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Bill Booker, the former La Salle-Peru baseball coach and current assistant at Putnam County, talks at a welcome-back rally last June after he guided the Cavaliers to a second-place finish in Class 3A last season. Booker will coach this summer with the Frontier League’s Joliet Slammers. NewsTribune file photo
Brett Zawacki and Bill Booker will be reunited this summer.
After Zawacki was acquired two weeks ago by the Frontier League’s Joliet Slammers, Booker has been named the Slammers new bench coach.
The move will bring the former L-P baseball star and the former L-P baseball coach back together on the same team for the first time since Zawacki graduated from L-P in 2007.
The pair will join Putnam County baseball coach Dave Garcia, who was named the head assistant and hitting coach for the Slammers earlier this month.
“I’ve always hoped that I could help a kid who left my program get to the next level or at the next level, so I’m really excited,” Booker said. “I hope Brett can use me as a motivating tool because not only have we been friends for awhile now but I am going to get to be one of his coaches.”
Zawacki pitched for two seasons under Booker, who spent 20 years as Cavaliers coach before being let go last spring.
Zawacki pitched for Booker in 2005 and 2007 but missed his junior season with a torn ACL.
In Zawacki’s senior season, L-P went 26-10 and won the program’s first regional and sectional titles under Booker. It was also the school’s first regional title in baseball since 1985 and the first sectional title crown since 1969.
After he graduated from L-P, Zawacki was drafted in the 12th round of the 2007 MLB Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals, while Booker won three more sectionals, advanced to state twice and placed second in Class 3A last summer.
“That’s the one thing that I’m obviously really excited about,” Zawacki said of working with Booker. “Coach Booker and I go way back and have been friends for a long time now, so it’s going to be really neat to get back with him.”
Garcia — who spent the last four summers as an assistant coach with the Frontier League’s River City Rascals, which is located in the St. Louis suburb of O’Fallon, Mo. — was officially named the Slammers' hitting coach and head assistant on Jan. 8.
On Jan. 17, Zawacki was acquired by the Slammers from the Gateway Grizzles as part of a four-player trade that included a first-round pick and future considerations.
Earlier this week, Booker — currently an assistant coach at PC — signed his contract with the Slammers.
“It’s always good to have familiar faces around,” Garcia said. “The last few years being down in Missouri, it’s been better as I’ve gotten to know people, but my first few years it was pretty lonely. So being able to walk in and see not only people I know from the Frontier League but also some guys from our area, it’ll make for some fun bus trips and for a fun summer.”
The 23-year-old Zawacki is finally healthy after a few seasons full of injuries.
The former pitcher in the Cardinals and Miami Marlins organizations has had two ACL replacement surgeries in his left knee and battled psoriatic arthritis.
He will report to the Slammers on May 1.
“After all the injuries I’ve dealt with the last few years, I’ll get a chance, which is what I really wanted,” he said. “I had a great time with the Gateway Grizzlies and got to meet a lot of great people, but I’m excited. In addition to working with coach (Booker) again, I’ll also be closer to friends and family.”
Last season, he threw 4 1/3 scoreless innings for the Marlins’ Gulf Coast Rookie League team before being released in June after the 2012 MLB Draft.
Later that month, he signed with the Grizzlies, for whom he posted a 2-2 record with a 4.70 ERA in 38 1/3 innings.
He re-signed with the Grizzlies earlier this offseason before being traded to the Slammers.
“As soon as I was hired by our manager, Brett was a guy we targeted — and it had very little to do with him being a local guy,” Garcia said. “Brett came to the Frontier League last year and showed very electric stuff, and he was a guy who once he got a full season we knew was going to be one of the better pitchers in the league.
“Really, our job is to have Brett there for as short of a time as possible. The sooner we can get him back into affiliated baseball the better.”
Booker will spend the summer coaching in the same stadium in which his L-P squad finished fourth in the state in 2009 and second last June.
“It’s an opportunity for me that I’ve always looked forward to,” Booker said. “It’s another step in my career that is going to be exciting, to be able to work at that level and to continue to learn about this great game. I can’t wait for it to start.”
Booker is currently committed to coach one season with the Slammers but has not ruled out getting into coaching professional baseball, college baseball or high school baseball.
“I’ve put no time frame on this at all,” Booker said. “If it leads to something else, then great. If it doesn’t, then I am working with professional baseball players, and 20 years ago who would’ve dreamed that?”
The Slammers start their season May 17.
Jared Bell can be reached at 220-6938, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.
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