Whether the new Joliet Slammers ownership team is more successful than the old remains to be seen.
What I learned during Tuesday’s media day shindig in the Hall of Fame Room at Silver Cross Field is CEO Josh Schaub is going to step up to the plate ready to swing at almost any pitch.
Schaub promised to hire a new manager that he hopes one day will become the face of the Slammers’ baseball team, if not the entire organization. An announcement on the hire could come before Christmas. He also promised to make Silver Cross Field an entertainment destination site and that means you can expect to see a variety of different shows on the field, the list ranging from concerts to weddings.
Yes, very soon you will be able to tie the knot at home plate and book a reception space, too.
You might also see Schaub’s underlings install an ice hockey rink at Silver Cross Field during the winter months. He is intrigued about the idea of open skating for area residents over the holidays and stoked over the possibility of a Slammers hockey weekend that might include a feature event involving a team like, say, the Chicago Wolves, and tournament play for area youth hockey teams.
Schaub said he will listen to discussions involving the installation of an artificial playing surface at Silver Cross Field. This could open up the field for use as much as 12-18 hours a day on weekends—but isn’t likely to happen unless the Slammers also could secure a commitment from a football/soccer team or organization to play at Silver Cross.
But, first things first. Before considering football, there is the issue of taking a few measurements and figuring out whether a football field would fit comfortably in Silver Cross Field. You don’t want to see two offenses marching in one direction and fans on the other end left out in the cold—a la the Northwestern fiasco at Wrigley Field—do you?
Schaub talked about what could make the Slammers venture a successful one for his team. Much of the talk during the luncheon was of the off-the-cuff variety, Schaub and his folks asking members of the media for ideas and stirring a friendly bit of banter. The Slammers will tap into the resources available to them through their membership in the Frontier League and their membership in baseball’s independent league ranks.
There are best-practice promotional events that you will see play out almost every night, some of the tried-and-true variety, others of the let’s throw this at the wall and see if it sticks mode. Can you say, “Costanza Night?” This is a popular minor league baseball promotion for fans of “Seinfeld.” Fans dress up like George Costanza, the character who in one episode of the hit television comedy made radical life changes and ended up with a girlfriend, his own place and a job with the Yankees.
Schaub can’t match that, though he has worked as a scout for the Milwaukee Brewers. He is a lawyer with a background in baseball who acquits himself well during a meet-and-greet. He previously served as the director of player personnel and procurement for the Edmonton CrackerCats of the Northern League.
“As I stated in the opening, I want to make this an entertainment destination—our group does as well,” Schaub said. “We want to get extra events in the stadium beyond baseball. As Tom (Thanas) said, you know what would be a great success is hoisting the (Frontier League) trophy above our heads as well.
“So, it’s not just attendance. It’s not just our bottom line. It’s about creating an atmosphere and an entertainment package for our fans. I think if we accomplish that and our fans are happy at the end of the season with the product we produce—which is not just the game—it’s the atmosphere in the stadium. That would be a success for us.”
Schaub referred to Tom Thanas, Joliet’s city manager, during his remarks. Thannas was on hand to officially welcome the Slammers’ new ownership team. He spoke briefly about his excitement over Joliet’s downtown revitalization plan, which includes a new state-of-the-art railroad hub and a new parking deck expected to open in 2014. He touched on how the Slammers can help everyone hit the ball out of the park.
One asset they will tap into early and often is Chris Franklin, a 31-year-old native of Joliet who returns to his hometown as the Slammers’ general manager. Franklin served previously as GM of the Frontier League’s River City Rascals and worked as a ticket sales representative at Silver Cross Field in 2006. One of his mentors was Steve Malliet, the former baseball GM in Joliet.
Franklin will be expected to use his local connections to help the Slammers reach out for community support. Already, he has started running the bases in a fashion reminiscent of his three-sport playing days at Morris High School. He motored through a recent meeting of the Old Timers Baseball Association.
“It’s pretty unbelievable,” Franklin said of landing a baseball job in his back yard. “Of course, I loved to play the game. I wasn’t good enough to continue playing, so I found another passion, which is working in the front office.
“To come back home—the phone calls and emails from old friends—it’s a neat experience. It’s hard to put into words, really.”
Let me help—with the words.
My gut tells me Franklin and the Slammers’ new ownership group have a chance to make a go of this as long as they remember one thing, really. The price of a hot dog and a beer will determine whether fans flock to the ballpark to enjoy a summer night out. The quality of the baseball is important to the most die-hard fans, but not many others. Like a new event in the stadium, that’s an extra.