CLINTON--On a bitterly cold January Sunday night, the baseball community in Clinton celebrated the unofficial start to the 2019 season with their annual Hot Stove Banquet, welcoming a new manager and a new franchise.
General Manager of the ball club Ted Tornow started off the night by rolling over some of the many names that have spoken at the yearly event. The list is long and the memories made over the past six decades are endless.
Pastor Ray Gimenez then welcomed the group and started a rousing, Clinton-themed rendition of "Take me out to the ballgame" to welcome the Miami franchise to the Mississippi town. This is the first season the LumberKings will be playing as a Marlin's affiliate.
President of the Board of Directors Paul Davis thanked every board member, then presented a challenge to fans.
"I know you're our faithful fans, every game, night in and night out," Davis said. "I'd like to challenge you this year to bring someone new to the ballpark. Show them what it's all about. We have a lot of fun at the ballpark and I think we're going to have a good team to watch on the field as well this year."
SMALL TOWN BASEBALL
Long time baseball fan and Clinton mayor Mark Vulich joined in the fun, also adding that he's running for another term as mayor while at the podium.
First, Vulich thanked the community for all the support they've shown the Clinton Fire Department over the last two weeks, stating that this community always pulls together. Continuing with the theme that Clinton is a great community, he thanked them for keeping baseball in the town.
"This baseball team survives because we have people who volunteer their time, and they work very hard to make sure baseball is a success," Vulich said.
He continued to talk about the improvements made last year that were so successful. The stadium has a newly paved parking lot, new tables in the picnic garden, along with ribbon boards and video boards that spruce it up to a more modern level. This year, they are planning on fixing the flooding problem and draining issues, a million dollar city project.
"It is so important that a city like this keeps professional baseball," Vulich said.
There was some more jesting about being Cubs fans, and Vulich brought up the point that he hasn't seen a championship in town yet. He used that to segue into his announcement that he will run for mayor in 2019.
MIAMI'S WARM WELCOME
It seemed some of the Florida warmth made it's way into Eagle Point Lodge Sunday night, as members of the Marlin's Player Development introduced themselves to the Clinton baseball faithful.
Manager of Player Development and Scouting Geoff DeGroot and Assistant Director of Player Development Hector Crespo stepped out of their warm element and into January's worst to share their thoughts on the new partnership. They talked a lot about the new leadership, led by owners Derek Jeter and Bruce Sherman.
"To see the amount of growth this organization has gone through in the last year in unbelievable," DeGroot said. "I have no doubt that we will continue that growth and now you guys are a part of that with us."
He continued to state that players hold a high priority for the Marlins, and they hoped Clinton will welcome them to the area.
One thing that was stressed was how high of standards Miami holds their players. They expect them to present themselves in a respectable manner and interact with the fans in the same way.
Spring boarding off that sentiment, they touted the talent heading north to Clinton this year is not only some of the organization's best, but all of baseball's.
"It's an exciting time to be a Marlin," Crespo said. "One thing we preach in our organization is family. We're glad we can call Clinton family and welcome them to the Marlins organization."
With the annual event came another crucial moment for baseball fans: the introduction of the newest manager, Mike Jacobs.
Jacobs played years in the majors as a power hitting force, and then continued straight into his managerial career. As he introduced himself to the community Sunday night, he exuded passion for the game and a true excitement for the upcoming Single-A season.
"It means a lot to be in this situation I am in," Jacobs said after donning his new LumberKings No. 17 jersey. "We're going to have a lot of prospects in this league this year, a lot of our top talent that's going to move our organization forward.
"When you're building a new organization, you're building from the ground up."
Jacobs then referenced Jeter's five World Series rings, and said he has credibility.
"Even from last year, there's been a night and day difference from what we've had in the past," Jacobs said.
Jacobs took that opportunity to introduce himself as a manager.
"You have to win ballgames," Jacobs said. "You have to know how to win at baseball in order to progress. That's what I will stress to players. We're going to go out every single day, we're going to play our butts off, play the right way and we're going to play to win."
Jacobs told the Clinton faithful he isn't afraid to bench players if they aren't playing. He stated he will definitely coach from the third baseline, not the dugout. He wants to be immersed in the game as much as he can.
He also struck a chord in the right way by asking the fans to familiarize themselves with the LumberKings come season time.
"I encourage you guys to interact with the players, talk to them," Jacobs said. "Come out and support. Heckle when you need to heckle."
It was more than obvious that Jacobs will be fun to watch and a manager that cares about his team. It was a good way to to kick off Miami's stay in Clinton.
"We're trying to change the culture here," Jacobs said. "We're trying to turn this into a championship winning organization, not just the big league team."
The LumberKings open the 2019 season on the road at Kane County on April 4, and then continue their series with the Cougars at home on April 6.