It’s the 18th season opener for the Springfield Cardinals and on a blanket in the grass with his family is Noah Marsh, 10, and the first thing he tells me is he just got hit in the face by a baseball.
It occurs to me: the Cardinals, the city, the mayor and even John Polk Campbell are going to hate me if I write about this.
But this particular baseball was soft and blue and the perp was his 5-year-old brother William.
Noah sits next to his mom, Jennifer. He has his mitt. Dad is nearby playing catch with William and sister Annabelle, also 5, draws closer. She wants me to ask her questions, too.
The Marsh family lives in Ozark and are happy the Springfield Cardinals will be here in Springfield for many years to come since the city recently bought the stadium and nearby parking lots.
“We were worried, a little bit” that the team might leave, mom tells me.
Noah says he hasn’t gotten a foul ball yet — it’s only the third inning — but in a prior season he did.
“It’s in a case in my room,” he says. “It first hit my dad in the back.”
It’s about here in the story that brother William tossed the soft blue ball not to his father but over the short wall and into foul territory.
Noah continues: Some five years ago, he even threw out the first pitch at a Springfield Cardinals game. He can’t recall if it was a strike.
What do you like most about Springfield Cardinals games?
“Pizza,” he says.
I ask the same question of Annabelle.
“My mom and dad take me here,” she says.
No sooner does Noah ask if his family is ever going to get its blue baseball back than the inning ends and the left fielder for tonight’s opponent, the Wichita Wind Surge, jogs over and tosses it back.
Cheaper parking, but no tips for attendant
I started reporting this story on its fringes and steadily worked toward the essential core.
I commenced in the main parking lot just south of the stadium. It too, is now owned by the city. It’s operated by the Cardinals Parking is $10. It was $20 last year.
I ask several people and families how they feel about that.
I will summarize. They like it.
In fact, people handing over money to parking lot attendant Kaylee Henderson, of Springfield, tell her they love it.
Do they love it so much they tip you?
“I wish,” she tells me.
Why is ‘Poopey the Clown’ here?
Outside, I notice several people dressed in what appear to be Halloween costumes.
No, I know Louie when I see him and it wasn’t Louie.
A tall thin person dressed as a ghoul, stands near the parking lot. He tells me he is “Poopey the Clown.”
I dig deeper. I might even need a shovel.
His name is Parker Mathis and his father Sterling Mathis then introduces himself.
Sterling tells me he is a fan of the Springfield Cardinals — sort of.
“I have been to a couple of games.”
“But I definitely am not a fan of eminent domain.”
Mathis owns the Hotel of Terror, 334 N Main Ave, and he and his employee team are at the game urging fans to sign petitions in an effort to save his haunted house from eminent domain. The city wants to buy it — even though he does not want to sell it —and tear it down as part of a plan to daylight Jordan Creek.
Mathis would like to put the measure to city voters but he fell 401 signatures short in his initial petition drive.
It’s late in the game for him. He has until April 10 to get the remaining signatures and submit them to the city for certification.
‘It’s a big deal because it makes him happy’
Tonight’s crowd is sparse, although the announced attendance is 4,259 in a stadium that seats about 10,500. It is a bit cool, about 53 degrees. Some folks in the seats have blankets.
Maybe it’s true that “If you build it, they will come.”
It remains to be seen whether they will come if you buy it.
Dan Venable of Springfield sits in his wheelchair. He is 86, old enough to have watched the old St. Louis Browns and the St. Louis Cardinals play at Sportsman’s Park, which no longer exists.
“I watched Satchel Paige pitch,” he says.
Venable is with Sarah Stevens, who says she helps care for him. Venable does not hear well and Stevens helps him respond to my questions.
I ask how important it was to him that the Springfield Cardinals remain in Springfield.
“It is big deal because it makes him happy,” Stevens tells me.
At times it’s best to stop asking questions
Dale “Milk Man” Miller and Nonie Shott are at the game with baby Stella, 7 months.
Miller tells me it’s only his second Springfield Cardinals game but he likely will return.
“I will probably come a lot more,” he says. “I got a new hat.”
He’s referring to his new Springfield Cardinals cap.
Are you a baseball fan?
“I am today.”
Why are you known as the “Milk Man”?
“It’s for the ladies.”
I probe no further.
With four kids, the price is right
“You can’t beat the price,” Mike Smith of Strafford tells me.
Springfield Cardinals tickets start at $10.
He’s with his wife Larissa. Over yonder on the grass are their four children, ages 15 to 22.
Mike and Larissa ventured off so Mike could grab a beer.
I didn’t pay $10 to get in. I had media credentials. But I did buy myself dinner: jumbo dog, chips, soft drink, 12 percent tip.
Boy, 7, got a shirt; next on list is to catch a game ball
Young exuberant Cardinals employees stand on the dugouts and launch tightly bound T-shirts into the seats, some of which are occupied.
One lands in an empty row and the closest adult casually walks over, picks it up and hands it to Lucas Black, 7, of Walnut Grove.
Lucas is with his parents — Skyler and Brittany — as well as his grandmother and her best friend.
Lucas tells me it’s the first time he’s gotten a shirt. Next on his list is to catch a game ball.
The family went to two games last year. But they will go to more this season, says Susan Learn, the grandmother.
Why is that?
It’s simple, she says: “I love baseball.”
My pitch clock was running so I departed after the third inning to write this column.
The Wind Surgers won 4-1, with the home team surging to three errors.
The Springfield Cardinals historically do not make much of a first impression. They are now 3-15 in season openers.
This is Pokin Around column No. 111.