Downtown Baseball Turns 10 Thursday

Published 05/23 2012 11:13PM

Updated 05/23 2012 11:30PM

WMBD/WYZZ-TV - PEORIA, Ill. -- Hard to believe it's been ten years.

Downtown baseball turns 10-years-old Thursday. The Peoria Chiefs opened O'Brien Field on May 24, 2002 in a game against Kane County.

If the Chiefs didn't move from Meinen Field to downtown Peoria ten years ago, minor league baseball might not still be in Peoria, according to the team president.

"Probably without this stadium, there wouldn't be minor league baseball in central Illinois anymore." said Chiefs President Rocky Vonachen. "We needed the new stadium and the experience for our fans to come out on a regular basis. We've proven that over the years. It's been great for Peoria and all of central Illinois."

Since the Chiefs opened the ballpark, they've won a league title, been managed by a Hall of Famer and hosted scores of big league players on rehab assignments.

"You open up a brand new ballpark and it's one of the best in minor league baseball (ten years ago). Then you go on and win the Midwest League Championship, the first in franchise history," said Vonachen. "How do you beat that in your first year?"

The Chiefs were league champs with a team stocked with future Major League players like Yadier Molina, Dan Haren, Chris Narveson and Chris Duncan.

"Then you go on and switch to the Cubs a few years after that," Vonachen said of the Chiefs' change from a Cardinals' affiliate to the Cubs Class A team.

Former Cubs Kerry Wood, Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Zambrano all had rehab games with the Chiefs at O'Brien Field.

"Then you get a guy by the name of Ryne Sandberg as your manager," said Vonachen of his team's skipper in 2007 and 2008. "It just kept getting better and better."

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