Sunday, May 21, 2017

Schaumburg Boomers 3 at Joliet Slammers 6 (Frontier League) - May 20, 2017


When this trip was planned, I set aside three days to visit the two Midwest League stadiums in the Western Division that I have yet to see. Both Appleton and Peoria are relatively far away from the other six venues in the league that are still on my list, all of which are in the Eastern Division (in Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan). The schedule works very well for those six the week after the Jays visit Wrigley in August, with all at home and able to be visited without backtracking. Thus I needed to make sure I caught the two remaining Western ballparks on this trip to Milwaukee, so I added a buffer day to reduce the risk of a rainout ruining my plans. When the game in Appleton last night was completed, I had two days to see the game in Peoria.

Driving southwest from Appleton to Peoria, about a 5-hour jaunt, I encountered severe weather that had caused the Cubs afternoon game to be postponed. I wasn't sure if the Peoria game would be cancelled as well, and so I booked a hotel an hour outside of town to figure out options. Checking the radar, I realized that the rain had passed through the area and both Saturday and Sunday's game would be played. I decided to save Peoria for Sunday, which meant finding another game on Saturday. Fortunately, the Frontier League, an independent (unaffiliated with MLB) circuit has several teams in Illinois, and the Joliet Slammers had a game just an hour east of the hotel.



The Frontier League is celebrating its 25th anniversary this season, making it the longest continuously running independent league. Baseball at this level is difficult to operate at a profit, though a few franchises have been successful for decades, with the St. Paul Saints the most notable. There are currently eight summer leagues with 62 total teams, but franchise movement is constant and trying to keep up with all of the changes is a tiring exercise. As well, the quality of the game is not as good as the minors; most players are former minor leaguers and there are no prospects whatsoever. That doesn't mean these players have no shot, several have been signed by MLB clubs and worked their way up to the Show (David Peralta is a good example). Still, I've seen a few games at this level and found them to be less compelling than those in the minors.



The ballparks, on the other hand, can be surprisingly impressive, rivalling minor league venues in quality and amenities. I was also intrigued by the Slammers, whose nickname references not only baseball, but the old Joliet Correctional Center, which closed in 2002. Its most famous inmate was Jake Blues, frontman of a band known as the Blues Brothers.



The Slammers play out of Slammers Stadium, which was opened in 2002 and hosted another independent league team, the Jackhammers, until 2010. The ballpark was known as Silver Cross Field after a local hospital had bought naming rights, but the 15-year agreement expired after last season and the team is looking for a new sponsor. Thus the name on the stadium remains as before, a clear sign that this is independent ball, where budgets are much tighter and there is no point taking down the name without a new name to put up there.



The Slammers make good use of the prison motif, with a jailbird logo (above) and a team store called The Clink.



Tickets are $8 for general admission, $12 for reserved seats, and $14 for the first couple of rows, known as the club. Although the rain had ceased a couple of hours earlier, fans stayed away in droves and so a GA ticket was all that was needed. The ballpark is a typical configuration of Kelly green seats, with suites above and a very stylish press box above. There is a picnic area, kids zone, and beer garden, but with so few in attendance, it did not seem like these were operating. Only half the concession stands were open, all offering typical fare. If you do visit, stop by the Chicago St. Pub just a block away for a pregame snack.


Out in right field is a sculpture of steel workers (Joliet used to have the second largest steel mill in the country), while far behind the fence in left field is a fire station with a sign indicating that it is 560 feet away from home plate.



With a capacity of 6,016, the ballpark is similar to Class-A facilities in the minors, though slightly smaller as you can tell above. The Amtrak station is directly across a small street behind third base and trains are constantly running during the game, providing a nice distraction at times.



Joliet is just 45 minutes southwest of Chicago, so if you are looking to add a new ballpark to your list while in the Windy City, consider Slammers Stadium, which I hope will have a new name when you visit. SportsRoadTrips Stadium perhaps?

The Game



The game was routine, with Joliet winning 6-3. The only player worth noting is first baseman Rock Shoulders for three reasons. The first is obviously his name, which makes headline writers giddy. The second is that he hit a monster home run (the Slammers website headline was "Shoulders Muscles Slammers Over Boomers"). The third is that he was wearing the #343 jersey, which is presented by Firehouse Subs. Every game, a different player wears this jersey in remembrance of the 343 firefighters who lost their lives on September 11. Fans can bid on the single, game-worn jersey with proceeds going to the Firehouse Subs Safety Foundation. It is an interesting fundraising method, and if you happen to be in Joliet and see someone with this jersey, you'll know where they got it.



Notes

Shoulders was drafted in the 25th round by the Cubs in 2011, and was named MiLB's Moniker Madness champion in 2012. Shoulders spent 2 games with AAA Round Rock (seriously) in 2015 and his homer off Arnold Leon (who briefly saw time with Toronto last year) was the only run of the game in Nashville on May 9 of that year. Apparently that wasn't enough; a week later he was back in Class A where he batted .169 to earn his release. Independent ball is rife with stories like this, and part of the fun of going to games is researching some of these players.

Next Up

I'm heading to Peoria obviously, then Beloit on Monday before hitting Milwaukee on Tuesday and Wednesday for the Jays. Check back for recaps.

Best,

Sean

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