Baseball: First-year manager Jeff Isom ready for ‘challenge’ with Joliet Slammers
By Tim Tierney For Sun-Times Media February 21, 2014 7:42PM
Joliet Slammers general manager Chris Franklin (right) introduces Jeff Isom as the team's new manager during Friday's news conference. | Tim Tierney/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 12, 2014 6:02AM
After Jeff Isom formally was introduced Feb. 21 as the new manager of the Joliet Slammers, he took a little ribbing from team CEO Josh Schaub.
“So you went to the championship last year, but you’re not going to guarantee it this year?’’ Schaub said with a laugh.
In his only season with Lake Erie after coming from the Milwaukee Brewers organization, Isom guided the Crushers to the 2013 Frontier League title series, won by Schaumburg.
The Slammers were league champions in 2011, their first year in the league, but they finished a long way from the playoffs in 2012 and ’13.
“My No. 1 goal is to make the playoffs,’’ Isom said. “We will do everything we can to get the right guys in here to be a competitive team.
“I won’t guarantee a championship, but I will guarantee we’ll have a very competitive team.’’
The 41-year-old Isom is a West Lafayette, Ind., resident and Purdue University product who pitched seven years in pro ball after the Pittsburgh Pirates selected him in the 18th round of the 1993 draft.
Isom has managed or coached the past 14 years, including seven seasons in affiliated baseball. He managed the Joliet JackHammers in 2004 and ’05.
“It became very apparent that Jeff was a great fit for us,’’ Schaub said. “He’s been here before. He knows Joliet.’’
And Joliet is much closer to West Lafayette than his previous team.
“I was debating, ‘Do I go back there?’ ’’ Isom said of Lake Erie in Avon, Ohio. “It came down to my family. It’s a little over two hours to get here, or five hours to Lake Erie. That made it easy for me.
“Plus, my in-laws live about 45 minutes away. My wife is going to be happy. The kids will be able to be around the ballpark a little bit.’’
East Division champion Lake Erie was 56-40 last season under Isom, compared with a 38-57 record for the Slammers.
“I’m always up for a challenge,’’ he said.
Isom has gotten his teams to the playoffs four of the five seasons he’s managed in the Frontier League.
“I kept thinking last year at this time, ‘I don’t know how our team is going to be,’ ’’ Isom said about returning to the league from the Brewers. “But, obviously, it worked out all right. I look back to where I was last year and I think we’re ahead of schedule.’’
The Slammers’ top acquisition so far is Jose Garcia, a second baseman with Triple-A experience who hit .320 last year in the American Association. Isom is bringing infielder Max Casper with him from the Crushers.
Isom expects to fill the top of the starting rotation with a couple of players who get released from major league spring training camps.
The Slammers’ top three hitters from last year — slugger Nick Akins (.302), league All-Star Marquis Riley (.301) and Joe Meggs (.289) — all figure to be back this season.
“There were a core of guys who are very good players,’’ Isom said. “It’s a matter of taking those guys and adding new ones. Put it all in a bag, shuffle it up, see what you get. I like the challenge.’’