Today’s mailbox gift was a 2012 Peoria Chiefs minor league baseball card set. The 31-card set printed by MultiAd Sports was purchased on eBay for $10.58 shipped. It was purchased with part of my Christmas eBay gift card.
In collecting one million Chicago Cubs baseball cards, minor league issues and team sets will be a part of the collection. This 2012 Peoria Chiefs team set has sentimental value, and I’m surprised it has only joined my collection five years later.
First, I am a huge Javier Baez fan and this is his first full season professional baseball card. More importantly, I was on the Peoria Chiefs staff during the summer of 2012.
In the summer of 2011, I transitioned from my job as sports director at a group of radio stations in west central Illinois to taking over as the Director of the Leatherneck Sports Network at Western Illinois University while simultaneously returning to school full time to earn a marketing degree.
By the summer of 2012, college athletics are in a lull, and I went in search of some extra work to build relationships for the future. Nathan Baliva is the Director of Media and Baseball Operations for the Chiefs, and someone I had befriended and worked with at times during the winter months in high school sports broadcasting. He offered a broadcast producing role for his Chiefs radio broadcasts. Basically, I was pushing a few buttons on a computer, and my office overlooked the then-named O’Brien Field with a dozen others working in various roles for the team.
Quickly I learned how much went into the inner workings of a professional baseball team, and it was a lot of fun spending the summer with the Chiefs. I probably spent more money on gas driving the two and a half hour round trip that summer than what I earned. The goal was to expand my network, as well as get a glimpse into professional sports to see if it would be something I would want to pursue. I did expand my network, and also realized I wanted professional sports to be a hobby, not a career.
Javier Baez was a Chicago Cubs first round draft pick in 2011 out of high school. He was former Cubs general manager Jim Hendry’s last first rounder of his tenure. Baez debuted with the Peoria Chiefs on Memorial Day 2012, May 28, against the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers in Peoria. I was there.
My first tweet upon arriving at O’Brien Field that evening: “Chicago Cubs 2011 1st round draft pick (9th overall) Javier Baez makes Peoria Chiefs debut this afternoon at SS batting 6th in the lineup.” Baez wore jersey #25 for the Chiefs.
The Peoria Chiefs Javy Baez debut lineup looked like this (in baseball cards).
1) Zeke DeVoss
2) Taiwan Easterling
3) Wes Darvill
4) Paul Hoilman
5) Ryan Cuneo
6) Javier Baez
7) Oliver Zapata
8) Yaniel Cabezas
9) Pin-Chieh Chen
Throughout the season, I tracked every Baez pitch. My Baez fandom was at a peak one year after his high school graduation. His bat speed comps were Gary Shieffield and the young future star was an attraction at every Midwest League ballpark for batting practice launching moon shot after moon shot.
His first at-bat with the Peoria Chiefs went like this…
1) called strike
2) foul ball out of play
3) single to right field, tagged out at second trying to stretch a double
The Javy Baez aggressiveness was on full display as a young 19-year old. He finished his Peoria debut going 2-for-4 with a pair of singles.
As a part-timer with the team, I had very little contact with any of the players or coaches, but there were two instances that I recall.
One summer evening I was heading into the park, and Baez was right behind me. He had run out of the clubhouse and grabbed a large bag of McDonald’s from a car just outside the entrance. As we walked in Javy had a big smile and simply stated, “pregame meal!” Hopefully he’s eating better now.
The second is of Wes Darvill. I believe it was Darvill. The infielder was a 5th round draft pick of the Cubs in 2009 and was a bit squirrelly in a fun way. Darvill (I hope I’m remembering that correctly) would come into the press box on what seemed a daily basis. His mission: the perfect walk up song. I don’t think he ever found perfection, but he sure did try. Darvill probably set the minor league record for most walk up songs in a season. Darvill would advance in the Cubs organization as high as Double-A Tennessee in 2015, his final year with the Cubs.
Later during the season the Chiefs would find vacancies for their PA Announcing spot. I was asked to fill in and did an okay job that I was invited back five or six more times. It was much more fast paced trying to get sponsorship announcements in, the various on-field activities between innings, as well as announcing each batter.
My favorite part of PA announcing was the starting lineups. This is where you could really display your voice. Players with more syllables were the best. Oliver Zapata, Yasiel Balaguert, and Yaniel Cabezas were among my favorites. Favorites from other teams included Caleb Bushyhead from the Cedar Rapids Kernels and Ji-Man Choi of the Clinton Lumberkings.
Most of my favorites from the 2012 Peoria Chiefs appeared in this set, though they are printed early in the season the sets miss some late season additions. Missing from the set out of the 2012 MLB Draft are Bijan Rademacher (another great name to announce) Tim Saunders, and Chadd Krist. Also missing were social media favorites Dustin Geiger and Anthony Giansanti.
A fun season and great memories going through these cards remembering the 2012 Peoria Chiefs.