A baseball player walks toward the dugout
Making the first pitching start for the Springfield Cashew Chickens, Brandon Komar kept the team in the game allowing three runs in six innings. The Cashew Chickens eventually posted a 5-4 victory on Noah Mendlinger’s game-winning single in the bottom of the ninth. (Photo: P.J. Maigi, Springfield Cardinals)

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The Springfield Cardinals became the Springfield Cashew Chickens on Thursday night at Hammons Field, the first “alter-ego” rendition of Springfield’s Double-A Texas League team.

It’s a three-day run as the Redbirds turn into the Red Chickens, an ode to Springfield being the birthplace of the unique culinary delight that was invented by David Leong in 1963. It’s been a part of the local culture for 60 years with its combination of deep-fried chicken chunks and rice, bathed in a rich gravy and, of course, topped with cashew nuts.

Wearing special uniforms and hats, adorned with logos honoring the unique food style, the “Fighting Cashews” came up big, beating Wichita’s Wind Surge 5-4 on Noah Mendlinger’s walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth. What a nutty and memorable ending it was.

What the Cardinals think of cashew chicken

I asked some of the Cardinals earlier this week their impression of Springfield-style cashew chicken and what they thought of the three-day transformation into a different kind of bird. Few had sampled it before this week and many players were skeptical.

Outfielder Mike Antico is a New Jersey native who craves authentic Italian food, something he’s yet to find in the Ozarks. 

“I think it’s funny,” Antico said of the cashew chicken promotion. “I’ve never had it. I’m not picky, though. I’ll eat anything.”

Three Cardinals spent Wednesday sampling cashew chicken for a video put together by the team’s promotions department. Pitcher Chris Roycroft, an Illinois native, took a bite and called it “chicken, no sweet and sour chicken without the orange sauce. But that gravy …”

“Yeah,” added pitcher Andre Granillo, born in southern California. “That’s gravy on top. That’s what I thought it was. It’s orange chicken, just not orange or sweet and sour sauce.”

Asked for a 1-to-10 grade, Granillo went with an 8 and Roycroft a 7.

It’s all part of minor-league fun

No matter the taste, the general consensus was that the promotion was fun and that’s a big part of minor league baseball.

“I love it. I’m a big Chinese food fan myself,” Mendlinger said. “If it gets more fans out to the ballpark, that’s all awesome. We love playing in front of good crowds and having good energy in the ballpark.”

Cardinals manager Jose Leger, a native of the Dominican Republic, said he’s undecided if he’s a cashew chicken convert, but is all in on the uniqueness of the promotion.

“I like all this stuff you do in the minor leagues,” Leger said. “I love the uniforms, but I needed to have some cashew chicken here in front of me and try it out. It was hard to tell. I was really hungry and when you’re really hungry, everything tastes good. I’ll have to try it two or three times before I give you the final verdict.”

A baseball team celebrates after winning a game
It was a nutty ending as the “Springfield Cashew Chickens” celebrated a walk-off victory Thursday night in their first game as the alter-ego of the Springfield Cardinals. (Photo: P.J. Maigi, Springfield Cardinals)

What other identities could the Cardinals adopt?

After this first, fun “alter-ego” promotion, it got me thinking about future possibilities. Not that Cardinals General Manager Dan Reiter needs any help, but how about these suggestions to chew on? 

The Bass Pro Fishermen

This one seems to fit like a ball and glove, considering Springfield is the world headquarters of Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World. Players could wear the traditional Bass Pro ball caps and jersey tops covered with sponsor patches, just like top pros of the Bass Pro Tour of Major League Fishing. Imagine Johnny Morris “throwing” out the ceremonial first pitch, which would consist of casting a spinner bait with his top-of-the-line fishing pole, from 60 feet, 6 inches to Louie the Bass mascot at home plate.

The Route 66 Cruisers

Springfield is known as the birthplace of the Mother Road, with historic Route 66 running just a block south of Hammons Field down St. Louis Street and through Park Central Square. The team would have to be home during the Route 66 Festival in August. Instead of players circling the field in shiny, modern, red pick-up trucks for pre-game introductions, they wave to the fans from the back of classic convertibles.

The City Utilities Utility Men

The Cardinals organization puts an emphasis on players’ ability to play multiple positions, so the “Utility Men” moniker would fit as the players wear fluorescent orange or neon green hazard vests. CU has supplied reliable power for the community for decades and power is certainly something any good baseball team needs. And if you want to apply the old joke about CU work crews, look no further than the Hammons Field bullpens, where two men work while eight others watch.

Ozark Mountain Pitmasters

Just like St. Louis, Springfield has experienced a boom in tremendous barbecue restaurants over the last few years. We even have a multi-time world BBQ competition champion with Springfield’s Brad Leighninger, who knocks brisket out of the park like Texas League home run leader Chandler Redmond hits fastballs. Fans could bring their grills to tailgate pre-game, turning the once-overpriced parking lot into a delightful acre of smoky aroma. If the game is tied after nine innings? Have a rib-eating contest between the teams to decide the outcome.

The Cox/Mercy Vital Signs

Health care is a big business in Springfield, with two giant organizations to serve the community. Imagine the players wearing green medical scrubs and surgical masks, with a special Cardinals’ logo bandana as headgear. Of course, all nurses, doctors and paramedics are admitted free and fans get free blood pressure screenings on the concourse.

The Ozark Mountain Daredevils

A tribute to the great local band that’s been a part of the Ozarks-area music scene for five decades. St. Louis Cardinals superfan and Daredevils bass player Michael “Supe” Granda could serve as an honorary bench coach to offer up advice to manager Jose Leger. Of course, we get a post-game concert from the Daredevils who could change a few lyrics on one of their best-known songs to “If you wanna get to home base, you got to raise a little (baserunning) hell.” 

Those are just a few of my off-the-wall ideas, though I’m sure Reiter has it covered. Still, let us know your ideas.

A baseball coach watches his team play
With one-of-a-kind uniforms, the Springfield Cashew Chickens made their debut at Hammons Field on Thursday night, paying tribute to the unique culinary dish with its origins in Springfield. (Photo: P.J. Maigi, Springfield Cardinals)

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 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