For the first time in 610 days, the Springfield Cardinals took the field on Tuesday night.
The glorious sights and sounds of the ballpark returned with masked and socially distanced fans in the stands. A moment of normalcy for fans of Minor League Baseball after such a gloomy twist of fate in 2020.
Before the season began, Dugout Dish had the opportunity to speak with Springfield’s General Manager Dan Reiter on the Baby Birds, COVID-19, and the return of baseball.
“I tell people directly that anyone who works in baseball, it’s a profession of love,” Reiter said. “You can go make more money and work less hours in other industries but you love it. I think for everyone in Minor League Baseball (during the pandemic), that love side of it was kind of stripped away. It was rough, whether it is the empathy for the fans, feeling bad for your staff or your community.”
During the missing 2020 season, the Springfield Cardinals launched #FlyTogether with t-shirt packages to support frontline workers during the early days of the global pandemic.
The net proceeds were utilized to purchase food from locally-owned restaurants who were suffering due to closures and restrictions, the organization was able to provide lunch and dinner to grocery workers and environmental service employees in the hospital.
“The only thing that we could do was try to figure out where the silver lining was,” He said. “It allowed us to find some silver linings that maybe we’ve forgotten about.”
When Dugout Dish asked Reiter what fans can get excited about the most, he laughed before responding with one word: baseball.
“Baseball. First and foremost, baseball. I think every team is going to be challenged when doing things differently this season and when you have those challenges, there are a lot of exciting opportunities that come with it,” He said. “We are excited about some of the stuff that we’ve come up with to be able to launch. We think there are ways that just because you’re not used to it, doesn’t mean it can’t be a great improvement.”
For the most part, the challenges will include limiting the number of fans. To help main social distancing, fan capacity will be limited to around 2,300. Which allows fans to be spread out throughout the stadium with masked required.
“We are moving to digital tickets and being cashless this season,” He said. “I think that’s a little bit scary. At the same time, the research shows that lines move faster when you’re cashless.”
As the organization goes digital, tickets will be distributed only on smartphones. Fans will likely be familiar with digital tickets from high school sporting events amid COVID-19. A quick swipe at the gate and you’ll be ready to grab popcorn and a nice cold drink.
Speaking of refreshments, Reiter is excited about the future at Hammons. With new technology gracing the park, fans will have easy access to obtaining their favorite game-time snacks.
“We’re not going to have it ready by opening day but we’re going to have mobile ordering at some point during the season,” He said. “People will be able to order through an app – it hasn’t been determined whether it’s going to be picked up at the concession stand or delivered to your seat.”
As fans return to the game they love dearly, the Springfield Cardinals will be there waiting. With talents such as Nolan Gorman, Ivan Herrera, and Luken Baker, it is sure to be a memorable and great season.
Photo Credit: Springfield Cardinals
Chelsea Ladd (@chelseabrooke) is the founder of Dugout Dish (@dugoutdish). When she is not covering all levels of professional baseball, she is a full-time multimedia sports reporter for The Paducah Sun News.