Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Arkansas Travelers 1 at Springfield Cardinals 7 (Texas League) - May 2, 2016

When you look at the entire minor league baseball schedule on any given weekday, you will usually notice a few games with start times of 10:30 or 11:00. These are designated "kids days" where local schools brings some of their classes out for a break from the grind. These are also great for road trippers as they open up the evening for other games or a relaxing night at a nearby bar. This Monday morning, it was the Springfield Cardinals who were welcoming youngsters for an 11:10 start. I had driven from Tulsa the day before so was able to finally enjoy a bit of rest myself before heading over to Hammons Field, which is located in the northern part of the city in an area with little parking. The best spot is on Walnut Street, a couple of blocks south, where parking is free at all times. If you are attending a night game, check out Big Whiskeys on Park Central which has half-price beers from 4-6.

Hammons Field was opened in 2004 and the Cardinals moved in the following year. The venue is named for local businessman John Q. Hammons, who funded the construction entirely by himself, even before he had bought the team. Once he acquired a franchise and moved it here, it was a no-brainer to use the Cardinals name as St. Louis is only about 2.5 hours away. In the team's first decade, 72 Springfield players have gone on to make their debut with St. Louis, no doubt boosting attendance in Springfield. Hammons passed away at the age of 94 in 2013, a year after his club won its first Texas League title.

The venue is quite typical, with the single seating bowl with Kelly green seats and suites above. There is some spacing between the press box area and the Redbird Roost above third base, as you can see below. There are 11 total seating options including suites and group areas. with the cheapest option being a lawn ticket at $7. I decided to splurge, buying a regular seat in the second row just next to the visiting dugout for the sum of $10.

There are a few  unusual aspects here, such as the buildings beyond right field, which house a practice facility and the team's administrative offices. There is also a basketball court above the berm in the left field corner.

There are two scoreboards here beyond left field: a manual one to the left that includes pennants for all the St. Louis World Series titles and an out of town scoreboard (below, taken the following day before a Missouri State game), and a large video board to the right, which has pennants for each Texas League team.

Of course, the best part about seeing sports in Missouri is toasted ravioli, a treat at anytime. Here it is $5.25 for six pieces, a bit much but not enough  to preclude me from buying it. Kids could buy it for $1, but I didn't think that teachers would appreciate me accosting one of their students to buy my food.

The weather wasn't that good, with temperatures in the low teens and clouds all day long. This did not affect the mood of the children, who were rambunctious and loud from start to finish. They also got hot dogs given to them on the concourse, which made it quite crowded and tough to get a clear picture, so I am using a shot from the Missouri State game, which had about 1/6 the attendance.

When I returned to my seat, it was occupied by one of a group of third graders from Bowerman Elementary, so I took the seat in front of it, in the first row.  Before the game started, a couple of boys moved to the first row, mainly to pester the Arkansas players for baseballs as they came off the field. After the first inning, one kid got a ball, so many of his classmates moved down in an attempt to get the next one. After every Springfield inning, the player who made the last out would toss the ball into the stands. One time, a young girl was unable to catch the ball, which bounced off her face, leading to some tears and a visit to the first aid tent for a bag of ice. When she returned with a shiner, she was all smiles as she was the center of attention and had received a signed ball as well.

It was quite fun to listen to the kids chatter with each other, and a few of them asked me questions about scoring the game or other baseball oddities. They are at that age where they are still completely open and not shy at all, but also unable to focus on the game in front of them. Still, they sure know a lot more about the world than I did back in 1976, surprising me with some of the things they said to each other. Overall, the experience was really enjoyable. These kids days do make it difficult to get a full appreciation of the stadium at times, but in this case their enjoyment of having a day off school rubs off on the most jaded fan. Too bad they didn't bother watching the game, which was a good one for Springfield.

The Game

Trey Nielsen (30th round in 2013, #23 prospect for St. Louis) started for Springfield and was superb, yielding only a single hit in six innings, thus earning him my Player to Watch award. His Arkansas (Angels) counterpart, Blackford (37th, 2013), was brutal, walking six batters in just three frames, with two of those coming around to score. Springfield added another run in the sixth off Austin Adams (8th, 2013), and then ended all doubt with a four-run eighth, including a 3-run homer from David Washington (15th, 2009). Arkansas scored a run in the ninth on a single from Chad Hinshaw (15th, 2013, now Anaheim's #9 prospect), who advanced to second on defensive indifference and scored on a single from Eric Aguilera (34th, 2013), but that was it as Springfield won easily 7-1.

Arkansas pitchers combined for 11 walks, while Springfield allowed only 5 runners to reach base (plus one on an error). A great win for the home team.


Missouri State also uses Hammons Field as their home ground, and I saw them play the following day, ironically also against Arkansas. More on that tomorrow.

Hammons is also the benefactor of the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, located about seven miles southeast of the ballpark and worth a visit for any sports fan, with admission just $5. There has been a lot of sports history in this state, and many top announcers such as Joe Buck and Bob Costas come from the area. There are also several Canadian baseball connections, including Montreal manager Bill Virdon (who played for St. Louis), Tom Henke (a KC native),  and Joe Carter (who attended Wichita State of the Missouri Valley Conference.

They still have a lot of Rams displays, so if you want to see that, you better get there soon. Interesting trivia is that St. Louis University was the first team to use the forward pass and now they don't have a football team in either college or the pro ranks.



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