Pat Salvi just had the year every independent league owner dreams of, twice.
Salvi’s Schaumburg Boomers won the Frontier League title in only their second year in the league. At the same time, Salvi’s Gary Southshore Railcats were winning the American League title.
One of the biggest selling points of independent league baseball is that the championships mean something.
In affiliated baseball, winning a title depends in large part on how well the team is stocked with players by its big league affiliate combined with good work by the coaching staff. And the needs of the big league club understandably supersede the needs of the minor league club. The minor league team ace may not be around to pitch the playoffs if the big league club needs an extra arm.
So the owner and the general manager of the minor league club can celebrate a league title, but they know that they had very little to do with actually winning the trophy.
In independent ball, the owner, general manager and manager all work to build the team, make the tweaks during the season and then hope that it’s enough to take a team to a title. They set the payroll, sign the players and make the trades.
So every year, owners, GMs and managers all know that success or failure is largely on their shoulders. For multiple years, Salvi has tasted success, but until this year, he’s never hoisted a trophy.
Salvi purchased the Railcats in 2008, then watched them finish as league runners-up twice in his first two years as owner. Now, he’s gotten to celebrate two titles in just a week.
“With two teams in (the playoffs), you ask how often will this opportunity come around?” Salvi said. “Then when both teams get into the finals, the odds are at least one would win.”
The Boomers were the Frontier League favorites, as the finished the regular season with a league best 59-37 record. The Railcats were American Association underdogs as they made it into the playoffs as a wild card team. But they then managed to upset Fargo-Moorhead in their semifinal series and followed that by knocking off Wichita in four games of a best-of-five series.
This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Gary, as they carried nine rookies on their roster with designs on challenging for a 2014 title. That run for a title ended up coming a year early.
“It was an unusual situation for us,” Gary manager Greg Tagert said. “It was an odd dynamic. Seeing direction of where this is going, we thought let’s get a core group we can build around.”
The young players stepped up and they were led by a core of long-time Gary veterans several of which decided to go out on top.
Championship Series MVP Adam Klein and outfielder Mike Massaro announced after the series that they were retiring. Both were among the club’s biggest contributors in 2013.