Only one Springfield Cardinals front-office employee has been with the team since the beginning and what a ride it has been for Dan Reiter. The Springfield native was hired in 2004, the year before the team first took the field, as the final sales account executive.
“I didn’t even have the budget for him, I just hired him,” said Kirk Elmquist, the vice-president for sales/marketing at the time. Elmquist said Reiter’s personality and energy impressed him enough to create a spot.
“And he’s the best hire the organization’s ever had,” Elmquist said recently, estimating that Reiter has sold more tickets than anyone else combined in team history.
But for Reiter, Hammons Field and Cardinals baseball is about much more than selling tickets. It’s about a lifestyle and a passion, and a love for baseball and an organization at a place that has become a second home.
Consider that Reiter and wife Heather got engaged at the ballpark, had their wedding rehearsal dinner there, had two gender reveal parties and Dan’s high school reunion there. A host of family birthday celebrations also brought the Reiter family together at Hammons Field.
Now as opening day for the 2022 minor-league baseball season approaches — and yes, there will be minor-league baseball regardless of what happens with the major league labor dispute — Reiter is ready to hit the ground running for his fifth full season as Vice-President/General Manager for Springfield.
Now, as GM, he’s still a Cardinals fan
“I was 24 and I didn’t have a plan at all,” Reiter said of his start with the Cardinals. “The reason I got my job was that I was a Cardinals fan. And I’m still a Cardinals fan. One of my guiding principles is a very simple question: What would the fans want? When I started, I was just a fan that thought it was going to be a really cool first job.
“Then the more I started getting into it, the more I loved it and the more I realized it was a good fit for my personality. At one point, I looked at our old GM (Matt Gifford) and our old vice-president (Elmquist), pointed to both of them and said, ‘I either want your job or your job or I want to go to St. Louis.’
“I think I did that because it was a combination of love, passion and ambition about (working for) the Cardinals.”
Reiter worked about every job in the organization while advancing up the ladder. His willingness to pitch in, no matter how distasteful or how painstaking the task, has endeared him to co-workers.
“I’ve watched him pull tarp,” said Elmquist. “I’ve watched him deal with kids throwing up in the stadium, I’ve watched him help out when somebody was hit with a foul ball … you name it, he’s literally been trained (on the job) all the way up.”
Andrew Buchbinder, the nine-year play-by-play voice and director of branding and communications for the Cardinals, said Reiter “brings energy, passion and enthusiasm” to the ballpark.
“He sets a great example for all of us to follow, both with his personal life with his family and also professionally in how he cares about our community and fans,” Buchbinder said. “He’s always wanting to push us as a staff to provide the best in family entertainment.”
Reiter even filled in on the radio last year when Buchbinder’s wife, Megan, gave birth to the couple’s first child. Public relations and digital media director Matt Turer slid into the play-by-play slot with Reiter filling the analyst’s role.
“Aside from the other team when it hit a home run, it sounded pretty good,” Buchbinder said with a laugh.
Baseball a lifelong passion for Reiter
Reiter, a graduate of Springfield Catholic High School and the University of Missouri-Columbia, grew up a Cardinals fan after attending his first major-league game at Busch Stadium II as a youngster with his dad. He vividly remembers the romanticism of his experience and Ozzie Smith becoming his favorite player.
“It was a special treat to go to Busch Stadium,” he said. “I remember pulling up to the stadium and my dad turning around in the car and he said, ‘When I die and go to heaven, it’s gonna look like Busch Stadium.’ That memory encapsulates how much baseball and the Cardinals affect my entire family.
“I think the magic of baseball is it’s nostalgia and those memories from your first time at a stadium. You know, your first hot dog or nachos and things like that, they resonate,” Reiter said. “I think that’s what has kept me around baseball for essentially my entire professional career. I still absolutely love every minute of it.”
Reiter’s half-kidding 2004 declaration that he would take over the top Springfield Cardinals’ job someday became a reality midway through the 2017 season when Gifford was promoted to Director of Busch Stadium Operations in St. Louis.
A family affair
While you might think it has been all fun and games since, Reiter is still looking for his first “normal” season as the boss man. First came the restructuring of minor-league baseball, with Major League Baseball taking control and the Texas League re-branding as the Double-A Central League.
Then in 2020, during spring training, the world changed as the COVID-19 pandemic exploded. The minor-league season was canceled and Hammons Field was quiet throughout the spring and summer.
Asked how he spent his time that summer, Reiter said he tried to make the best of the situation through two passions — family and grilling.
“I go back to the slogan of ‘maximize your controllables,’” Reiter said. “For me, I found a lot of happy moments. Being at home with a young family — my kids were five and two that summer — I enjoyed every extra dad minute that I wouldn’t have had if I was at the stadium.
“I coached my son’s T-ball team. I grilled out. I grew up in a grilling household and I still don’t know how to use a gas grill. I grew up using charcoal. One of my happy places in this world is in front of a grill.”
Focused on the fans
Baseball resumed in 2021, but the motto “maximize your controllables” came into play again as the “parking wars” continued. J.D. Holdings and Atrium Hospitality, which owns the parking lots nearest the stadium, raised prices to $20 for all home games after charging $20 for weekend games in 2019.
Reiter worked with some nearby businesses to offer parking at more reasonable prices. It’s an issue that remains a potential thorn for the Cardinals as the 2022 season nears.
“I’ve been very outspoken about what we think needs to happen,” Reiter said. “Minor-league baseball is meant to be for the community and I think some of the actions that have gone on with surrounding parking … I think they are against our community. That’s why we’ve had to be so vocal, that we don’t think it’s right to price-gouge families that are trying to have good family entertainment.
“You know, we exist for two reasons — to help the St. Louis Cardinals win their next World Championship and we exist for this community. Anything that goes against those two things, I’m gonna fight against.”
With the pandemic lingering, and parking issues playing large roles, Cardinals attendance dipped to an average of 2,918 in 59 home dates.
On a positive note, the 2022 season apparently will have no restrictions on attendance and social distancing as the COVID-19 numbers tumble.
Some new promotions are scheduled and Reiter said details are to be announced soon.
“I can tell you that we’re spending about 25 percent more this year than last year on giveaways because we know it’s important for the fans,” Reiter said. “We’re looking forward to a great season.”
Springfield Cardinals at a glance
Season and home opener: April 8 vs. Northwest Arkansas, 6:35 p.m.
Ticket info: Call (417) 863-0395, visit SpringfieldCardinals.com or stop by the box office at Hammons Field