Home game No. 44 for the Springfield Cardinals was a blockbuster.
Spiderman roamed the concourse and fans came early to collect Captain America bobbleheads.
Two of the Cardinals’ own crusaders had gone missing; shortstop Masyn Winn and third baseman Jordan Walker were in Hollywood doing battle in a baseball galaxy far, far away.
Undeterred, Springfield donned Ironman-inspired jerseys for Marvel Superhero Night and vanquished the understudies from Tinseltown – Los Angeles Dodgers’ Double-A affiliate, the Tulsa Drillers.
Chandler Redmond hit a grand slam and Chase Pinder went 2-for-4 with a home run and four RBIs to power the Cardinals past Tulsa 15-5, a happy ending to the Saturday night show at Hammons Field.
For 4,131 paying customers, the action on the diamond was only half the plot.
Moments before the first pitch, stadium emcee Jay Fotsch – a Mehlville High School alum and fixture on Springfield radio station Power 96.5 FM – spotted kryptonite in the stands and he descended toward a fan sitting behind the Drillers’ dugout.
The man had committed the cardinal sin: wearing a Chicago Cubs jersey.
After prompting those nearby to serenade the offender with boos, Fotsch sighed and said, “I’m sorry – I’m sorry you decided to wear that jersey.”
Then Fotsch handed the mic to Rory, age 8, and the youngster closed the pregame credits with a resounding “Play Ball!”
True to cinematic form, it didn’t go well for the good guys early on.
Cardinals’ starter Edgar Escobar surrendered four hits and a walk, and for the second straight game Springfield trailed 3-0 before taking a turn at the plate.
In the bottom of the frame, the Redbirds loaded the bases with one out and Redmond stepped in to face Drillers’ righthander Landon Knack.
Redmond muscled Knack’s first offering over the right field fence for a grand slam – and while Winn and Walker took the field at Dodgers Stadium for the 2022 MLB Futures Game, Redmond touched home plate to turn a three-run deficit into a one-run lead.
“I was trying to be on fastball timing and see everything up,” Redmond said.
“I’m not trying to chase anything low; (Knack) is trying throw low in the zone and get me to ground into a double-play. I just wanted to see something middle-up and hit it to the outfield.”
Redmond’s swat – his 11th of the season – turned the tide, but like every superhero, he needed help from a sidekick.
Pinder has swung a hot bat since he returned from the injured list on July 1 and the former Clemson Tiger provided more heroics in the second inning.
Pinder drove a 1-2 pitch from Drillers’ hurler Jose Martinez the opposite way for a two-run double, part of a four-run inning that put Springfield comfortably ahead.
“I swung at a sinker low, so I (expected) something up,” Pinder said. “He threw a fastball up-and-away and I just went with it.”
“I feel comfortable at the plate – it’s always nice to be healthy, it’s frustrating being on the IL and it’s a comforting feeling coming back.”
Escobar settled in on the mound to earn his sixth win and while drama on the field subsided, tension continued in between innings.
19-year-olds Cooper and Emily joined Fotsch atop the visitors’ dugout to debut the Magic Carpet Ride promotion. They were each given a bathroom floor mat and told to race the length of the dugout without allowing their hands or feet to leave the mat.
Water from a third-inning rain shower pooled on the dugout but that didn’t stop Emily from defeating Cooper, with an assist from Fotsch that delighted the crowd.
Meanwhile in Los Angeles, critics were raving after Winn unleashed his superpower for the baseball world to see and word-of-mouth spread among the masses at Hammons Field who’d caught the buzz on social media.
Winn fielded a grounder in the second inning and rifled a 100.5 mph throw across the diamond, fulfilling his prophecy that he would top the record-setting 97.8 mph infield throw by Pittsburgh Pirates’ rookie Oneil Cruz earlier in the week.
Back in Springfield, the Cardinals padded their lead in the sixth inning, but fans’ attention had to turned to the auction tables by the main gate where final bids were placed for the game-worn Ironman apparel.
Springfield features several theme jersey nights, and the uniforms are autographed and raffled to raise funds for local causes.
Theme jerseys are usually the domain of Cardinals’ graphic designer T.J. Patton; when Walker launched his third home run of the season on May 13th, he was wearing a Halloween-themed Friday-the-13th uniform that Patton designed.
Dylan Carlson rehabbed in Springfield in early June, and he wore an 8-bit graphic jersey that Patton had lobbied for since he interviewed for his job in 2017. The 8-bit design broke the team’s fundraising record for a single auction.
Marvel and Major League Baseball collaborated on the Ironman design – 90 MLB and affiliated teams are participating this year – and Cardinals’ prospects Gordon Graceffo, Malcom Nunez and Michael McGreevy’s attire sold for $350 apiece, with proceeds donated to the Springfield Public Schools Foundation.
Logan Gragg recorded the last nine outs for Springfield and punched out Kody Hoese to end the game and send fans home happy, Marvel swag in tow.
But for Cardinals’ players, front office and gameday staff, the encore performance – home game No. 45 – is only a day away.
Andy Carroll is a freelance sports writer living in the Ozarks with his wife and four great kids. He loves St. Louis, toasted ravioli and minor league baseball. You can follow him on Twitter @carroll_sgf and Instagram @andycarroll505