Baseball: Evan Button making most of chance with ThunderBolts
By Steve Millar For Sun-Times Media August 13, 2013 10:06PM
Windy City Thunderbolts first baseman Evan Button stretches for the ball as Darian Sandford of the Joliet Slammers dives for the bag. | Jon Cunningham~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 15, 2013 6:13AM
Being told you’re not good enough to play for a last-place team would be a tough blow for any baseball player. So when Evan Button was released June 25 by the Rockford Aviators, he was ready to walk away from the game he’d played his whole life.
“I was kind of OK with just being done with baseball,” he said. “It was a rough start to the season after I worked hard all offseason. I’ve played enough and I was OK with being finished.”
As the 26-year-old prepared to move on, though, there was one thought that kept crossing his mind: the Windy City ThunderBolts, struggling mightily offensively at the time, would be looking for hitters.
“I just had a feeling ‘Beegs’ (T-Bolts manager Ron Biga) was going to call me, and he did,” Button said. “I didn’t commit right away, but the next morning I called him. They were going to play at River City in my hometown (St. Louis) so I joined the team there.”
After signing June 29 with Windy City, Button went 4-for-6 in two games against River City. Just like that, he was excited about baseball again.
“I felt like I was on top of the world,” he said. “It’s amazing what a couple of hits can do. I had a couple of injuries (a strained hamstring and a shoulder injury) in Rockford and now I finally felt 100 percent healthy. I knew a lot of the guys on (the T-Bolts) from playing against them, and it was a great environment to play in.”
Button’s fortunes have certainly changed in Crestwood. After hitting .190 in 18 games with Rockford, the fifth-year pro entered Tuesday with a .297 average in 37 games with the T-Bolts.
Despite playing in fewer than half of the team’s games, he ranks second on the squad with four home runs.
Button has been especially hot of late. In his previous 10 games entering Tuesday, he was 15-for-43 (.349) with three homers and 10 RBI.
“You’ve got to not care at the plate,” he said. “You’ve got to be patient.
“One thing about me is I like to be almost too aggressive sometimes. I see the fastball and want to go get it before it comes to me. You’ve got to let the ball come to you. You’ve got to have loose muscles, you can’t be tense.
“There’s a different vibe here. We’re never out of a game. We have a great group of guys, we have great team chemistry and we just go out and play hard the whole game.”
Button, who played collegiately at Mississippi, has taken off offensively since being moved to the leadoff spot in the Windy City order.
“Leading off, you’ve got to make the pitcher throw some pitches so the rest of the guys can collect information,” he said. “I go up there and feel like I’ve got to set the tempo for the offense. I feel kind of like the leader stepping up there and setting the tempo. It seems to be working out for us.”
Biga certainly has liked what he’s seen from Button at the top of the order.
“He’s a veteran guy, and he’s a smart hitter,” Biga said. “Sometimes all it takes is a change of scenery, especially when a guy’s had success in the past.”
Six weeks after he thought about hanging it up, Button is sure glad he didn’t.
“I’m glad I kept playing,” he said. “There’s nothing like hitting a ball in the gap. That’s what keeps you coming back. It’s like golf. You hit that one great shot and you’re like ‘Man, I want to do that again.’ ”