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Thursday, May 25, 2017 12:12 am

Springfield’s Boys of Summer

Sliders to open season

Springfield Sliders begin their 2017 season.


With championship aspirations, the Springfield Sliders begin their 2017 season on the road against the Lafayette Aviators on May 30.

The Sliders are a collegiate summer league baseball team from the Prospect League, an organization of 10 teams showcasing college players from all over the country. The Sliders, who play their home games at Lanphier Park’s Robin Roberts Field, are in their 10th year of existence.

Sliders owner and general manager Todd Miller has an optimistic outlook for opening night. “We’re ready to go,” he said in an interview. “We’re going to have a fun time when we go to Lafayette on Tuesday, and then we’re coming home to play them the following day.”

The Sliders look to replicate their successful 2016 season, where they finished a league best 39-20, earning a playoff berth for the first time in six seasons. Miller credited last season’s success to his players’ chemistry. “The group of guys we brought in all wanted to win for each other and they liked each other. It was just a strong sense of camaraderie,” Miller said. “These kids came from all over the country from all of these different schools, so to bring them in and to get them to play the way they did, it was just remarkable to see the type of synergy they had.”

Miller summed up running the Sliders in one sentence. “I work 50 hours a day,” he said laughing. “There’s 24 hours but I got to work 50. I know people think that we have an off-season for nine months and we play for only three months, but there is no off-season because you’re constantly working.”

Miller said off-the-field activities go hand-in-hand with the team’s on-field successes. “If we have lots of promotions, then we have lots of fans. If we have lots of fans, then the kids are excited to play. If they are excited to play, then they play better. If they play better, then we win games. If we win games, then more scouts come. If more scouts come, then more of my players get drafted. It really is a huge domino effect,” he said.

It was a busy off-season for Miller, as he overhauled the roster and coaching staff. The Sliders feature no returning players from the 2016 season, and Cameron McMullen, a volunteer assistant coach at the University of Nevada in Reno, was hired as the team’s new manager in March. “It’s very time-consuming, but you never work a day in your life if you enjoy what you’re doing,” Miller said. “I do this because I love it and because I want to see all of my kids get drafted and succeed in professional ball.”

Fan turnout has been a strong point for the Sliders, as they have finished in the top three in league attendance in six of the last eight seasons. “We have a large market so that helps,” Miller said. “From our promotions, our in-game activities and our kids zone, we just have more things than just baseball going on here, so fan engagement is certainly one of our priorities first and foremost.” In 2016, the Sliders set a franchise attendance record, drawing 46,546 fans. “Last year, we actually doubled our attendance relative to what we had ever done before,” Miller said. “That was certainly because of our upgrades in promotions, but it was also us winning games. Winning helped us then and it’s going to help us this season.”

The first home game for the Sliders will be May 31 against the Aviators. The promotions for that game will be a magnet schedule giveaway, and a $2 day, where most concessions items will only be $2. General admission tickets for adults are $7, tickets for children ages 4-12, members of the military and seniors are $5 and children under three years old get in for free. For more information, visit the team’s website http://www.springfieldsliders.com/.

Alex Camp is an editorial intern for Illinois Times. He is pursuing his master’s degree at University of Illinois Springfield. Contact him at intern@illinoistimes.com.


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