Baseball: Dirtbags have true local feel
August 18, 2012 4:08PM
Kyle Cunningham, of the Joliet Dirtbags. | Supplied photo
Updated: September 20, 2012 10:06AM
Break out the wood bats. Summer collegiate baseball has become an “in” thing.
Teams cropping up everywhere are comprised mostly or entirely of players with collegiate eligibility remaining.
When you go about building a team, you can recruit regionally or even nationally, which many do. As long as you can handle the financial obligations, that works from a baseball perspective.
But in an area such as Joliet, where youth and amateur baseball is always strong, you can stay home and field a very respectable club.
That’s the way Mike Sisti and Kevin Campbell see it. Sisti, a 2006 Lewis graduate, is the general manager of the Joliet Dirtbags, formerly known as the Steel City Aces. Campbell (Joliet Catholic, 2008), who played at Millikin the past few years, is the manager and a utility player.
The Dirtbags, whose season ended earlier this month, played home games at Gillespie Field on the Joliet Catholic campus. With a roster composed almost entirely of players who live within a 10-mile radius of Gillespie Field, they finished 11-20 with fourth- and third-place finishes in tournaments.
Many of their regular-season games were against teams in the Chicago Suburban Baseball League, whose rosters largely are composed of 18- to 24-year-olds but have a few players older than that. This was an audition year for the Dirtbags in regard to the league.
“If you perform well enough against teams from that league, then they will let you in as a full-fledged member for next year,” Sisti said, adding he expects to receive the decision in the fall.
The league members are the Lombard Orioles, Oswego Cats, Crystal Lake Cardinals, Homestead Ranchers, Addison Braves, Beecher Muskies, Oak Forest Shooters, Westmont Red Sox, Crestwood Panthers and Lexington Snipes. A few of them made excellent showings this month at various national tournaments.
With or without that league affiliation, however, Sisti will field his kind of team.
“When kids play in prospect leagues, they basically get shipped out,” Sisti said. “What we want to do is give local kids a chance to enjoy their summers at home and get in 30-35 good, quality games.
“We want to be a place where our college kids can stay sharp during the summer. If a kid feels he wants to transfer schools, we want to help him. Or, if a kid is just out of college and wants to catch on professionally, maybe we can help him, too.”
Michael Laird, a Dirtbags pitcher, has played professionally in Australia and Sisti indicated he plans to return there this winter.
When you review the Dirtbags’ roster and statistics, you can’t help but notice the local flavor.
Derek DeYoung (Plainfield Central) was pegged as the ace of the pitching staff and a regular outfielder early on. He had a 1-1 record and 3.60 ERA in 10 innings and was 6-for-16 at the plate when his name was called by the Oakland Athletics in the 18th round of the Major League Baseball amateur free-agent draft. He signed and now is pitching in rookie ball.
AJ Woynerowski (Providence), a sophomore at Joliet Junior College, went 3-0 with a 0.72 ERA. In 25 innings, he allowed 14 hits and four walks while striking out 25.
“AJ had other obligations and had to leave us toward the end of the season,” Sisti said. “We really missed him.”
Kyle Cunningham (Joliet Catholic), a sophomore at St. Francis, was outstanding at the plate and on the mound. He hit .464 (39-for-84) with nine extra-base hits and 15 RBI. He sported a .619 slugging percentage and .551 on-base percentage. As a pitcher, he was 3-2 with a 2.61 ERA. In 38 innings, he struck out 41.
“Kyle is a fantastic ballplayer,” Sisti said.
Jim Glasgow (Joliet Township, JJC, Lewis) started five games on the mound, second on the team behind Cunningham’s six, and was 1-3.
St. Francis sophomore outfielder Cody Columbus (Joliet Catholic) was going strong before suffering what Sisti called “a devastating injury. He lacerated his liver hitting the wall to make a play. He was doing a fantastic job in center field and was our emotional leader.”
Columbus, who hit .326 (30-for-92), was selected to play in the CSBL All-Star Game, along with Cunningham and Woynerowski.
Jesse Gregurich (Coal City, USF) hit .283 (17-for-60) with 18 RBI. Adam Ladzinski (Minooka), who has two years remaining at Hillsdale, hit .339 (21-for-62). Kyle Hunsinger (Plainfield Central), the only player on the roster to graduate from high school in 2012, hit .340 (18-for-53).
“Adam was fantastic for us before he rolled an ankle,” Sisti said.
Sisti’s team began operation in 2007. Cunningham’s batting average, 39 hits and 41 strikeouts, Gregurich’s RBI total and Woynerowski’s ERA all are team records for a season.
“We have a core group and we are going forward with it,” Sisti said. “Kevin and I will start now talking to players. Kevin has a real great feel for local talent.
“Plus, (Joliet Catholic coach) Jared Voss has been a fantastic help, making the field available and helping get it ready all the time. He’s been a great partner helping us get off the ground.”