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Minor League Report 2007

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.

In this edition: Two of our mascots are celebrating championships this week. Two others are already booking events for December. The 2007 wrap-up.

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

League: Frontier League, no major league affiliation.

Why Be Interested In This League? Added Slippery Rock (Pa.) Sliders this year. And that's just cool.

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

Quality of Play: Fourth-place finish (41-54) in the West Division last year.

Best Player: Brian Beuning (24 SV, .195 opp avg.)

Why Else Be Interested in Brian Beuning? He's from Sauk Center, Minnesota, which we're pretty sure is a fictional town, which makes him a fictional player. And yet, there he is . . .

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

Merchandising: Shot glass (Reduced from $3.50 to $3.00 - empty).

Best Promotion This Summer: Backpack giveaway courtesy of Olive Garden on May 29. Carry all your "Let's eat fake Italian food jokes" in your new backpack.

Tryouts? Yes.

Season Highlights: The Thunderbolts open the season May 23 at home against the Rockford RiverHawks . . . 6/8/07: Windy City starts year 11-3. After 5-1 win over Rockford, Windy City mascot Boomer seen saying "pwned" to Rockford in sign language . . . 6/15/07: In latest news from website: "ThunderBolts Suppress Freedom." In response, Bush extends level of irony above Alanis Morissette levels by simultaneously invading Crestwood, Ill., to end the suppression of the Florence (KY) Freedom and then pushes Congress to extend the powers of the Patriot Act to watch "Those evil-doers who literally want to suppress our Freedom." . . . 7/6/07: July 9th was "Big Splash Extravaganza #1." The first 500 morbidly obese children got to splash skinny kids for calling them "Fatty" for the past 364 days . . . 7/17/07: "Baseball Hat Night presented by RC Cola" occurs July 20th. First 1,000 fans get a hat. As a bonus, RC Cola reveals that RC stands for "Really Crappy" . . . 7/24/07: The sequel to "Big Splash Extravaganza #1" is scheduled for July 25th. The ThunderBolts proudly present "Big Splash Extravaganza #2: The Son of Fatty" . . . 8/02/07: The Bolts are 47-18. The White Sox aren't . . . . 8/8/07: After five straight home losses, a fan posts "Just the Tonic the T-Bolts Need" on the team message board. Presumably, the kind that comes with gin . . . 8/15/07: NEW FIELD NAME! Hawk Ford Field is now Standard Bank Stadium. Just a few changes "At the Standard" in keeping with usual bank procedures: You will be asked for your account number and ID when buying a hot dog at the concession stand; if you pay with money from a non-Standard ATM, you will be charged a service fee; and the condiments will now be chained to the counter . . . 8/22/07: National City sponsors a jersey giveaway at Standard Bank Stadium on August 26. With two banks sponsoring portions of a baseball game, expect a Thunderdome-style fight between innings: "Two CPAs enter, one CPA leaves!" Also, ATM fees will double on all in-stadium machines . . . 8/29/07: Thunderbolts win division and set record for team wins at 64. Will play out the rest of the White Sox schedule . . . 9/12/07: The Thunderbolts are in the Frontier League Championship Series against the Washington Wild Things (no Larry Craig jokes, please). Draft beers are $1 all game long tonight . . . 9/19/07: THUNDERBOLTS ARE FRONTIER LEAGUE CHAMPS!

***

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: Won first half championship. After allowing fans to vote on the everyday lineup, went 11-35 and finished fourth in second-half play. Team management converted to fascism.

Best Player: It was Chris Weekly (.328/10 HRs/61 RBIs in 2006) until he decided to finally call it quits, leaving the game as the Flyers' all-time leader in RBI (176), total bases (503), and walks (133), and second all-time in runs (183), hits (314), doubles (62), and home runs (39). Now the Flyers are looking for a new stud.

Why Else Be Interested in Chris Weekly? He was drafted by the White Sox in 1995 (924th overall), later signed by the Blue Jays, and then traded to the Cubs in 2000 as the player to be named later for Cole Liniak. Two years later, the Cardinals purchased his contract, but released him in the fall of 2003. So Weekly may be the only person to play in the Cubs, White Sox, Cardinals, and Flyers organizations.

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

Merchandising: Bearon Snow Globe, $20. "Stands 6'' Tall and Sings 'Take Me Out to the Ballgame.'" Scheduled to appear at Wrigley Field in August.

Best Promotion This Summer: Principal Financial Group Family Fun Fest, July 25. The first 1,000 kids gets to complete SEC Form 10-Q for various public companies.

Tryouts? Yes. And if you don't make the team, you can try out for the dance squad.

Season Highlights: The Flyers open the season May 17 in Kansas City against the T-Bones; the Royals weren't available . . . 6/08/07: Website poll asks "Which professional team will have the highest winning percentage in 2007?" Chicago Cubs erroneously listed as an option . . . 6/15/07: Wish team mascot Bearon happy birthday on June 21. Break in the press box and sing "Happy Birthday" over the PA system and stick Bearon with the royalty bill . . . 7/6/07: A Christian music festival will appear at Alexian Field on July 21. All 17 of Bush's supporters have purchased tickets for this event . . . 7/17/07: From the souvenir section, "Bruce Weber/Subaru Bobblehead" wins as the most unlikely souvenir marketed by a professional sports team. Second place: A fountain depicting "Drunk Cubs Fan Pissing in Alley" . . . 7/24/07: July 25th is the Principal Financial Group Family Fun Fest, featuring a traveling minor league museum. Best exhibit: Steve Urkel modeling Barry Bonds' jersey from his days with the Prince Island Pirates . . . 8/02/07: The Flyers have been shut out four times this season. On August 10, the Edmonton Cracker Cats come to town. Stay for the post-game fireworks and a Disney Destinations prize package giveaway . . . 8/8/07: "Bearon Banks" giveaway sponsored by Midwest Bank on August 11. Show your kids the value of saving without the reaping benefit of earning interest . . . 8/15/07: Bears are predators. Contrary to the advice on the Flyers website, do not visit Bearon on his MySpace page . . . 8/22/07: It's MP4 giveaway night sponsored by the Illinois Civil Justice League. The ICJL promotes limits in tort reform. Seventy-five fans receive a MP4 and a 15-page document waiving their right to sue after their kids fall ill from licking off the made-in-China lead . . . 8/29/07: "Skin to Win:" Flyers Dance Team voted as favorite on-field promotion. Word on the street is that the performance is so hot, team mascot Bearon needs to take a "5th inning stretch" after every performance . . . 9/12/07: The Flyers season is over and Bearon is in hibernation. Let's not wake him up next summer . . . 9/19/07: Morgan West hired as new GM by day and crime-fighter by night.

***

Team: Gary SouthShore RailCats.

League: Northern League, no major league affiliation.

Why Be Interested In This League? Its Greater Chicagoland area teams are faster to get to by car than the Cubs and White Sox by the CTA.

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

Quality of Play: Won the East Division (27-22). Lost in the League Championship Series to Fargo-Moorhead.

Best Player: Jermaine Allansworth (.297/6 HR/46 RBI).

Why Else Be Interested In Jermaine Allansworth? Played in the majors for parts of four seasons. The bad parts.

Mascot: On the team website, a friggin' angry cat named Rusty about to whomp someone with a steel girder. In person, a disappointingly fan-friendly cuddly thing. Secondary mascot Rascal has left the team to spend more time with his family.

Merchandising: Mardi Gras Beads: $3. Off-color jokes regarding the female anatomy: FREE.

Best Promotion This Summer: July 7: Rusty's Birthday Party sponsored by the U.S. Army. First 1,000 kids will be called up for troop surge.

Tryouts? Undetermined.

Season: Railcats open the season at home on May 17 against the Winnipeg Goldeneyes . . . 6/8/07: Good news: Started year 14-6. Bad News: Lost last three games, including a 19-3 drubbing at the hands of the Kansas City T-Bones. After the game, RailCats mascot Rusty was reminded to be "spayed or neutered," the hard way . . . 6/15/07: RailCats bounce back to win 6 games in a row. On 6/17/07, play catch on the field with your dad. If you have no dad, you may rent a dad for $5 . . . 7/6/07: RailCats voted "Best Local Spectator Sport" by Northwest Indiana Business Quarterly for fourth consecutive year. In a distant second place: "Watching people lose their mortgage payment at local casino." . . . 7/17/07: July 22nd is "Motorcycle Day." Rusty plans a skit where he "accidentally" knocks over a row of motorcycles and the Hell's Angels beat him senseless . . . 7/24/07: July 27th is Fireworks/Army Jersey Auction/Boricua Night. According to Wikipedia, The Boricua Popular Army has claimed responsibility for numerous bombings, attacks against the U.S. military, and armed robberies since 1978. Also the FBI classifies this group as a terrorist organization. Coming soon to Gary: "Hamas Night" . . . 8/02/07: The Famous Chicken, who bears an uncanny resemblance to a San Diego Chicken who might face some licensing issues, entertains tonight. Batting Gloves Giveaway is Saturday. The RailCats are overstocked; all gloves must go . . . 8/8/07: Secondary mascot Rascal alert: According to poll, 43% miss the "Rusty and Rascal Dance Off" more than any other retired promotion. Expect triumphant return of Rascal cross-promoted with new DVD Rusty and Rascal II: Electric Boogaloo . . . 8/15/07: Book the "Hot Tub Deck" for the next home game. Please be aware that the Hot Tub is "BYOCTAD" (Bring Your Own Chemicals To Avoid Disease) . . . 8/22/07: It's Latino Family Night on August 23rd. All illegal immigrants employed at the stadium will be let go early . . . 8/29/07: Order your copy of the Fan Appreciation Day photo as you stood on the field. Spend two seconds as you pick yourself out of the dozens of people in attendance . . . 9/12/07: The RailCats are in the Northern League Championship Series against the Calgary Vipers. The Vipers have an equally cool logo. But steel rail beats snake . . . 9/19/07: RAILCATS ARE NORTHERN LEAGUE CHAMPS!

***

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: The JackHammers lost a one-game playoff to the RailCats for the East Division second-half championship.

Best Player: Blake Gill (.298/4 HR/39 RBI).

Why Else Be Interested in Blake Gill? Submitted a testimonial to an instructional program 5tools.com, even though he only has two-and-a-half tools. His tesitimonial touts his power increase in college and subsequent selection in the 33rd round by the Toronto Blue Jays. Fails to mention Gill moved directly to the Northern League instead.

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. Step-ladder not included.

Best Promotion This Summer: June 25: All Faith Night and Half-Way to the Holidays! Not Appearing: Hanukkah Harry or his Muslim cousin, Ramadan Don.

Tryouts? Undetermined.

Season Highlights: The Hammers open May 17 at home against Calgary . . . 6/08/07: Joliet begins year tied for last place in their division at 9-11. Sunday June 10 is "Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana Chevy Dealers Hat Giveaway." The first 500 fans receive a hat, then a middle aged man in a plaid polyester suit asks "What is it going to take to get you into this hat today?" . . . 6/15/07: Experience "Wrigley"* by booking your group outing on the rooftop at Silver Cross Field. *Drunk frat boys, scantily clad women, expensive parking, and vomit not included . . . 7/6/07: Local DJ's Eric and Kathy are scheduled to appear at the "Racin' the Bases Charity Softball Game" on July 12th. Local businesses chip in $500 to see Kathy get hit in face with softball . . . 7/17/07: New poll appears on website: "What Do the JackHammers Need to Do to Win the Second Half South Division Championship?" Possible answers: Great Baseball! Good Food! Fun Giveaways! FIREWORKS!!!! Obvious answer not available: Score more runs than your opponent every game . . . 7/24/07: Another interesting poll: Which JackHammers opponent do you despise the most? The Gary RailCats dominate with 66 percent of the vote. The RailCats mascot "Rusty" seen in corner weeping quietly . . . 8/02/07: The team filed a Missing Mascot Report with the Joliet Police Department after Jammer failed to show up for an event at a local coffee shop. Jammer was later found in a stadium tower pouting . . . 8/8/07: On August 12th, mascot Jammer will appear at US Cellular Field for "Mascot Day." In the contract rider for his appearance, it's reported that Jammer required a bigger dressing room than Rusty, a bowl of yellow M&Ms, and sparkling water chilled at 38 degrees . . . 8/15/07: Mascot Hall of Fame member Reggy the Purple Party Dude has been voted the promotion JackHammer fans are most looking forwared to. Apparently those Purple Party Pills don't impair memory . . . 8/22/07: Pitcher Nate Sevier pitched a no hitter on August 18th. This is the best individual sporting accomplishment since this occurred in Joliet four weeks ago . . . 8/29/07: In celebrity news, Jammer is scheduled to appear at the Grundy County Speedway September 1. Jammer is not allowed at the Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet after this incident . . . 9/12/07: The JackHammers season is over, but Juan "Big Pappa" Diaz made the Northern League All-Star team . . . 9/19/07: Jammer will appear at the Timbers in Shorewood on Dec. 8.

***

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.

Quality of Play: Lost the 2006 Midwest League Championship series to the West Michigan Whitecaps.

Best Player: Jacob Smith (28 games, .315/.783 OPS)

Why Else Be Interested In Jacob Smith? He's a nice young man who loves his family and has his own blog.

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: Windbreaker Vest, $50. Also Included: Insults for wearing a vest.

Best Promotion This Summer: State Farm Insurance Caps Night, June 2. Followed by training session on how to deny claims to hurricane victims.

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

Season Highlights: The Cougars opened the season 6-24 in their first 30 games, managing to fall 10 games behind the division leader much faster than the Cubs . . . 6/08/07: The woes continue for the Cougars. Since the last report, the Cougars are 10-16, and are now 20 games behind the division leader. Perhaps manager Aaron Nieckula should pull a Piniella. Or perhaps the Cougars should hire Alan Trammel . . . 6/15/07: Cougars mirror the Cubs by winning seven of nine games. Experience "US Cellular Field"* by attending the fireworks display at Elstrom Field Friday and Saturday. *Mullets, sterile environment, and fights in stands not included . . . 7/6/07: Cougars hosting a "Peanut Free Night" on July 9th. Roughly 100 people die from a peanut allergy every year. In response, the Cougars commit to losing 100 games this year. They are a little behind pace with 56 losses . . . . 7/17/07: "Peanut Free Night" rescheduled for August 7th. Thankfully, all fans affected by the change will be out of the hospital in time to return to the ballpark . . . 7/24/07: July 27th is "Water Bottle Night sponsored by Fox Valley Orthopedics." First 1,000 fans get 2-for-1 arthroscopies . . . 8/02/07: World's Largest Pillow Fight is August 11, sponsored by Back To Bed, the same folks who scored the first-ever front page ad in the Tribune. When you want to sell out, do it with Back To Bed. You'll still sleep well at night . . . 8/8/07: Cougars host Jimmy Buffet Day August 12th. True to the Jimmy Buffet demographic, expect a large number of a different type of Cougar at the post-game festivities . . . 8/15/07: "Jewel/Osco T-Shirt" day on August 19. Paper grocery bags also supplied to fans of the 50-68 team . . . 8/22/07: It's "Bark in the Park Dog Day" on August 27th. The first 1,000 kids get to ask their parents "What is Scrappy doing to the other dog?" and "Is that where hot dogs come from?" . . . 8/29/07: Final home game August 31 vs. Beloit Snappers. Fans treated to free backpacks and skydivers. Backpacks filled with emergency medical supplies, as skydivers aren't trained, they're just being put up at Holiday Inns . . . 9/12/07: The Cougars' season is over. This was the highlight . . . 9/19/07: Watch for Ozzie's Holiday Hoorah.

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