Baseball: Windy City ThunderBolts set sights on Frontier League title
By Steve Millar For Sun-Times Media May 15, 2013 10:36PM
Mike Recchia, of the ThunderBolts, wears Elvis sunglasses that were handed out to fans for Elvis night. | Gary Middendorf~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 18, 2013 7:34AM
Mike Recchia’s first season in the Frontier League was nothing short of spectacular.
The Crestwood native went 11-3 with a 2.51 ERA for the Windy City ThunderBolts in 2012. He broke a league record with 177 strikeouts, and became the first T-Bolts pitcher to win the Brian Tollberg Award as the league’s top pitcher.
A tough act to follow?
“I try not to think too much about last year,” Recchia said. “I do want to go out there and surpass everything I did last year, though. If that wasn’t the case, there’d be no point in wanting to keep pitching.
“I feel good. I feel strong. I feel ready. It’s just about going out there and getting the job done and getting the ‘W’.”
Recchia, a Shepard alum, is expected to take the mound when the T-Bolts open the season at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Schaumburg.
One thing that could potentially change that? Recchia’s wife, Ashley, is pregnant with twins and expected to give birth any day.
“It’s been a really happy time,” Recchia said. “Lots of smiles.”
Recchia always seems to be smiling, and a setback this spring hasn’t changed that.
After spending two seasons in the New York Yankees organization before being released and landing with the T-Bolts, Recchia got another shot at affiliated ball when he was signed by the Baltimore Orioles after the 2012 season.
He was released after spring training, however.
“I threw well with the Orioles, but it’s a numbers game,” he said. “What are you going to do? I’m excited to be back home and I look at is as a blessing that, with my twins being born soon, I get to be around for that.”
Recchia is expected to anchor a T-Bolts starting rotation the team and new manager Ron Biga have raved about throughout the preseason.
Blayne Weller, who was 5-3 with Windy City last year, is back. The newcomers are headlined by southpaw Matt Wickswat, who spent five seasons in the White Sox organization, reaching Double A.
Righties Travis Tingle, a rookie out of the University of Louisville, and Travis Strong — the 2012 Pitcher of the Year in the independent Freedom League — also have impressed the coaching staff.
“We have four experienced guys that have all play affiliated ball,” Biga said. “Then we have Tingle, who has looked good. They’re all intelligent pitchers and we think they’ll give us quality innings. We’re expecting our starting pitching to be a big strength.”
Andy Mee, who was 3-3 with a 2.29 ERA as one of the team’s top setup men last year, is expected to be the closer with fellow returnee Michael Click in a setup role.
Offensively, catcher Zach Aakhus is the longest-tenured T-Bolt as he begins his fifth season with the team. He should see time at first base as well.
Three-time All-Star Mike Torres will hit at or near the top of the order and man second base. Outfielder Chad Cregar is back after setting club records with 31 home runs and 93 RBI last season.
“Chad is pretty much our only power guy in the lineup,” Torres said. “We know we’ve got to be a team that goes gap to gap. We have good athletes that can go first to third and steal some bases.”
Biga expects Louis Templeton, who was with the team last year but missed the entire season after injuring his shoulder in the preseason, to be strong at shortstop.
Lyndon Estill, a former eighth-round pick by the White Sox, and Bolingbrook native Andrew Brauer are expected to make an impact in the outfield.
Torres said the T-Bolts are hungry to win after contending much of last season only to fade down the stretch and miss the playoffs with a 54-42 record.
“I was telling Biga I’ve never played four years at a level without winning a championship,” Torres said. “I won a state championship in high school and a national championship at Texas. This is my fourth year here, and I expect nothing less than to play for a championship.”