Jose Leger, wearing a Springfield Cardinals uniform, walks toward the dugout at Hammons Field.
Manager Jose Leger says that winning is an important part of the learning process for minor leaguers in the St. Louis Cardinals organization. (Photo by P.J. Maigi, Springfield Cardinals)

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The primary goal of minor-league baseball is and always will be player development and doing whatever it takes to help the big-league organization succeed. Winning is a nice side benefit.

Springfield Cardinals manager Jose Leger said it’s special when you have both and that’s where his team finds itself as the first half of the Texas League schedule enters the home stretch. Springfield leads the Arkansas Travelers, Double-A affiliate for the Seattle Mariners, by one-half game in the North Division.

Just nine games remain before a first-half champion is crowned. The Cardinals play host to the Northwest Arkansas Naturals this weekend at Hammons Field, with a six-game series at Corpus Christi winding up the first half June 18-23.

The first-half champion will nail down a Texas League playoff berth in September. Springfield won the second half last season, losing to Arkansas in the playoffs. The Cardinals last won a first-half Texas League title in 2016.

“The main goal here for us is to develop these guys, but we also teach in this organization by winning and teaching them how to win,” Leger said earlier this week. “It’s good that they’re experiencing this, going into the last two weeks and going for the first half.

“It’s fun. These guys know. They’re competing and they want to make sure we clinch this first half. Their goal is to do good and move up and get to the big leagues, but for them to be able to contribute (by winning) before that next step, it’s good.”

Pitching has struggled in current homestand

This week has not gone according to plan. Northwest Arkansas took the first three games of the series by a combined score of 28-9. The Cardinals’ highly-rated starting pitching struggled, allowing 20 runs (15 earned) as Springfield fell into sizable deficits in each of the three games.

The first game was an injury-rehab start for major leaguer Steven Matz, who threw 46 pitches in failing to get through two innings. All five runs Matz allowed were unearned, as he made two of three Springfield errors in the second inning.

Springfield Cardinals pitcher Tink Hence smiles as he walks toward the dugout at Hammons Field
Top prospect Tink Hence is scheduled to return to the mound on June 16 as the Springfield Cardinals conclude a home series with Northwest Arkansas. (Photo by Springfield Cardinals)

Matz is due to start for Springfield again on Sunday, according to John Denton of Tink Hence, the Cardinals’ No. 1 minor-league prospect, is listed in Springfield’s game notes as Sunday’s starter and would presumably follow Matz’s start, which is supposed to see him throw approximately 50 pitches.

Hence will pitch for the first time since June 5, when he left a start at Arkansas after just two innings with muscle cramps. Leger said Hence has since recovered nicely, with extra attention given to hydration. 

Thankfully, second-place Arkansas is also struggling

The Cardinals’ best starter of late, Ian Bedell, is scheduled to start the 6:05 p.m. game on June 15. Bedell, who has made three consecutive superior starts, said winning is a big deal to the players — even at the minor league level where everyone shares a goal of advancing as quickly as possible.

“Everybody wants to win,” Bedell said. “When you put us on top of a playoff race for the first half, everybody is going out wanting to win. We’re going for development, but we want to win. We want to clinch the first half and make it a little easier on ourselves in the second half.”

If the Cardinals fail to finish off the first half on top of the standings, it will be disappointing. They started the season with a franchise-record nine straight wins and were 14-3 after winning at Arkansas on April 24. Springfield is just 19-24 since, after the June 13 loss to Northwest Arkansas.

Arkansas has helped the cause this week, losing the first three games of its series against Tulsa. Arkansas finishes the first half with a six-game home series next week against Wichita, the last-place team in the North; Springfield has a six-game series at Corpus Christi, last place in the South Division, next week.

“If we’re playing ball in September, past the regular season, that’s good,” Leger said. “It’s good to compete for something with the hope of going for a ring.”

Cardinals homestand

  • June 11: Northwest Arkansas 7, Springfield 4
  • June 12: Northwest Arkansas 7, Springfield 2
  • June 13: Northwest Arkansas 14, Springfield 3
  • June 14: Springfield vs. Northwest Arkansas, 7:05 p.m.
  • June 15: Springfield vs. Northwest Arkansas, 6:35 p.m.
  • June 16: Springfield vs. Northwest Arkansas, 1:05 p.m.

Tickets are available at the Hammons Field box office, on the Springfield Cardinals website or by calling (417) 863-2143.

Lunkers back in action

Springfield’s newest professional sports team, the Ozarks Lunkers of the Arena League, are back in football action on June 15. The Lunkers play host to the Duluth Harbor Monsters at 7 p.m. in Wilson Logistics Arena at the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds.

Reaction was positive to the Lunkers’ debut on June 1, as 3,416 fans attended a 69-40 victory over the Waterloo Woo. The unique brand of indoor football has six players per team on the 50-yard-long field.

Ozarks Lunker arena football player Matt Rush high-fives fans during a break in a game at Wilson Logistics Arena.
Former Missouri State football player Matt Rush and the Ozarks Lunkers return home on June 15, facing Duluth at Wilson Logistics Arena. (Photo by Ozarks Lunkers)

A tailgate party begins at 3 p.m. featuring live music and raffles, with doors to the arena opening at 5:30 p.m. During the game, a drawing for an autographed Travis Kelce helmet will be held. Game tickets start at $15 and can be purchased at the door or in advance on Stubwire

Beard receives a needed extension

Ryan Beard stands in front of his Missouri State Bears football team as they prepare to run onto the field at Plaster Stadium.
Missouri State football coach Ryan Beard has been given a contract extension and a raise as the school prepares to move up to FBS and Conference USA. (Photo by Missouri State Athletics)

The move to Conference USA and the Football Bowl Subdivision will be especially challenging for the Bears’ football program. Missouri State made a smart move on June 14 with a contract extension and pay raise for head coach Ryan Beard, bringing his salary more in line with coaches in the new league.

The school announced that Beard's new five-year agreement extends through Jan. 14, 2029, with a base salary of $315,000 this season. In year two of the new agreement (2025) — Missouri State's first season in CUSA — Beard's base salary increases to $450,000.

Beard, entering season two as head coach, made $275,000 per season on the previous contract. Even with the increase, Beard will be in the bottom third of CUSA coaches in compensation.

It’s going to take time and patience to elevate the football program and the last thing Missouri State needs is starting over with a coaching search. That’s why showing faith in Beard is a solid move — and one of the final actions by outgoing athletic director Kyle Moats.

The school also extended the contract of women’s basketball coach Beth Cunningham. In addition to a clause that includes an extra year due to the appointment of a new director of athletics, the agreement extends her current contract through May 31, 2030. Her base salary will be increased to $385,000 in year one of the new agreement and $405,000 in year two. Subsequent increases in years three through six are also included in the extended deal.

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 Missouri Sports Hall of Famer, 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 and follow him on Twitter @LyndalScranton. More by Lyndal Scranton