NEW LENOX – After playing many games with their college teams, one would think baseball players would like to take the summer off.
But for players on the Joliet Dirtbags and the Romeoville Royals, competing throughout the summer in the Chicago Suburban Baseball League can be beneficial.
The squads met up for a doubleheader on Sunday at Lincoln-Way West and although both would have preferred a 2-0 day as opposed to the split that happened, what seemed more important is just remaining sharp by playing with and against other good players.
So whether athletes are attending Division I programs or performing for colleges that many people may not have heard of, staying busy throughout the summer is critical.
“While we want to come out here and have fun, we also want to be competitive,” said Joliet’s Cody Columbus, who graduated from Joliet Catholic and plays at St. Francis. “You want to make sure that your skills are there so that you’re ready when you go back to school.
“We have a lot of Lewis guys on our team and even though they’re at a higher level than us, they can still relate to all of us. And for the guys on our team who are from St. Xavier, we don’t fight over who’s going to win in the regular season.”
The Dirtbags, who are coached by Kevin Campbell, and the Royals, who are coached by Mike Guilfoyle, both have rosters that feature a wide-range of college athletes.
“There’s a lot of good competition in this league and it’s great to compete against guys that I grew up playing against,” said the Royals Ben Guilfoyle, who played at Plainfield East and now competes at Calvin College (Michigan). “It’s always great competition between us and Joliet.
“The CSBL is a competitive league and a lot of the guys take it seriously, and it really helps us get prepped for when we go back to school. Coming from Calvin, it’s good to come back here and play at a high level and play against guys that you know and that’s a cool aspect.”
Joliet (10-9 South Division) won the opener, 4-3, as Austin Mastela (Lockport/Lewis) went 4 for 4 with three extra-base hits. The Dirtbags’ three through six hitters finished with eight hits.
“You don’t want to get rusty, so you want to keep competing,” the Dirtbags’ Tom Hayes said. “This is a great group of guys and I’m glad that I got on the team. Everyone on the team is competitive and we’re doing it for one goal, which is to stay crisp for the college season.
“But we don’t take it too seriously where we’re stressing out and we want to have fun. Now that I know all of these guys from St. Francis, it will make the games during the year more fun when you see some familiar faces. This is my first year here and I love this team.”
In the second game, Romeoville (11-9 South) got an RBI single from Alex Galik in the seventh to score Steven Wittkamp (Minooka/JJC) with the winning run in a 3-2 victory. Tommy Hook (Lockport/Northern Illinois) also had an RBI for the Royals while Damon Softcheck (Joliet West/Saint Xavier) and Mastela drove in runs for the Dirtbags.
“There are a lot of good players in this league and the baseball is very competitive,” said the Royals Caleb Kissel, who played at Plainfield North and now goes to Rose-Hulman. “So it definitely makes you better when you go back to school in the fall.
“We have a lot of nice guys on our team who know how to play ball and they play hard so it’s fun to be around them. And it’s nice to come back from one summer to the next to see how everyone is doing and see how their school year went.”
While both are chasing Beecher (12-8) and Crestwood (13-10-1) in the South Division, they’re pleased with what they’re accomplishing this summer.
“We come out here and compete every day, whether it’s against a guy from a Division I or II school or any other type of competition,” said the Dirtbags’ Bryan Polak, who like Hayes goes to SXU. “But a big thing about the summer is winning and having some fun, too.
“Everybody wants to compete every day and get better at the game, whether it’s at the plate or in the field. Any way that you can get better is what it’s all about. We have a group of characters on our team, so keeping it loose is a big part of being on this team.”