By Mark Gregory
Last week, Joliet was the epicenter of the Frontier League as the Slammers hosted the annual league All Star game and corresponding events.
The activities included everything from a golf outing at Mistwood Golf Club to a beer fest to a replica of the Collins Street prison as a giveaway to fans.
“It has been a tremendous three days,” said Frontier League Commissioner Bill Lee at the game. “The Joliet Slammers staff has done things great. Every event has been wonderful. The city treated us great, the accommodations have been great and the fans were wonderful. I can’t say enough good things about our experience here in Joliet these few days.”
The events in Joliet marked the 25th anniversary of the Frontier League – the oldest independent league still in operation.
The league is still keeping with its mission to allow players the chance to chase their dream to play professional baseball.
“That is the premise of it and that is something I have always wanted because I played independent baseball myself in 1977 and I wanted it to be better for everyone than I ever had it,” Lee said.
The highlight of the week was the game in which the Slammers and the East won 4-1 over the West.
Bralin Jackson of the Washington Wild Things went 2 for 4 with a pair of RBI and earned the game’s Most Valuable Player award.
The East scored first when Washington’s Kane Sweeney and Will Kengor of Traverse City hit back-to-back doubles.
Another Wild Thing player, Rashad Brown then singled in Kengor.
The West got on the board in the top of the fifth, but the East again scored a pair in the bottom of the sixth on Jackson’s two-run double.
Jordan Kurokawa of the Lake Erie Crushers earned the win, while Windy City Thunderbolt Brian Loconsole recorded the save.
Joliet Slammers’ Danny Zardon went 1-for-2, Melvin Rodriguez 1-for-2, Chaz Meadows 0-for-1, while Luis Cruz allowed one run while striking out one batter in his one inning. Juan Silva was a member of the East team but did not bat.
Getting the win was a bonus, but the Slammers’ players were just happy to be playing at home.
“Me and my teammates were so excited,” Silva said. “We were so excited to be home. We live like 10 minutes from here, so we could relax. It was awesome.”
The day before the game, Jeff Gardner of the Evansville Otters won the home run derby with his 14th homer of the round and 41st of the evening. Gardner entered the break leading the Frontier League with 13 total home runs.
Inducted were: Chase Burch – he played for the Traverse City Beach Bums from 2010-13. He finished his Frontier League career with .283 batting average, 68 home runs, and 235 RBI and helped the Beach Bums to the 2010 Frontier League Championship Series; Travis Garcia, who played for the Ohio Valley Redcoats (2005), Chillicothe Paints (2006-08). He was the 2007 league Most Valuable Player and posted a Frontier League career .304 batting average, 57 home runs and 275 RBI. He paced Chillicothe to the 2006 Championship Series; Gator McBride, who played for the Chillicothe Paints (1998-99). In 1998 he led the Paints to the Championship Series. He batted .423 with 27 home runs and 111 RBI in 108 Frontier League games before signing with the Boston Red Sox; Pete Pirman, who played for the Evansville Otters (2002), Richmond Roosters (2003) and Kalamazoo Kings (2004-06). The 2005 Most Valuable Player led Kalamazoo to its only Frontier League title. He is tied for the single season record with 100 RBI in 2005 and posted a .300 batting average with 47 home runs and 247 RBI in his Frontier League career.
Joining the players was Special Contributor Steve Sturgill. He was the first president of the Frontier League and one of the original league owners, running the Portsmouth Explorers in 1993 and 1994.
He is the only person other than Bill Lee to have his signature stamped on the Frontier League baseball.
“I’m very proud of the Hall of Fame Class of 2017. This class represents the first 21 years of the League. All the players contributed greatly to the success of their teams. They proved to be leaders with their offensive and defensive skills,” Lee said in a release. “Steve Sturgill was one of the founders of the League and helped to pave the way for all the players to be become Hall of Famers.”