2023 season opener is the start of a new era for Springfield Cardinals, Hammons Field

Published: Apr. 6, 2023 at 3:01 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 6, 2023 at 4:32 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - The Springfield Cardinals 2023 season opener on Thursday (April 6) is at home against the Wichita Wind Surge.

And the St. Louis Cardinals Double-A affiliate should start its season at Hammons Field because the city of Springfield’s recent purchase of the stadium gives fans a chance on opening night to celebrate the rebirth of a team and its home that for years had been in baseball purgatory with a shaky future.

It was 20 years ago, in 2003, that Hammons Field was still under construction, and the minor league franchise that would become the Springfield Cardinals was in El Paso, Texas.

Local fans wanting to experience professional baseball without going to St. Louis or Kansas City had only one choice at the time by going to Ozark to see the Mountain Ducks, who had no affiliation with any Major League Baseball team but played in an independent league.

The Ducks decided to close their operation after seven years when the Springfield Cardinals arrived in 2005.

Hammons Field was finished in 2004, and the Missouri State baseball team was the only tenant for its first year of operation.

But John Q. Hammons made it clear when he built the stadium that while helping the Bears was great, his $32 million investment was to bring professional minor league baseball to Springfield. He accomplished that goal by working with the St. Louis Cardinals, by far the most popular team among fans in the Ozarks.

It also was the organization that had brought Minor League Baseball to Springfield.

That legacy started on what is now the Assemblies of God Worldwide Headquarters.

Back in 1907, it was the home of White City Park, an entertainment complex with a roller skating rink, arcades, rides, and a baseball stadium.

Many different semi-pro and community teams played at that park, but in 1931, St. Louis bought a minor league team, named them the Cardinals, and placed them at White City Park through 1946.

St. Louis minor leaguers like Stan “the Man” Musial and Joe Garagiola passed through Springfield on their way to becoming well-known icons.

Musial wasn’t in Springfield long but remembered his time here vividly.

“I have a warm spot for Springfield,” he said during an interview in the 1990′s.

Garagiola was just 15 years old when St. Louis sent him to Springfield to hide him from other major league organizations.

“I have great memories of Springfield. It’s a wonderful town,” he said in a 1987 interview. Garagiola, a St. Louis native, went on to host the ‘Today’ show and broadcast Major League games for NBC.

Decades later, it was John Q. Hammons who kept that Springfield Cardinals legacy alive when he built the stadium and obtained the minor league franchise in El Paso.

His remaining assets were tied up in legal battles and bankruptcy proceedings when he passed. After six years of effort and negotiations, the city of Springfield finally purchased the stadium for $12 million and agreed to an additional $4 million for stadium improvements to meet the requirements of major league baseball, thus ensuring the Birds won’t be leaving their nest anytime soon.

“To be able to continue that legacy is just great,” said Springfield Mayor Ken McClure. “The stadium is still in very, very good shape. Some repairs do need to be made to honor major league baseball commitments, but we’ve got a good venue.”

On Opening Day, Springfield Cardinal General Manager Dan Reiter said the organization has already started working on the long list of required improvements that should take around two years to complete.

“One of the things fans won’t notice is that we are required to make accommodations for the female staff and trainers that come in from other teams,” Reiter explained. “We immediately started working on that by getting a house trailer (that’s parked right outside the stadium). The other thing we’re doing right now is working on the paperwork to get new LED lights that we’re still hoping to get installed during the season. The ability to brighten up the entire atmosphere and have fun with flashing red lights on home runs is going to be part of that experience that fans will see sooner rather than later.”

Also, starting this season, fans can experience part of Hammons’ legacy by renting his private suite.

“For the first time, people can actually buy out his suite for a night,” Reiter said. “It’s the suite that was designed by John Q. Hammons for himself, and now we want to use it to honor his legacy. We really want people to have that feel of what it’s like to own a minor league stadium for a day.”

And one other part of the fan experience that visitors will definitely notice is that part of the city’s purchase is a parking lot just to the south of the stadium, where the previous owners had raised prices from $7 to $21 during game days.

With the city owning the lot, the price will be $10.

“We are beyond excited about our new parking situation,” Reiter said. “To be able to say we’re discounting parking feels good. But we’re also very excited that the nearby Price Cutter is continuing their offer where you can pay $5 to park at their lot, and all the money goes to charities. We hope the fans will use both their lot and ours.”

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