For the first time in the history of the St. Louis Cardinals’ Double-A affiliate, the Springfield Cardinals offered a promotional giveaway at Hammons Field that was identical to a giveaway at Busch Stadium. Most would agree, it was worth the wait.
Before last night’s game against the Tulsa Drillers, the Springfield club gave away 2,000 of the World Championship ring replicas that were given out in St. Louis just days before. For weeks, fans had been looking forward to picking up a “piece of history” – as the Springfield News Leader dubbed it – without making the long trek to St. Louis. They lined up early with folding chairs and coolers, sitting for hours in the sun outside the gates of Hammons Field, just to make sure they were one of the lucky 2,000 recipients. A few fans sought to beat the heat with umbrellas for shade. Others marked out a spot under awnings or trees and cracked open books and magazines to pass the time.
The rest of us simply entertained ourselves with occasional trips to the Team Store and quick look-ins on the St. Louis/Reds game.
Yes, we were one of the “nutty” fans who were so determined to get a ring that we showed up as early as 1:00. If you don’t know, the game started at 7:00′ish. Gates opened at 6:00. We sat in folding chairs in the sun for five hours just to get a little metal ring with a Cardinal on it, such was our mania.
The Championship ring replica is truly impressive. All reports you’ve read of its heft and beautiful design are entirely accurate. I’m honestly still shocked the teams put so much money and effort into such a substantial giveaway. Springfield fans were clearly excited to receive such a thoughtful gift from their favorite club. And why shouldn’t they be? They were receiving a high-priced giveaway at a fraction of the cost their St. Louis counterparts paid.
Let’s think about this a bit…VISA card commercial style…
ST. LOUIS CARDINALS FAN RECEIVING RING AT BUSCH STADIUM:
1. Ticket to a Rainy Game on Saturday: $100 (approx. avg.)
2. Standard Size Beer in a Plastic (Throw Away) Cup: $8
3. Jumbo Hot Dog w/Fixins: $5
4. Parking Around Busch Stadium: $15
Total Cost for a Fan Receiving a Replica Ring at Busch: $128
ST. LOUIS CARDINAL FAN RECEIVING RING AT HAMMONS FIELD:
1. General Admission Ticket to Game on Clear Thursday Night: $6
2. Standard Size Beer in a Plastic (Take Home) Cup: $7
3. Johnsonville Brat on “Buck a Brat” Night (Thursdays): $1
4. Parking Around Hammons Field (many park free): $5
Total Cost for a Fan Receiving a Ring at Hammons: $19
Clearly, the fan at Hammons Field is getting a special opportunity – even without factoring in gas and hotel room cost for a trip to St. Louis.
But it wasn’t all roses and rubies.
I have to say this…as a baseball fan with a family, I’m sure there is a special place reserved in hell (lower case “h”) for memorabilia peddling, price-gouging scum bags who spend their time cheating deserving fans out of well-intentioned giveaways. It didn’t take long for those selfish opportunists to appear.
Upon arriving at the gate at 1:00 in the afternoon, we set up camp behind a couple of fans at Gate 3 next to the Team Store. The fan in front of us – a lone man in his late 20s/early 30s – sat in a folding chair waiting like the rest of us. He soon turned and started talking to us about the replica rings. It seemed he had already been to St. Louis and gotten his…but today he was showing up to get a ring to sell on ebay.
Okay…get an extra ring to sell and cover some of the cost of a trip to St. Louis. I can understand that. And then his girlfriend showed up to do the same. Hmmm…alright. No biggie. Being so near the front of the line, every member of my family was virtually assured a ring. What did I care if he and his girlfriend made a little money?
And then he proceeded to lay out his plan. Apparently he had contacted eight “buddies” and bought them each a $6 General Admission ticket to the game in exchange for the rings they would hopefully receive. His plan…sell all of them on ebay for as much as $120 a ring. Despicable.
I was irritated enough by what this guy was doing – intentionally gobbling up as many rings as possible, thereby preventing families and children who would actually appreciate the ring from getting one, and then engaging in a disgusting practice of price-gouging – but again, I didn’t say anything. We, after all, were getting rings. It was a bad idea to start something with a random fan with my kids around…right? Isn’t that what responsible fathers do?
*sigh* I should have known it would get worse.
Rather than pre-purchase tickets for his “buddies” and make them show up on time to get a ring…this jerk started calling them right in front of us, asking them to meet him as late as 5:30, giving them money to go to the ticket window and purchase a ticket right then…and then casually instructing them to jump in at the front of the line with him!!!
My wife was immeasurably angry…I seriously considered buying a mini-bat from the Team Store, handing it to her…and just walking away. But instead, I mostly ignored what was going on and waited for my ring.
Once in the stadium, the greed got worse.
Comfortably seated on the grassy hill in left field, we settled in with our $1 brats and watched kids of all ages – 4 years old, 12 years old…40 years old – open and marvel at their replica rings. Smiles all around. A pleasant, satisfied buzz from those who had been able to score such a prized “piece of history.” And then…
“Forty bucks a ring! Forty bucks for your rings! That’s a lotta’ beers! Forty bucks for your ring…cash…right now!”
An obnoxious, cash-carrying mouth with legs and arms was marching through the crowd attempting to swindle fans out of their once-in-a-lifetime collectibles. Sure, he’ll pay you forty bucks in cash for your replica ring – *a ring he tried to convince some wasn’t the same ring fans received in Busch – and then he’ll turn around and quickly sell that same ring on ebay for $80 to $120.
And the worst part was that fans were falling for it. I watched these men – there were actually at least three in my section alone – walk out of the stadium with arms full of rings…at least 20 or 30 each. My wife watched a young boy ask his dad, excitement on his face and sporting a Cardinals jersey, if he could sell his ring for $45 (thinking he was getting a deal by upping the crook $5). The father said yes…and the boy handed over his “piece of history” for a small wad of sweaty bills.
And it got worse from there, hard as that is to believe.
As we sat down to eat…my friend, a Cardinals fan from the area, suddenly looked at me and said, “I left my ring!” He ran to the condiments counter where he had briefly set his boxed ring down to put a bit of ketchup and mustard on his brat…but to no avail. The ring was gone. A couple of fans pointed at one of these greedy swindlers with his arms loaded with rings and said they saw him pick it up. The man denied it.
“Uh…no. I didn’t find any of these.”
My friend’s ring was gone. Only moments before, he had smiled as he slipped it on his finger just inside the gate and talked about getting another one on the second ring giveaway day – May 3rd – so both he and his son could have one. His son is four months old. He was born on 11-11-11…just after the Cardinals won their 11th championship in 2011.
The Springfield Cardinals happened to mention that they were appalled at the “peddling” going on with the rings – that it has no place in the stadium – and that they were unprepared for it. They all but vowed to find ways to stop it next time. They said this while also relaying a story about one particular Ring Monger who walked downtown, paid several homeless men $20, and instructed them to walk through the gates, get the ring, and drop it in a bag just inside Hammons Field.
This has to stop. The greed has gotten out of control. It’s just not funny anymore…or fun. Fans routinely complain about the salaries “greedy” ballplayers demand…but what about these crooked Ring Mongers? What about ticket scalpers who buy up as many Opening Day tickets as possible and sell them for twice face value on the sidewalks…or on Crooks, Inc. (otherwise known as Stub Hub)?
It has to stop.
Alright…we’ll leave it there…one can only gripe so much, right? But before we wrap up, some general Cardinals thoughts are below as they prepare to face the Pirates tonight at PNC Park in Pittsburgh:
(*NOTE: About that claim that the rings given away in Hammons Field are different from the rings in Busch…completely false. I have confirmed with Springfield officials that the rings are exactly the same. The supposed evidence the Ring Monger attempts to leverage in his attempts to pry rings from fingers…the Edward Jones logo on the cheap plastic base. The bases for the rings given away in St. Louis have an additional “Edward Jones” printed on the bottom. Those in Springfield do not. Apparently the bases in St. Louis were sponsored while the bases/rings in Springfield are not sponsored – meaning no marketing brand messing up my ring base.)
*I really hope the Cardinals aren’t setting Skip Schumaker up to fail. I understand the need…but we saw Schumaker rushed back last season, and the results – for him and the team – were not good. Skip has reportedly only gotten 13 at-bats in his shortened rehab at AAA. He may not be ready. But it may not matter.
*How good does that Carlos Beltran signing look now? With Berkman out, Craig still rehabbing, Carpenter a mystery, Waino struggling, Holliday battling, and Jon Jay ailing, having Beltran’s .333/.444/.667 slash line, 1.111 OPS, 5 HRs, and 7 RBIs in the lineup looks pretty darn good right now. Mo’s signing of Berkman in 2011 may have saved the Cardinals…especially early. The same may be true of the Beltran signing by the end of 2012.
*It’s early in the season, key pieces are injured or struggling, and the Cardinals are starting a run of last place contenders on the road in the Cubs and Pirates before facing the defending NL Central Champion Brewers in Busch…it’s time to stop coddling Molina and Freese – at least for a while. This is the wrong point in the season to stick to a rigid days off schedule for such critical offensive players. Play the boys, Matheny…and let’s make a push in April and May while the rest of the division is still sorting itself out.
*It’s odd to be entering PNC Park and NOT reading a story about Albert Pujols’ dominance in Pittsburgh. You know how they say you really start to miss a lost loved one in the daily activities…when you suddenly want to pick up the phone and call them, or send them a party invitation, or set a place for them at the table? That may be what’s happening here. As I prepared for this series against the Pirates, I instinctively thought of the Cardinals’ offensive dominance at PNC. And then I realized…those were stories about Pujols. How odd to not see the annual “Pujols Pummels Pirates at PNC Park” story in the Post-Dispatch.
*By the way…losing Jon Jay for any length of time is going to hurt more than Cardinals fans are prepared to admit. Watching him track balls in center field this year, he’s clearly become a run-saver for the Redbirds. Let’s hope he’s not out long.
Okay, okay…enough’s enough…