On the Road: An Embiggening of the Baseball Spirit in Springfield
Prior to embarking on this latest (and therefore greatest) road trip, I had never visited any of the seven teams on my itinerary. And of these seven, the franchise that I knew the least about was, undoubtedly, the Springfield Cardinals. They’re not the kind of team to stage goofy promotions or sell attention-getting food items, and their social media presence is minimal. They simply don’t indulge in the sort of Minor League antics that capture the interest of NYC-based niche bloggers such as myself.
That’s because Springfield is less a Minor League operation than it is mini-Majors — the club is owned by the parent Cardinals, and the fan base consists of passionate St. Louis partisans. I found this out immediately upon arriving at Hammons Field, as fans were lined well before game time in order to insure acquisition of a Matt Adams bobblehead (he slugged 32 homers for Springfield last season, and is now plying his trade in St. Louis).
Cardinals fans, Cardinals fans, Cardinals fans — as far as the eye could see. I felt like I was attending a convention of bibliophiles, because so many of the people were, well, red. (For more on all of this, please see my MiLB.com piece.)
After successfully navigating my way through this phalanx of amiable midwesterners, I met with broadcaster Jeff Levering and he helped facilitate a couple of player interviews that were conducted outside of the home clubhouse (thanks to outfielders Jake Shaffer and Adam Melker for tolerating my
completely unprepared off-the-cuff stylings). From there we walked into the attached practice facility (which is shared with Missouri State), where a few players were getting in the last of their pre-game cuts.
Next stop, press box!
And in said press box, there was one of the better pre-game meals I’ve eve seen provided to us working stiffs in the media: a well equipped nacho bar! Usually I skip press box meals in order to hit the concession stands later, but this I couldn’t resist.
After the above plate of nachos was consumed, I commenced to wandering. This was one of the wandering-est days I have ever spent at the ballpark, as I didn’t have nearly as specific an agenda as I often do on these road trip stops. I just took in as many vantage points as possible, which I will provide to you along with an (allegedly) informative running commentary.
Views of the immediate surroundings, taken from the upper level:
From there, I turned my thoughts (and actions) field-ward.
I soon made it down to the concourse, and spent a little time in the berm seating area in right-center field. A gaggle of young goofballs saw me taking pictures and demanded that I take one of them. I obliged:
That Alfred E. Neuman-esque character on the right, whose red socks and sandals get-up is just spectacular, then asked if he could take my picture. He seemed shocked when I said yes, exclaiming “You’re actually going to trust me?” in a cracked adolescent voice.
I mean, why not? I grew up with two idiot brothers and am an idiot myself, so I can relate to the random young idiots I meet at Minor League Baseball stadiums. Here’s the photo that he took:
But prolonged exposure to idiocy can be detrimental to one’s professional obligations, so I soon made my way back to polite society.
I stood for the National Anthem from this bullpen location…
and then made my way toward home plate. Some visuals from this portion of the journey:
Finally, against all odds, I made it to the bustling area behind home plate.
As “mini-majors” as Springfield may be, they’re not above indulging in goofy between-inning hi-jinx. This shot was taken during a plodding father-son wing-eating competition, during which the on-field host remarked “Once again, this is a contest, and we are timing you.”
Those aforementioned press box nachos sublimated my appetite, but I nonetheless made sure to take note of the food options. The “Popcorn Factory” featured an “endless” popcorn for $7, along with an array of seasoning options.
Apparently a “Latin Vibe” can be obtained via the combination of chocolate, marshmallow and jalapeno. Who knew?
I’m sure at this juncture you’re thinking to yourself, “This is all well and good, but can I build my own Doghouse creation?” The answer to that query would be an unequivocal “yes.”
I soon came across a contemplative Louie, who is, of course, a Cardinal. The costume leaves something to be desired, but this was a bird with soul.
I strongly contemplated taking a nap on the concourse…
but instead opted to explore the area surrounding Hammons Field. Directly across the street, one finds Jordan Valley Park. It is an oasis of public art, fountains, and views of a nearby scrap yard.
The industrial atmosphere is even more pronounced directly behind the stadium.
And since I live in NYC, the following counted as a bonafide wildlife sighting.
Finally, and apropos of nothing, I came across the Springfield version of Greenzo.
Back in the stadium, it was business as usual. A game of Angry Birds was taking place on the field, during which Louie may or may not have copped a feel.
I spent the next couple of innings within the upper press box and suite level, barred from the high life by a waist-length metal fence.
The Cardinals really started to run away with the ballgame at this point in the evening. As I engaged in conversation with a kindly elderly usher (Springfield native Joseph Jefferson, who declined my request to take a photo of him), several balls left the park.
I celebrated the home town success with a popcorn (sans Latin Vibe, not pictured), and then an ice cream helmet from the Springfield Creamery.
But if you’re going to be buying anything at Hammons Field, make sure you have cash on hand. This Empire Bank ATM charged $4 for the privilege of withdrawing money from it. Concourse extortionist!
$4 poorer but still spiritually rich, I made my way back to the berm area. There was a commotion going on in and around the visitor’s bullpen — Travelers relief pitchers were creating a kiddie stampede by throwing gum and candy onto the berm. This photo doesn’t really capture the action well, but it was the best I could do.
The Travelers’ even gave away their pink equipment backpack (a Minor League staple; you may recall the one I came across in Burlington, NC last season). In this shot, the kids holding the backpack were (unsuccessfully) trying to give the backpack back in exchange for more candy.
No wonder such frivolous antics were going on — the game had turned into an unmitigated disaster for the visiting Travelers.
Yes, the Cardinals put up 20 runs on the strength of 24 hits. This was the most runs I’d ever seen scored at a Minor League game (although, admittedly, I barely watched the game), and the team and fans went home happy.
The night officially concluded, for me, once this young straggler finally made it home during the post-game Run the Bases.
All in all, it was a night to be proud of for the hometown team. John Q. Hammons, a highly successful local entrepreneur and stadium namesake, bids you all a pleasant good night from Springfield, MO.