Thursday, November 29, 2007

Miners' new schedule reveals divisional shift

By Justin Walker, Marion Daily Republican

MARION — The release of the Southern Illinois Miners' newest schedule ever came with some interesting pieces of information.

The Miners will begin their second season of Frontier League play Wednesday, May 21, in Sauget to begin a three-game series with the Gateway Grizzlies. The home opener is Saturday, May 24, against the Evansville Otters.

What is newsworthy besides the release of the schedule itself is that the Frontier League has become a two-division league, like it was prior to the 2007 season when Southern Illinois and Slippery Rock were added as expansion teams. Last season, teams competed in either the West, East or Central divisions.

The Miners are still in the West Division along with Gateway, River City and Evansville, but have been joined by Windy City and Rockford from the former Central division. Kalamazoo and Traverse City are now members of the East along with Washington, Chillicothe, Florence and the Midwest Sliders.

Yes, the Midwest Sliders.

Although no formal announcement has been made, the Slippery Rock franchise will become a travel-only team this season, Miners manager Mike Pinto confirmed.

Windy City is the Frontier League's defending champion, having knocked off Washington in the championship series. Washington eliminated West division champion Gateway in the division series, while Windy City took out Wild Card winner Rockford to advance.

Pinto said the adjustment to a two-division format — with two division champions joined by two teams with the best remaining records — presents the same challenge as last year to get to the postseason.

"The truth is, you still have to win a lot of games to get in," Pinto said.

The major difference is that the Miners will only have to face teams such as Gateway and River City 12 times instead of 18 like last year. Teams from the West will play six games against East clubs, three at home and three on the road, Sliders excluded.

The Miners opened their inaugural season with six straight road games as construction of Rent One Park was being completed. They also spent spring training at Marion High School's Crisp Sports Complex and John A. Logan College out of necessity.

Having a chance to spend spring training at Rent One Park will be a major plus entering the second season, Pinto said.

"I like having the entire spring training there," Pinto said. "Last year, we were at different places and had to cart equipment from place to place and it was a lot harder than we let on. Everyone was great to help us out, but it wasn't easy."

Pinto was informed that "holiday pack" ticket sales for Miners games have been brisk and said the announcement of new players are coming soon. The addition of utility man Brandon Jones was made earlier this week.

Unlike last season when virtually every future Miner was anonymous, fans already know much of what next year's team will look like. Everyday players such as Tim Dorn, Mike Scanzano, Kevin Koski and Eric Suttle are expected to return, as well as pitchers Travis Hope, Nick Tisone and Chris Little, to name a few.

Deals for new additions are in the works, Pinto said.

And as May approaches, fans now have a schedule to behold as anticipation increases.

"We're at the point where it can't come soon enough," Pinto said.

No comments: