Baseball: Slammers do hard time in 2012
By Tim Tierney For Sun-Times Media September 5, 2012 11:10PM
Joliet Slammers pitcher Jake Renshaw. | Larry Kane~For Sun-Times Media
Slammers season in Review
By the numbers
Abel Nieves led the Slammers with a .320 batting average, second in the league, while Erik Lis and Kyle Maunus shared the team lead in RBI with 45 apiece. Nieves and David Fox each had 44 RBI. ... Brad Netzel (.272) had a team-high 24 doubles. ... Rookie Andrew Brauer, from Lewis University, hit .295 in 13 games after being signed Aug. 18. ... Rookie Matt Sommo (2-6) set the franchise record for strikeouts in a game with 11 in a 7-2 loss Aug. 30 to Washington.
They said it
“We’re probably 1,000 bodies a night away from making this a viable business that’s making money.” — Team president Bill Waliewski
“If you get caught up pitching in front of 4,000 people here, wait until you’re pitching in front of 40,000.” — Pitching coach and former Cub Carmen Pignatiello
“That was one of the longest balls I’ve seen hit here.” — Then-manager Bart Zeller on David Christensen’s Aug. 12 homer onto the party deck at Silver Cross Field.
Names from the past
Cubs Hall of Famer Billy Williams was at Silver Cross Field late in the season to watch his grandson, William Hill, a Chicago State product who struggled at the plate after being signed Aug. 8. ..,. Randy Martz, a former Cubs and White Sox pitcher, was the pitching coach for the West Division champion Gateway Grizzlies. ... Carlos May, a two-time All-Star with the White Sox from 1968 to ’76, was the first-base coach for the Schaumburg Boomers.
On firm ground
Slammers head groundskeeper Guy Massaro was named the 2012 Frontier League Groundskeeper of the Year by the league’s general managers, coaching staffs and media. “I was shocked when I heard I won the award,” Massaro said. “It certainly helps make those 16-hour days sweating on the field a little better.”
Updated: October 7, 2012 8:02AM
When the Joliet Slammers players, coaches and front office staff mingled in the preseason sunshine on media day at Silver Cross Field, no one thought the 2011 Frontier League championship season would be followed by a 37-58 campaign.
With many pieces still in place from the team that won the title in its first year, it was understandable to expect success in 2012, not a season full of frustration.
“I’m not going to guarantee anything, but we should be a great baseball team,” designated hitter Erik Lis, who smacked a team-high 20 home runs in 2011, said a day before the 2012 season started.
The season ended Sunday with a doubleheader sweep of the Normal CornBelters, but that was preceded by a 15-game losing streak. Tuesday, manager Bart Zeller was fired.
So, what went wrong?
Start with the starting pitching — too many walks and not enough quality strikes. The rotation the Slammers thought they’d have never really materialized and the youngsters struggled to fill the holes.
Jake Renshaw, last year’s ace with a league-high 13 victories, had arm and shoulder trouble and was limited to five starts. Gaby Hernandez, who had Triple-A experience, was signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks organization the second week of the season. Andrew Moss, who pitched a no-hitter last year, didn’t return after his sister became seriously ill.
“All of a sudden you have to elevate three other pitchers — these are not excuses, these are facts,” Zeller said. “We never had a five-day rotation where we said ‘These are the guys.’ ”
Another issue turned out to be inconsistent hitting, especially with runners on base.
“People are going to struggle, but we had a point where they were all struggling at the same time,” said Ron Biga, vice president of baseball operations. “We had main cogs on the team struggling.”
Biga also said a couple of players with good numbers whom the Slammers acquired “didn’t pan out” like the team had hoped.
“Our offense never really started to jell,” Zeller said. “We had guys who were a major part of our championship team in 2011, and to my fault, I believed in them. Ron believed in them. I believed they would come out of it, and some never did.”
The Slammers were 20-28 halfway through the schedule, climbed to 23-29 four games into the second half, but never got closer than six games under .500. The team hit under .200 for the last two weeks of the season.
“Toward the end of the year we didn’t have the talent other teams had because we were trying to fill the roster from injuries,” Biga said.
The first round of the league playoffs were scheduled to start Wednesday with East Division champion Traverse City (64-32) hosting Southern Illinois (55-39) and Florence (57-39) playing at Gateway (57-39).
For the Slammers, it’s wait till next year.
“We’ll put another competitive team on the field, with good individuals, with good people, and play winning baseball,” Biga said. “Kind of the style of Joliet, which is hard-nosed, hard-working. Play hard every day.”