Team owners, village officials and fans agree that the Schaumburg Boomers' inaugural season was a bigger and better first step for the franchise than could have been anticipated during the offseason.
But many of the same sources say more work lies ahead for the Boomers to be as ingrained in the Schaumburg community as the team wants to be.
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"One thing we need to see more of is sponsors in the community," Schaumburg Village Manager Ken Fritz said. "I think the business community was a little put off by the experience we had with the Flyers."
The Schaumburg Flyers team, which opened the state-of-the-art minor league stadium that the village of Schaumburg and Schaumburg Park District built in 1999, was ultimately evicted from it in 2011 owing $551,828.92 in overdue rent to the two local governments.
Among the fallout was Alexian Brothers Health System not renewing its option on the naming rights to the stadium. And no other company has yet come forward to replace it.
Fritz said it's understandable that Schaumburg's business community would be more interested in proof than promises from the Flyers' successor. But he believes proof is exactly what the Boomers have delivered.
"Someone buying the naming rights wants to know they're getting associated with a good product," Fritz said. "The quality of play has been exceptional compared to what we had the last four or five years with the Flyers."
Indeed, the Boomers entered the final series of the regular season this weekend with a 53-40 record in the independent Frontier League. And at Boomers Stadium itself, local fans saw the team win exactly twice as many games as it lost.
Schaumburg Mayor Al Larson said even with the effort and expense the Boomers' owners put into stadium upkeep, food, entertainment and marketing, the quality of play was an important element.
"First of all, we have a team. We have guys who know how to play baseball," Larson said. "It makes a great deal of difference because there are people out there who actually follow baseball."
Starting from scratch
Boomers co-owner Pat Salvi said a lot of attention was paid early on to stadium improvements made during the offseason -- including a video scoreboard he felt was put to better and better use as the summer progressed.
But his contribution to the quality of the team itself, he said, was in assembling the right front office management with the authority to pick the players it wanted.
"I think the main benefit was putting together the staff early on," Salvi said. "I think that was my major, major contribution."
Though a personal injury lawyer by trade, Salvi built his experience as a team owner with the 2008 purchase of the Gary SouthShore RailCats. His wife, Linda, is co-owner of both teams.
And whether it was due to the team's performance or the whole entertainment experience at the ballpark, ticket sales generally grew throughout the season, Fritz said.
All these factors were very much on the minds of fans who attended the final home game of the regular season last Thursday.
"Well, they're winning!" Aileen Ceisel of Hoffman Estates said, regarding a comparison with earlier experiences of attending Flyers games.
She said she'd attended three games during the summer and felt that the food was definitely better than during the Flyers' tenure. Between-innings entertainment was also a draw, she said. Her young nieces and nephews loved attending Coop the mascot's birthday celebration July 14, which other teams' mascots also visited.
Though a Cubs fan, Ceisel said the cost and convenience of Boomers games had definitely led her to spend money locally she would have spent at Wrigley Field.
"You can only go to Wrigley Field once a year," Ceisel said. "You can come here a lot more often and at the spur of the moment."
Bob and Sheila Lake of Carol Stream, though having attended plenty of Flyers games in the past, didn't get around to a Boomers game until the end of the season. A dedicated Sox fan, Bob Lake said minor league baseball has a distinct enjoyment of its own, even apart from its lower cost.
Frank and Debbie Keane of Hanover Park made four Boomers games during the summer -- including the first and last -- usually in the company of their three young grandchildren.
"We missed last year when the ballpark was closed," Frank Keane said.
The couple agreed that the marketing and giveaways at the stadium had definitely improved under the Boomers tenure.
"I think it's an affordable family outing," Debbie Keane added. "Major league baseball is just so expensive."
The arrival of fall ends a hard year of work for the fledgling Boomers, but Salvi knows just how he wants to build on the team's success. Winning the love of more fans and the broader support of the business community are goals on his radar for next year.
"I think we needed this season to grow our brand," Salvi said. "We paid our bills and provided a good product. I think we took a big significant step, but it takes more than one season."
And yes, finding the right company to buy the naming rights for the stadium is something he'd like to do next year because of what it would say about the Boomers' acceptance by the community.
"It's important not only as a revenue generator but as confirmation that we have a strong brand," Salvi said.