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Gateway Grizzlies

First season: 2001

Years in league: 2001-present

Ballpark: Sauget Field, 2001; GCS Ballpark (known as GMC Stadium 2002-05), 2002-present

The success of the River City Rascals on the Missouri side of suburban St. Louis gave rise to a desire for a Frontier League team in St. Louis' Illinois suburbs. After negotiations with several communities in the area failed to produce a ballpark, majority owner Rich Sauget, Sr. decided to build a ballpark in the town of Sauget, named for his family.

The team spent their inaugural 2001 season at Sauget Field, a field in a city park with temporary bleachers. In 2002 the team moved into beautiful GMC Stadium on Interstate 255. Attendance rose from 28,000 in 2001 to 92,000 the next season.

After struggling on the field their first two seasons, everything came together perfectly for the Grizzlies in 2003. The season saw the team's first no-hitter, by Adam Jahnsen against Kenosha on August 14. Led by the strong pitching of Pete Buck and Scott Patterson, the team cruised to the FL West Division title and the swept undefeated through the playoffs to win the Frontier League championship. Reliever Dave Klahs was MVP of the Championship Series.

At the gate, the Grizzlies also exceeded expectations, setting a new league attendance record with over 168,000 fans. Gateway also hosted the FL all-star game. For all these efforts, the Gateway Grizzlies were named Frontier League Organization of the Year for 2003.

The success continued both on the field and at the gate for the Grizzlies in 2004. Gateway lived and died by the home run, setting a league record with 113 round-trippers while allowing 106. All-stars 3B Greg Stevens (.273-20-64) and 1B Phil Warren (.314-23-66) were joined by DH Todd Oetting (.294-12-53) to lead the offense. Warren tied for the league lead in home runs, and Stevens was right behind. Pitching was again a strong suit, as Patterson (11-2, 4.30) and Joe Dooley (10-3, 2.75) led a staff that also included Kevin Lee (9-5), Brandon Smith (8-5), and Brad Drewes (7-3). 2003 bullpen ace Dan Smith returned to the Grizzlies but was replaced as closer by Michael Golden (2-2, 2.75, 16 saves) who had an amazing 66 strikeouts in 39 innings.

A couple of Grizzlies returned from 2003 only to have frustrating 2004 campaigns. Although he hit .306, 2B Tony Coyne was hurt and missed half the season. No one could have foreseen Pete Buck's woes. He entered 2004 tied for first in career wins but failed to set a new mark, finishing 0-5, 7.75.

The Grizzlies came near to repeating as West Division champions, but finished a game and a half behind the Rockford RiverHawks. The quest for a second consecutive FL title was stopped when the Grizzlies lost a hard-fought five-game first round series to eventual champion Rockford.

Gateway continued to obliterate all attendance records. On opening night a record crowd of 7,207 packed GMC Stadium. That record did not last for long. On June 16 7,458 fans packed the ballpark to see Rupert Boneham of the "Survivor" TV series. The team surpassed 2003's record breaking attendance in only 28 games, and ended the season as the only Frontier League team to exceed the 200,000 mark in attendance. 217,500 fans flocked to GMC Stadium in 2004, an average of over 4,500 per game.

The Grizzlies struggled early in 2005 but came on strong and made a run at the playoffs but missed out by two games. Typically, power was the team's strong point with C Ben Margalski (.306-16-58), IF Ryan Sullivan (.298-19-64) and OF Mike Breyman (.365-18-72) leading the way. Breyman set club records in average and RBI. Phil Warren finished his six-year career with a .262-9-59 season, and the team pulled a coup in August, acquiring slugging 1B Thomari Story-Harden from Mid-Missouri. He hit .409 as a Grizzlie. Jimmy Reiter (12 steals) and Shawn Smarsh (ten) provided the speed.

Brandon Smith (12-5, 3.55) was the staff ace. Matt Powell added seven wins and Eric Dessau six. Scott Patterson returned in midseason and moved into the closer's role, saving nine games. Joe Dooley returned at the same time as Patterson, but in his second game back suffered a potential career-ending hand injury.

Attendance was down a little from 2004, but the Grizzlies still led the league. The high spot was the last home game, when over 7,900 fans visited GMC Stadium to take part in a fundraiser for victims of hurricane Katrina.

The Grizzlies received much exposure in the 2005-06 off-season with the introduction of "Baseball's Best Hamburger", served on a Krispy Kreme donut. Shortly before the start of the 2006 season the team reached a naming-rights agreement with GCS Federal Credit Union and GMC Stadium was renamed GCS Ballpark.

Unfortunately the product on the field was less exciting, although the Grizzlies had their moments. 1B Mike Breyman (.310-12-55) had another solid season. OF Dustin Roberts added 11 dingers while three other outfielders provided the speed. David Arnold swiped a dozen bags after joining the Grizzlies from River City early in the season, Kevin House pilfered 20 before a deadline deal sent him to Windy City and Taylor Johnson hit .309 with ten steals before another deadline deal sent him to Chillicothe. C Greg Stevens (.292) returned for a brief late-season stint.

Veteran righty Steve Soja (8-7, 3.55) led the rotation. Erik Dessau started the season hot before finishing at 6-7, 3.97. Nathan Roush was 6-5, 4.39 and Mike Mlotkowski went 3-0, 2.78 after joining the Grizzlies in the Kevin House deal. Todd Pennington had a record 17 saves before a late season trade to the Atlantic League.

Although they lost twelve in a row in August and finished ten games under .500, they Grizzlies out together an eleven game unbeaten streak to end the season on a high note and only missed the playoffs by three games. A series of storms in July cost the Grizzlies four home games, but they still averaged over 4,200 fans a game and finished second to Traverse City in attendance.

Danny Cox, who had been with the Grizzlies since the beginning, first as pitching coach and then as manager, stepped down in October, 2006.

Although no former Grizzlies have played in the major leagues, OF/1B Brian Sellier (2001) spent parts of 2003 and 2004 with Oakland's AAA affiliate in Sacramento.

(top) Sauget Field in Sauget, IL, temporary home of the Gateway Grizzlies

(bottom) GCS Ballpark in Sauget, IL, new home of the Gateway Grizzlies

 

Year   Won   Lost   GB   Finish   Attendance   Manager   Playoffs First Round   Playoffs Second Round
                                 
2001   37   44   9.5   5W   28.898   Champ Summers        
2002   39   45   13   4W   92,819   Rich Sauget, Jr.        
2003   50   38   --   1W   168,067   Danny Cox   Beat Chillicothe 2-0   Beat Evansville 3-0
2004   56   38   1.5   2W   217,500   Danny Cox   Lost to Rockford 3-2    
2005   49   47   4   3W   177,353   Danny Cox        
2006   42   52   6   3W   182,124   Danny Cox        

Major Award Winners: none

Grizzlies Post-Season All-Stars:

2003 2B Tony Coyne

2004 3B Greg Stevens, 1B Phil Warren

2005 1B Thomari Story-Harden, C Ben Margalski

Players on FL Tenth Anniversary All-Star Team: 3B Brian Fuess (2003)

Franchise Player: P Pete Buck (2001-2004) anchored the Grizzlies' rotation for three seasons and was the last remaining original Grizzlie. He finished his career tied with Phill Kojack as the Frontier League's victory leaders with 26 wins. He joined the team as a coach in 2005.

Grizzlies in the majors: none