Joliet Slammers 14th season opening soon

Wayne Horne | 1/27/2016, 6:33 p.m.
Now that the first real blast of winter weather has passed it seems like a good time to talk a ...
Wayne Horne

Now that the first real blast of winter weather has passed it seems like a good time to talk a little baseball at Silver Cross Field. The Joliet Slammers will open their season on May 16 with a three game stand against the Washington Wild Wings. Game time is 7:05 pm. Both teams ended last season with identical records in their respective divisions at 42 wins and 54 losses. The Slammers finished in fifth place in the West Division and the Wild Wings were fifth in the East Division. But that was last year and hope springs eternal for a better finish on the field in 2016.

Last week the City Council Baseball Committee reported on the Slammers plans for the new season. The team is scheduled to play 48 home games at Silver Cross Field. The team has played 47 games in four out of the last 5 seasons. Although more games were scheduled each season, rainouts were not always rescheduled.

The report also included information that attendance increased by 12 percent last year. That statistic is somewhat misleading. The per game average attendance increased by 12 percent but the overall fans attending for the year increased just under three percent according to the Frontier League’s website. It was the first time overall attendance increased over a previous year since the stadium opened in 2002. The stands can accommodate just over 6,000 fans. Since opening 14 years ago Silver Cross Field has averaged slightly more than 2,000 fans per game.

Discussions regarding the baseball park’s reconfiguration to accommodate other sports venues would require a financial commitment from the city. Several years ago Joliet Township High School District offered to do just that but it was rejected at the time. The wisdom of doing that now is questionable. In spite of the reported net gain of revenues over expenses for stadium repairs and improvements there is little evidence the original $28 million investment made by the city to build Silver Cross Field has lived up to the hype of 14 years ago.

It has also been reported that the CEO of the Slammers organization, Nick Semaca, is in negotiations with Silver Cross Hospital officials to renew the stadium naming rights. Why is the tenant of the owner of the baseball park, the City of Joliet, negotiating on its behalf? It should be noted that the rent paid by the Slammers to the city is approximately the same as the organizations share of the naming rights. In other words, the Slammers use the stadium rent free every year because the rent is provided by the naming rights revenue paid by Silver Cross Hospital.

The organization also receives all revenues earned at Silver Cross Field other than ticket sales for Slammers games. It’s a good deal for the Slammers but not so great for the City of Joliet coffers. A couple of years ago the CEO of the Slammers said at a City Council meeting that Joliet needs an agreement more favorable to the City in order to keep up with repairs and improvements. Seems like an idea whose time has come.

Negotiations and agreements regarding city-owned assets seem to always end up costing more than originally planned. For example the takeover of Evergreen Terrace housing complex has been over 10 years in the making at a cost to date in excess of $25 million. The City has yet to take ownership because it’s still being litigated in court. Bi-Centennial Park lies in disrepair with a still uncertain future that will perhaps see Joliet Township take over management at the very least and possibly ownership of the park. And then there is the Rialto subsidy that, while resolved for 2016, faces further scrutiny in coming years. The train station looks to be on track but the bricks and mortar have yet to be laid and it is already over budget.

Looks like it will be an interesting year in Joliet. Stay tuned…