Bill Murray, Joliet Slammers fans team up for big opening weekend

New ownership has high hopes for 2024 season

Bill Murray shakes hands with the team prior to the Joliet Slammers home opener Friday May 10, 2024 at Duly Health and Care Field in Joliet

The first Bill Murray sighting came early as the actor and new co-owner of the Joliet Slammers joined fans for what is believed to be the biggest opening day crowd in at least a dozen years at the home stadium.

Opening night Friday drew 5,113 people, and the Slammers drew more than 10,000 for their first weekend of the 2024 season.

“It felt like the whole community was there with us,” Night Train Veeck, executive vice president and part of the new ownership group, said Monday. “It was a lot of fun.”

So much fun, Veeck said, that he got an email from Murray later saying he would have liked to have stayed the whole weekend.

Murray mingled with fans and signed autographs but moved on.

Fans enter through the gates of Duly Health and Care Field for the Joliet Slammers home opener Friday May 10, 2024 at Duly Health and Care Field in Joliet

“He had a couple of things on his schedule, so he had to leave earlier than we anticipated,” Veeck said.

Veeck talked with Murray while he was there and said Murray was “taken aback” by the Joliet ballpark and the reception from the fans.

Murray’s appearance at the game was not announced in advance and any future appearances are not likely to be either. But Veeck said Murray is likely to return to Duly Health and Care Field.

“I think after having such a good time on Opening Day, he’ll come back at some time this summer,” he said.

Veeck is part of the Veeck family that joined Murray in a group that bought a majority ownership in the team in deal announced in late 2023 and finalized in January. The group includes Veeck’s father, Mike Veeck. They are grandson and son of the late Bill Veeck, former owner of the Chicago White Sox.

Mike Veeck throws out a ceremonial first pitch during the Joliet Slammers home opener Friday May 10, 2024 at Duly Health and Care Field in Joliet

The Veecks and Murray have been involved in other minor league franchises.

They join previous Slammers owner Nick Semaca, who has stayed with the team and retains a minority ownership interest.

The Bill Murray factor adds a new draw to the old ballpark.

Attendance on Friday marked the first time the Slammers have drawn more than 5,000 for an opening day game “in the 12 years that I’ve been here,” said Chief Financial Officer Heather Mills.

She attributed the big crowd to excitement for the new season and good group sales. But, she added, “Bill Murray doesn’t hurt.”

Fans enjoy the new Harrahs dice game promotion during the Joliet Slammers home opener Friday May 10, 2024 at Duly Health and Care Field in Joliet

Mills said a certain number of fans likely came to the game Friday hoping to see the star from such favorite comedy movies as “Ghostbusters,” “Caddyshack” and “Groundhog Day.”

“We get that all the time: ‘Is he coming? Is he coming?’” Mills said. “I think some people took that chance he may come opening night, and, if they did, it paid off.”

Attendance on Saturday was another healthy 4,293.

It fell off drastically on Sunday afternoon. Despite what Mills described as “perfect baseball weather,” only 991 fans came to the came.

But it was also Mother’s Day, and Mills noted, “Mother’s Day is hard.”

An excursion to a minor league baseball game is not a traditional Mother’s Day outing, and Mills said the Sunday attendance fell in line with past Mother’s Day turnouts.

Spencer Griffin hits a double during the Joliet Slammers home opener Friday May 10, 2024 at Duly Health and Care Field in Joliet

The Slammers did well on the field, too, winning 10-3 in the home opener and taking two out of three games in the opening series against the Evansville Otters.

Bill Murray isn’t the only attraction for the Joliet Slammers this year.

The Veecks themselves have built a reputation for creating an inviting fan experience in minor league baseball, particularly with the St. Paul Saints in Minnesota.

Murray, meanwhile, adds another “Saturday Night Live” celebrity factor in Joliet, which in August will have Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi back with their Blues Brothers band for a second performance at the Old Joliet Prison.

The Joliet Area Historical Museum, which manages the prison in partnership with the city of Joliet, is holding its second Blues Brothers Con on Aug. 17. The first event was held in 2022 at the former Joliet Correctional Center, which was the setting for the opening scene of the movie, “The Blues Brothers.”

The Slammers, formed in 2011 as the second minor league franchise to occupy the city-owned stadium that opened in 2002, based its name on the Joliet’s prison history.