Lord of the diamond rings
On Friday, July 20, the Springfield Cardinals rallied with four runs in the seventh inning to claim a 6-3 comeback win over the Northwest Arkansas Naturals. A packed house of Cardinal fans at Hammons Field was treated to the AA debut of big lefty Anthony Ferrara who was acquired from Palm Beach. But Yordano Ventura of the Naturals stole the show with 5 1/3 innings of no-hit baseball.
The Cardinals scored on a fielder's choice in the sixth inning to cut the NWA lead to 3-1, then poured on four more runs in the seventh to take a 5-3 lead. Oscar Tavera doubled with the bases loaded to give Springfield a two-run lead.
A bases-loaded walk to Kolten Wong in the eighth frame pushed the Cardinals to the 6-3 final score.
While everyone enjoyed the victory and the Friday night fireworks display, the real story of the day was the rings.
Friday was the third and final opportunity of the season for fans to claim a replica of the St. Louis Cardinals 2011 World Series Championship ring. These are one of the finest examples of promotional giveaways in baseball. Unlike the previous edition of replica championship rings from 2006, these are heavy metal, and they have fine detail all the way down to the "rally squirrel" on one side. They are indeed - as the Cardinals organization refers to them -- "a piece of history."
Only 2,000 rings were available for distribution prior to the game, and lines began forming before 8 a.m. By mid-afternoon, lines extended across the main ticket apron out to Sherman Street and grew northward past Jordan Valley Park. Lines for the gates on Trafficway snaked around makeshift mazes as anxious ticketholders claimed and protected their places.
The heat was the main enemy. Temperatures on the sidewalks soared past 110 degrees. Stadium personnel set out water coolers, and the early-risers huddled under umbrellas and tents.
My wife and I joined the throng at Gate 2 just after 11 a.m. We held spots 11 and 12 in line, so we were assured of getting a ring as long as we didn't leave in the back of an ambulance. But the gates didn't open until 6:08 p.m., so we faced a long, hot, boring wait.
The highlight of the afternoon was the arrival of the ice-cream jeep. He discovered the sizzling block party about 2 p.m. and made several more passes before the gates finally opened and his customers disappeared inside. By my estimates, he collected over $200 per stop, before having to go reload. No kid on a playground ever enjoyed hearing the corny calliope music coming down the road more than we did.
As the final minutes counted down before the gates finally opened, I was dismayed to see how many people were cutting in line. Many sidled up to friends who had staked out spots in line and fell in with the group. I am sure they were thinking, "It's just one spot." But for every "one spotter," there was one less person who abided by the rules who didn't receive a ring. It was a sad commentary on the lack of civility in our modern culture.
When all was said and done, paid attendance for the game exceeded 6,600 -- one of the best-attended games of the season at Hammons Field. Considering the near-record heat, it was an amazing show of loyalty to a minor-league franchise. For the few of us who got a ring, it was all worth it.