BEYOND: Springfield Lucky Horseshoes

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The the Robin Roberts Stadium. | All photos courtesy of Richard Bailey, UIS Observer Staff Contributor.

With spring teasing an early arrival this year, many baseball fans across America are excited about opening day. Others are holding their breath in hopes that the Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players association come to an agreement. The baseball season hangs in the balance with the worst possible timing when most states are lifting COVID-19 mandates and protocols. Fans of the game who were unable to attend games during the heights of the pandemic are eager to get back to the bleachers.
I can only speak for what I have seen in the press or baseball-related tweets. Outside of the excitement that surrounded the Home Run Race of 1998, baseball has never been my thing. Sure, I had my parents buy a brand new bat, ball, and glove for me – but I always thought the ball moved too fast. When I was a freshman in high school, my friends and I would often attend the home games for the Quincy Gems. The field is surrounded by rugged stones arranged in such a way that you might easily mistake them for the walls of a penitentiary. When the lights hit the field, and bodies filled the seats, the stadium would seem to come alive with the buzz of hundreds of conversations carrying on with a baseball game happening in the background. The color commentary, crowd noise, and the smell of the concession stand always made up for the fact that I consider the sport to be a little boring, overall.
Until recently, the Springfield Sliders were the home team at Robin Roberts Stadium located on N. Grand Ave. in Springfield. The team’s new ownership took a public vote for a new team name. The Springfield Lucky Horseshoes was eventually deemed the winner and a social media rebrand was quick to follow. The entire culture of the organization has changed on social media and one of the new owners has been seen around town trying the new team’s namesake at some local favorite eateries. It seems like there are some new things in store for the baseball team and their fans.
After many Sliders seasons came and went without me attending a single game, I decided to visit the stadium to see if I could have my very own Field of Dreams moment – but seeing as how baseball has never been my thing, I would not be able to recognize it even if it did occur. I drove to the stadium on N. Grand just east of Lanphier High School.  The road sign still has the now-defunct mascot and name of Sliders. The grass is a little more brown than green, but the fresh blades are steadily pushing upwards from the ground. I looked inside of the gate where I saw the “Walk of Fame,” a wall featuring prominent players who spent time in the stadium.
After walking the perimeter of the chain-link fence, I drove to the east side of the stadium. Outside of the painted wooden walls was a basketball court. The neighborhood kids turned their heads sideways as I approached the wall of the baseball diamond with my phone pressed up to a space in the fence to be able to get a better view of the field. The excitement of attending a fun event with friends has been one that has escaped me, and we time and again over the last two years specifically. Tilting my camera within the walls of Robin Roberts stadium and pressing “click” gave me a unique view of the field. I was able to imagine the fans packing the stadium and players waiting to improve their stats hoping that the next best move will make it to SportsCenter. I was able to feel, maybe even temporarily, the same level of excitement of something going on in the community. For a place to be seen again.
The Springfield Lucky Horseshoes are not reinventing the wheel. They are playing the same game of baseball with the classic rules and same uniform colors. The thing that already feels different, even in the absence of new signage, is the overall attitude. The new name reflects the Springfield community and acknowledges its history while bringing a fresh vision and new ideas to the table. The new focus could be a great thing for the community.
As I stood on the grass with my eyes and nose poked through a gap in the fence, I took a few minutes to take at the moment. The silent, empty stadium is in the process of going through changes that those around it could not see. While the history of the stadium, accomplishments of the players’ past, and legacy are enough to hang a hat upon, the organization has plans to find ways to continue to contribute to the sport and community. Ah – the community. That is what this is all about. The fun did not come from counting strikes, or the tense moments with bases loaded. The good feelings came from seeing our neighbors, teachers, pastors, and the mail carrier being able to unwind and enjoy themselves with their families and friends. My love for the game cannot be measured in hot dogs or baseball stats, but I love being able to enjoy an event with other people that want to enjoy an event.
With the 2022 season of Major League Baseball currently hanging in limbo, the Springfield Lucky Horseshoes may have a big debut when they take on the Alton River Dragons on June 1. I may not totally understand the sport, but I love the game. I walked away from that fence with a feeling of never wanting to take for granted what many do not have the opportunity to experience.