Anthony Ferrara has one victory and 16 top-10 finishes in his Midwest Mod in 2022. He began racing in 2020 and has one win each season so far. (Photo: Shonda Grindstaff)

OPINION |

A one-time prospect in the Cardinals system on the pitcher’s mound, Anthony Ferrara has traded his 90-mile-per-hour fastball for a different kind of speed sport.

Many long-time followers of the Springfield Cardinals remember Ferrara, a left-handed pitcher who was a part of the team’s 2012 Texas League championship. A seventh-round draft choice in 2008, Ferrara spent the 2013 and ’14 seasons with Springfield before being released.

Even though his playing days ended, following a brief stint in independent league baseball in 2015, Ferrara’s days in Springfield continued. He met his wife, Jerra, during his playing days here and the couple resides here with their year-old son Taysom.

A dirt-track racing fan going back to his childhood, Ferrara started attending races at Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland and Springfield Raceway. It looked fun and Ferrara was looking for something to scratch his competition itching. 

Fast forward a few years and Ferrara, 32, can now be found slinging dirt at Springfield Raceway or a number of other Ozarks-area dirt tracks on weekends. It’s definitely a different kind of adrenaline rush and one that the ol’ left-hander enjoys thoroughly.

“I was like, you know I need to find a way to get that competitive flame going again,” Ferrara said earlier this week, reviewing his decision to go racing in 2020.

Dirt-track racing has become a passion Anthony Ferrara, who met his wife Jerra during his career pitching for the Springfield Cardinals. (Photo: Anthony Ferrera)

Finding success in the dirt

And he’s proven to be darned good at it. Driving a Midwest Mod, one of the more-affordable classes of dirt-track cars, he’s won a feature race in 2020, ’21 and ’22 at Springfield Raceway. This season, he’s had nine top-five finishes and 15 top-10s in 18 overall events at four different venues.

It all began when Ferrara was giving pitching lessons a few years ago to the son of Dustin Mooneyham, a long-time local racer. Mooneyham encouraged Ferrera to “get a car, man. Just do it.”

“I was like, I don’t know anything about these things, but if you help me I’ll get into it,” Ferrara said. “Dustin talked me into it and now I’m hooked. I wish I could do it every day.”

Ferrara is humble about his success, crediting area drivers like Mooneyham, Scott Campbell, Will Vaught and Mike Striegel for giving him the necessary knowledge on prepping the car.

“The racing community is really unique,” Ferrara said. “I’ve learned that everybody is helpful. Everybody talks and helps each other out.”

If not for exceptional baseball talent that took him to within two levels of the major leagues, Ferrara might have been a professional racer. He grew up near one of America’s most-famous dirt track, East Bay Raceway Park in Tampa. He and his youth baseball buddies and their families often would play Little League on Saturday mornings and go to the races that night.

Ferrara also raced go-karts, but the better he became at baseball the more it became a priority. He started going to showcases and playing travel ball in the summers, leaving no time for go-karting.

Climbing the ladder for the Cardinals

For a while, it appeared Ferrara was on the fast track to baseball’s big leagues. He was 13-7 at Class-A Quad Cities in 2011 and won nine of 23 starts in Springfield from late 2012 through 2014, earning an invitation to the prestigious Arizona Fall League.

But he said that assignment, which often means a promotion to St. Louis is near, might have been the worst thing for him at that time.

“I think I was a little too comfortable,” Ferrara said. “At that point, I had been in the system for eight years and made a few all-star teams in minor leagues. I think my head got a little big and maybe I didn’t work as hard and wasn’t as invested in the process away from the field.”

Ferrara said he soon began to fall out of favor with the organizational decision-makers as his velocity declined and he was demoted to the bullpen.

“I just wasn’t pitching good enough, is what it comes down to,” he said.

‘This place has been really good to me.’

During his time pitching for the Springfield Cardinals from late 2012 through 2014, Anthony Ferrara won nine games and made 23 starts. (Photo: Springfield Cardinals)

But the time in Springfield changed his life because it led to his meeting Jerra. The couple is now raising a family as Ferraro works at Wil Fischer Distributing.

Ferrara said it’s an endorsement of the area how he and several other Cardinals over the years have made Springfield their home, after their playing days were done.

“I met my wife here,” Ferrar said. “I was on the 2012 team that won the Texas League. This place has been really good to me.”

He’s also found a new competition passion and recently re-connected with the Springfield Cardinals in a new role, as fill-in television analyst for a local telecast with iconic local announcer Ned Reynolds.

“I was more nervous doing that than my first pro start or first time racing a race car. There’s a lot of pressure doing that. Luckily I had Ned. He made me a lot more comfortable and felt pretty good by the end of it.”

Ferrara said the idea of doing more television in the future is enticing. He also would like to advance up the dirt-track racing level, with a dream of racing an A Modified or Late Model. 

Making such a move would be comparable to a promotion from Class-A baseball to Triple-A. Just like in baseball, keeping his velocity up will be a key.