First season: 1995
Years in league: 1995-present
Ballpark: Bosse Field
Perhaps no city in the Frontier League has a baseball history as rich as Evansville. Professional baseball here dates to the 1880s, and it has been played at Bosse Field since 1915. The city had a Triple-A team as late as 1984. The stadium was then without a professional tenant but not vacant as it was featured as the home of the Rockford Peaches in the 1991 film "A League Of Their Own".
Major league players from Evansville include Don Mattingly and Andy Benes. Several Hall-Of-Famers called Bosse Field their home park early in their careers, including Warren Spahn and Hank Greenberg.
When the Otters arrived in 1995 they were an immediate hit. A sellout crowd of 5,297 filled Bosse Field for the home opener, and the season's record attendance of over 90,000 was more than the entire Frontier League drew in its initial 1993 season. Evansville led the league in attendance each of the Otters' first four seasons, and they remain one of the Frontier League's top draws.
Greg Tagert took the managerial reins in 1997, and the heyday of Frontier League baseball in Evansville had arrived. The Otters made the playoffs four consecutive seasons from 1997-2000, and made two appearances in the finals.
Tagert left for DuBois County in 2001 and the Otters had a couple of down years. The team had a dismal last-place season in 2002, but ownership stayed with manager Greg Jelks. Their faith was rewarded in 2003 as the team won 18 games more than the previous season and once again advanced to the final round of the playoffs. Jelks was awarded Manager Of the Year honors for his accomplishment.
The Otters faced possible extinction going into the 2003 season. A group headed by Cal Ripken and Evansville's own Don Mattingly sought funding for a new ballpark in downtown Evansville that would house a Class-A affiliated team. Otters fans turned out in droves to support their team, setting a record attendance of 116,000. It appears that the Otters' future is secure for the time being, as Mayor Russ Lloyd Jr. declared the downtown ballpark project "dead".
The 2004 season saw the Otters move into the East Division. Success followed the Otters eastward. The team made the playoffs again led by outfielder Carlos Brackley (.336-9-42). The team didn't hit a lot of homers but had speed with outfielders Steve Martin (28 steals) and O.J. Garza (11) and second baseman Frank Scott (13) leading the way.
Pitching was the name of the game in Evansville in 2004. Grant Williams was acquired from Windy City and won Pitcher Of the Year honors at 10-2, 2.97. He also was one of the top strikeout artists with 119, one behind teammate Jeremy Lewis (9-4, 2.47). Andre Simpson (7.6, 4.88) added a third capable arm to the rotation. Amad Stephens returned as closer and had 14 saves and a 1.44 ERA when he was sold to the New York Yankees in mid-July.
The Otters also lost 3B Cole Hilt, to Kansas City. Hilt was hitting .352-7-38 when the Royals acquired him in July. The biggest story concerning the Otters and affiliated ball in 2004 was George Sherrill. Sherrill became the first Otter to reach the major leagues when he debuted with the Seattle Mariners in July.
The team drew over 120,000 fans to Bosse Field and made the playoff finals for the second consecutive year, unfortunately losing again.
Greg Jelks returned as manager in 2005 and passed Greg Tagert as the franchise's winningest manager as the Otters posted 52 wins but missed the playoff in a very competitive division.
Catcher Jeff Goldbach was the star hitter with a .319-19-64 season, setting team home run record in spacious Bosse Field. He put on a show at River City on August 20-21. He had six hits, including three homers, and eight RBI in the Otters' 28-6 win on the 20th. He homered in his first two at-bats the following day to hit home runs in four consecutive at-bats. SS Brian McKenna added ten dingers. Speed was the name of the game with the rest of the lineup, as OF Trask Munoz swiped 18 bags. All-star Denver Stuckey stole 14 and slick-fielding 2B Frank Scott swiped 13. OF Steve Martin stole 17 before being traded to Chillicothe.
The rotation was very deep with Benjamin Foster (9-5, 2.99), Chris Pillsbury (8-7, 3.90), Andre Simpson (7-5, 2.99), Cody Blackard (6-4, 2.93) and Brian Kroll (6-5, 3.45) leading the team to a league-best 3.42 ERA. Ryan Burnau posted 13 saves and a 1.60 ERA, and setup man Nathan Stone put up a stingy 1.50 ERA.
The Otters set an attendance record for the third consecutive season as 136,000 fans passed through the turnstiles at Bosse Field.
Pitching was the strong suit of the 2006 Otters. In fact, the team's 3.44 ERA was the best not only in the Frontier League but in all of independent baseball. While the team did not have a dominant starter, Chris Pillsbury went 6-4, 2.71 while Cody Blackard, Jake Haggerty and Matt Restivo added five wins apiece. Ryan Burnau went 5-4, 1.37 while he and southpaw Donny Langdon (3-3, 2.74) were setup men for Michael Bille (2.01, club record 20 saves). The Otters also sent two pitchers to affiliated ball, Scott Souther to Arizona and Mike Pawelczyk to Milwaukee.
Goldbach returned to lead the offense at .306-17-69. 3B Matt Edwards added a .300-12-54 season. 2B Frank Scott also returned, playing excellent defense while stealing 21 bases. OF Dale Mueller led with 27 steals. OF Beau Blacken hit .279 and won the all-star game for the West Division by winning the home run derby after the game was tied after nine innings. To make the performance more special, it happened right at Bosse Field. Blacken was later traded to Florence for slugging outfielder Mike Galloway.
The Otters finished the regular season at 46-50, but in a weak West Division it was enough to make the playoffs. After falling behind two games to none to Rockford, the Otters rallied to win the next three games and earn a trip to the championship series against Chillicothe.
The team continued to be hot in the finals. The series was a classic, as Cody Blackard pitched a complete game shutout in game one, the first complete game of the season for the Otters. the Otters also won game two at home. The final game at Chillicothe was a nail-biter as the Otters scored three times in the tenth to take the lead and narrowly escaped in the bottom of the inning as the Paints brought the tying run to the plate but failed to score. The Evansville Otters were Frontier League champions for the first time. Michael Bille pitched nine scoreless innings in the playoffs while Goldbach hit .355 to win playoff MVP honors.
Shortly after the season manager Greg Jelks left the team. He was succeeded by pitching coach Jeff Pohl. Pohl coached the Otters from 2002-06 and was also director of baseball operations in 2005-06, a position he kept in addition to his new managerial duties.
The oldest ballpark in the minor leagues, Bosse Field, home of the Evansville Otters, was built in 1915
|Year||Won||Lost||GB||Finish||Attendance||Manager||Playoffs First Round||Playoffs Second Round|
|1997||17||23||8||4W||91,018||Greg Tagert||Beat Richmond 2-1||Lost to Canton 2-0|
|1998||23||16||--||1W||88,259||Greg Tagert||Lost to Springfield 2-1|
|1999||43||41||--||1W||111,039||Greg Tagert||Lost to Chillicothe 2-1|
|2000||45||38||1.5||2W||78,126||Greg Tagert||Beat River City 2-0||Lost to Johnstown 3-1|
|2003||51||37||4.5||3E||116,028||Greg Jelks||Beat Chillicothe 2-1||Lost to Gateway 3-0|
|2004||54||42||8||2E||121,733||Greg Jelks||Beat Washington 3-0||Lost to Rockford 3-0|
|2006||46||50||3||2W||130,212||Greg Jelks||Beat Rockford 3-2||Beat Chillicothe 3-0|
Major Award Winners:
2003 Amad Stephens, Rookie Of the Year
2003 Greg Jelks, Manager Of the Year
2004 Grant Williams, Pitcher Of the Year
Otters Post-Season All-Stars:
1996 OF Marty Watson
1998 2B Travis Gray
2001 OF Jeremy Coronado
2003 3B Juan Downing
2004 P Grant Williams
2006 1B Jeff Goldbach
Players on FL Tenth Anniversary All-Star Team: none
Franchise Player: P Jeff Leystra (1995-97) was the first player ever signed by the Otters. Leystra was the Otters' closer in 1995. Moving into the rotation in 1996, he struck out a then-record 109 batters. After retiring due to injury in August, 1997, he became the Otters' pitching coach.
Otters in the majors: P George Sherrill (1999) played for the Seattle Mariners in 2004-05.