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City of Champions Cup: Where Are They Now?

City of Champions Cup: Where Are They Now?

By: Matthew Gustafson

    Three seasons ago, Joliet witnessed the greatest collection of baseball talent in the city’s history. Four teams, the Slammers, Tully Monsters, Deep Dish, and Nerds Herd, were assembled in a matter of weeks, and combined to play 54 games in the span of 51 days at Duly Health and Care Field. While most of the players on the field for those 51 days would only spend a short amount of time in Joliet, the experience they gained has allowed many of them to go on to achieve lasting success at the highest levels of professional baseball. Players from the City of Champions Cup currently play for teams in Major League Baseball, all four full-season levels of the minor leagues, three of the four official MLB partner leagues, and leagues in Mexico and Japan. Players have also made appearances in the Olympics and with the Savannah Bananas. Despite the City of Champions Cup lasting less than two months, it has had an outsized impact not only on the players which were a part of it, but also the game of baseball itself.

    Three players from the City of Champions Cup have reached the Major Leagues after their time in Joliet. Ian Krol of the Nerds Herd and Dietrich Enns from the Tully Monsters made it to The Show in 2021 with the Detroit Tigers and Tampa Bay Rays, respectively. Krol currently pitches for the Tecolotes de los Dos Laredos of the Mexican League, while Enns plays in the Japan Pacific League with the Saitama Seibu Lions. Brock Stewart, a member of the Deep Dish, is currently dealing on the mound for the Minnesota Twins, and sports a 1.20 ERA with 17 strikeouts in 15 relief appearances this season. Finally, while Charlie Tilson’s time in Joliet was cut short by injury, the former White Sox outfielder briefly made an appearance with the Nerds Herd. After playing with the Chicago Dogs of the American Association last year, he hung up his cleats and transitioned to the classroom, where he is currently pursuing a degree in psychology at Depaul University. 

    Five City of Champions Cup players currently find themselves one call away from the big leagues, including Bubby Rossman of the Nerds Herd and Nick Meyer of the Tully Monsters, who are teammates with the Syracuse Mets, the Triple A affiliate of the New York Mets. Alex McKenna, a fellow Tully Monster, plays for the Sugar Land Space Cowboys, and is making his way towards a call up from his parent club, the Houston Astros. Two Slammers players from 2020, Jordan Procyshen and Jace Vines, also find themselves in Triple A, with the Round Rock Express of the Texas Rangers and the Lehigh Valley IronPigs of the Philadelphia Phillies.

    The City of Champions Cup is represented by seven players in Double A, including three former Slammers: Nick Dalesandro with the Amarillo Sod Poodles of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Korry Howell with the San Antonio Missions of the San Diego Padres, and Jake McSteen with the Mississippi Braves, the Double A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves. James Free, playing for the Chattanooga Lookouts of the Cincinnati Reds, and Hayden Cantrelle, a member of the Richmond Flying Squirrels of the San Francisco Giants, were teammates in 2020 for the Nerds Herd. Finally, two Deep Dish players, Collin Barber and Erik Ostberg, play for the Corpus Christi Hooks of the Houston Astros and the Montgomery Biscuits of the Tampa Bay Rays. 

    Bobby Milacki, a former Tully Monster, currently pitches for the Fort Wayne Tincaps of the San Diego Padres, and he is joined in High A by Terence Doston, an outfielder for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers of the Milwaukee Brewers and  former member of the Nerds Herd. Meanwhile, two City of Champions Cup players, Kevin Watson of the Nerds Herd and Nick Horvath of the Joliet Slammers, are teammates in Single A with the Inland Empire 66ers, an affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels. 

    The City of Champions Cup is also robustly represented in the independent leagues, especially the Frontier League. In fact, four current members of the Slammers, Tyler Depreta-Johnson(Tully Monsters), GJ Hill(Deep Dish), Matt McGarry(Nerds Herd), and Cameron Aufderheide(Slammers), played at Duly Health and Care Field during the 2020 season. Three other Frontier League teams currently roster players from the City of Champions Cup: the Tri-City ValleyCats with Jakob Goldfarb of the Deep Dish, the Empire State Greys with Eric Jenkins of the Nerds Herd, and the Windy City ThunderBolts with Peyton Isaacson of the Deep Dish. 

    Players from the City of Champions Cup can also be found in the American Association and the Atlantic League. Phil Caulfield, a former Tully Monster, plays for the Long Island Ducks, while Matthew Hibbert of the Nerds Herd is a member of the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs. The third former City of Champions Cup player in the Atlantic League is Brian Parreira, the former longtime Slammer(including in 2020), who plays for the High Point Rockers. Two of his Slammers teammates from 2020, Pat Adams and Andrew Shaps, play in the American Association with the Lake Country Dock Hounds and Winnipeg Goldeyes, respectively. Luke Mangieri, a former Tully Monster and member of the Slammers from 2021-22, currently plays for the Chicago Dogs, while Tyler Ryan of the Nerds Herd is a current member of the Sioux Falls Canaries. 

    Joining Ian Krol in the Mexican League is former Slammer Zach Kirtley, who currently suits up for the Toros de Tijuana. 

    Several players that initially arrived in Joliet for the City of Champions Cup made the city their home for multiple seasons afterwards, and were hugely important players in Slammers history. Kipp Rollings(Slammers), who started his 2021 season in Joliet, became one of the select few Slammers to be signed by a major league club, and spent the rest of the year in the Kansas City Royals organization. Meanwhile, Brylie Ware(Nerds Herd) and Trevor Charpie(Slammers) were integral members of the 2021 and 2022 Slammers teams, anchoring the teams at the plate, on the mound, and in the field. Ware and Charpie, who both decided to step away from baseball after last season, ended their careers with strong cases to be listed as among the best players in Joliet Slammers history. 

    Two players, Taylor Bloye of the Tully Monsters and Ashton Creal of the Nerds Herd, are currently on the Development List for the Kansas City Royals and the Cincinnati Reds. Creal started the season as a member of the Chattanooga Lookouts, the Reds’ Double A affiliate. One player from the City of Champions Cup, Michael Deeb, has made the switch from baseball to banana ball, and is in his second season of touring with the Savannah Bananas. Deeb, a former Tully Monster, roams the outfield for the Bananas when they square off against other professional teams and their rivals, the Party Animals, in ballparks across the country. While Deeb has appeared in games all throughout the United States with the Bananas, Mitch Glasser(Slammers) has had the honor of appearing throughout the world with Team Israel. Glasser appeared for Team Israel in the 2017 World Baseball Classic qualifier round, the 2019 European Baseball Championship, and the 2021 European Baseball Championship. In addition, he gained the distinction of being the only player from the City of Champions Cup to appear in the Olympics when he played for Team Israel at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, and was named to the All-Olympic Baseball Team by the World Baseball Softball Confederation. 

    Since the 2020 season, players from the City of Champions Cup have scattered to play baseball all around the world, while several have stayed in Joliet to this day to become multi-year veterans with the Slammers. Although many players from that season may never return to Joliet again, the two months that they came together to play during the pandemic for the love of the game created an unforgettable season.