Baseball in Springfield, Missouri can be looked at in two very distinct periods. In 1905, professional baseball arrived in the form of the Highlanders, who became the Jobbers, who became the Midgets, who became the Merchants. Baseball didn’t really seem to take and it wasn’t long before Springfield was without a team.
Then came Branch Rickey who is credited with developing the farm system as we know it today. In 1932 he was the General Manager of the St. Louis Cardinals and as part of his development of a farm system he bought a team, moved it to Springfield and called them the Cardinals. From 1932 to 1946 the Springfield Cardinals won 5 Western Association Titles and put players such as Stan Musial, ‘Dizzy’ Dean and a number of the Gashouse Gang on the Springfield diamond.
In an ironic change, Springfield fielded another team in 1947, the Springfield Cubs affiliated with none other than the Chicago Cubs who have been perennial rivals of the St.Louis Cardinals. Local baseball then suffered a long drought until 1999. At that time the independent Frontier League brought the Springfield/Ozark Mountain Ducks to beautiful Price Cutter Park in Ozark, MO just 6 miles south of Springfield. Fans loved the Ducks and the stadium and the Ducks had a great 5 year run, but proved no match for the opening of Hammons Field.
Hammons Field was built just east of the downtown in the Jordan Valley area. Local businessman John Q. Hammons, whose name graces many cultural, civic and university buildings completely funded the construction of the field which bears his name. Missouri State's JQH Arena is also named for Hammons. The acquisition of a team that would be affiliated with the area’s beloved Cardinals cinched the deal. The Springfield Cardinals, the baby birds, became the Double-A, Texas League affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals.
In one of those sweet deals that we mere mortals can only hope to understand, Hammons Field also became the home of the Missouri State University Bears baseball program, a relationship which benefits all and provides the stadium with additional use. The stadium has also hosted the Missouri Valley Conference Baseball Tournament three times between 2004 and 2012, with many more future opportunities to see this great college baseball event sure to come.
Brand new and beautiful, Hammons Field has not yet had time to acquire any historical significance and that is probably something that a future generation will comment on. But as a well appointed stadium, it boasts 28 luxury box suites including one specifically for Mr. Hammons. I only know that because I read it somewhere, I’ve never been invited!
Hammons Field also has one of the largest electronic scoreboards in the country, plus the unique feature of its two baseball specific outbuildings. The larger of the two is a fully furnished indoor practice facility, astroturfed, batting cages and a partial infield for practicing plays. The facility is also used off season for various community events. The smaller building houses the offices, two team clubhouses and a cardio workout facility.
Hammons Field has been called the centerpiece of Springfield’s midtown development project. The Field shares a beautiful area with Jordan Valley Park, The Creamery Arts Center, Jordan Valley Commons, the Springfield Expo Center and the Jordan Valley ice arena. It should be a baseball stadium and area to be shared with generations to come. It was fortuitous that a large parcel of land was available near downtown and the field has none of the quirks of inner city parks. Hammons Field is a delight to the eye and to the game.
And although he never played for the Cardinals I have read that Babe Ruth played part of a season in Springfield. Even with the wonder of the internet I could not confirm this. If you have information I’d love to hear more about that.
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Everything about the food was typical ballpark fare at typical ballpark prices. Burgers and brats are grilled on site and that seems to be as exotic as the fare gets. The most interesting thing about the food and beverages is that all stands are run by volunteers. A percentage of sales goes to whatever community group is working concessions. So if you think stadium prices are extravagant, which I usually do, you can at least tell yourself that you are supporting a good cause. The recent night I was there the Central High School choir was raising money for a choir trip to Ireland. That makes a $7.50 soda and cheeseburger combo much more palatable.
For those who feel no evening at the ballpark is complete without a beer, or two, let it be known that at Hammons Field you can order any brand of beer that you like as long as it is Budweiser. That's what you get for being a St. Louis Cardinal affiliate! Oh, and did I mention peanuts? Seems a lot of stadiums don't offer peanuts anymore, I can understand the mess. However, to me I couldn't care what else they serve. Peanuts are the ultimate baseball stadium food. And in moderation they are good for you, but who needs moderation at the game?
Hammons Field is simply a great place to see a game. 2012 is only their 8th season so there hasn't been time to achieve any historical significance yet. Like any new field it was quickly chosen, in 2008, for the Double-A All Star Game. If there is a downside it is probably the same as what plagues 99% of all stadiums. One side of the stands is in the shade and the other is in the sun. On a hot, humid and just downright miserable 102 degree Missouri night I suggest you get a seat on the third base side. It's in the shade from game time to go-home-time. Perhaps we might take a cue from our Spanish friends who charge slightly less to sit in the sun at the corrida.
Hammons Field couldn't be in a better neighborhood for pre and post game snacks, meals or drinks.
Starting 3 blocks southeast of the Field at the corner of National and St. Louis we have every fast food restaurant known to man. Perhaps I exaggerate. If so it is only for affect. On this corner you will find Steak'n'Shake and Chipolte Mexican Grill. Going south on National one block you come to McDonalds. Another two blocks along and you come to Hardee's and Panera. At four blocks it's Burger King, Taco Bell and Domino's Pizza. Hey the university begins at Taco Bell's parking lot. Also on National is the Wing Shack Bar & Grill, there is more than one, but I'm not sure that it qualifies as a franchise.
Next in this mini-mecca of eateries follow Trafficway to the East, Trafficway borders the ball field on the south side. Three blocks gives you two choices, one upscale and, dare I say, the other slightly downscale. Upscale is Doe's Eat Place at 1232 E. Trafficway. It's self-proclaimed sign says, 'World Famous Steaks & Hot Tamales'. I've heard the steaks are great, but be aware it is a pricey dining experience $$$$. I never discount the possibility of finding a great bar burger and if you want to take a chance right next door to Doe's is The Dugout. I seem to remember it being a typical neighborhood bar. Now it has been spruced up and, as the name implies, taken on a new life as a baseball hangout.
Two blocks south of the park is Walnut Street and the four block Walnut Street Historical District. Here you will find another upscale dining experience at the Bangkok Seafood Restaurant. Or last, but certainly not least and probably the most appealing just from name and ambience at 1027 E. Walnut is Ebbett's Field. Ah, would that it be a tele-transportation of it's namesake, but it is a fan's daydream. The house is a 1912 Craftman's style home built by Judge Harry Durst and is on the National Historic Register. It is now the epitome of a baseball themed restaurant with menu and atmosphere styled after - you guessed it - Ebbett's Field and its Brooklyn environs. Medium priced, good portions and a selection of dining options from pizza to steak, several meals for kids and baseball everywhere you look. Give yourself plenty of time to read the menu for a Brooklyn baseball history. If there's a game on TV, you'll see it on one of their screens. Beer? Yes they have got a selection!
Springfield fans are into the game, into the between inning activities and into the eighth inning when the Anheuser/Busch march is played on that large electronic scoreboard/jumbotron. They clap along and dance in the aisles and I must admit it is like a good Broadway musical, you go home humming that march. Fans are exceedingly friendly and a night at the park has never gone by that I haven't struck up a conversation with someone around me. After all you've got the greatest conversation starter on the field right in front of you.
The largest parking lot is across the street from the stadium and comes in at a healthy $7. Ah, the price of convenience. Across Sherman Street to the west is the Creamery Arts Center. They have two small parking areas and on game night they offer parking for $5. Not the best parking deal, but my favorite since you get across the street parking and support the arts at the same time. Plus northbound Sherman Street is much lighter on post-game traffic.
Two to three blocks away, south of the main parking lot, there are two or three small lots charging $3. One of those is the parking lot of the Korea House restaurant which I didn't mention under Neighborhood because I have never been able to ascertain that it is actually open for pre-game dining.
To the south is a residential area and surprisingly there is a lot of available parking. The zero price tag makes the 3 or 4 block walk worth it.
Come on, any night at the ball game is at least worth the price of admission. I've seen A-ball played in a city park with bleachers drug over from the field next to it, a temporary fence to separate the field from the rest of the park and a terribly out of focus, black and white photo of the team as the promotion. I've seen Triple-A games in mini-palaces, seats with cup holders and bobble-heads for promotions. Bottom line, it was a game and I always had a great time. Food prices will always be high at the ball park. Hey, you're a captive audience. Remember that you have the choice, an expensive beer at the game or two cheaper ones later.
I have to give extra points to the between inning entertainment. They are all new, bright and fun. Everybody seems to enjoy them, especially the Kiss Cam as long as they are not the one being embarrassed on one of the largest jumbotrons in the nation.
Extra points for the beautiful berm area overlooking the visitor's bullpen and a great place for the young hopefuls to wait for home runs and foul balls.
Extra points to the Redbird Roost. This second level area is a Mecca for foul balls and all-you-can-eat baseball fare. Perhaps pricey at $24 a whack if you purchase tickets in advance, $25 if you purchase day of. The menu includes dogs, brats, nachos, chips, cookies, salad bar, soft drinks and other rotating food items from game to game. It's not much but at least rates an extra point. If you purchase tickets in advance you can save a buck. If you go to 24 games in a season you have saved yourself enough to take in a game at the Redbird Roost.
An additional point goes to the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame is located just southeast of the city off highway 60. Signage is clear as you are going eastbound on highway 60 and finding the Hall at 3861 E. Stan Musial Drive should be no problem.
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1232 E Trafficway St
Springfield, MO 65802
333 John Q. Hammons Pkwy
Springfield, MO 65806