LOUISBURG — It was a special night at “The K.”
Fans who walked into Kauffman Stadium on April 12 to watch the Kansas City Royals battle the Cleveland Indians soon realized it was no ordinary Friday night baseball game.
Quiet zones were sprinkled throughout the stadium, concession stands featured visual menus, and guests were offered noise canceling headphones and comfort blankets.
It all was a part of Autism Awareness Night, during which the Royals worked to educate fans about the developmental disability and accommodate fans living with it.
Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life. It is the result of a neurological disorder that affects functioning of the brain, impacting development in the areas of social interaction and communication skills, according a Royals news release.
Joseph Steffy, 33, of Louisburg had perhaps the best seat in the house for the event.
Miami County residents and people all around the Kansas City metro area have become familiar with Joseph over the years thanks to his business called Poppin Joe’s Gourmet Kettle Korn.
His kettle korn has been featured in local stores such as the Louisburg Cider Mill, as well as at several regional events such as the KC RiverFest, Kansas City Irish Fest, Boulevardia and more.
Joseph, who has both autism and Down syndrome, got the honor of sitting in the Buck O’Neil Legacy Seat behind home plate during the game April 12. O’Neil spent many days and nights supporting the Royals from the same seat behind home plate at Kauffman Stadium, both as a scout and a fan. To honor him, the Royals fill “Buck’s Seat” for every home game with a member of the community who, on a large or small scale, embodies an aspect of Buck’s spirit, according to the team’s website.
Buck’s Seat honorees are featured during FOX Sports Kansas City broadcasts of home Royals games, and Joseph also was applauded by his fellow fans when his picture was put up on the big electronic scoreboard.
His parents, Ray and Janet, were right there alongside him as his cheering squad. Ray said that when Joseph was in high school in the Blue Valley school district, he was told he’d likely never hold a job and would probably live in a group home.
“We’re going to prove them wrong,” Ray remembers telling his son.
Joseph became owner of the kettle korn business in 2005, and last year his sales totaled more than $80,000, Ray said.