Baseball: Windy City ThunderBolts have designs on Frontier League’s top prize
By Steve Millar For Sun-Times Media May 15, 2014 10:08PM
Ryan Soares (left) and Andrew Brauer (right) are two of the few returning starters on a new look ThunderBolts team at the first day of practice for the Windy City ThunderBolts, Friday, May 2nd, 2014 in Crestwood. | Gary Middendorf/for Sun-Times Media
Manager: Ron Biga, 2nd season
Last season: 50-46, 3rd in Frontier League West
Roster: Pitchers: Daniel Carela, Daniel Cropper, James Ferguson, Jake Fisher, Jason Kafka, Victor Larez, Reese McGraw, Dyllon Nuernberg, Hayden Shirley, Markus Solbach, Jessie Snodgrass, Travis Tingle, Zak Wasserman. Catchers: Doug Joyce, Mike McGuckin, Matt Scioscia. Infielders: Evan Button, Nick Latta, Jon Mestas, Mike Torres, Ryan Soares. Outfielders: Andrew Brauer, Ryan McIntyre, Kyle Robinson, Max White.
16-18, Greys; 20-22, Lake Erie; 23-25, at Traverse City; 27-29, Southern Illinois; 30-31, at Washington
1, at Washington; 3-5, River City; 6-8, Gateway; 11-12, at Florence; 13-15, Schaumburg; 17-19, Florence; 20-22, at Schaumburg; 24-26, at Normal; 27-29, Rockford
1-3, Normal; 4-6, at Traverse City; 8-10, at Southern Illinois; 11-13, at River City; 18-20, at Joliet; 21-23, Evansville; 24-26, Joliet; 27-29, at Rockford; 30-31, at Lake Erie
1, at Lake Erie; 2-4, Gateway; 6-8, at Southern Illinois; 9-11, at Gateway; 12-14, Washington; 15-17, Greys; 19-21, at Florence; 22-24, Joliet; 27-28, at Evansville; 29-31, Schaumburg
2-4, Traverse City
Home game times: 7:05 p.m. weekdays, 6:05 p.m. Saturdays, 2:05 p.m. Sundays. Exceptions: May 21, 22 and 29, June 18, July 22 and 23, 10:35 a.m.; June 4, July 3, 6:05 p.m.; Aug. 3, 17, 24 and 31, 5:05 p.m.
Updated: June 17, 2014 2:37PM
For Windy City ThunderBolts manager Ron Biga and his coaching staff, last year’s first season with the team was a trial by fire.
Entering Year 2, there’s a comfort level with the team and its roster that Biga is hoping will translate to more wins.
“This year, we’ve kind of molded our team around the guys we had coming back,” Biga said. “Last year, it was new for all of us. We had a lot of new players and some guys who we inherited who we already had under contract who just didn’t work out. I think we have just better quality players overall this year.”
The T-Bolts will get their first chance to break up their manager’s claims when they open the season against the Frontier Greys at 7:05 p.m. Friday at Standard Bank Stadium in Crestwood.
After reaching the Frontier League playoffs every season from 2007 to 2010 and winning the league title in ’07 and ’08, Windy City has gone three straight seasons without a postseason bid.
The T-Bolts hope to change that, and it’ll be a bit easier to qualify for the playoffs this season. The Frontier League has expanded its postseason from four teams to six, with two division champions and four wild cards. Like the major league format, the wild cards will play a one-game playoff to trim the field to four.
“We’re definitely determined to make the playoffs this season,” T-Bolts outfielder Andrew Brauer said. “I think we have a lot of talent. We were the hottest team in the league at the end of last season, so hopefully, we can pick up where we left off.”
Offensively, the T-Bolts — who went 27-13 after the All-Star break last season and finished 50-46 — return six of their top eight run producers from 2013 in Ryan Soares (.290 average, 49 RBI), Mike Torres (.262, 43), Doug Joyce (.228, 38), Brauer (.271, 37), Evan Button (.293, 35) and Kyle Robinson (.336, 22).
Ryan McIntyre, a former Florida Marlins farmhand, and Oklahoma product Max White should bolster the outfield.
“We’re going to swing the bats,” Biga said. “We’ve got guys who are versatile and can hit gap to gap. We’ve got athletes.”
The starting rotation is expected to be anchored by returning ace Dyllon Nuernberg (6-1, 2.71 ERA) and Victor Larez, a former Detroit Tigers farmhand out of Venezuela.
Travis Tingle, Daniel Cropper and Markus Solbach also return from last season, along with Reese McGraw and Jessie Snodgrass, who should be stalwarts in the bullpen.
The hope is that it’ll all add up to a contender.
“The guys saw what we’re capable of doing in the second half of last season,” Biga said. “I know these guys are really hungry to get to the playoffs and win.”