competitive seasons, even winning the Northern League championship in 1997 over the Winnipeg Goldeyes, but attendance began to fall. In late 2002, the decision was made to move the Dukes to Kansas City, KS and plans were made to build a ballpark in the Village West shopping area, adjacent to the Kansas Speedway. The team name and mascot were both selected in fan contests, both of which reflected the region’s strong ties to the meat industry. Titan Construction designed and built the award-winning CommunityAmerica Ballpark in a mere nine months and two days, in enough time to start the 2003 season.
The T-Bones played their first home game on June 6, 2003. They lost that contest 1-0 to Sioux City, despite a stellar outing by Lee’s Summit, MO native Jonathan Krysa. Left fielder Chad Ehrnsberger barely missed a two-run, walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth (former manager "Dirty" Al Gallagher will tell you it was a fair ball). In the first season, the club posted a 43-46 record, staying in contention until the last week of the second half of the season. Eddie Pearson won the league's Most Valuable Player award after his June trade from St. Paul, hitting a league-leading .369 with a sizzling .404 clip in August. Pearson was selected as an all-star, along with center fielder Rick Prieto (.340 average) and closer D.J. Johnson (17 saves). Prieto was also named the league's Player of the Week for June 18-22.
Kansas City continued to build on their solid debut in 2004, making the playoffs after going 28-20 in the second half of the season. The T-Bones and Schaumburg Flyers battled to a decisive game five in the opening round, but Kansas City fell in the end. Following the season, T-Bones general manager Rick Muntean was selected as Co-Executive of the Year and Kansas City was named Northern League Organization of the Year.
The 2005 season saw the T-Bones enter the conversation as one of the best-drawing teams in all of independent baseball. Highlighted by a night that saw 9,013 fans witness a 3-1 win over the Sioux Falls Canaries on August 27, the T-Bones set a team record with 244,414 total fans on the season and finished with a per-game average of 5,555, putting them third in the Northern League and fourth in all of independent baseball for the season.
In 2006, the T-Bones played host to a few events that those in attendance will not soon forget. On May 23, in front of 5,967 fans, the T-Bones paid tribute to Kansas City legend Buck O’Neil by retiring his #22 and placing it on the left-field wall. On June 10, Kansas City took home their largest win in team history with a 24-1 victory over Gary. The game was called in the bottom of the seventh as heavy rains and lightning moved into the area while the T-Bones threatened to score yet again. The game set numerous records that still stand today, including largest margin of victory and runs scored.
The 2006 season also saw the Northern League All-Star Game come to Kansas City. The T-Bones kicked off the festivities with the Northern League All-Star Fan Fest on July 17, beginning with a home run derby that saw T-Bones players Charles Peterson and Greg Jacobs face off in the finals. Jacobs slugged eight home runs in the final round to earn the victory.
Up next was the Legends game, featuring former major leaguers Lee Smith, Fergie Jenkins and Vida Blue, as well as former Royal legends George Brett, Willie Wilson, Amos Otis and John Mayberry, along with many others. The teams were managed by T-Bones manager “Dirty” Al Gallagher and O’Neil. Otis hit the shot of the night when he took Jenkins deep in the first inning, giving the American Legends an early 1-0 lead. The American Legends would go on to win the contest 2-1.
The all-stars got their chance to shine on July 18, with seven T-Bones players named as starters. The highlight of the contest came when O’Neil stepped into the batter’s box as the leadoff hitter for the West All-Stars and drew a walk from T-Bones pitcher, Jonathan Krysa. The plate appearance made O’Neil the oldest person to ever play professional baseball. After a mid-inning trade, O’Neil would lead off the bottom of the first as well, drawing another walk and a standing ovation from the crowd of 5,975.
The game went back and forth, with the teams swapping leads four times. With the West leading 6-5 in the top of the ninth, T-Bones closer Byron Embry worked a 1-2-3 top of the frame, giving the East a fighting chance heading into the bottom half of the inning. It was time for the T-Bones to shine for their hometown fans as Craig Hurba led off the inning with a triple and later scored on a sacrifice fly by Jacobs to tie the game at six. Gary’s Jay Pecci then stroked a two-out single and stole second to get into scoring position for T-Bones shortstop Chad Sosebee. Sosebee connected for the game-winning single, giving the victory to Embry.
The team battled until the final week of the season, but fell shy of the playoffs. Despite the disappointing end, T-Bones fans continued to show their support as Kansas City pushed their single-season attendance record to 269,205. Jacobs was named the Northern League’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player and Krysa was selected as the Northern League’s Pitcher of the Year after leading the league in wins. Hurba was also selected by Baseball America as a top independent league prospect, one of just eight players selected by the magazine and the only player selected from the Northern League.
Andy McCauley took the reins as manager for Kansas City in 2007, bringing an impressive managerial record to the squad. During the second homestand of the season, the team saw their 1 millionth fan enter the gates of CommunityAmerica Ballpark on June 2. On June 7, Rob Watson’s grand slam during the Toyota “Grand Slam” inning won recently retired season-ticket holder Tom Erickson a new car. The T-Bones went on to defeat the RailCats 19-3 in that contest. Later in the month, on June 23, the T-Bones crossed the 10,000 barrier for the first time with a single-game attendance of 10,345 in a game against the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks.
Diamond legends of the past such as Ozzie Smith, Joe Carter and Frank White joined Willie Wilson in the Willie Wilson Legends Classic on July 14. The former major league greats gathered, reminisced and wowed crowds all while benefiting charity. Former T-Bones Director of Group Sales, Brandon Smith, made an appearance in the headlines on that day, falling just one home run short of tying Carter in the Home Run Derby prior to the contest.
The best single-game pitching performance of the season came from veteran Rick DeHart on August 12, who was making just his second start with Kansas City. The former Royals left-hander held Fargo hitless through eight innings that day, finally surrendering a hit to Adam Shorsher, the first batter in the ninth inning. Shorsher was the only blemish prior to the hit as he drew a walk in the third inning. A double play following the walk allowed DeHart to face the minimum through eight innings. Kansas City went on to win the game 4-2.
Kansas City held sole position of first place in the South Division for almost a month, and even saw their lead over the first-half division champion Gary SouthShore RailCats grow to five-and-a-half games on August 8. But on August 14, with Kansas City up four-and-a-half games, the RailCats began an incredible run that saw them win 11 of their 14 games coming into the final series of 2007, a five-game set between Gary and Kansas City at CommunityAmerica Ballpark from August 29 – September 2.
With the T-Bones needing to win just two of the five games, the RailCats rode their league-best pitching and defense to three straight wins over Kansas City, forcing the T-Bones to win each of their final two games on September 1 and 2. One of those losses came in a 16-inning marathon on August 31 which the RailCats won 6-4. The game took five hours and 46 minutes, breaking the team record for longest game by time. It fell short of tying the Northern League record by just two minutes.
Anthony Boughner took the mound for the T-Bones on September 1 in front of a large contingent of 9,208 screaming fans. But the left-hander allowed a career-high 10 runs, nine earned, while walking a career-high six batters as the T-Bones fell 12-7, ending their playoff hopes. It was a bitter-sweet experience for the fans on that night as the T-Bones put on their inaugural “Heroes Night,” a celebration of the true heroes in our society: the first responders, from the military to the police, fire, EMS and 9-1-1 operators.
On Fan Appreciation Day, the final game of the season on September 2, 5,803 people saw the T-Bones defeat the RailCats 3-0 as super-utility man Nelson Gord became the first player in franchise history to play all nine positions in a single game. Watson started the game for Kansas City and Mario Delgado picked up his first career save. The attendance put the T-Bones final season average at 6,024 and their final total attendance at a franchise record 289,162.
Following the 2007 campaign, Kansas City was honored as the Northern League Organization of the Year for the second time in team history.
The Kansas City T-Bones were looking to bounce back in 2008 after a disappointing 2007 campaign. They did just that. Though the overall record at the conclusion of the regular season wasn’t impressive, the T-Bones were back in the playoffs. And after getting the final playoff bid in 2008, the T-Bones made the most of their opportunity.
The T-Bones won eight of their first 10 games before finishing the month of May 12-4. Kansas City fell back to the pack in June as they lost nine of their first 10 in the month and finished just 8-17 in June. The T-Bones battled back in July and August before making their playoff push during the last weekend of the regular season. The T-Bones were in as the fourth seed and had to play the Northern League’s regular-season champs, the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, who had one of the best records in league history. Kansas City ended up sweeping Fargo in three games to advance to the finals for the first time in T-Bones history. The T-Bones then took on the Gary SouthShore RailCats, who were appearing in their fourth straight championship series. Kansas City used great pitching, good defense and power to take the series three games-to-one over the defending champs, despite the best efforts of Mother Nature.
Jim Fasano led the Northern League with 20 home runs during the regular season before a stellar postseason earned him the Northern League’s Playoff Most Outstanding Player award. He hit .462 with three home runs and 10 RBI for the T-Bones in the playoffs. Off the field the T-Bones enjoyed continued success. Just a season after welcoming the one-millionth fan through the gates the T-Bones reached a million-and-a-half fans. The T-Bones again finished second in the league in attendance, drawing 280,795 fans through the gates for an average of 5,850. Kansas City also pushed their single-game attendance to 10,403 on July 4.
The T-Bones also hosted the third annual Willie Wilson T-Bones Classic which featured several baseball icons from the past, including Kansas City greats Willie Wilson and Amos Otis, as well as Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins and 1993 World Series hero Joe Carter. The game included a memorable home run by Carter which gave the fans plenty of reason to cheer. There was also a big change prior to the start of the 2008 campaign when the T-Bones reached an agreement with Major League Soccer’s Kansas City Wizards, permitting them to play their home games at CommunityAmerica Ballpark. That resulted in an expansion in seating capacity and a new field layout. The infield went from a traditional surface to an all-grass infield. New bleacher seating was added down the left field line and above the left field wall and the left field berm was also removed and replaced with new bleacher seating with seat backs.
Kansas City followed up their championship campaign with another successful season in 2009, both on and off the field. On the diamond, the T-Bones won seven of their first 10 games before June struggles pushed them to the middle of the standings. The continued to fight throughout the season and finished in the fourth and final playoff spot, matching their finish during the 2008 campaign. The RailCats would get revenge, however, eliminating Kansas City in a closely matched opening round that went the full five games.
Off the field, the T-Bones again drew more than 240,000 fans and maintained their position as one of the top five draws in all of independent baseball. CommunityAmerica Ballpark was also recognized as the league’s best field with the 2009 Northern League Playing Surface of the Year award.
Tim Doherty, who joined the T-Bones as a bench coach in their inaugural 2003 season, earned a promotion to manager prior to the 2010 season and made an immediate impact in his managerial debut. Kansas City won 13 of their first 18 games under Doherty and held at least a share of first place at some point through almost 60% of the season.
When the regular season ended, Kansas City posted the first winning record in franchise history at 58-42 and entered the playoffs as the #2 seed behind the RedHawks. On the campaign, the T-Bones offense set fire to the record books after leading the league in most offensive categories, including a league-record 162 home runs that shattered the previous mark of 123 posted by the Winnipeg Goldeyes in 1998. Jacob Blackwood fell just shy of the Triple Crown, ending the season third in average (.331) while pacing the circuit with a T-Bones single-season record 31 home runs and a league-best 86 RBI.
Kansas City matched up with the Joliet JackHammers in the opening round of the playoffs, taking the first two games before the JackHammers battled back to force a decisive game five. Joliet took a 4-3 lead into the bottom of the ninth before a two-out throwing error forced in the tying run for Kansas City. The game went into the top of the 12th with the score still at 4-4 before Joliet gained a 5-4 lead on an RBI double by former T-Bone, Brad Correll. Kansas City couldn’t be denied another championship series berth, however, as an RBI single by Blackwood again evened the score in the bottom of the frame. Then, with two on, the next batter, Gabriel Martinez, connected for a series-clinching blast to dead center for an 8-5 victory.
The T-Bones and RedHawks met in the finals, but Fargo proved too much in a three-game sweep that culminated with a one-hit shutout by T.J. Stanton.
The 2010 season proved to be another award-winning campaign for the T-Bones as they took home Organization of the Year honors for the third time in team history. CommunityAmerica Ballpark also earned its second straight Playing Surface of the Year award while Blackwood took home league MVP honors. Finally, with more great support from T-Bones fans, the team became the quickest organization in league history to surpass the 2 million fan mark, reaching the milestone during their eighth year.
In October 2010, Kansas City, along with the Goldeyes, RedHawks and RailCats, reached an agreement to join the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball beginning with the 2011 season. The move allows the T-Bones to re-kindle old rivalries with the Lincoln Saltdogs, St. Paul Saints, Sioux Falls Pheasants and Sioux City Explorers, while establishing a new one with the Wichita Wingnuts. With the four-team addition, the American Association enters the 2011 season as a 14-team entity and one of the premier leagues in independent baseball.