Miners going strong in third season
by Justin McGill, Executive Editor - jmcgill@cadizrecord.com
Jun 17, 2009 | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MARION, Ill. – Two years ago, the Southern Illinois Miners were in the early portion of their first minor league baseball season. Today, the team is still drawing fans like it did when the experience in Marion, Ill., was still brand new.

“We’ve become settled here in the stadium,” Miners General Manager Tim Arseneau said of Rent One Park. “That first year, we were really learning on the fly. We had moved into the stadium two days before our first game. We’ve really learned the nuances, and we’ve really been able to focus on sales areas and improving the overall fan experience.”

Arseneau said the strong fan response the team received in its first season has continued through this season.

“We’re excited about our merchandise sales, which is always a good way to judge enthusiasm,” Arseneau said. “We expected attendance to drop after the newness of the first year wore off, but we’ve led the [Frontier League] in attendance the last two years, and through eight games this season, we’re leading again.”

As of Tuesday, the Miners were averaging 4,245 fans per game, over 500 more than second-place Gateway.

Arseneau said the Miners market Rent One Park as a “family ballpark” and have received great feedback on the initiative.

“Our No. 1 goal is to provide an affordable family experience,” Arseneau said. “We’ve got something for kids, parents and people that aren’t necessarily baseball fans. We understand that there may be a mom or dad that’s not a baseball fan, but we want them to be entertained and come back with their kids.”

With a few exceptions, the Miners aren’t likely to produce many players that go on to the Major Leagues, but Arseneau said the organization can still make a connection between the players and the fans.

“Our manager has them sign autographs after every game, and some of our better players have come back,” Arseneau said. “Our fans have really latched on to some of these guys. It helps for the fans to have access to the players like they get in a smaller ballpark.”

Although the chances of a big league future are slim for most Miners, the franchise has produced 13 players that moved on to higher levels of minor league ball and one, Clay Zavada, who currently pitches for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“It’s a selling point when you have a salary cap and can’t pay anyone more than another team can,” Arseneau said. “It’s a recruitment tool that helps us.”

The Miners are in a prime location to pick up new fans that might usually make several annual trips to St. Louis or Chicago to watch major league games but are less likely to in a weaker economy.

“I think we’ll get more fans that usually go to a few Cardinals or Cubs games scale that back to one or maybe none,” Arseneau said. “It’s an opportunity here for a family of four to come to the game and get parking and tickets for under $20. That will help us.”

Arseneau said he’s been surprised by the baseball knowledge of Miners fans.

“There are true baseball fans here,” Arseneau said. “They understand baseball as well or better than people in other places I’ve been. They support local high schools and Southern Illinois University really well. As long as we support those fans and keep things fresh and new, I think we’ll have a good fan base for years to come.”

Fans looking for a fun experience in a baseball atmosphere won’t go wrong in Marion.

“We’ll entertain you for the three hours you’re here,” Arseneau said. “I feel confident that if you come here once, you’ll make a return trip. It may not be five or 10 times a year, but maybe you make that one trip a season. It’s good baseball. These guys make next to nothing as far as money goes, so they play hard and for the love of the game, and that makes for a good product on the field. And we’ll entertain you past the baseball aspect, too.”

The team: As an independent franchise, the Miners’ roster is filled with younger players looking to catch the attention of scouts for a chance with an affiliated team. The most noteworthy player, other than Zavada, to suit up for the Miners was Danny Almonte, the pitcher who gained infamy in 2001 after it was learned he was too old to play for the team he led to the Little League World Series. Almonte played in Marion through the first month of the Miners’ inaugural season.

The Miners play in the West Division of the Frontier League. As of Tuesday, they had a record of 13-9 and were in second place, two games behind River City.

The game: The Miners exploded for five runs in the fifth inning in a 6-1 win last Wednesday over division rival Evansville.

The Otters picked up a run in the second but were held to three hits through the seven-inning contest. Southern Illinois tied the score in the fourth and put the game away in the next frame.

Designated hitter Joey Metropoulos led the Miners at the plate, going 3-for-3 with a double and two RBIs.

Tony Bradley picked up his third win of the season, pitching a complete game, striking out four and walking four.

Attendance was announced at 4,138.

The turf: One unique aspect of Rent One Park fans will notice right away is the field. The Miners play on Sportexe Turf, an artificial surface most widely associated with football fields.

Because the stadium uses this turf instead of natural grass and dirt, it can play host to concerts and other events in addition to baseball games.
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