I walked back into Boomers Stadium in Schaumburg, IL for the first time in over a month this past Tuesday. Several different commitments had kept me away for that period of time, so I was interested to see how the organization was doing. Things were quite different than that last weekend in May when the Boomers opened their inaugural season. The crowd was vibrant, the field was in great shape despite the drought conditions that plagued the area this summer, the staff appeared confident and sure, and the Boomers were in the hunt for the Frontier League playoffs. Prior to my so called “self imposed exile”, myself and my son had last been to the park in early July; me to see the game and my son and his friends to enjoy an afternoon of baseball and to participate in the “world’s largest squirt gun fight”. At that time, the Boomers were just completing their first half of the season. They had been successful on the field, ending in first place and sending eleven members of the team to the Frontier League All-Star game; including manager Jamie Bennett and his entire staff, pitchers Cameron Roth and Patrick Mincey, outfielders Chad Mozingo and Sean Mahley, and infielder Frank Pfister, who was named a starter. There had been some roster changes. Gone were pitcher David Whigham, who had battled back from brain surgery, and Andy Cohn, the earnest middle infielder who made the team in try-out camp, as he was traded to the Normal Cornbelters. Star infielder Gerard Hall was on injured reserve. But the team added big first baseman Steve McQuail, formerly property of the Toronto Blue Jays and the Vancouver Canadians; and infielder Karexon Sanchez, who had made it to Double-A Akron in the Cleveland organization.
However, the buzz that was created on opening night had wilted somewhat in the blistering mid-summer heat. Schaumburg was averaging just under 3,000 in attendance, far below their capacity of 7,000. Director of Media Relations Ed McCaskey explained that at that point, attendance was down across the minor leagues, affiliated and independent, due mainly to the oppressive heat seen across the nation, as well as the sluggish economy. Those factors would end up claiming a victim, as the London (Ont.) Rippers folded, to be replaced by a travel team named the Road Warriors. Fortunes had also turned a little on the field for the Boomers, as they now were in a playoff dogfight with the Windy City Thunderbolts and the Gateway Grizzlies.
Settling into the press box about an hour before game time gave me a chance to sit down and talk baseball with McCaskey and official Scorer Drew Sauer. The Boomers had several league leaders, including Frank Pfister and Chad Mozingo fourth and seventh respectively in batting, Steve McQuail fifth with 17 home runs, and pitcher Robbie Donovan fifth with nine wins. The Frontier League also has some connection to the Chicago Cubs minor league system, with former prospect Pierre LePage playing infield for the Florence Freedom, Ben Klafczynski remaking himself as a pitcher with the Lake Erie Crushers, and first baseman Ryan Cuneo recently signed with Windy City. The Cubs themselves have dipped into their ranks, inking infielder/outfielder Vladimir Frias of Gateway and assigning him to the Daytona Cubs. McCaskey explained that the competitive nature of independent ball is attractive to some teams in terms of player development. “In affiliated ball”, said McCaskey, “a pitcher will need to throw a certain amount of innings, or they need to see how he’ll respond when he gets in trouble, or they’ll stick with a batter at lead-off hitting .230. Here, it’s all about winning.” McCaskey also conceded that the reputation of Schaumburg’s previous minor league team left a legacy that has been tough for them to overcome at times.
As Tuesday’s game progressed, a large, dark cloud settled over Boomer’s Stadium. While the weather forecast gave no indication of rain, the teams were caught in a sudden outburst. The umpire tried to get through the inning, but it quickly turned into a downpour, as McCaskey and other Boomer staffers rushed to assist in getting the tarp on the infield. However, the 1:22 delay didn’t turn out as a total loss for this reporter, as Windy City play-by-play man Terry Bonnadonna of WXAV radio conducted a fifteen minute interview on my take of the current status of the Cubs’ minor league system. The game resumed, but my own curfew didn’t allow me to stay to see the conclusion of the game. Schaumburg ended up defeating Windy City 4-3 in ten innings. The Boomers would end up taking two out of three from their crosstown rivals.
Feeling a little bit sheepish over not being able to stay for the whole game, I went back again on Friday as the Boomers were facing the Road Warriors, the travel team that was finishing out the league schedule. Schaumburg was at a little disadvantage, as all of the schedules (our best marketing tool, claimed McCaskey) listed it as an away game. Nevertheless, a crowd of 2,889 got the message and came out to support their hometown team. The fans were treated to fair skies, moderate temperatures, and good baseball. Starting pitcher Alex Rivers would toss seven strong innings, allowing two earned runs and striking out two as Schaumburg won 5-2. Patrick Mincey notched his thirteenth save (sixth in the league). Chad Mozingo was 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI, while Steve McQuail drove in two as he was 1-for-4. As the Boomers finished out the week with a Sunday matinee, they had taken the series, two games to one, from the Road Warriors. Schaumburg ended the weekend tied with the Gateway Grizzlies, one game behind the Windy City Thunderbolts with twelve games left to play.
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