Ballplayers stay on base path to big leagues with Joliet Slammers
Most baseball players trying to make it in the big leagues are plying their trade in the minors, on a team affiliated with a Major League organization.
But there is another route to pro ball: the independent league.
In the 1970s and '80s, independent leagues could be found across the United States and Canada, but most are now defunct, bought out by MLB teams. However, Joliet remains home to the Slammers, part of the Frontier League, one of the oldest independent leagues in the country.
The Slammers are made up of players who are not on a college or MLB-affiliated team but want to keep playing in a professional environment. Ken Miller, the director of community relations for the Slammers, told the Will County Gazette that the players come from all walks of life.
“We have some guys that have played in the minor leagues but got let go, or finished up their college career and still want to play,” Miller said. “There are kids from all over the U.S. and Puerto Rico.”
One such player is Buffalo Springs native Steven Pollakov, a 25-year-old catcher who played minor league baseball in the Chicago White Sox organization. A scout for the Arizona Diamondbacks put Pollakov in touch with the head coach of the Slammers after he was released from the Sox.
“I am here to not only help the Slammers win and develop my skills, but to keep playing and keep getting better," Pollakov said. "I want to polish my skills and get picked up by another Major League affiliate. My goal isn’t to play independent ball for the rest of my career. My goal is to be a big leaguer.”
The independent leagues can be a good place for a player to get noticed by MLB teams. Some alumni of independent league ball are former major leaguers J.D. Drew and Darryl Strawberry.
Pollakov said that playing for the Slammers gives him a chance to play and learn from experienced teammates.
“It’s still professional baseball,” he said. “There is good competition, and you’re around guys who might have played at a higher level than you. One of our pitchers played in the big leagues. You’re still always learning in this game.”
This year, Pollakov has been a role player for the Slammers, playing in 20 games and racking up 10 hits. Pollakov has a career batting average of .230 and is a solid defensive player, boasting a .985 fielding percentage. Last year while with the White Sox minor league organization, he finished with a .270 batting average.
As of press time, the Slammers are 20-25 and in fourth place in the East Division of the Frontier League.