Last year, I had the pleasure of covering the inaugural season of the Schaumburg Boomers of the Independent Frontier League. As the 2013 season approached, I was invited to the Season Kickoff/Host Family party sponsored by the team. What I found on attendance was both a team and a fan base more comfortable and confident.
For those who might wonder about an independent league team being covered by a website that mainly focuses on the Cubs, the Frontier League provides a way for minor leaguers, who have been injured or have had their careers stall for one reason or another, to have a fresh start. Former Cubs first round draft pick Hayden Simpson was recently signed by the Southern Illinois Miners. One–time Cub prospects Elieser Bonne, Evan Crawford, Ryan Hartman, Scott Weismann, and Joe Zeller have also found a home in the league. Last season, when the Cubs needed a player at Advanced –A Daytona, they signed infielder/outfielder Vladimir Frias.
Schaumburg narrowly missed the playoffs in their first season, and took great pains in the offseason to move forward. They brought back several key players, including All-Stars in infielder Frank Pfister and outfielder Chad Mozingo, as well as first baseman Steve McQuail and catcher Mike Valadez. They added seven former affiliated players, led by right-handed reliever James Jones and first baseman Kevin McConkey. Jones had a 3.65 ERA and eight saves in two years in the Padres’ organization before getting injured on the eve of spring training. McConkey spent four years in the Marlins system and had a career .258 batting average with 96 RBI. The Boomers also brought in former Fenwick High School and North Park College right-hander Mike Giovenco, who had been in the minor leagues with the Royals.
In meeting McConkey’s host family, Jen and John Costa, Ms. Costa was very confident in their new houseguest. She stated that she was impressed by McConkey’s focus and maturity. They had experience with hosting athletes in their home for short periods, but this was the first time they have been involved with the Boomers. McConkey wanted to turn his knowledge as a player with full-season experience into a leadership role in which younger players can understand the discipline it takes to get through “the grind.”
The unquestioned leader of the team is Frank Pfister, who returned to his role as team captain. He told me that his mission was to see that everyone learned “how to play the game the right way”. Those sentiments were echoed by manager Jamie Bennett, who related that he felt Pfister had a future in baseball when he decided to end his playing career. Bennett was also quick to point out one of the difficulties in managing in this league was getting his players to focus “about the ring (championship), and not about getting picked up (by an affiliated team)”.
Director of Marketing and Media Relations Ed McCaskey said that bringing some of last year’s players back was important to growing a fan base, but it wasn’t done in a way that would compromise the goal of the team: winning a championship for owners Pat and Lindy Salvi. McCaskey felt that with improvement in the club and the grass roots marketing they have done, the future looks bright. He also reported that both group and corporate sales have increased since last season.
Opening night was on a Thursday, with a crowd of over 2,800, above their season average a year ago saw Schaumburg start out on the right foot with a 6-2 win over Windy City. I was able to attend on Friday as the Boomers opened a series with the Washington Wild Things, a 3-2 victory in 11 innings. In walking through the park that had in excess of 3,300 braving a cool and damp evening, I was able to sense more acceptance than anticipation in the excitement of the fans. It seems as though the Boomers, and the community, have found each other.