PERU – The place was jumping at Veteran’s Memorial Park on Saturday night as much as one might expect on the Illinois Valley Pistol Shrimp’s “Wally the Wallaroo Night.”
Even though the namesake and nationally-known marsupial did not make an appearance, the night was deemed a success by the team and the large crowd enjoying the music, food, fun and games they’ve come to know at the local Prospect League entry’s home games.
Unfortunately, on the field, the team that was renamed for one night as the “Peru Wallaroos” was between being the club that struggled earlier this season and the team team that won seven of its past eight, and then back again.
The Wallaroos spotted Clinton a 7-1 lead in the first two innings before battling back to tie the game at 7 in the fifth inning, led by a pair of home runs and five RBIs by red-hot shortstop Keshawn Ogans. However, Peru gave up seven runs in the next half inning and lost, 14-7, to the Lumber Kings.
This is unbelievably awesome, celebrating Wally and the Pistol Shrimp. It’s a great thing for the community.”
— Nathan Drewel
Clinton took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first against the local team’s starter, Tyler Conklin, before Ogans clubbed a solo homer in the bottom half to cut the deficit in half. However, the Lumber Kings capitalized on a pair of Peru errors to score five runs in the second, three on a home run by Brett McCleary.
The Wallaroos climbed back in it in the fourth with five runs, with Ogans clubbing a three-run homer to cap the uprising. In the fifth, walks to Sam Link and Damen Castillo and a double by Ogans knotted the score at 7.
But then the roof fell in again, starting with a Peru error. Three straight singles and a walk chased Wallaroos losing pitcher Justin Rios, then against reliever Nolan Clifford another single and a grand slam by the Kings’ Anthony Mangano proved the clincher for the visitors.
Nick Laxner finished with three scoreless innings for Peru. Jared Simpson picked up the road win for Clinton (24-27). Despite recent success, Peru falls to 19-31 on the season.
“We’ve been on a nice roll because we’re putting all three phases of the game together much better,” said Wallaroos/Pistol Shrimp manager John Jakiemiec. “Our hitting has been really good, our pitching has been solid, and our defense has been good all year. We played two bad innings defensively, which is unusual for us, but we barreled the ball a lot tonight.
“A lot of guys have stepped up, but Keshawn has to be in the mix for the league’s most valuable player. He’s so good defensively, so good with the bat, and he’s been so consistent for us all season.
“We’re not out of this. Obviously, we’re going to have to play pretty clean from here on out, but we’ll keep swinging starting tomorrow in Clinton.”
But the Wallaroos theme with a distinct Peru flavor was more successful.
Peru mayor Ken Kolowski along with Renee Birkenbeuel of the sponsoring Canam Steel threw out the ceremonial first pitches; WAJK The Wolf’s Jaimie London played emcee for the on-the-field games; and local radio legend Lanny Slevin took the PA microphone to read the starting lineups. Members of Slevin’s family, who traveled from as far away as Maine, California, Hong Kong and China, made the game part of their family reunion.
“I thought this was great. I loved the atmosphere,” said Kolowski, who took particular pride in the fact he didn’t bounce his pitch in, “But the thing that stands out to me was the number of kids out there running around the park, having a great time.”
Wally’s owner, Peru’s Nathan Drewel, knowing that the skittish animal probably would not react well to the heat, loud music and cheers from the crowd, opted to leave Wally at home for the evening, but was pleased the event was so well attended and accepted by so many in his honor.
“I think this is all pretty cool, and I’m having a blast,” said Drewel, who admits that Wally’s popularity has died down only slightly since his nationally-celebrated escapade around Peru back in early December. “People have been asking me tonight, and there isn’t a day goes by when someone doesn’t ask about him or to see him, and it’s been nothing but love … and this is unbelievably awesome, celebrating Wally and the Pistol Shrimp.
“It’s a great thing for the community.”
Ogans, who hails from California, admitted that before coming to Peru he did not know what a wallaroo was, but he does now and he enjoyed the energy the theme night brought to the field.
“This was all pretty cool,” Ogans said with a smile between signing autographs. “It’s great that this night brought a lot of people out. That’s what it’s all about for the kids, and we really enjoy having them come out to see us play.”
Pistol Shrimp general manager June Keeley agreed.
“This was our homage to Peru, our thank you to the city for receiving us this summer and being so gracious to us,” Keeley said. “It turned out to be a beautiful night, and everyone had a great time.”