Southland Vikings’ Cunningham has baseball in blood
By Tim O’Brien For Sun-Times Media June 10, 2014 7:10PM
Updated: July 12, 2014 6:35AM
It took time away from the sport he loved for Chris Cunningham to realize he knew exactly where he should be.
He belonged in baseball.
“I found out when I was in sales my passion was baseball and I had to be around it,” Cunningham said. “I love to coach and give what I can to the players.”
Cunningham is the head coach of the Southland Vikings, a college summer ball team in the Midwest Collegiate League, and an assistant coach at South Suburban College.
A 2001 Homewood-Flossmoor grad, Cunningham continued his baseball career at South Suburban and was drafted in 2004 in the 12th round by the then Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
He played four seasons in the minors, reaching High-A ball in 2007, and said he probably could have played a couple of more seasons in independent leagues.
Whatever the route, Cunningham enjoyed it all.
“As a kid, the goal is always to make the big leagues,” Cunningham said. “I played as long as I could and knew when my time was up. Baseball is such a good game, and you need a strong mind to be successful. It rewards you if you put in the work.”
The record book at South Suburban certainly shows that. A two-time All-American, Cunningham holds Bulldogs records for batting average in a season (.506), career batting average (.435), career runs (135) and career walks (73).
His best minor league season came in 2005 playing for the Princeton Devil Rays in the Appalachian League. He hit .329 with seven home runs, 42 runs and 40 RBI in 59 games.
“I got a lot of great experiences playing with a lot of people,” Cunningham said. “I’ve picked up little things from every hitting coach I’ve had, things you take away. You’re never going to stop learning playing baseball. If you do, the game is going to pass you by.”
An assistant under longtime coach Steve Ruzich at South Suburban, Cunningham has flourished as a head coach of the Vikings, the defending champions in the MCL.
The Vikings are 4-4 this season.
With an abundance of area talent on the roster, Cunningham has a problem coaches dream of. He may have too much talent, especially with Indiana’s Chris Sujka and Oregon’s Jerry Houston, both Mount Carmel grads, scheduled to join the team this week.
“It’s a great pain in the butt to have to deal with,” Cunningham said with a laugh.