Slammers: Ron Biga’s chem experiment a first-half failure
By Tim Tierney For Sun-Times Media July 12, 2012 10:32PM
Updated: August 14, 2012 6:26AM
Ron Biga describes his job as vice president of baseball operations for the Joliet Slammers as “Kenny Williams on a smaller scale,” but roster decisions weigh just as heavily on Biga as they do on the White Sox general manager.
From his first-base coaching box, Biga, a native of Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, expected the Slammers to keep rolling this season after they won the Frontier League last year.
“We thought we had the right guys, (but) some of the chemistry didn’t click all the time,” Biga said of the 20-28 first half. “A few injuries, some guys didn’t come through. Last year when other guys weren’t hitting, other guys were stepping up with two outs. We didn’t have that as much as we should have the first half.”
Tinkering with a team isn’t an exact science — especially in the Independent League, where rosters change as players fail or succeed and move on to the real world or another team. Finding the right combination of individuals who will produce on the field and mesh off of it is a daily challenge.
“This is a city of champions,” Biga said. “People want to win, just like I do. You just can’t stand pat and not have success. You start losing, losing, losing, it gets contagious and then it becomes individuals and not a team.”
Trey Manz and Ben Hewett, the catchers the Slammers started the season with, have been traded. The Slammers released nine other players during the first half.
“You always think you’re making the right moves with the right people,” Biga said. “For whatever reason, they just aren’t having the seasons they had and some have moved on.
“Some of the changes have been unpopular, some of the fan favorites like Kris Kasarjian (released before the season), and Ben Hewett and Trey Manz. Sometimes there are reasons you have to make moves. ... These kids are like family to me. You see them go, it doesn’t bother anybody more than myself, Bart (Zeller) or Piggy (Carmen Pignatiello).”
Biga is “disappointed with the record” and cited “inconsistent pitching” as one reason for being eight games under .500. He said not having a healthy Jake Renshaw, last year’s ace, in the rotation has had a “trickle down effect” on the pitching staff and the team as a whole.
“We’ll see a few more changes here and there,” Biga said.
Filling the seats
The Slammers have had 27 home dates, and they’re averaging a little more than 2,100 fans per game. The biggest crowd was 4,356, on June 22 in a 5-4 win over Schaumburg. The smallest, 997, came six days later in a 7-4 loss to Southern Illinois. Biga said before the season the goal figure in the league is around 2,200 per game.
The Slammers released outfielders Zach Mandelblatt and Jimmy Waters and signed free-agent pitcher Justin Albert, who started the season with the Normal CornBelters. Mandelblatt was batting only .197 after hitting three home runs the first two weeks of the season. Waters was struggling to stay above .200 and had one hit in his last 18 at-bats.