Monday, June 30, 2008

Evansville steps into the spotlight

“I’m a promoter,” said Jon Frey during the annual Evansville Home Talent League bowling fundraiser back in February. “I have this mindset of promotion and marketing and sales.”

Plans were in place, even back then, to have the Evansville Jays take on the Lake Mills Grays at Warner Park following a Madison Mallards game. The time had finally come on Sunday when those plans came to fruition. The Jays beat the Grays 9-0 on one of the nicest ball fields in southern Wisconsin this side of Miller Park.

According to Frey, the game had been a year and a half in the works. He had wanted his team to play there last year, but things just didn’t work out. This year, he was prepared to put that P.T. Barnum-esque brain of his to work.

“I want to first promote my community, Evansville” said Frey back in February. “And then I want to promote the Evansville community festival, the Fourth of July. And then I want to promote my team, and then I want promote my league because all these people in Madison are going to be exposed to an amateur league at this game.”

His team needs no self-promotion. They’ve let their actions on the field do the talking this season. As the team’s general manager/center fielder, Frey deserves a lot of credit after building this team from scratch.

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Frey received a job offer to work in Beloit. With his wife working in Madison, they bought a house about halfway in between, settling in Evansville.

Frey commuted all the way to his hometown, Marshall, to play baseball for several years before attempting to build a franchise in Evansville in 2005. He did all the dirty work including player recruitment, fundraising, and a myriad of other duties it takes to get a team off the ground.
In their first year, the Jays won all of three games. In 2006 and 2007, they improved to win four, but still lost three quarters of their Sunday League schedule.

Finally in 2008, the hard work has started to pay off. The Jays are now in sole possession of first place in the Western division of the Southeastern section of the Home Talent League with a six and one record.

“It’s a lot more fun to go out and expect to win instead of, ‘How we going to win this one? How are we going to go out and play this one?’” said right fielder Jeremy Rasmussen. “The last couple of years we've gone out, we didn't know which was going to come out. Were we going to make 10 errors or are we going to have 10 hits?”

Surprisingly, it’s a lot of the same players on the team back from that inaugural 2005 season when they barely won. Back then, players maybe hadn’t played in a long time. With a couple years of practice and seasoning, they’re playing some of the best baseball of their careers.

“I think people weren't used to hitting,” said shortstop Nick Manion, “so you can tell we're more relaxed hitting. That's what hitting is about, being relaxed. You can tell that people are relaxed and people are throwing strikes. That's a huge thing. Our pitchers are throwing strikes.”

With Frey at the helm, the Jays are winning baseball games, and amateur baseball is being promoted to a larger audience. In fact, in just a few weeks, the Home Talent League All-Stars will be playing the U.S. Military All-Stars in the All-American Challenge at Warner Park on Sunday July 13.

The game is part of the Northwoods League All-Star game festivities being hosted by the Mallards. Rasmussen will be Evansville’s representative, and he’s just glad he’s been given that chance thanks to guys like Jon Frey.

“I thank him every day, having the opportunity to come out and keep playing,” said Rasmussen. “Otherwise I'd be playing co-ed softball.”

Next weekend’s Home Talent League road trip: Marshall at Waterloo on Friday for the annual Waterloo Fourth of July Festival.

Photo: The Evansville Jays take on the Lake Mills Grays at Warner Park

Photo credit: Brian Carriveau

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