RiverHawks Rockford’s first pro sports champions since 1950

The No. 1 sports city in Illinois, according to Sports Illustrated, finally has a pro sports champion.

It’s the first pro sports title since the 1950 Rockford Peaches won their last championship in the All-American Girls Baseball League, according to WTVO-TV-17. Or it’s the first pro baseball crown since the ’50 Peaches, according to the local daily.

Either way, it is a pro sports championship and Rockford hasn’t had too many. And this one won’t be Rockford’s for long since the RiverHawks next season expect to be playing in their new home in Loves Park. What if they become the Loves Park RiverHawks? Or the Rockford/Loves Park RiverHawks? That’s a mouthful.

But, living for the moment, the RiverHawks completed a three-game sweep of the Evansville (Ind.) Otters in the Frontier League championship series with a 14-9 win Sept. 10 at Marinelli Field.

Rockford won the first two games of the best-of-five title series at Evansville, 7-4 and 8-3, and that brought out 3,319 fans for what turned out to be the final game at Marinelli.

Kudos should go to WIFR-TV-23 for going live to Marinelli for the final few outs and the RiverHawks “pile-on” at the pitcher’s mound after Rich Austin caught a fly ball for the final out. History, live, on TV-23.

That was somehow symbolic since Austin is the franchise’s longest-tenured player and this year’s regular-season league MVP. He’s too old to play in the FL anymore (27 on Aug. 30), but his rights have been purchased by the Kansas City Royals. The purchase takes effect today, Sept. 15.

In addition to being league and team MVP, Austin also is Rockford’s all-time leader in home runs, walks, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. And he is the second RiverHawk to sign with a Major League organization this season. Pitcher Justin Dowdy had his contract purchased by the Angels.

The Otters had leads of 4-0 and 7-4, but Rockford was not to be denied. The RiverHawks scored the tying and go-ahead runs when Ben Fjelland’s bases-loaded grounder to third baseman Denver Stuckey was thrown away for a three-base error in the fourth inning.

The Hawks’ Olmo Rosario was 3-for-5 with two RBI, including a run-scoring single earlier in the fourth. Rosario was named the finals MVP after hitting .461 (6-for-13) with two RBI. In the two rounds of playoffs, he had four three-hit nights.

Josh Tomsu (1-1), an original RiverHawk, allowed two runs in five innings of long relief for the win.

Rockford got to the finals by winning the regular-season West Division title and West playoffs while Evansville won the East Division playoffs. The 12-team FL is in its 12th season as an independent professional baseball league.

Rockford had four minor league teams before the RiverHawks—the Reds (1999), Cubbies (1995-1998), Royals (1993-1994) and Expos (1988-1992). Seven of those teams made it to playoffs, with four losing in the first round, according to the local daily.

The 1994 Royals and 1998 Cubbies played for championships but lost. The 1996 Cubbies won in the first round, but lost in the semifinals.

The RiverHawks did not make the playoffs in their first two seasons here. The Rockford franchise had not qualified for the playoffs since 1998 when, as the Springfield Capitals, it won the pennant by defeating Evansville, two games to one, in the first round, and Chillicothe, two games to one, in the championship round.

A neat tie to the past was the first two games in the 2004 championship series were played at historic Bosse Field in Evansville, the oldest park in the minor leagues. Bosse Field opened in 1915. Boston’s Fenway Park (1912) and Chicago’s Wrigley Field (1914) are the only Major League stadiums that have been open longer.

Bosse Field was heavily renovated around 1990 for the filming of the movie A League of Their Own. Much of the movie, which centers on the Rockford Peaches, was filmed at Bosse Field.

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