Davis Likes Peoria's Makeup

PEORIA, Ill. -- The home opener for Class-A Peoria was Thursday at O'Brien Field. A perfect day for baseball (80 degrees and clear) at game time, players and coaches alike were keyed up in front of the home crowd.

"Home opener, Opening Day, it doesn't matter where you are. It's the start of a new season and it's exciting," said Peoria manager Jody Davis, a former Cubs catcher in the 80s.

Center fielder Davy Gregg offered similar sentiments. He said, "Anytime you play at a new place, a new field with new surroundings, it's always going to be fun."

For his part, manager Davis is optimistic about his team's chances this season in spite of their 3-5 start through their first eight games.

Entering the night, the Chiefs were hitting just .224 collectively.

"I like a lot about the team," Davis said prior to the home opener. "Our pitching and defense is going to be spectacular, but we got to start swinging the bats better."

While Davis did harp on pitching and defense several times, he also stated that it would be what keeps the team in games. Both were less than stellar Thursday, however, as the Chiefs fell, 10-4, to Quad Cities.

Peoria committed two errors, allowed five unearned runs and surrendered 15 hits -- two of which were home runs by Swings third baseman Randy Roth.

While the Swings were slugging, the Chiefs were manufacturing runs of their own. They scored on a fielder's choice by Jesus Valdez, an RBI single by Brandon Taylor and twice on a pair of wild pitches.

Starting pitcher Mike Billek took the loss. He pitched 4 2/3 innings, allowing 7 hits and 5 runs, although none were earned.

Before the game, Davis had high praise for shortstop Dylan Johnston, who at 19 is the youngest player on the Chiefs roster. A fourth round pick from Hamilton High School (Chandler, Ariz.) last year, Johnston is now 8 for 24 to start the season.

"He's got all the tools. He's a young guy. He's got a lot of ability," Davis said. "I look for great things from him."

Johnston demonstrated his potential with two impressive moments during the game Thursday.

In the top of the fourth inning with a runner on second, he made an acrobatic, leaping stab at a line drive above his head and was able to keep the ball in the infield to save a run.

In the bottom of the inning, Johnston came to the plate and collected the Chiefs first hit of the night, a screaming line drive that smacked the base of the center field wall directly under the 400-foot sign.

The game was played with a backdrop of slight tension as several minor league umpires picketed the entrance to the stadium. Play was officiated by two replacement umpires.

During the early innings, several picketers gathered behind the right-field foul territory, where the field can be viewed from outside the stadium. They placed pickets against the fence and several times shouted, "Scab!"

On a brighter note, former Cubs pitcher and Hall of Fame inductee Ferguson Jenkins was at the ballpark to the throw out the first pitch and sign autographs to benefit charity. He also led the crowd in singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."

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