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