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Minor League Report 2006

In which we track the travails and triumphs of the area's myriad minor league baseball teams. But mostly the travails. Season highlights updated as events warrant.

Team: Windy City ThunderBolts (formerly the Cook County Cheetahs), Crestwood, IL.

League: Frontier League, no Major League affiliation.

Why Be Interested In This League? Cornered the market in phallic-sounding ex-Major League players; Pete LaCock and Danny Cox serve as coaches. Not appearing: Rusty Kuntz.

Ballpark: Hawkinson Ford Field (The Hawk). Capacity is 3,000-plus.

Quality of Play: Fifth-place finish (39-57) in the West Division last year.

Best Player: Clemente Bonilla; lead team in batting average (.371)

Why Else Be Interested in Clemente Bonilla? Try to determine if players call him a poor man's Roberto Clemente or a poor man's Bobby Bonilla. Played for seven different teams between 2003 and 2004.

Mascot: Boomer, a moderately big blue thing resembling Phillie Phanatics' less obese cousin.

Merchandising: Shot glass ($3.50 - empty).

Best Promotion This Summer: Elvis Night featuring Jerry Elvis Vegas (Aug. 10, 7:05 p.m.). Good times humor rock and roll cowboy!

Tryouts? Yes, you can try out.

First-Half Highlights: Holding tryouts on May 6 - a Saturday in case you don't want to use up a sick/personal day. Tryout fee of $50 may be the most ridiculous minor league fundraising scheme ever . . . Acquired standout pitcher and 2005 league MVP John Martinez in a "blockbuster" trade, giving up All-Star third baseman Travis Garcia to the Chillicothe Paints. Martinez won the Brian Tollberg Award last year as the league's most valuable pitcher. Tollberg started for Chillicothe in the Frontier League in 1994 and ended up with the San Diego Padres, starting 53 games in 4 seasons . . . Underwear Race easily winning the favorite between-innings promotion click poll with 50 percent of the vote. Hairiest Back Contest is third . . . Bolts toss first shutout of season against the Washington Wild Things. It took five pitchers, but still . . . Website wins award for Consecutive Sponsor Hilarity with the Yellow Book/Dick's/White Hen succession. Talking about Dick's, the T-Bolts (3-11) have dropped six in a row . . . Like the hairiest back, the T-Bolts made a comeback. The Hairiest Back contest is three points behind the Underwear Race, and the T-Bolts have won the last three games. If they only could get George "The Animal" Steele to the ballpark, they'd hit the daily double . . . June 24th is Jimmy Buffet Night. Liver transplants to first 500 fans . . . I just noticed this, but the team Website has a "donations" page. To the American Cancer Society? No. Perhaps they can call the other Buffet for some of his $31 billion.

Mid-Season Update: Along with two other players, Clemente Bonilla was named to the All-Star team for the second year in a row. So I take the "Poor man's" joke back. I won't take back the fact that the T-Bolts stink. They are tied for last overall, with a 15-25 record.

Second-Half Highlights: Though Thunder never Bolts, the T-Bolts are winners of six of their last eight. Enjoy the Radio Disney Party Patrol on July 22nd. If you become over-served at the party, a camp-out follows the game . . . Message board poster "GBearsFan" provides the scoop of the day. Schaumburg, Joliet, and Gary are looking to defect from the Northern League to the Frontier League. WWE plans on Boomer-Jammer/Bearon-Rusty tag team match. Expect Rascal to hit Rusty in head with steel beam, since Rascal is jealous of Rusty . . . Bank Ball giveaway courtesy of First Midwest Bank scheduled for August 8th. No word from First Midwest if the Bank Ball gives depositor the customary .0000003% interest a normal savings account earns . . . Rockford listed by fans as Windy City's biggest rival. You can take the bus to Rockford on August 12. Thinking of going? Thanks to Google's "I'm Feeling Lucky" button, a search of "Rockford Illinois dangerous neighborhood" netted this. (Perhaps this is why Bush is not a fan of the cease-fire.) . . . ThunderBolts close out season against the Traverse City Beach Bums over Labor Day weekend. They will not be going to the playoffs. "Well again, we all try to be positive about the season, but again there is a let down in Crestwood," try2btboltfan says on the team's message board. Dusty Baker largely blamed for sub-.500 season.

Year-End Update: The ThunderBolts finished fourth (41-54) in the five-team West Division. Having auctioned the jerseys off their backs, the T-Bolts played the final weeks of the season shirtless. The promotion failed to boost attendance. Clemente Bonilla now plays for the Fullerton Flyers. I guess I can go back to following Bobby Bonilla. He sure looks smaller than I remember.

***

Team: Schaumburg Flyers.

League: Northern League, no Major League affiliation.

Why Be Interested In This League? Contains two other Chicago area teams. Root for the Flyers by calling Gary and Joliet "Two Bit Fronts For The Mob While They Are Tired Of Running Their Casino ball teams."

Ballpark: Alexian Field, named after suburban role model Alex Keaton. Capacity 7,048.

Quality of Play: Fifth-place finish (38-58) in the South Division last year.

Best Player: Tim Marks; catcher with a solid .325 batting average.

Why Else Be Interested in Tim Marks? a) A former Saint Paul Saint who looks a bit like Kerry Wood, though assumed to be more durable.

Mascot: Bearon, a very happy bear. This bear loves to fly and it shows.

Best Promotion This Summer: Full-Size Bats (first 1,500 kids) (July 12, 7:05 p.m.). Extra bonus: Full-Size kid-on-kid beatings.

Tryouts? You can try out not only for the team, but the dance squad.

First-Half Highlights: Mother's Day Brunch on May 14. Admission: Adults $19.95; Children $9.95; MILFs free . . . Just 150 fans in attendance for May 7 tilt against Joliet. Approximately 150 Bob Uecker "Must be in the front row" jokes uttered during the game . . . June 10 Home Run Derby participants will include Kyle Orton. No backup plan if Orton can't go . . . Eric Cole and Ben Van Iderstine are neck-and-neck in the "Who Would You Like To See On A Player Magnet Promotion?" poll. Everybody point and laugh at R.J. Swindel because he has only 4% of the vote. HA HA! . . . You can now e-mail your weekly poll suggestions to the Flyers. Be careful not to abuse the privilege . . . Big News! MSN and LivePlanet (production company for Project Greenlight) announce Fan Club: Reality Baseball, in which Flyers fans will manage the team by voting on batting lineups, roster moves, and the pitching rotation, though not concession stand prices. Fan Club: Reality Politics is also in the works, in which oil executives, defense contractors, and the Christian Right will manage the Bush Administration . . . I'm very excited to see if Joe Six-Pack is smarter than Flyer management. The Flyers are in first place. I smell two words coming: "Diffused Responsibility." See also entry for Chicago Cubs and Tribune Company.

Mid-Season Update: So far so good for the Flyers; they enjoy a 28-16 record, and first place in their division. Some thought Bearon smiled due to gas, but now its clear winning makes the Bear giddy.

Second-Half Highlights: George Jefferson Alert: The Flyers sold the rights to Geoff McCallum to the Florida Marlins association. Talking about selling, shares of the Flyers soul are for sale here. . . Soul selling still alive - Go to Ebay and be the next play-by-play broadcaster. Note to the Flyers - the Devil called, and he said that you are making it too easy for him . . . Jason Pawlowski won the auction to become the next play-by-play announcer. Winning bid: $810. Next up for bids: Let's just say Bearon loves flying and winning, but is not a fan of yard work . . . The Flyers have become the coldest team in the Northern Leauge, dropping 7 of the last 10 games. Looks like the "Joe Six-Pack" arrangement is failing. The Bears manage to stink with a handful of the clueless. There is little reason to believe more will make better decisions . . . Sixty cases of Budweiser acquired in trade of Leon finally gone. So is patience with fan-chosen lineups. After a first place finish (31-17) in the first half of the season, fan-driven team in second half is 14-33. Maybe plethora of accountants among fans see same tax break available Tribune Company goes for each year . . . Playoffs begin on September 5, sponsored by Jackson Hewitt Tax Service.

Year-End Update: The Flyers were bounced out of the playoffs in the first round by the Gary SouthShore RailCats. The fans were fired.

***

Team: Gary SouthShore RailCats.

League: Northern League, no Major League affiliation.

Why Be Interested In This League? Two Chicago-area teams nearer to Chicago. "How do you like sitting in traffic, you latte drinking idiots?"

Ballpark: U.S. Steel Yard. Capacity 6,139. Vendors are former steelworkers who have been retrained for the global economy.

Quality of Play: Northern League Champions in 2005! A second-place finish (54-42) in the Southern Division during the regular season.

Best Player: Pitcher Willie Glen (9-3, Opp. Ave. .234, nearly 1 SO/Inning)

Why Else Be Interested In Willie Glen? Optioned to minor league camp on same day as Jared Sandberg, son of Cubs great Ryne Sandberg. Also likes Jared the Subway Guy. Middle name believed to be Jared.

Mascot: On the Web, a friggin' angry cat named Rusty about to whomp someone with a steel girder. In person, a disappointingly fan-friendly cuddly thing.

Merchandising: RailCats Gourmet Chocolate in a variety of flavors, including Triple Dipped Malted Balls ($5), though it would be better if they were called Triple-A Dipped Malted Balls.
Best Promotion This Summer: Night Light Giveaway to the first 1,000 fans on Rusty's birthday (July 2, 2 p.m.). And then everyone is invited over to Rusty's for a sleepover.

Tryouts? Undetermined.

First-Half Highlights: RailCats voted Best Local Spectator Sport by Northwest Indiana Business Quarterly for third straight year. Runner up: Hammond Indiana Cub Scout Steal the Bacon League . . . NEW MASCOT ALERT!!! Rascal joins Rusty as the second mascot. Fun Facts: 1) Appearance - Smiling cat poised to execute Daniel LaRusso crane kick. 2) Poll Numbers - Low approval rating on RailCat website; 35% list Rascal "will be as popular as Rusty is". Still, political pundits not worried , since Rascal appears to be four points more popular than GWB . . . RailCats swept by Fargo RedHawks in four-game series; 'Cats fall to 3-11. Rusty calls out Rascal in locker room melee . . . I'll give you asthma! It's Asthma Night June 19 . . . 'Cats first-place Schaumburg by seven games. Traded pitcher Jeff Mault to Windy City for Future Considerations. Another pitcher released. In recent poll, "Pitching" is listed as "thing that needs most improvement." So moves seen as addition by subtraction . . . Weigh in on your favorite RailCat player on the Message Board. "Charile" tells it like it is, stating "Nobody is my favorite after getting pounded by the T-Bones 24-1." . . . Thirty-six percent of those polled are most excited about the fireworks promotion this weekend. If there sure things in life, they are death, taxes, and Indianans loving fireworks.

Midseason Update: The good news: The RailCats are in second place. The bad news: The RailCats are chasing the Flyers. The so-so news: The RailCats are 22-22. Rusty was seen yesterday kissing his sister.

Second-Half Highlights: Rusty hearts the JackHammers; RailCats win five in a row, three of which came over the JackHammers. Hopefully Rusty and Rascal will start work on this . . . Rusty and Rascal spent too much time dancing - RailCats drop last six games. I guess it looked a lot like this . . . Reminder, you can spend the game in the hot tub in center field. Or, bring your binoculars to see the massively overweight fans in the hot tub who have lost their sense of self-respect and decided to bare their bulbous guts and northerly creeping swim shorts, as if the seats grant them respite from human decency . . . Website poll wins the "synonym award" by asking, "The Famous 'San Diego' Chicken Arrives Aug. 16: Do you think it will be the ______ night of the year?" a) the funniest ; b) the most entertaining ; c) the most hilarious ; d) all of the above . . . RailCats fight for playoff spot, facing Kansas City T-Bones in final regular season series. RailCats management dampens expectations with online poll asking if the team will make the playoffs and offering not only Yes and No as answer options, but "I Come For Fun!" RailCats fans, however do not come for fun, as only 2 percent select this answer.

Year-End Update: The RailCats were helped down the stretch by September call-ups, who helped push the team all the way into the championship series. But they coudn't overcome Fargo-Moorhead, which had the extra-state advantage. The RailCats did share Organization of the Year honors with the Winnipeg Goldeyes, though, which may seem like kissing your sister but is more like kissing your really hot step-sister.

***

Team: Joliet JackHammers.

League: Northern League, no Major League affiliation.

Why Be Interested In This League? Two other Chicago-area teams, one represented by an angry cat and the other the home of the mall rat. JackHammer tears them both apart.

Ballpark: Silver Cross Field, which is named after Silver Cross Hospital. Which is lame, yet infinitely more satisfying than the Bud Light Bleachers at Wrigley Field. Capacity 4,616. (If Silver Cross had a Kerry Wood Ward, that'd be different.)

Quality of Play: Last place (12-26) in the Southern Division.

Best Player: Chad Ehrnsberger, shortstop, .360/14/68, .617 SLG.

Why Else Be Interested in Chad Ehrnsberger? He is a two-time academic all-Big Ten selection, a three-time OSU Scholar-Athlete, and a member of the honors program. Smartest JackHammer Ever?

Mascot: On the Web, a righteously menacing jackhammer named Jammer, drilling apart home plate. In person, a slightly psychedelic and disappointingly cuddly Snuffleupagus type.

Merchandising: Jammer Doll ($10)

Best Promotion This Summer: "Are You Ready For Some Football! Theme Night (Aug. 14, 7:05 p.m.) Home baseball games remaining after declaring readiness for football: 12.

Tryouts? Undetermined.

First-Half Highlights: On April 20, JackHammers re-signed Luis Villarreal, nicknamed Mr. No-No. Nobody knows why Villarreal gets the extra No in No-No because he did give up four walks in his no-hit effort in August 2005. But who are we to nitpick? . . . Chad Ehrnsberger leads poll for 2006 MVP. Like Ferris Bueller, said to be popular with the sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, waistoids, dweebies, and dickheads . . . Trivia notes on Website player profiles satisfyingly called Loose Gravel . . . JackHammer splits Rail, but ThunderBolts . . . wait, shouldn't that be LightningBolts? . . . The Superfans have not visited the Website lately because Ditka has only a narrow 5-point lead over Jammer in the "Who Would Win A Race From Second To Home?" poll. No word if Ditka can get to home base quicker with help from Levitra . . . Little Richard, Boyz II Men, and Tone Loc appear at Silver Cross Field on July 1. Little Richard remains a pioneer of Rock. Boyz II Men remains a pioneer in ending words with "z." Tone Loc remains a pioneer of songs about roofies . . . "Guns and Hoses" post-game promotional event June 25. Probably note for the whole family . . . July 5th is "Western Union Cinco de Julio" night. I'm not sure what you do for this, other than mention you are two months too late.

Midseason Update: Perhaps the new name should be the Joliet JackShit, because this team does two things: Jack and Shit. Their 14-30 record is the worst in the Northern League.

Second-Half Highlights: Website recaps first half (bad news). Same article states that second half starts with three-game series with Gary (good news). JackHammers drop all three games (bad news). The role of Chicken Elmo will be played by Jammer . . . 62% of those polled looking forward to more wins. Only 12% are looking forward to the official JackHammer blog. Writer later seen submitting resume to The Beachwood Reporter . . . As mentioned above, "Are you ready for some football?" has been posted to the website. Perhaps The Beachwood Reporter should have a football column. Hmmmm . . . Joliet is now ready for football, and ready to be in first place. On the food front, two fans answered the blog regarding "favorite food/beverage" with wishing the frosted nuts back. I think it was the marketing, not taste that killed the frosted nuts . . . JackHammers in playoff chase as season winds down. Fan poll finds "Jammer maintaining beautiful a blue coat under this hot summer sun" second most impressive JackHammer feat, slightly behind Rob Stratton's power. Franchise not big enough for both of them; Stratton put on block.

Year-End Update: The JackHammers lost a one-game playoff to the RailCats for the East Division second-half championship, and returned to their construction crews to get some roadwork in before winter. More importantly, nearly 800 fans participated in polling that finally determined that Jammer maintaining a beautiful blue coat under this hot summer sun was the most impressive feat of the season, though Rob Stratton's power won the Electrical College.

***

Team: Kane County Cougars.

League: Midwest League, Class A minor league affiliate of Oakland A's.

Why Be Interested In This League? Only local team except the White Sox affiliated with the major leagues.

Ballpark: Philip Elfstrom Stadium, featuring the Leinie Lodge in right field, which is infinitely more satisfying than the Bud Light Bleachers at Wrigley Field. Capacity 7,400.

Mascot: Ozzie T. Cougar (#0) is a slightly more satisfying mascot than most in that he looks much more like a real animal and less like something awful from the 1970s. He also appears more weary, world-wise, and perhaps alcoholic than the average mascot.

Merchandising: License plate "not valid for driving anywhere but Elfstrom Stadium" ($4).

Best Promotion This Summer: Post-game concert by Beatles cover band British Export (July 16, 2 p.m.). In a deal negotiated with Manchester United, on this same night in England a Rolling Stones cover band called American Excess is playing.

Quality of Play: Finished sixth (67-75) in the Western Division.

Best Player: Pitcher Ryan Ford, 14-7, led team in Innings (143.2) and hit batters (12).

Why Else Be Interested In Ryan Ford? Played high school ball for the Adams Highlanders. Makes great segue for classic Highlander/Queen/Fat-Bottomed Girls joke succession.

Tryouts? Absolutely not. These guys are a lot better than you.

First-Half Highlights: Only area team to have started play. Holding down first place in the Western Division with an 11-8 record. Four-game home stand with last-place Clinton, Iowa, will feature Reader's Digest Night on April 29. Free Humor in Uniform Mad-Libs for first 300 kids. . . Jake the Diamond Dog appears for four games starting May 16. Jake is internationally known; Jake has appeared in Japan. Also, Jake's owner bears a resemblance to Dr. Phil's ne'er-do-well older brother, which by court agreement prevents Jake from appearing in MLB stadiums . . . A weird double-header resulting from a rain-suspended game the night before leads to the headline "Cougars Win In 12, Lose In 8" . . . Nicor Beach Towel giveaway scheduled for June 15. Free gas leaks as well to the first hundred customers . . . Jerry Lewis-ripoff Myron Noodleman scheduled to appear June 15 . . . The Zooperstars, including Harry Canary and Clammy Sosa, appear on June 16. Not appearing: Ram Roethlisberger . . . The poor man's San Diego Chicken, BirdZerk!, appears at Philip Elstrom Stadium on June 29. Adults 21 and over get "Old Second Bank" checkbook covers. Adults 18-20 left to mutter, "I am old enough to die in a war, but not old enough to get a free checkbook cover." . . . Cougars earned spot in playoffs as a 1st-half wildcard entry. Celebrate with Myron Noodleman and The Zooperstars on the 4th and 5th, respectively. Enjoy feeling a little dumber.

Midseason Update: Already clinched a playoff spot, and just started the second half with an 8-6 record. Hopefully they can hire Jim Mora and ask him about the playoffs.

Second-Half Highlights: The Cougars continue to anchor the hot play of the Chicago area teams (sans Joliet) by winning nine of the last 12 games. Ozzie may give the first 500 fans free beatings at next home game . . . The organization estimates that they will welcome their 7,000,000th fan on 7/29. Just in case you wondered, www.eventageous.com recommends that you secure a 63,000,000 square foot reception hall to honor all the fans. According to www.buildingjournal.com, expect to pay $183,857,574,600.00 for the space. Call your local Congress-person for support . . . On August 5th, the Cougars will have skydivers and fireworks. Hopefully, not at the same time . . . Just noticed the slogan of Cougars baseball is "Catch our idea of a ballgame." Not the most inspiring slogan. Imagine if Bush sold Iraq as "Catch our idea of the Middle East" or "Catch our idea of our war on terrorism"? It goes to show fake optimism and fear always sells . . . Playoffs start Sept. 7, and the Cougars will be there. Cougars sign 20-year deal to stay in Geneva; Myron Noodleman demands three strippers and M&Ms with the brown ones removed in his dressing room at next year's appearances.

Year-End Update: The Cougars lost the Midwest League Championship series to the West Michigan Whitecaps at Fifth Third Ballpark in Grand Rapids. Apparently the Cougars were confused by the renaming of third base as Fifth Third Base.

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