Hence, Cards prospects honored to visit Rickwood Field

June 21st, 2024

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Still recovering from the tightness and cramping that knocked him out of a Double-A game after just two innings on June 5, Cardinals top pitching prospect was set to make his return to action this weekend before being invited to Alabama for Thursday’s MLB at Rickwood Field game.

That Double-A start, Hence stressed, can wait an extra day or two because he wasn’t about to pass up on getting the chance to see the field where legends such as Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and others played while in the Negro Leagues.

“This is a great opportunity for me, and I thank the Cardinals and the guys up top [in the front office] for thinking of me and having me here for this game,” said Hence, who is ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the Cardinals Minor League system by MLB Pipeline. “I first heard about this game back in December or January when this guy gave me a baseball card about Rickwood and now I’m here. I really wish I could be playing, but it’s good to watch, take in the history and be here in a place where some of the greats played a long time ago.”

Hence was joined by , Tre Richardson and Trey Paige -- some of the top Black prospects in the Cardinals organization -- at Rickwood Field for Thursday’s game between the Cards and the Giants. Davis, the Cardinals' first-round Draft pick in 2023 out of the University of Arizona and their fifth-ranked prospect, is playing for Single-A Palm Beach this season along with Paige. Richardson, who isn’t ranked among the Cardinals' top 30 prospects, is playing at High-A Peoria.

Hence, 21, has lived up to his billing at the Cardinals' top prospect this season for Double-A Springfield. He is 4-2 with a 3.19 ERA thus far, and he has struck out 71 hitters in just 53 2/3 innings. After bulking up to 195 pounds, Hence is on pace to easily push past his previous career high for innings pitched (96 in 2023) this season.

Cardinals and Giants Minor Leaguers were invited to visit Rickwood Field for the game honoring the Negro Leagues. (Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Pitching back in his native Arkansas, Hence was forced to leave his June 5 start after just two innings because of what he described as tightness in his back and chest. That night, he struck out three hitters and allowed two hits in two innings. Hence said he has been working on strengthening the troublesome areas in the weeks since, and he is confident that he will start again next week.

“I’m actually feeling good now, and a lot of the things that I worked on in the offseason and in Spring Training helped me early in the season and it felt good to know I put in the work and came in with a plan,” he said. “There are still plenty of things I’m getting together and getting adjusted to. Just having fun and learning how to have that conviction for the whole game has been big for me.”

Like Cardinals shortstop Masyn Winn, Hence was guided through baseball by a father who served as his coach in Pine Bluff, Ark. He said he wants to be a trailblazer to other young Black players and show them that baseball can be fun.

“My dad loved playing baseball, and my brothers all played baseball, so it’s always been a big family thing for us,” said Hence, who was drafted by the Cardinals in 2020 along with Jordan Walker and Winn. “I fell in love with baseball and that’s all I ever thought about doing in my life. Since I was young, my dad would ask what I wanted to be and I always said, ‘Baseball player.’ Now that I am fulfilling those dreams as a kid, that’s what I’m chasing. I’m hoping that more kids want to play baseball and chase their dreams.”