The Memphis Redbirds are doing their part to change that trend.
The AAA affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals operates as a non-profit organization through the Memphis Redbirds Foundation, a program that uses its funds to enable children to participate in sports across the Memphis area. The RBI (Returning Baseball to the Inner-City) program, an instructional baseball and softball summer program for boys and girls ages 6 to 15, and The STRIPES (Sports Teams Returning In The Public Education System) program, which runs during the school year and helps fund baseball and softball teams for middle and junior high schools in the Memphis City School System, are both initiatives of the foundation.
“The non-profit aspect of our organization is unique to professional sports in general,” Redbirds President/General Manager Dave Chase said. “One or two clubs are trying to follow our model. Our first charity is Autozone Park. After that, all of our funds go into those youth programs. At the end of the day, we feel we’re making a difference for the people in Memphis.”
Chase went on to say Memphis is “a city with tremendous needs, and we’re managing a small part of that. Once the stadium is paid off, we’d like to expand our programs. Our slogan is ‘Baseball is our business, but the community is our bottom line.’ We use the game of baseball to bring the community together.”
Targeting families is an easy transition from the organization’s overall goal, Chase said.
“All you have to do is stand at the gates when we open them each day,” Chase said. “We see a lot of young families, and all of them are smiling. This is a place they want to be. We try to be sensitive to their needs.”
The Redbirds do that by offering a comfortable, spacious ballpark that includes The Bluff, a grassy hill that spans an area from the left field foul pole to near center field and serves as a very affordable seating area. The park also offers a playground, other children’s activities and affordable ticket prices.
The organization also avoids cheap beer nights and other such events that “changes the direction and the atmosphere to a place we don’t want to go,” Chase said.
As for the game itself, the Redbirds don’t offer as much on-field, between-inning entertainment as other minor league teams do, but that’s because the organization wants its other main focus to be on the game itself.
“If you really want to watch the game, we want you to do that without interference,” Chase said.
While the Redbirds usually have several names that might be well-known to many local Cardinals fans, Chase said the organization can’t place too much marketing emphasis on the players.
“We might have done that with a player like David Freese if we had known we’d have him coming out of Spring Training, but he had a great spring and went to St. Louis,” Chase said. “We don’t market the current players. We tend to use players from the past.”
That idea is evident this season through a season-long bobblehead giveaway that features former Redbirds/Cardinals like Bo Hart and Stubby Clapp – players who made significant contributions in Memphis and made brief splashes in the Majors.
“The fans like to see the players here, and their connection with them is when they go to the big leagues,” Chase said. “We don’t control the players, so we have to market the ballpark and its amenities as our primary selling point.”
The Redbirds’ marketing slogan is “Take a 9-Inning Vacation.” Chase said even with the negative image Memphis has, the Redbirds should be an attractive option for fans.
“There’s a lot of other things to do in Memphis, too,” Chase said. “It’s relatively affordable. Once you get here, you don’t have to travel far to get to other attractions. Some people get afraid of downtown Memphis, but I probably spend 350 days a year here without incident. When we’re playing, it’s the safest place to be.”
The team: Memphis has hosted the Cardinals’ AAA team since 1998. Currently, the team’s roster features players who have made contributions in St. Louis, including pitchers Mitchell Boggs and P.J. Walters, infielder Brian Barden and outfielders Joe Mather, Shane Robinson and Nick Stavinoha.
The Redbirds play in the American North division of the Pacific Coast League. As of Tuesday, Memphis was in third place, 8.5 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers affiliate Nashville Sounds.
The game: Boggs was rocked for eight runs – five earned – in the first two-plus innings of the Redbirds’ 8-1 loss to the Albuquerque Isotopes last Wednesday.
Second baseman Jarrett Hoffpauir scored the Redbirds’ only run on a sacrifice by first baseman Allen Craig.
Charlie Haeger, an off-speed specialist for the Isotopes, allowed three hits in eight innings.
Attendance was announced at 7,350.