Pistol Shrimp have successful second season in Peru

When the Illinois Valley Pistol Shrimp broke their huddle after Tuesday’s Eastern Conference championship loss, a long line of children rushed through the gate and onto the field.

The players lined the base paths to high five the kids as they did the traditional post-game lap around the bases.

Then the players lingered on the field, signing autographs, hugging each other and talking to each other and fans.

“I have joy in my heart,” Shrimp owner/manager John Jakiemiec said. “It’s tough to say goodbye to guys you’ve toiled with the last two and a half months, but it’s a celebration for me. We had two guys drafted [Noah Schultz by the White Sox and Luke Adams by the Brewers] and another guy [Kevin Davis] signed by a Frontier League team, and we still found a way to get to the Eastern Conference championship, and we were right there. They just don’t have quit in them. I told them after the game [Tuesday] how thrilled I was for them and thanked them for their heart and the way they played for one another. It’s just been a joy for me to be associated with this group.”

UNPRECEDENTED SUCCESS

On the field, 2022 was the Pistol Shrimp’s most successful season as they had their best record (39-22) in their three-year history and won their first-ever playoff game.

“We were a really close group for being a summer ball team,” said Justin Rios, who played for the Shrimp for the second year in a row. “In other leagues, and even in this league, teams are not that close, but we’re hanging out even on our days off. We’re hanging out before the game and after the game. We’re just having fun. I think that’s a big part of why we won so much.”

The Shrimp had arguably the best pitching staff in the Prospect League as they led the league in ERA and strikeouts.

Ottawa graduate Jared Herzog led the league in strikeouts with 75, while Tucker Bougie took home the batting title at .367.

INGRAINED IN THE COMMUNITY

Jakiemiec said the continuity of being back in Peru for a second season played a role in the team’s on-field success this summer.

“This is the first time in our history where we played in the same community two years in a row,” Jakiemiec said. “I honestly attribute a lot of our success to being able to be in a community that the staff, [general manager] June [Keeley] and I are comfortable with. The players who played last year knew the environment and knew the culture. I am tremendously proud of the work that we’ve done in terms of building off what we did last year. I think it had a lot to do with why we had a lot of success this year.”

The Shrimp and the city of Peru plan to keep building with a planned renovation of Schweickert Stadium, which includes a new grandstand and press box.

“I want to thank the city of Peru and the grounds crew that has taken care of this field all season long,” Jakiemiec said. “Our product is fun family, affordable entertainment. We think we did a good job of that this year, and we’re really looking forward to building on it. Schweickert Stadium is about to undergo some renovation, so that’s the next phase. We’re looking forward to the offseason.”

LOCAL TALENT MAKES AN IMPACT

Three local players had success with the Shrimp this summer in Ottawa alumni Herzog and Evan Evola and Hall graduate Chance Resetich.

“I thought all three of those guys played fantastically well for us,” Jakiemiec said.

Herzog was 4-2 with a save in 17 appearances, including eight starts, with a 4.61 ERA and a league-leading 75 strikeouts against 34 walks in 52 2/3 innings.

“Jared Herzog has been a workhorse for us,” Jakiemiec said. “He’s thrown more innings than any of our guys, and he’s an absolute grinder.”

Evola hit .345 with seven doubles, three home runs, 23 runs scored and 15 RBIs in 40 games.

“Whenever he puts the ball in play, it’s just a different sound,” Jakiemiec said. “What we’re working on with Evan is really just putting more balls in play and cutting down on his swing and misses because he can absolutely thump the baseball.”

Resetich hit .289 with eight doubles, three home runs, 30 runs scored and 17 RBIs before his season was cut short by injury.

“Chance ended up getting the Hamate bone injury, but he was hitting well at the top of the order for us,” Jakiemiec said. “I’m really looking forward to seeing what he can do at SEMO [Southeast Missouri State].”

COMING BACK

Jakiemiec hopes to have many players from the 2022 roster returning next summer.

“I’ll start having those conversations with college coaches in the next couple weeks,” Jakiemiec said. “What we typically do is debrief them on what I thought of the players and what their strengths and weaknesses are to see if it matches up with what their college evaluation staff thinks of them.

“It’s ultimately up to the coaches on where they’re going to place guys. I hope we get a lot of these guys back. I think next year, from a talent standpoint, is going to be every bit as good and loaded as this year.”

Rios hopes to return to the Illinois Valley again next year.

“I love every single part of it,” Rios said of the Illinois Valley and playing for the Shrimp. “It’s a pretty small town, and I’m not used to that, especially last year. Having this team in this type of town, I think, is great for the community. It helps bring the community closer and makes baseball a lot more fun.

“My host family, the Carters, Dinges and Dobrichs, have been great with me the last two years. I’m looking to play again next year and be with them again. They’re like a second family to me. They’re awesome.”