JOLIET — A mixture of old and new Slammers got together to meet the media on Tuesday in the Hall of Fame room at Silver Cross Field. The event was to introduce the new ownership and general manager to the Frontier League Franchise in Joliet.
"We're excited moving forward in having baseball in Joliet," Frontier League Commissioner Bill Lee said. "We'd like to welcome the new ownership group."
While many may not readily recognize the new ownership group — Joliet Community Baseball & Entertainment - and CEO Josh Schaub; at least locally, some will recognize the team's new general manager. It's former Redskin Chris Franklin — a 1999 graduate of MCHS.
At the same time that the Slammers were introducing the newest members of the organization, there were notable holdovers from the previous group, including Coal City's Ken Miller. Miller returns as the team's Director of Special Projects.
"It's basically doing whatever it is they ask me to do," Miller said.
While Miller, Kelli Drechsel, Aaron Morse and groundskeeper Guy Massaro return from the previous regime, Tuesday's meeting was to announce the changes taking place for the Slammers.
"It's about getting involved in the community. Letting people know that we are here," Franklin said. "We're also getting the front office into shape. I'm very confident with the group that we have. We've retained a good number of employees from the previous group and I'm glad they are on board with the new."
Matt Gaddis and Heather Mills have already been brought on board to the front office and Franklin is also looking to fill ticket sales staff, a coaching staff for the Slammers this summer, and most importantly, a new manager for the team.
"It's a very important hire," Franklin said. "Your field manager is someone I look for a number of things from, not just on the field but off the field. How is he going to work with our fans, not only here at home, but how are we going to be represented on the road in the Frontier League."
According to Schaub, one of the first decisions was to keep the Slammers name for the franchise.
"We wanted to create some continuity moving forward," he said. "In terms of keeping our fan base engaged, we felt a change in brands wouldn't be beneficial."
What they do feel would be beneficial is getting the most use out of Silver Cross Field as they can.
"I want to make this an entertainment destination. We want to improve on that. We want to get extra events into the stadium beyond baseball," Schaub said. "To be successful we'd like to raise that trophy above our heads at the end of the year. It's not just attendance and it's not just our bottom line. It's about creating an atmosphere and creating an entertainment package. I think if we accomplish that, and our fans are happy with the product we produce — not just the game, but the atmosphere and the stadium, That would be a success to us."
Part of that is tweaking some of the features at Silver Cross itself.
"It's a nuance of creating the little touches ... I look at the league and the 12 other owners as consultants. Everyone talks about creating nuances and touches throughout the ballpark that makes it a different experience," Schaub said. "It's also about the concerts that connect with the Joliet community. You can't just throw a concert together and expect people to show up. People have to feel a connecting to the community, a connection to the stadium and a connection to this organization."
Franklin mentioned that getting a team together that connects with the fans goes hand in hand with that philosophy. Part of that means employing local talent.
"At the end of the day, our fans want to connect. That's a big time thing for baseball at this level of play," the GM said. "Not only with the players but with the atmosphere and everything involved. If you have the community touch, and I know we have a lot of talent in this area, absolutely. It doesn't work in every incidence and in every case. You might be looking for a lefthander and the local guy might be a righthander. But I do think it's important. Over the last couple of years, the Slammers have done a good job of it."
The Slammers were down last year in terms of wins and losses after winning the Frontier League championship in 2011. While it's Franklin's job to improve the team's personnel on the field, the rest is in the hands of the ownership group.
"If you look at our 1, 3 and 5-year plan, we want as much activity on this field as possible and still maintain a professional baseball playing surface," Schaub said. "Our ownership group is always exploring opportunities that could make us better in both the stadium and in the business plan."
Part of that is finding ways for the team to generate revenue by utilizing Silver Cross Field to it's fullest potential.
"It's more than just baseball, it's an entertainment destination. Remember that our company's name is Joliet Community Baseball Entertainment ... we need to provide entertainment before the game and entertainment after the game. We need to utilize the stadium to its fullest capacity, which we plan on doing," Schaub said. "We're going to utilize the stadium for more than just baseball. We're going to have amateur events here. We're going to everything we can to have activity at this ball park 365 days a year."
Which may include everything from hosting high school proms to dance recitals and everything in between.
"Let's put it this way. We are exploring all opportunities and avenues," Schaub said. "Whether it's concerts, sports, weddings, banquets we want the public to know that it can handle other events. This stadium is a key asset of Joliet and we want to utilize it to its fullest."