Editor’s Note: This is part of a summer Q&A series in which every Wednesday sports writer Jared Bell will talk with local people in the sports news.
JOLIET — Fifty-five miles east on Interstate 80 and a mile north up on Chicago Street sits the summer workplace of four dislocated Illinois Valley residents.
This summer, Dave Garcia, Bill Booker, Brett Zawacki and Corey Kimes are spending their time coaching and playing for the Frontier League’s Joliet Slammers, which play at Silver Cross Field in Joliet.
The 33-year-old Garcia, the Putnam County baseball coach, is a first-year hitting and third base coach for the Slammers — who are 16-24 this season — but is in his fifth year in the Frontier League.
The 49-year-old Booker, the former La Salle-Peru coach who spent the spring as an assistant at PC under Garcia, is in his first season as the team’s bench coach and is experiencing professional baseball for the first time.
The 24-year-old Zawacki, a 2007 L-P graduate and a 12th-round selection of the St. Cardinals in 2007, pitched in the Cardinals’ organization for 3 1/2 seasons before the right-handed starting pitcher spent nearly a year with the Miami Marlins organization. He was released last July and played the rest of the summer with the Frontier League’s Gateway Grizzlies before he was acquired by the Slammers in an offseason trade.
This season with Joliet , he’s 2-4 with a 4.84 ERA in 44 2/3 innings and eight starts.
The 23-year-old Kimes, a 2008 Ottawa graduate, was an 18th-round selection of the Minnesota Twins in 2011 after he starred at the University of Illinois. The left-handed starting pitcher played in the Twins’ organization for two years before he was released and was signed this offseason by the Slammers as free agent.
This season with Joliet, he’s 3-4 with a 4.61 ERA in 41 innings and seven starts.
On Monday, the NewsTribune sat down with the four inside Silver Cross Stadium to discuss professional baseball, working with each other and how they’ve done so far this season.
NewsTribune: What’s it like to be on the Illinois Valley Slammers?
Corey Kimes: (Laughs) I think it’s cool. I didn’t know these guys from La Salle. When you’re in high school you don’t like any other high schools, but after you get out you find out that you’re all the same. It’s been a lot of fun.
Brett Zawacki: Anytime you go to a new team and a new facility, it’s good to go in knowing some guys. I’ve known Book for a long time now, so that was kind of cool, but I didn’t really know Corey at all. We knew of each other from high school, but we’ve really gotten to know each other here and have become pretty good friends. It’s been a good fit, and I’ve really enjoyed myself.
NT: Dave, can you talk about how all this came together, with you four ending up with the Slammers?
Dave Garcia: I got hired in November and one of the deals (manager) Mike Berryman and I first wanted to do was to get Brett to Joliet . Mike knew Brett from Gateway and liked him, so Brett and our left fielder were our first trade because we wanted to get a front-line pitcher that had Frontier League experience.
Over the winter, we met with our owners and one of our owners is a Milwaukee Brewers scout and Corey’s name came up as free agent. I knew Corey and I spoke up for him. We actually did some research and called an area scouts, who really liked Corey, so we had support from top to bottom, from me to the manager to ownership all wanting to get Corey.
And then there was an opportunity to get Bill on staff. It’s nice to get an extra guy around who just knows the game, can work with these guys and be able to communicate with them.
NT: Bill, you’ve coached high school baseball for so long, but what’s it been like to coach professional baseball?
Bill Booker: When Dave and I first talked about coaching together for high school baseball, he said there could be an opportunity with a Frontier League team. Little did I know it was all going to play out like it did in Joliet with Dave, Brett, Corey and I all being in the same place. I had a chance to talk to Mike Berryman and things went well, so for me it’s gone from L-P to Putnam County to the Slammers and it’s been a great baseball run the last two years.
NT: What’s a normal day like for you guys?
Kimes: Brett is in Ottawa a lot so we usually leave town around 1:45-2 p.m. every day. When we get to the field, we have our full practice before we shower and get ready for the game. Then at the game, if we don’t pitch, sometimes we’ll sit in the stands and sometimes we’ll be in the dugout depending on what the coaches want us to do that specific day. After the game, Brett and I get in the car and head home. We get home around 11 p.m. and then do it all again the next day.
Garcia: Bill wakes up first because he has to get his morning coffee. (Garcia, Booker and two other coaches live together in an apartment). We get up and go to the gym every day around 9 a.m. Then we go change, get our stuff and head to the park while we also grab something to eat.
When we get here, we have early work with hitters at 2-2:30 p.m. We take batting practice and Book and I will usually get a little jog in. We then eat, shower and cleanup and head out. He coaches first and I coach third. After the game, it’s usually a lot of personnel discussions and reports, which we have to write after every single game and submit to ownership.
You get used to a routine and I’m not going to complain about the routine because I love it.
NT: Brett and Bill, what’s it been like to be able to reunite as player and coach after all these years?
Zawacki: Even if you know another player, it’s even better to know somebody on the staff — and Book has always shot me straight, too. There’s never been any question of what he wanted me to do, so I know where he stands. We’ve become really close over the years so it’s been awesome for me. Being around each other more, we talked about the past and the high school days.
Booker: I brought Brett up in 2005 (as a sophomore at L-P) and knew he had talent then. I think we helped him a little bit in high school, but now that I’ve come back to him after all these years he’s a lot more polished. It’s nice to see a familiar face, but it’s also nice to work with a kid who I spent so much time in high school. It brings back so many good memories for me.
NT: Corey and Brett, I’ve heard you two have become good friends, but I have to ask, is an Ottawa graduate allowed to be friends with an L-P kid?
Garcia: I think they are going to do a made-for-TV movie about (their friendship). It’ll be cute (laughs).
Kimes: We were actually hoping to get a picture of us holding hands (laughs).
Zawacki: I got together with Corey when I found out he signed here, and my girlfriend knew Corey really well from high school. At first we were driving here separately before she was like, ‘Why wouldn’t you guys just drive together?’ I told her that’d be a good idea, and ever since we’ve become really close. We play a lot of golf when we can and we’ve developed a pretty friendship.
Kimes: He’s hung out with my friends and I’ve hung out with his and we’re pretty much all the same, so it’s been a pretty easy transition.
Zawacki: It’s kind of scary how similar we are because in high school you hate each other, but now that we’re older you find out that maybe the reason for that is because you’re so similar in the first place.
NT: How much of Illinois Valley high school baseball was talked about at the beginning of the Slammers’ season?
Garcia: Book and I had a lot of guys ask us about how it was going and they gave us hell about it a little bit because we were pulling double duty (coaching at PC and Joliet). Some of the other coaches had to take on those first three hours of batting practice every day and it did wear on us a little bit, but for the most part the guys were very supportive and asking us how we did.
I talked to Brett quite a bit about how the L-P softball team was doing because his sister played on the team. Corey’s best friend, Zach Berryman, is on my staff so Corey knew a lot about what was going on, and Brett has been close with a lot of Putnam County guys over the years, so there was a genuine interest in what we were able to accomplish this spring. For the guys (with the Slammers) to actually ask us was pretty cool.
Jared Bell can be reached at 220-6938, or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.