Slammers celebrate, turn page to 2012
May 22, 2012 9:32PM
Joliet Slammers manager Bart Zeller (right) hugs Erik Lis during a pregame ring ceremony Tuesday night at Silver Cross Field in Joliet. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 2, 2012 9:29AM
Let’s hope we have another one just like it next season.
The Joliet Slammers celebrated their home opener at Silver Cross Field on a picture perfect Tuesday night in the best way possible, with a pregame ring ceremony commemorating their 2011 Frontier League championship.
Thirteen of the current Slammers were with the team for the championship run. A few others returned to join the celebration.
Manager Bart Zeller, pitching coach Carmen Pignatiello, first-base coach and vice president of player personnel Ron Biga, they’re all back as well.
Frontier League commissioner Bill Lee — same name, but not The Spaceman — spoke to kick off the ceremony, which included a moment of silence in memory of late Joliet mayor Art Schultz, who brought professional baseball here.
I had the opportunity to visit with Lee and the Slammers’ coaching staff in the locker room before the game. One thought was foremost in Zeller’s mind. While the ring ceremony and other opening night hoopla that included fireworks were exciting, that can last only one night.
“Everyone is thinking about tonight. Everyone is excited about the ring ceremony,” Zeller said. “But what I have told the guys is the ceremony is really the end of the celebration of winning the championship.”
The page will turn to 2012 once and for all when the Slammers meet Traverse City at 10:05 a.m. Wednesday in Game 2 of the three-game series. It’s “School Day,” meaning lots of noise as thousands of local youngsters figure to be in the stands and on the grass berms.
“It’s great to have the kids here,” Zeller said, “but I hope they pay attention. I always worry about foul balls. I hate to see that happen. They just have to pay attention and enjoy the game.”
Zeller recalled a couple of his favorite opening days, as a player with the St. Louis Cardinals and then last year, when the Slammers beat the Washington Wild Things 7-0 behind right-hander Billy Petrick (Morris), who retired the final 19 batters he faced.
“The opening day that meant most to me was when I was standing on the field as a player with the St. Louis Cardinals, not paying to see the game,” Zeller said. “As a coach and manager, it was last year with Billy Petrick on the mound pitching a whale of a game.”
Petrick, who was too old this season to return to the Slammers, is playing independent ball in Abilene, Texas.
Ryan Quigley (Joliet Catholic) is pitching for Lake Elsinore, the San Diego Padres’ affiliate in the A-Advanced California League.
Former Slammers pitchers Aaron Dott and Chris Pack also have moved on to affiliated ball, and right-hander Gaby Hernandez, who started the season opener Thursday at Windy City, became the fourth on that growing list Tuesday when the Arizona Diamondbacks purchased his contract. He will be in Double-A.
“It’s always good when one of our guys is picked up,” Zeller said. “We preach that all the time. That’s why we do this, to get guys to the next level.”
That’s why a trip to Silver Cross Field to absorb what the Slammers have to offer is a good value for baseball fans. Every night can’t be opening night, but family fun is there without fail.
The Slammers were a disappointing 1-3 on their season-opening road trip. But the good guys will get their issues fixed and pursue another Frontier League championship.
Turn on those fireworks!