Stihl Dealer Days

Rural Missouri Magazine

The Other Cardinals
The Springfield Cardinals
find a home in the Ozarks

by Jarrett Medlin
Tyler Minges, a Springfield Cardinals outfielder, swings at a pitch during a game against the Arkansas Travelers. Like most Class AA players, Minges hopes to one day advance to AAA baseball and eventually Major League Baseball.

A booming voice declares, “If you build it, they will come.” The phrase rings through the stadium before every home game and the face of successful businessman John Q. Hammons, with his red Harry Carey-like glasses and silver pompadour, flashes across the Jumbotron. Before there was ever a team, he built it — a $32 million, 8,000-seat stadium in downtown Springfield. And, sure enough, they came.

The Springfield Cardinals, a farm club of the St. Louis team, came to Hammons Field. Then more came — a sea of red pouring into the stadium. They came with Cardinals jerseys, caps and pennants. They came with friends, children and grandparents. They came with all the pride and enthusiasm you’d expect from a Red Birds fan. Springfield embraced the team as its own and gave the minor league baseball club a place to call home.

The Cardinals’ mascot, Louie, dances on the opponent’s dugout and starts The Wave.

“We were starting to doubt we’d have a team, but we knew we’d have a stadium,” says Jerry Redfearn, a Springfield native and life-long Cards fan who attended the 1985 World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Kansas City Royals. “We couldn’t have been happier when we heard the Cardinals were coming to Springfield.”

Before they were the Cardinals, they were the El Paso Diablos — a minor league affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. The St. Louis Cardinals bought the farm team last August and Hammons coaxed the team to Springfield by building the state-of-the-art stadium. Despite public doubts, Hammons never wavered in his promise that a team would play there by opening day 2005.

On April 2, the Springfield Cardinals took the field for the first time before a sell-out crowd during an exhibition game against the National League Champion St. Louis Cardinals. Cardinal legends like Stan “The Man” Musial attended the game and minor league players got the chance to meet current stars such as Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen.

Hammons Field, a $32 million, 8,000-seat field built in downtown Springfield by entrepreneur John Q. Hammons, hosts the minor league Springfield Cardinals.

The event marked a historic moment in the community. It was the first time the Cardinals had played there in 63 years. The minor league Cardinals had played in Springfield’s White City Park during the Great Depression and up until the beginning of World War II. Such professional players as Musial, Mickey Owen and Joe Garagiola got their start in that park. Back then, the Springfield Cardinals were affiliated with the St. Louis Browns and played in the Western Association. The team was quite successful until it disbanded in 1942.

Today, the Springfield Cardinals battle it out in the Texas League, a minor league baseball division that includes Class AA teams in the south-central United States. They play ball clubs such as the Midland Rockhounds, the Corpus Christi Hooks and the Wichita Wranglers. During the course of the season, the team plays 140 games — 70 of which are at Hammons Field.

First baseman Andy Schutzenhofer stands next to a young baseball player during the singing of the Star-Spangled Banner. Before each game, local baseball players take the field with the Cardinals during the national anthem.

Home games mean revenue for Springfield. In addition to the cost of food, gas and hotels for opposing teams, family members, talent scouts and umpires, the games attract out-of-town fans.

“There has been a tremendous amount of interest, both locally and regionally,” says Tracy Kimberlin, director of the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau. “There are people coming in from cities as far as Columbia, so fans are from more than just Springfield.”

Each game brings an air of excitement to downtown Springfield. An hour before game time, players stand at the gates and sign Cards memorabilia. Awed youngsters sometimes act as if they have just met Mark McGwire or Ozzie Smith. Visitors find their seats in the stadium, which was built so that nearly any foul ball is within reach of a lucky fan. A $5 general admission ticket buys a spot on the lawn next to the outfield wall. Parents spread blankets and watch the game while kids play on the grass.

Louie, the Cardinals’ mascot, runs around the stadium during the game and poses for photos with children. Fans often mistake the giant cardinal for Fred Bird, the St. Louis team mascot, but Louie is quick to correct them by pointing at his jersey. Excited kids seem just as impressed.

On the field, players joke and sign autographs for fans while they warm up. But during the game, they remain focused and competitive.

The Cardinals host “Friday Night Fireworks” following each Friday night home game. Fans cheer as fireworks explode overhead, lighting the field and faces.

With a star-studded roster in St. Louis and a group of players waiting to move up from the organization’s AAA Memphis Redbirds team, it is doubtful that many of Springfield’s players will be playing at Busch Stadium any time soon. Still, they have the privilege of wearing Cardinals uniforms and getting paid to play baseball in front of thousands of fans each night.

“It’s really hard to imagine the amount of pride I have to get to put on the Birds each night,” says first baseman Andy Schutzenhofer, who grew up near Busch Stadium and idolized the Cardinals as a kid. “The fans, the atmosphere, the game — it’s an overall great experience.”

To learn more about the Springfield Cardinals, visit the team’s Web site at www.springfieldcardinals.com. To order tickets, call (417) 863-2143.

 

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