By Marty Farmer
Whether it's the Binghamton Rumble Ponies, Traverse City Beach Bums, Brooklyn Slices, or Montgomery Biscuits, professional minor league baseball is littered with colorful, fun mascot names.
Add the DuPage Pistol Shrimp to the list, well kind of.
The Pistol Shrimp actually play in the Prospect League (a wood bat summer college league), which allows players an opportunity to gain both experience and exposure in front of scouts, coaches and fans alike. The 12-team league is essentially the Midwest's version of the prestigious Cape Cod League, which produced current Major League Baseball stars like Kris Bryant, Chris Sale, Walker Buehler and Charlie Blackmon.
"The purpose of the Prospect League is to provide college players with a small taste of what minor league baseball feels like," said Pistol Shrimp coach/co-owner John Jakiemiec. "We play 60 games in 70 days. The players compete in front of good-size crowds, including professional scouts. It's considered one of the premier collegiate summer leagues."
If you're wondering why Pistol Shrimp was chosen as the mascot name, Jakiemiec provides clarity.
"We polled different audiences to try different names and we took suggestions from the public as well," he said. "In our attempt to tie ourselves to DuPage County history we ran into dead-ends ("Trappers," "Lumberjacks," etc. were already taken).
"Eventually we came across an article about mascot names that were not being used. Pistol Shrimp was one of them. After doing some homework, we discovered that the Pistol Shrimp was a real creature and actually a pretty amazing animal with some very unique attributes. We added it to our test group polling and it overwhelmingly won with every group. Voila! The DuPage Pistol Shrimp was born."
Speaking of names, Griffin Holderfield has been a valuable addition for the Pistol Shrimp this summer. The Creighton-bound pitcher graduated from Oak Park and River Forest High School this year. During his senior year, Holderfield went 7-1 with a .778 earned run average and 84 strikeouts as the Huskies' hard-throwing righty. In the postseason, the IHSBCA All-State pitcher went 2-0 with a 2.00 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 14 innings.
"Grif will go down as another legendary all-state pitcher from OPRF," OPRF coach Joe Parenti said. "He had an impressive season with incredible wins in high pressure environments."
Teammate Nathan Diamond, a Pepperdine-bound lefty, finished 6-1 with a .667 ERA and 64 strikeouts during the regular season
Led by their pair of aces, the Huskies (24-13) advanced to the Elite Eight of the Class 4A state playoffs, losing to Hampshire 4-0 at Boomers Stadium in Schaumburg.
"We were kind of up and down and didn't know who we were as a team earlier in the season," Holderfield said. "After we beat Lyons Township, something clicked for us as a team and we took a lot of confidence into the playoffs.
"I loved seeing so many people come out to our games and playing for our community," he added. "It was fun to carry on the winning tradition of OPRF baseball. I played with a lot of my high school teammates since T-ball. I always knew where all the guys were on the field and that they would make plays behind me."
He also relished the opportunity to play for Parenti.
"Joe Pa was great," Holderfield said. "He was one of the best coaches I've ever had. Honestly, it was nice to have him not only as a coach but as a friend."
As a newcomer and one of the youngest players on the Pistol Shrimp roster, Holderfield lacks the familiarity he shared with his fellow Huskies.
Fortunately, his repertoire of pitches makes him a welcome addition.
The 6-foot-3, 225-pounder has touched 94 miles per hour on his fastball and his wipeout pitch is one of the best sliders in the state according to several scouts. He can mix in curveballs, too. A changeup in the low 80s remains a work in progress.
"Griffin has been a quality pitcher for a long time so he hasn't really snuck up on anybody," Jakiemiec said. "We love his balance and posture on the mound. His arm slot makes it hard on batters to pick up the ball early."
Jakiemiec believes Holderfield's best is yet to come.
"Even though he's a big kid, there's some physical maturity that will continue to happen," Jakiemiec said. "Griffin already has a fastball that will play at the Division I level, but we are pretty confident he will add another three or four miles per hour on his fastball as he matures. He has pretty solid command of both his fastball and curve and his changeup is getting better."
In limited outings (due to a pair of rain delays) with the Pistol Shrimp, Holderfield (1-0) has pitched five scoreless inning and allowed one hit with eight strikeouts.
"I attack hitters with my fastball and then play off that with my slider and changeup," Holderfield said. "I hope the velocity on my fastball keeps climbing up. I try to keep my changeup in the low 80s for deception. The key is having a combination of throwing hard and throwing strikes. Getting first-pitch strikes is the best way to win."
Holderfield has also embraced the challenge of facing more seasoned hitters.
"It's good to face college hitters because they have experience," he said. "Compared to high school players, college guys are used to seeing velocity so it's a challenge competing against them.
"I've been working with pitching coach Mark Sheehan the past couple of years. He invited me to play on the Pistol Shrimp. The games are at Benedictine University, which is very convenient. It's been a great opportunity for me."
Once the extensive Prospect League season is completed, Holderfield will turn his attention to Omaha, Nebraska.
"I committed to Creighton in the fall of my junior year," Holderfield said. "It was a good offer financially for my family and Creighton has a great baseball team. The coaching staff is stable and the campus is beautiful. It's not the biggest school, which is fine with me because I don't need 30,000 kids at my school."
Holderfield plans on enrolling in the Heider College of Business to study finance at Creighton.
OPRF teammate/catcher Luke Fitzgerald joins Holderfield as a pair of promising recruits for the Blue Jays.
"I am very excited to play with Griffin at Creighton," Fitzgerald said. "Griffin has always been a great teammate. He goes out there and competes every day. Griffin has had a lot of success, but I believe this is just the beginning for him."
For more information about the Pistol Shrimp, visit www.dupagepistolshrimp.com.
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