JOLIET – Heather Mills considers herself fortunate to have had the chance to be a part of a championship team in her first season working in professional baseball in 2009 when she was with the Memphis Redbirds of the Pacific Coast League.
But as Mills became the general manager of the Joliet Slammers and became increasingly involved in the game, she quickly realized that seeing her next championship might take a while.
And it did. She had to wait until this season to see another team she was associated with win a title, as manager Jeff Isom’s Slammers won Game 5 of the Frontier League championship series, 3-2, over Washington for their first championship since their first season in 2011.
Because of a more significant role with the Slammers, this title obviously is more satisfying, and the gap of nine years between titles really has made her appreciate this championship.
“I won a championship working in my first year in baseball, and I remember that like it was yesterday,” Mills said. “This is my 10th year working in baseball. I know some people who have worked 20 or 30 years and have never been with any championship teams.”
After working with the Kane County Cougars, she joined the Slammers in 2013 as the box office manager. Mills was promoted to the position of assistant general manager in 2015 and a year later became the general manager, a position she’s held for three seasons.
During her time as the Slammers’ general manager, she has seen Isom’s teams advance to the league playoffs twice, win a division title and tie for another one, with the highlight finally coming Tuesday with their road win against the Wild Things.
Despite seeing the Slammers struggle in the early going, Mills had confidence that Isom and his team would turn things around. And that’s what happened, as their pitching staff developed into one of the league’s best, and they combined good fielding with efficient hitting to become one of the league’s most consistent teams.
“We went through a rough patch early on, but after that we were playing well,” Mills said. “This team seemed to be really close, which matters a lot at this level. The team had several come-from-behind wins, and it just seemed that they had it this year.
“In the end, we won on strong pitching. Our team was about strong pitching all season, and we were also pretty good defensively and got the runs when we needed them.”
Unlike most years in this league, the Slammers didn’t need to make a lot of personnel moves, and that helped them to form a camaraderie that proved to be a huge strength.
“Usually our roster turns over almost once completely, so this year was very nice to see,” Mills said. “Our fans were able to get to know the players, which is huge. It wasn’t like, ‘who’s on the team this week?’” That was probably the biggest thing, just from a fan experience.”