Thursday, May 5, 2016

Springfield Cardinals 10 at Northwest Arkansas Naturals 6 (Texas League)- May 4, 2016


It was another school day at the ballpark, this time in Springdale, home of the Northwest Arkansas Naturals. I had to leave Springfield quite early to make it for the 11:10 start. Google Maps recommends the fastest route using I-44 and I-49, but you can save 30 miles and only add five minutes by taking a straighter route along US-60 and MO-37, which I did. As an aside, Google Maps always suggests the fastest route regardless of miles driven and you should consider alternatives if you want something other than endless interstates. As it turned out, there was a bit of road work on US-60 that delayed me ten minutes, so when I arrived at the ballpark, I had no time to do a tour, particularly as the concourse was crowded with kids.



The stadium is southwest of the town of Springdale, which is itself a few miles north of Fayetteville, famous for the University of Arkansas. It was opened in 2008 to house the relocating Wichita Wranglers, and has a capacity of 7,305. From afar, it looks more like a soccer stadium with its undulating rooftops. Next to the entrance is a small rock garden that serves no particular purpose.



There is no street parking around, so you will have to fork over $3 to leave your vehicle, with the lot far enough away from the diamond to avoid any dings from foul balls The naming rights belong to a bank that operates in Arkansas and surrounding states, which also happens to be owned by Jim Walton of the Walmart Waltons.



There were no people with extra tickets, so I bought a reserved seat for $9, which happened to be surrounded by a group of kids and their teachers. Rather than infringe on their space, I moved to a slightly better location and was not disturbed for the duration.



With only about 15 minutes to first pitch and the concourse crowded with kids at the concession stands, I didn't even bother walking around until after the game, when most of these pictures were taken.



There is a Naturals Hall of Fame with one inductee per season. Incidentally, the first honoree was Clint Robinson, who is now with Washington.



The Naturals are affiliates of the Royals and there are a number of posters around showing current Royals stars along with their Naturals debut, Royals debut, and any accomplishments. Apparently the Royals won the World Series last year, an event which I do not recall.



There is a long rectangular scoreboard in right field (barely visible below) which had quite a bit of information, though player positions were not listed in the lineup, something I have never seen before. The PA guy also did not mention the player numbers when announcing the starting lineup. Minor quibbles, but they should be included. Overall, I thought this was a pretty nice, relaxed ballpark, but I wish I had more time to explore it.



The Game

Springfield was in town for a battle of Missouri MLB affiliates with Corey Baker (49th round in 2011) starting for the Cardinals, while Eric Skoglund (3rd, 2014, KC's #28 prospect) took the hill for NW Arkansas. The big news was the AA debut of Ryan O'Hearn (8th, 2014, KC's #13 prospect) who had just been promoted. The Naturals scored in the first when Hunter Dozier singled home Orlando Calixte, but both pitchers were on their game after that, at one point combining to retire 14 in a row.



In the top of the 5th, with one out and a man on first, Luis Cruz grounded to O'Hearn, who threw a bit wide to get the lead runner. For some reason, Naturals manager Vance Wilson decided to come out to have a discussion with the umpire. I couldn't believe it, not only because there was nothing to be discussed (there was no interference), but also because Wilson was disrupting Skoglund's rhythm. Obviously, I have never pitched professionally, but I did as a kid and I always felt better when in a steady rhythm. I expected Skoglund to suffer a bit with this slight delay, and sure enough he started Harrison Bader (3rd, 2015, #10 prospect for St. Louis) with a couple of balls. The next pitch was forced and Bader pounced, doubling home Cruz. The wheels came off after that as C.J. McElroy (3rd, 2011) doubled home Bader and Bruce Caldwell (15th, 2012) homered to make it 4-1. Skoglund got out of the inning without any more trouble, but his day was done and I blame Wilson for his pointless excursion. Considering he was a major league catcher, he should know better and only argue when his team is on offense.



Anyway, Estarlin Cordero pitched the next two innings for the Naturals and gave up 3 runs in each, ending any suspense. In the bottom of the ninth, NW Arkansas scored five runs, including a no-doubt homer from O'Hearn, but that only made the score less embarrassing as Springfield won 10-6. The scoreboard was turned off before I could snap a shot, something that always annoys me.

Notes

Bader, out of Florida, finished 4/5 with 2 RBI and is certain to be patrolling the outfield in St. Louis by next season at the latest. I saw his pro debut last year on Staten Island and he hit two very long homers in that game. Less than a year later and he has jumped all the way up to AA and shows no signs of slowing down, hitting .388 with five homers for Springfield. In general, AA is the best level to watch prospects against their peers, many AAA players are older and on their way down, so you don't quite get the proper comparison and it seems like Bader has all the tools to be a major league regular.

Best,

Sean

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