Out to the old ball game again in Joliet

It was the first Thirsty Thursday in two years for the Reyes brothers, who sat at a stadium picnic table sipping ballpark beer at reduced prices while watching the Joliet Slammers play baseball.

Like many of the fans at DuPage Medical Group Field on Thursday night, it was the first public event of any kind for Hector Reyes of Joliet since the pandemic began.

“When they first started talking about COVID-19, everything shut down,” Reyes said. “Now we’re vaccinated and good to go.”

“We try to make Thirsty Thursdays,” said his brother Rene Reyes, also of Joliet.

The summertime pastime was interrupted by the pandemic. Getting back to DuPage Medical Group Field for beer and baseball for the Reyes brothers was a return to pre-pandemic pleasures shared by others at the game.

“Now that things are opening up, it might be a normal summer,” said Sherri Machacek of Shorewood.

Machacek and her husband, John, had not been out except for restaurant dining since the pandemic started.

“Since COVID, this is the first big event,” laughed John.

They were at the game with their son, Matthew, supporting the Joliet Township High School Orchestra, which performed the National Anthem.

Orchestra members sold tickets, keeping half of the proceeds for the orchestra, a Slammer-supported fundraiser that is another sign of return to normalcy.

“The Slammers do a really nice job of supporting school groups,” said Jenny Carlton, a band director at the Troy Township School District.

Carlton was at the game with fellow Troy Township Band Director Bill Goetz, and they both could not remember another such outing since the pandemic arrived.

“It’s nice to take off your mask and have a beer,” Goetz.

They also appreciated the scenery while waiting for the start of the game and looking at the urban surroundings of the ballpark.

“I think it’s really cool that it’s right downtown,” Goetz said. “You can see the high school and the trains going by. The fire station is right there.”

The Slammers actually provided baseball for fans last year, even though the Frontier League season was canceled, with four teams assembled for a unique eight-week tournament.

With the pandemic still rising, not many fans came.

But Craig Lichtenwalter did.

Lichtenwalter is a season ticket-holder since 2011 and finds it hard to beat fun at the ballpark in Joliet.

“It’s a beautiful ballpark, and it’s a great downtown,” Lichtenwalter said. “It’s a great night out with friends. You can see people you haven’t seen for years.”

The Slammers home stand continues this weekend with the Windy City Thunderbolts from Crestwood in town.

General Manager Heather Mills said Friday night, which includes a fireworks show after the game, should deliver the first big crowd of the season, which started last week.

Mills said she’s heard from many fans glad to have a place to go out again, and the enthusiasm is reflected in the crowd noise.

“They seem to be excited to be back,” Mills said. “They’re really into the games.”

Bob Okon

Bob Okon covers local government for The Herald-News