KENOSHA, Wis. — Brett Shimanovsky could hardly believe the evening he had June 28.
Shimanovsky, a Class of 2013 Highland Park grad and left-handed pitcher at Saint Louis University, tossed two scoreless innings of relief for the semipro Kenosha Kingfish in a 7-4 win over the visiting Kalamazoo Growlers that night.
For about 15 minutes after the game, Shimanovsky signed autographs for fans outside Simmons Field, a newly remodeled stadium originally built in 1920. When he thought he was done inking his name, two more youngsters (a girl and a boy) raced up to him and begged for his signature on their yellow T-shirts. Others asked to have pictures taken with him.
Almost 30 minutes passed, yet he was still fielding autograph requests during a postgame fireworks show.
“I’ve never really signed autographs after a game before,” Shimanovsky said. “That kid there, or that kid there ... that used to be me. I’ve signed a few baseballs here and there before tonight, but never anything like this. I mean, is this really happening? That’s how this feels.”
Among the announced attendance of just over 3,000 fans was former White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, who helped capture Chicago’s first World Series crown in 88 years in 2005. He took time to give Shimanovsky and the rest of the Kingfish some advice.
“In a league like this with all college players, or in any league really, the one thing these kids can always do to help themselves is hustle,” Guillen said. “Always. Because you never know who’s watching.”
The Kingfish play in the 18-team independent Northwoods League.
“To see thousands of fans out there cheering for us tonight was insane,” Shimanovsky said. “This is a ballpark that was in bad need of repair a few years ago, and now it’s suddenly become this? I can already tell being part of this is going to be something special.
“I mean, I’ve pitched in front of several hundred people in college before, but never anything like this. My nerves were going out there, big-time. To be standing here after the game watching people buy the same jerseys we wear, wanting my autograph ... it’s amazing.”
Kingfish manager Duffy Dyer, who was a catcher for the New York Mets, Pittsburgh Pirates, Montreal Expos and Detroit Tigers from 1968-1981, complimented Shimanovsky (2-1, 4.26 ERA, three saves), who leads the Kingfish in appearances (11) and has struck out 13 batters in 12.2 innings.
“Brett had a good day today,” Dyer said. “His control’s getting much better. He was a little wild to start the season, but he’s been a big improvement for us. And he struck out the first batter he faced for us to kind of set the tempo in the top of the [eighth] and had a quick 1-2-3 inning. He’s one to watch.”