The opening night ceremonies were highlighted by the appearance of an American legend, baseball Hall of Famer and St. Louis Cardinal icon--the one-and-only Bob Gibson.
Fans were almost reverent as the tall, broad-shouldered pitcher, who is in better shape today than most of us were when we were 18, rode into Hammons Field perched on the tailgate of a red pickup truck. True to character, Gibson dismounted the pickup and walked straight to the mound and threw out the first ceremonial pitch of the 2006 season as if he were no more or no less deserving of such an honor than anyone else in attendance. I have heard stories of Gibson's humbleness, but to witness this extraordinary man walk out to the pitcher's hill and toss the ball (not wind up and try to blow Cardinal's manager Chris Maloney off home plate, as I am quite sure he could have) was incredible. Here was this man that I had grown up in awe of, greeting a sell-out crowd of 6,792 adoring fans as if he were just someone who had bought a five-dollar ticket and had been asked at the gate if he would be gracious enough to throw out the first pitch because the guy who was supposed to do it had failed to show up. Gibson could have been "King of the Night" and chose to be "Just Another Guy in the Crowd."
It takes a real pro and a genuine human being to remain humble and appreciative when the throng in front of you is throwing roses of admiration at your feet. It took a real person, not just a hero from a weathered journalist's boyhood, to take a moment to stop and ask how that picture-snapping fan-turned-writer was doing. I am fine Mr. Gibson, I said. Especially since the greatest pitcher to ever pick up the horsehide and the greatest hurler to stand in at the plate and the man who put fear in every batter he ever faced just spoke to me. The last part, I never said. Only, I am fine Mr. Gibson. His smile said the rest for both of us. Oh yea, there was a game played also:
Officially, the Travelers made it two straight opening day wins over the Cards, breaking a 3-3 tie in the seventh inning with a pair of runs. Brandon Wood's second hit of the night, an RBI double down the left field line, gave the Travs a 4-3 lead. Wood later scored on a groundball out, making it 5-3.
The Cardinals fought back in the ninth, as Reid Gorecki opened the frame with a double, his second hit of the night. Nick Stavinoha followed with a single to put the tying runs aboard. With runners at first and third though, Rico Washington grounded into a double-play. The double-play was the third of the night turned by Arkansas, but it did score Gorecki, making it 5-4. With two outs, Brian Martin was hit by a pitch, bringing the Birdhouse's own Cody Haerther to the plate. Haerther only saw one pitch though, as he grounded out to Rich Thompson, who collected his first save of the year.
Springfield took a 1-0 lead in the second inning, as Jarrett Hoffpauir's sac fly scored Brian Martin from third. The Travs took the lead in the third, plating three runs for a 3-1 lead. Dwaine Bacon singled and scored on an error to tie the game at 1-1. Brandon Wood followed Aaron Peel's single with a two-run homer, his first of the year, giving the Travs a 3-1 lead. Wood led all of Minor League Baseball last season with 43 homers.
The Cards drew even, scoring a run in both the fifth and the sixth. Gorecki tripled and scored on Stavinoha's sac fly in the fifth, making it 3-2. Hoffpauir walked and scored on an RBI single from Iker Franco, tying the game at 3-3 in the sixth.
Tonight (Friday) Chris Lambert will throw for the Cards, while the Travs will counter with Steven Shell. Tickets are available at (417) 863-2143 and at www.springfieldcardinals.com. Game time is 7:10 and gates open at 6:10.
You can write John Brayfield at firstname.lastname@example.org