Quad Cities River Bandits 2012 preview

The St. Louis Cardinals Class-A affiliate and Midwest League defending champion is ready to open the 2012 season.

Opening day 2012 for the Quad Cities River Bandits will be this Thursday, April 5. The off-season has been busy for the local office staff. There are new features to attract attention to Modern Woodmen Park and new faces to greet fans.

It was announced late last season, but this week will be the start of Stephanie Brown's first season as General Manager for the Bandits. She has been here for five years, working her way up, learning all the aspects of managing the operation. I expect a very different atmosphere in the park this year as her touch is felt on the operation.

Tommy Thrall - the voice of the River Bandits for the last few years - will no longer be doing the internet broadcasts for the home games. He has moved to a similar job in Florida and is replaced by Marco LaNave. Marco has been announcing sports for several years in Minnesota. I'm anxious to hear his work but it may be a while before I get that chance since we only broadcast home games and I get to attend those!

2011 championship celebration

With Johnny Rodriguez's move to Palm Beach, we'll have a new manager on the field as well. I'm anxious to see how Luis Aguayo runs the team as they pursue another championship in the Midwest League. Joe Kruzel is back as the batting coach and Ace Adams is returning to the Bandits from Batavia to guide the pitchers.

Most of the other members of the staff have been with the Bandits in the past but are taking new job assignments within the organization.

The roster was released on Monday with a caveat that it could change before Thursday's opener and it said that the starting pitchers have not been named. As it stands now, here is the roster:

Logan Billbrough, Ethan Cole, Brandon Creath, Sam Gaviglio, Kyle Hald, Hector Hernandez, Tyrell Jenkins, Todd McInnis, Danny Miranda, Willy Paulino, Robert Stock, Dail Villanueva, Heath Wyatt

Juan Castillo, Adam Lewis, Jesus Montero

Roberto De La Cruz, Luis Mateo, Tyler Rahmatulla, Colin Walsh, Matt Williams, Garrett Wittels

Anthony Garcia, Nick Martini, David Medina, Roberto Reyes

(Ed. note: Additional Quad Cities roster details here and for the entire Cardinals system here, including all four full-season opening rosters and rotations.)

Stock will be at the other end of the battery in 2012
The oldest Bandit is Todd McInnis who just turned 24 last week. The youngest is Tyrell Jenkins who will be 20 in late July. There are nine right handed pitchers and four lefties. Of course, we'll be watching Robert Stock as he transitions from catcher to relief pitcher.

Only five of the twenty-five played here for any time last year. Colin Walsh is the only returning player who was on the post-season roster. Nick Martini, who is from the Chicago area, is playing closer to home than anyone else this summer and there are ten who reside outside the United States.

Almost half of the roster (11) joined the Cardinals as non-drafted free agents. I think that's more than the Bandits ever had. There are four (Jenkins, Stock, Gaviglio, and Martini) who were drafted in the first ten rounds.

Looking over this roster, it strikes me that there are a few guys who stand out on the 'to watch' list but most of them are really here to prove themselves. Like last year, this team is made up mostly of guys who won the league championship in Johnson City. If they can pull it off, this would be the first time we've ever seen back to back championship teams in the Quad Cities. It's way too soon to know if that can happen, but it will be fun to watch!

There are going to be some fun promotions this year, too. For one of the jersey auctions, the Bandits are asking businesses and fans to donate $25.00 and a photograph. The photos will be miniaturized and printed into a mosaic on the numbers on the back of the jerseys as a way to honor a survivor or memorialize a victim of cancer. Proceeds from the auction will be given to local cancer research, too. This is the first time anything like this has been done in any professional sport.

On opening night, the Bandits have partnered with a local jeweler for another unique promotion. Riddle Jewelers is advertising that if our opening night pitcher goes nine innings with a no-hitter, ALL jewelry purchases between March 22 and April 5 will be refunded. FREE JEWELRY! (I won't point out that to go nine innings with a no-hitter would require that the Bandits also have no runs in the first eight innings or we wouldn't play the ninth!)

One of my favorite promotions to be announced so far will be the honor paid to Shelby Harris of Rock Island, IL, right across the river from the stadium. He is the oldest living man in the United States and he will be throwing out the first pitch Thursday night to open the season at the age of 111! As part of that honor, berm tickets will be $1.11 each and the first 1,111 fans will receive a MWL 2011 Championship pennant.

As with any minor league team, the promotions are abundant. I hope that this year will bring a new slate of between-innings fun on the field for kids and adults. One of the big challenges of minor league baseball's ability to attract fans is to keep a balance between the on-field fun and the game itself. When it's time for fun, it's important to keep it fresh and new and also to keep a few of the popular contests to keep attracting families to the park.

One of my favorite additions to the stadium this year is one of the new concession stands. I haven't seen it or tasted anything from it but I already like it. The Bandits will be serving Chinese food this year from a stand called "The Intentional Wok"! Now, how's that for creative marketing?!

It's April again. The grass is green. The baselines are white. The hotdogs are grilled. The beer is chilled. The river is NOT flooding this year. The Bandits have come home for the summer. Let the games begin! This is baseball!

I invite readers to contact me through the discussion forum (I'm sport61201 on there) and let me know if you want to see something included in a future article. I will do what I can to make this column what you want it to be. My private message box is open to everyone.

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