Thursday, April 02, 2009

Baseball Place No. 41: Chappell's Restaurant and Museum; and 41A: Rusty Staub's on Fifth

Sports restaurants are pretty much the same, no matter which jock has his name on the door.

There are jerseys on the walls, helmets on shelves, televisions hanging from every column and chicken wings and fingers on the menu. You know the place.

But it sounds like Chappell’s Restaurant and Sports Museum in Kansas City, Mo. is a bit different. At least Josh Pahigian says so. He picked it as spot No. 41 in his “101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out.

Josh said Chappell’s has more than 10,000 pieces of memorabilia. But it’s not all baseball stuff, though there are some pretty special treasures, like the 1974 World Series trophy.

I’ve been to Kansas City twice, but never to Chappell’s. But I have been to a sports bar and restaurant that also a little different than the others. That would be:

Alternative Place No. 41A) Rusty Staub’s on Fifth.

Rusty had several restaurants, but we went to his fancier, Fifth Avenue place twice.

I knew it would be more expensive than the typical place my wife and I went to at that stage in our young relationship. Of course, Pizza Hut was a big night out back then.

But I figured we owed Rusty.

Back in 1986, the year after he retired, Rusty had some kind of vague front office post with the Mets. We went to a game at Shea, and were standing at the window when an amazing thing happened. Rusty Staub walked through the ticket office.

I guess he was picking up tickets for friends or somebody, but there, on the other side of the glass talking to the attendant was the unmistakable Mr. Staub.

“Hey! There’s Rusty Staub!” I said aloud, excited to see a Met hero right there.

Then my fiancĂ©e uttered the phrase that brought shock, shame and pain. It’s an incident discussed only in hushed tones these days, some 20 years later.

“Who’s Rusty Staub?”

Yes, he heard it. The friendly smile went to a quick frown, and off he went.

So a year or so later we went to the restaurant, which was in a glass-walled building scanning two levels.

The entrance and bar shared a level with the Mets Clubhouse Shop, which seemed like an incredible place because it had real, game-used caps, jerseys and bats. We visited months later to pick up a game-used, cracked Barry Lyons bat.

We could have enjoyed snacks at the bar, but I was taking my wife out for a fancy meal. We were brought to a table in the lower level, up against a glass wall with a view of the atrium and escalator.

We opened a menu and were somewhat surprised to find entrees that cost more than what we used to paying on a total bill. That was the first time we had a dined at a place where the salad cost extra.

I ordered Rusty’s famous orange chicken – his grandmother’s recipe, I believe – and we at a lot of bread until our fancy meals arrived. It was delicious.

Our next visit capped off an amazing night in Manhattan. The University of Missouri School of Journalism hosted a reception in what was then the Pan Am Building for alumni to meet the new dean.

We were the youngest people there. The event was hosted by Good Housekeeping Editor John Mack Carter, who must have sensed we were uncomfortable because he came over and graciously spent a lot of time with us and pointed out the most expensive things in the food spread and told us to enjoy it all.

After the event we walked over to Rockefeller Center and had desert in the shadow of Prometheus on a spectacular New York evening.

Since we were in that part of town, we walked over to the Mets Clubhouse Shop. It was closing, but we went into the atrium to take a peek in Rusty’s. And there, through the glass in a corner booth, was Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling with a pair of ladies.

I knew better to interrupt that gathering. Keith looked up. I smiled and waved. He nodded and winked.

This time I was careful to whisper. “That’s Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling.”

This time, my wife knew who they were. We headed up the escalator and off into the night.

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