KANSAS CITY — This summer, Kauffman Stadium gained a reputation as a party spot for underage drinkers.
Stadium security officers saw increasing groups of minors clutching alcohol in the parking lots. And inside the stadium, several underage kids — mostly girls — passed out and ended up at the First Aid booth.
"When we saw that, we knew we had to take some action," said Carrie Bligh, the Royals' director of event operations.
Kansas City police launched an undercover effort in early July to reduce the illegal drinking. In six operations, police arrested more than 100 minors — and a few parents, too, for providing alcohol to their children.
"We had more arrests than the Royals had runs," joked Sgt. Brad Dumit, who supervises the police vice unit.
Police even arrested several hard-headed youths twice, he said.
And — fair warning — police plan more operations before the Royals' season ends.
Bligh thinks some youths were drinking to excess in the parking lot so they could keep the party going when they got into the stadium.
"They knew they weren't going to get served (alcohol) inside," she said.
The Royals organization couldn't turn a blind eye, Bligh said.
"We are a tailgate society here in Kansas City, and we don't want to take that away," she said. "But we want people to do it responsibly. We didn't want to become the place where underage people think they can party and get away with it."
But that was exactly what was happening, Dumit said. He said minors were flocking the stadium and paying $10 parking fees — many with no intention of attending the game.
"For $10, they could sit all day, barbecue and drink and think no one was going to bother them," he said. "With the thousands of people there, they figured they'd just blend in."
Police officers wearing plainclothes, sometimes accented with Royals gear, walked parking lot aisles, zeroing in on youthful-looking drinkers.
The officers asked for identification, dumped or confiscated illegal booze and handed out about 20 warnings during their first outing, just before the Major League Baseball All-Star game.
When police returned for a second effort, they found more underage drinkers than ever. They made 40 arrests.
Because the officers looked like any other fan, the minors didn't hide the booze when the officers approached, police said.
"We could be two feet from them, and they'd still be drinking," Dumit said. "Some of them went so far as to do beer bongs in front of us."
Parents didn't notice the undercover officers, either, Dumit said.
"We would see them grab a beer and hand it to their kid," he said.
After finding an offender, the undercover officers presented their badges and called for uniformed officers as backup. Police asked the underage drinkers to blow into a breathalyzer to determine whether they had consumed alcohol. Even the tiniest presence amounted to a city charge of being a minor in possession of alcohol.
Dumit said the blood-alcohol contents he saw varied from "barely on the charts to off-the-charts."
Most offenders were 19 years old, though police arrested several as young as 15, Dumit said.
Police wrote tickets with court dates to those 17 and older. Police called parents to come get younger teens.
Most of those confronted initially tried to lie about their age. Others stayed silent. One youth ran but didn't make it far, Dumit said.
Sometimes police encountered youthful-looking drinkers of legal age. They didn't mind the hassle, Dumit said.
"They were happy we were out there doing this," he said. "The kids out there drinking and causing a ruckus were ruining it for the ones who just wanted to tailgate and have a beer or two before going into the game."
Vice detectives previously have trolled for underage drinkers. But this year's enforcement was more frequent because of the consistent problems early in the season.
"With Facebook and Twitter and other social media, I thought after a couple of times the kids would get the word out," he said. "But apparently they're not that bright."
The problems seemed to have died down somewhat after college classes resumed this fall. Police plan to start their enforcement early next season.
"We don't want to be mean," Dumit said. "But we're trying to keep them from wrapping themselves around a pole when they leave the game. Sooner or later, that would happen."