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Peoria Chiefs GM is excited for return of the Cardinals Caravan

230112 Chiefs - Cardinals Caravan.jpg
Photo courtesy Peoria Chiefs
St. Louis Cardinals infielder Nolan Gorman signs autographs for fans during the Cardinals Caravan's 2020 stop in Peoria. The annual Cardinals Caravan returns to the Peoria area this weekend after a two-year hiatus.

After a two-year absence, the Cardinals Caravan makes its way back to the Peoria area this weekend, and Jason Mott is thrilled about the return.

“We're excited. Obviously, this is one of my favorite weekends of the year, just with having them in town,” said Mott, the general manager of the Peoria Chiefs. “It seems like every year gets bigger and bigger.”

With the Chiefs being a St. Louis affiliate, most of the featured guests have played in Peoria before. Among them are Cardinals pitcher Jake Woodford and highly ranked prospects Masyn Winn and Ivan Herrera. Winn played shortstop for the Chiefs last year, while Herrera was the team’s primary catcher in 2019.

“We’re definitely excited to get a couple of big time prospects. At this point, I think we're always going to see the people that have been here,” said Mott. “Our hope is that we just get more of the guys once they've started (in the majors). I think a lot of times they tend to put guys where people are going to know them.”

Others set to appear include former St. Louis players Bo Hart and Bernard Gilkey. Spanish-language Cardinals broadcaster Polo Ascencio will serve as the ceremony’s emcee. The main event starts at 6 p.m. Friday at the Embassy Suites in East Peoria, where fans will be able to get autographs from the current and former players.

Mott said he’s expecting between 800 and 1,000 people to attend the Friday caravan stop. A smaller-scale luncheon is scheduled for Saturday at Dozer Park, after which the players will make an appearance at OSF Children’s Hospital of Illinois.

“It’s a very, very busy weekend but it’s always exciting,” said Mott. “Even though it’s winter, it’s nice to talk about baseball.”

230112 Chiefs - Masyn Winn.jpg
Photo courtesy Peoria Chiefs
Former Peoria Chiefs shortstop and current No. 2-ranked St. Louis Cardinals prospect Masyn Winn is among the featured guests for this weekend's Cardinals Caravan stop in the Peoria area.

Dozer Park upgrades

While the season is still a few months away, Mott said the organization is making progress on some renovations and upgrades at the stadium — most noticeably new LED field lighting.

“Most of our stadium has LED except for the actual playing field. I won’t say 100%, but we'll be pretty darn close to 100% all LED at the stadium,” said Mott. “I think that'll provide a new, different look, and with those, we'll be able to do some fun stuff with the lights where we can flash them and turn them off, and they'll play to music and different things like that. So, I think that'd be the big thing that people see.”

Mott said many of the other upgrades are occurring in the locker rooms and other areas typically not seen by fans, but plans to put up extended safety netting are on pause.

That’s because Major League Baseball and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin announced new safety net standards for all minor league stadiums during last month’s MLB Winter Meetings. The updated requirements call for nets that extend all the way to the foul poles by 2025.

“That put a wrench in things. We already had the net ordered — or had it processed; they hadn't made it yet, but we had the deal done,” said Mott, noting they had planned to put in a new net this spring. “Where I was going (with the ordered net) probably won't be far enough, so we're waiting on the auditor for MLB to come and tell me exactly where I have to go. Then at that point, I've got to start the process over unless my current plan goes.”

Mott said if the auditor determines a new netting plan is needed, the cost will balloon and the project won’t happen before this season.

“It could entail having to put up new posts in the ballpark, and it could go from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he said. “If it goes to the latter, it won't happen prior to ’23.”

While he understands the reasoning behind expanding the safety net, Mott also sees some negative consequences.

“I think they're ruining the game of baseball from a fan's perspective: No more foul balls. I mean, that's why people come. That's why little kids come; they want the foul balls. It's going to limit that,” said Mott.

“I've got two little boys (and) they love the opportunity to get baseballs. It's just going to kind of take that away from the game. It's unfortunate.”

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Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.