As part of our coverage of the newest baseball team in town, the Schaumburg Boomers, the CCO was invited by their Director of Media Relations, Ed McCaskey, to be a part of their home opening series. Beginning play in the independent Frontier League in 2012, the Boomers started the season on the road and came home with a 3-3 record. The Memorial Day weekend provided the backdrop for the rebirth of minor league baseball in Chicago’s Northwest suburbs. As the rush hour traffic was dying down on the Elgin-O’Hare Expressway, which overlooks the newly christened Boomers Stadium, the crowd began to gather in the fading sunlight of Memorial Day Friday. It was the home opener for the Schaumburg Boomers of the Frontier League, the newest sports team in the Chicagoland area.
While the new patrons waited patiently for the gates to open, the staff was busily scurrying about with their final preparations. Teams of support staff were sitting in groups in the grandstand, getting their final marching orders. Executives, clad in suits and dresses of the team colors of black, white, and orange, rushed around to make sure everything was set. All the while, the last ticks of ball hitting bat were heard as the visiting team concluded their batting practice.
Then, seemingly all at once, the public address system boomed with music as the chain link fences were raised, letting in the throngs to gather their souvenir opening day t-shirts. Bright orange, they were emblazoned with the Boomers’ logo and the phrase “I Was There”. The first attendees I was able to catch up with were Brian and Barb Dykes and their bouncy son, Calvin. “We love baseball”, said Barb Dykes as she tried to rein in her excited son, “and the prices are very reasonable”. As I moved through the crowd, I was asked to take a picture of a small group of friends. Pat Mitchell explained that she and the rest of her group were also big baseball fans, following the sport from spring training and throughout the season. Dave Breyer commented that the high definition scoreboard was impressive, and that the stadium was offering better food than the previous tenets. While Kathy Mitchell, Pat’s sister, said that she was just looking forward to a victory.
Back up in the press box, I had a chance to speak with Steve Tahsler, the Deputy Commissioner of the Frontier League. He said that he was impressed with the advanced ticket sales for the Boomers, while the capital improvements to the ballpark were also things that he noticed. Our attentions were then turned to the field, as the pregame festivities began to wind down. Village President Al Larson tossed out the first pitch. The color guard paraded and fireworks popped as the national anthem concluded. Then, it was time for baseball.
Cameron Roth, an earnest and free-wheeling left-hander who will make good copy for reporters in the future, was on the hill for Schaumburg. A first pitch strike got the Boomers off on a good foot, and Drew Heithoff, their second baseman, collected their first hit. However, the Florence Freedom, from Kentucky, were able to scratch out a run in the sixth inning. Schaumburg was able to answer back with five runs in the bottom of the inning, the big blow being right fielder Nate Baumann’s solo home run. After allowing two earned runs in 7.1 innings, Roth gave way to Dave Whigham. In a scene that must have been eerily reminiscent of the hit that lead to two brain surgeries, the first batter Whigham faced lined a shot right back at him. Whigham was staggered, but was able to make the play and get the Boomers out of the inning. Righty Alex Thieroff was able to finish the contest and brought home a 5-2 victory for Schaumburg.
The next time I was able to get back for a game was Sunday. Upon arriving, I learned that the previous night was a 14-inning, 1-0 win for Schaumburg. I also found out the Gerard Hill, the Boomers shortstop and third place hitter, was out for the season with an injury he suffered in the game. That put the spotlight on Andrew Cohn, the young man I met the previous week who had made the team through the try-out camps.
Before the game, Director of Media Relations Ed McCaskey, Vice President/GM Andy Viano, and Vice President of Marketing Dave Salvi all looked more relaxed, as the jitters and glitches that are part of any start-up were now smoothed over. The crowd of nearly 3,000 was about half of opening night, but pushed the weekend total to over 12,000. My daughter and her friend decided to tag along, but in the cozy park seemed to be just as interested in flirting with some of the Boomer players waiting on-deck as they were with the game. The crowd was entertained not only by a close game, but some of the wacky promotions that are seen in many minor league parks. The most notable was a contest in which a fan dressed in over-sized pants had to use them to catch rubber chickens tossed at a distance by another fan.
The game was decided in the early innings, as the howling winds were a benefit to both teams. With the dimensions and directional orientation of Wrigley Field, Boomers Stadium played a part as Florence tied the game 4-4 in the fourth with a wind-blown home run. However, leadoff hitter Chad Mozingo, a centerfielder who had spent time in the Washington Nationals organization, answered back with a solo blast of his own in the bottom of the inning to put Schaumburg in the lead 5-4, which is how the game would end. Starter Robbie Penny allowed three earned runs in six innings, with relief from Whigham and 6-foot-5 Jason Braun.
As we were all leaving the stadium to the thunder of the post-game fireworks, Andy Viano’s statement about an experience “that will keep you smiling” was something I could see on the faces of my daughter and her friend.
Follow ChicagoCubsOnline on Twitter: @TheCCO