Josh Kinney at Hammons Field in 2005, when he had 11 saves in 32 relief appearances for the Springfield Cardinals. (Photo by Mark Harrell/Springfield Cardinals)

OPINION |

A new season of Springfield Cardinals baseball opens April 8 at Hammons Field which means the search for the next flock of baby birds to make it to St. Louis resumes.

Since the team’s inaugural season of 2005, 117 Springfield Cardinals have advanced from the Double-A level to Busch Stadium. Josh Kinney was and always will be the first.

Kinney now is a professional timber harvester, happily raising a family and living on his farm in Ash Grove. More on that later. First, let’s revisit Josh Kinney, the Springfield Cardinals trailblazer. 

“At the time, I didn’t really think a whole lot about it,” Kinney said of being the first Springfield Cardinal to become a St. Louis Cardinal. “Now that my career is over, and I got to play here and I still live in and involved in the community, it’s a neat honor.

“It never gets old hearing it. In fact, I love it when I hear it. I’m humbled to be a Springfield Cardinal just as I was humbled to be a major-league Cardinal. I carry that dear to my heart.”

From Hammons Field to Busch Stadium

Kinney was stellar in a half-season in Springfield in 2005, pitching relief in 32 games with a 5-2 record, 11 saves and a 1.29 earned run average. He was promoted to Triple-A Memphis at midseason and, eventually, to St. Louis in 2006.

With the big-league Cardinals, he became a key member of the bullpen in a march to the 2006 World Series title. After appearing in 21 regular-season games, Kinney was spotless in seven postseason appearances, allowing only three hits in 6 ⅓ innings and was the winning pitcher in Game 2 of the NLCS against the New York Mets.

But beyond the numbers, Springfield was a magical place for Kinney —  even though he only played here a few months in 2005. He met his future wife, Jorni, on a lunch trip to Hemingway’s restaurant inside Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World.

An avid hunter and fisherman, Kinney frequently visited the outdoors playland. The decision to grab lunch with teammate and roommate Dan Moylan, his catcher, was life-changing.

Jorni and a friend worked at Hemingway’s and Moylan invited the friend to Hammons Field for a game. Jorni came along and the rest, as they say, is history.

“She didn’t know a lot about baseball, but literally from the time we met at Hemingway’s in 2005, we’ve been together ever since,” Kinney said. “It’s a neat little love story. It was meant to be. We’ve (lived) in the area ever since.”

The couple has four children ; sons Saxton (11), Sawyer (8) and Spike (3) along with daughter Star (6). 

The oldest boys are involved in youth travel baseball and Josh is helping coach the team. It leaves little time to closely follow the Springfield Cardinals, though Josh takes the family to the ballpark two or three times a year. 

“Major-League baseball, I check box scores and watch Cardinals games when they’re on,” he said. “I still love the game and follow it from afar. We make a trip or two a year to St. Louis for some alumni stuff.

“It’s been a neat ride, being a former player and being a part of the Cardinal family.”

Kinney missed the entire 2007 season with an injury, then went on to pitch four more seasons in the big leagues. Combined stints with the Cardinals, Chicago White Sox and Seattle Mariners saw him pitch in 93 career games.

During his early big-league days, Kinney invested in a farm in Ash Grove that was loaded with walnut trees. The Pennsylvania native’s father and grandfather were involved in logging and woodworking.

“I knew from my upbringing that we would get a pretty good return on investment with those trees, somewhere down the road and have recreation property in the meantime,” Kinney said.

Kinney, 43, last pitched in the big leagues in 2012 when he appeared in 35 games for the Mariners. He didn’t know at the time that he’d thrown his final pitch.

“I really didn’t know my career was over,” he said. “I played professionally between 14 and 15 years and had no idea what I was going to do, where the good Lord was going to send me in terms of a career path.

“It was kind of crazy. I call it a blind corner in life. You play baseball that long and one day you don’t get a call in the spring to go play, what do you do next? I’m a Christian and I knew something would work out. That’s when my business started.”

Following his big-league career as a relief pitcher, Josh Kinney started his own business called Cardinal Country Loggng & Sawmill. (Photo: Cardinal Country Logging & Sawmill)

Settling down in Greene County

Kinney wound up harvesting and selling some black walnut trees off his farm. Soon, a couple of neighbors asked him to harvest trees for them. A friend then brought his late father’s logging equipment to northwest Greene County from northern Pennsylvania.

It was both a way to grow the business and keep his father’s memory alive by using his prized tools of the trade. 

Cardinal Country Logging and Sawmill LLC was born. Kinney now travels around the state, harvesting trees and clearing land. He also provides special services with his sawmill, for projects such as coffee tables or cabinets.

“Black walnut is our primary species, it’s our most valuable product for tree species in Missouri,” Kinney said. “I got certified through the state of Missouri to be a professional timber harvester, with educational classes to make sure you’re up to par for what needs to be done.

“As far as baseball life, it’s similar. I meet people, we share stories, we do hard work and we’re outside and make a good living doing it. It’s been a blast. I couldn’t be happier.”

Springfield Cardinals Opening Series

• April 8, 6:35 p.m., April 9, 5:35 p.m., April 10, 1:35 p.m., vs. Northwest Arkansas Naturals.

• Promotions: Post-game fireworks, Friday and Saturday; Hiland Dairy Ice Cream Sunday, kids enjoy free ice cream before the game; Kids Run the Bases post-game Sunday.

• Tickets: Call (417) 863-0395 or visit the Cardinals box office at Hammons Field

Lyndal Scranton

Lyndal Scranton is a Springfield native who has covered sports in the Ozarks for more than 35 years, witnessing nearly every big sports moment in the region during the last 50 years. The Springfield Area Sports Hall of Famer and live-fire cooking enthusiast also serves as PR Director for Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Missouri, co-hosts The Sports Reporters on Jock 96.9 FM, 99.9 FM and 1060 AM on Monday mornings with Ned Reynolds and is co-host of the Tailgate Guys BBQ Podcast. Contact him at Lscranton755@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @LyndalScranton. More by Lyndal Scranton