The hard throwing right-hander actually won two titles last year…
Chris Pack had quite the 2011.
It all started in the spring with the Illinois Fighting Illini. After four years at Villanova, the Darien native returned to his home state to earn his graduate degree from UI.
He got more than he bargained for as he pitched for an Illini squad that became the Big Ten co-regular season champion, and more importantly, the Big Ten Tournament champion. The tournament title guaranteed them a spot in a NCAA regional. While pitching in that regional, Pack was discovered by the Slammers.
“I believe Bart Zeller saw me on TV when I was playing in that regional against Cal State Fullerton on ESPN,” Pack said. “Bart and (VP of Baseball Operations) Ron Biga were watching that game in the locker room during the Slammers’ season. Kevin Crimmel was part of that too because he was roommates with me in college at Villanova. They were watching and they were like ‘hey this guy looks pretty good…well he’s actually from the area.’ So Bart called me up literally two days later after he saw me pitch on TV and said ‘hey if you don’t get drafted, if it doesn’t work out for you, we’d love to have you play here.’”
For awhile it looked like Pack would go immediately to affiliated ball but a contract he signed with an affiliated team after a tryout fell through and so he called the Slammers.
“Joliet needed a back-end relief pitcher so it worked out,” Pack said. “I had no idea what I was getting into. I just wanted to play ball. I wanted to pitch and help a team out. Any expectations I had were exceeded this season. It was nothing I imagined it would be. It was ten times better than I could have expected.”
Being from the area, and rooming with Crimmel on the road, helped Pack adjust quickly to Joliet. He also became fast friends with area players he’d crossed paths with before such as Brian Smith and Erik Lis.
After the season concluded, Pack became very visible in the community as he assisted with the DuPage Township Food Pantry for Thanksgiving and helped out when the Slammers collected money for the Salvation Army during the Holidays.
“I just appreciated that the Slammers included me in some of the local events,” Pack said. “That’s stuff that my parents have always raised me to do, community service. Not that I even had an opportunity to do a ton of it but Joliet gave me an opportunity to do two or three events and I said yes in a heartbeat. That’s stuff I enjoy doing anyhow.”
Meanwhile he was also throwing every week for a scout from the Arizona Diamondbacks. Pack was first noticed by the scout during a game and worked hard to improve his pitching in order to sign a contract with the Diamondbacks. Finally, in February, he signed the contract and headed to Arizona for Spring Training.
Pack is currently in extended Spring Training with the Diamondbacks. Extended Spring Training runs until Short Season Single-A starts in June.
“You wake up early, go have breakfast, get your work in, then you go play a game against other teams that are also in Extended Spring Training,” Pack said. “You play that game at 10 or 10:30 a.m. Then you have lunch, do whatever you have to do the rest of the day, then go out there and do the same thing the next day.”
It’ll be hard to top two championships in 2011 but if Pack finds a way to stick with the Diamondbacks, even bigger things could be on the horizon for the hard-throwing right-hander. No matter what happens, he’ll never forget his time in Joliet.
“I was lucky enough to learn from older ballplayers, guys who had experienced affiliated ball, and those who haven’t,” Pack said. “I learned about myself by learning about them. Everyone thinks their story is unique; then you run across a guy and hear how much he’s been through. Good or bad, you hear stories, and it makes you humble. Sometimes you think the game is out to get you, but the reality is the game doesn’t need you. 2011 helped me realize a lot about myself and the Slammers played a big role.”
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