Last-place teams in the Frontier League still have plenty to play for

Last-place teams in the Frontier League still have plenty to play for

The goal of every player in any sport is to win a championship. Of the 14 teams in the Frontier League, only six will get an opportunity to participate in the postseason when the regular season comes to an end on Labor Day weekend.
 
For members of the Frontier Greys and the Windy City ThunderBolts, the 2014 postseason is not an option. It hasn’t been an option in quite some time.
 
The Greys (25-50) are 21.5 games back of Washington and Southern Illinois in the East Division while the ThunderBolts (27-48) are 18.5 back of the River City Rascals in the West. But that doesn’t mean the players of the two last-place teams in the league still don’t have plenty to play for.
 
“You always want to win,” Windy City ThunderBolts manager Ron Biga said following his team’s 17-4 win over the Gateway Grizzlies on Sunday. “You keep working hard and you’re not getting there, guys start falling by the wayside and people start pointing fingers. But we talked about this group, as coaches, and they work hard. We’ve got some good players. We’ve got some rookies and some young guys and this last month gives us a chance to see them play. They’ve got to make their mark. Their resume in this game is their statistics and they can just keep building on it.”
Ron Biga
 
The Frontier League is an independent baseball league filled with young players trying to catch the eyes of Major League scouts. Many of the players in the league used to play in affiliated leagues and want to get back there. Others are young guys out of college waiting for their opportunity.
 
“They’ve never played a season this long,” Greys manager Kyle Haines said of his team’s 16 rookies. “You’re looking at 96 games in just over 100 days. What’s tough is to let them know that after a 1 o’clock game, or after a long road trip, or a small crowd, you still have to have the same intensity and same focus as if it’s a sell-out crowd on a Friday night with lots of rest.
 
“They’re learning through their adversity. But they’re self-motivated and play hard every day. We just have to keep their minds focused on the correct things.”
 
Kyle Haines

The Greys are the only team in the Frontier League without a home stadium. Their 96-game schedule consists of 96 road trips. But Haines, a former San Francisco Giants prospect, doesn’t see that as a big deal.

“Technically everybody’s on the road,” Haines said following his team’s 11-1 loss to the Rascals (46-30) on Tuesday. “It’s just whether you’re playing in the white uniform or hitting last or not. You look at the Rascals players, they’re not from here, so there’s an aspect of being on the road. It’s just that, after a week, they get to come to the same place as opposed to us where we’re going to different places for every game.”
 
But the travel hasn’t been that bad and Haines thinks his team might actually travel fewer miles than the Washington Wild Things (47-29) and the Lake Erie Crushers (43-32). The Wild Things are based in suburban Pittsburgh while the Crushers make their home in the Cleveland area. With half of the Frontier League teams in Illinois, the Wild Things and Crushers do spend their fair share of time on the bus.
 
“Is it a challenge? Yeah, but not as much as I thought it’d be,” Haines said of the traveling schedule. “I thought it’d be our number one hurdle, but it’s not been. Our number one hurdle is making young mistakes.
 
“We’re dealing with a lot of young kids here and that’s the battle to keep them mentally strong,” Haines added. “They understand how important this opportunity is for them. They give a great effort every day, but sometimes you have to refocus them a little bit and let them know that in the grand scheme of things, every pitch matters.”
 
Both Biga and Haines recognize their respective teams’ talent and it comes through in games when they beat the league’s better clubs by a convincing margin. The Grizzlies (45-31) are tied with the Schaumburg Boomers for second in the West, both a game back of the Rascals. But the Greys swept the Grizzlies in a two-game set before losing eight of their next 12 and are currently mired in a five-game losing streak. Windy City, which will play host to the Greys this weekend, has won three straight over the Grizzlies and the Wild Things. 
 
“It’s fun to come to work when you know they want to work,” Biga said. “That’s a good sign. We’re not folding the tent. We’ll play like we’re 25 games over .500 and just keep going and grinding every day.
 
“As long as they keep working hard, they’re going to get results. There are some skilled players here.”
 
When they play up to their abilities, it’s fun, but the inconsistent play perplexes Haines.
 
“When you see the Grizzlies and how good they are or you go to Joliet and play well and go to Lake Erie and knock around a couple of their better pitchers, or go to certain places and play to our potential, but then you come (to River City) and don’t play up to our potential, that’s frustrating,” Haines said. “You’re wondering which team will show up. The one that’s getting better throughout the season or the one that’s three or four pitches short in a game.
 
“We feel like we’re just as talented as everyone else, we’re just not executing as well as everyone else.”
Kyle Robinson
 
The Greys did have two representatives in last month’s all-star game in first baseman Joe Rapp, a former Giants prospect, and outfielder Cameron Monger, a 2009 draft pick of the San Diego Padres. The ThunderBolts were represented by outfielder Kyle Robinson, a former Chicago White Sox prospect who won the Frontier League Home Run Derby. Each of them hopes to get that call from a Major League club.
 
With the signing of Washington’s CJ Beatty, a former St. Louis Cardinals prospect, this week by the Chicago White Sox, the Frontier League has had 33 players inked by MLB teams this year. The remaining Frontier League players, including those on the Greys and ThunderBolts, hope that number increases by the end of August.
 

“Late in the year, some teams are looking to pick up guys to finish the season,” Biga said. “Also, our coaches, we sit down at the end of the year and have to make roster changes. There’s a chance for them to make impressions. That’s a big thing for these guys for next year, whether it’s here or somewhere else.”