By: Jay Kidwell
Manager Omar Lopez and three coaches from the Quad Cities River Bandits' run to the 2013 Midwest League Championship are returning to the team for the 2014 season. The River Bandits and Houston Astros, entering their second season of a new affiliation, announced the Class-A club's field staff on Monday.
Lopez will begin his second season with Quad Cities and seventh as a manager in the Astros organization when the River Bandits host Kane County on Opening Day at Modern Woodmen Park April 3. In 2013, the River Bandits won 81 regular season games – the third-most in franchise history – and Lopez, 37, reached his first playoffs as a minor league manager. Quad Cities went 7-1 in three postseason rounds to claim its second Midwest League Championship in three seasons and sixth title since the franchise joined the league in 1960. Lopez is the 34th manager for the Quad Cities Midwest League franchise and fifth to manage an Astros affiliate in the Quad Cities. He is the third Quad Cities manager to win a championship in his first season, joining Jim Napier of the 1979 Quad City Cubs and Don Long of the 1990 Quad City Angels. Prior to Lopez, only Fred Koenig, with the 1969 Quad City Angels, and Napier, with the 1980 Quad City Cubs, returned to the Midwest League club the season after leading the team to a championship.
Lopez has a career regular season record of 217-237 (.478) in his first six managerial seasons in the Astros organization. He managed the rookie-level Greeneville Astros in the Appalachian League in 2011 and 2012, the Gulf Coast League Astros in 2009 and 2010, and the Venezuelan Summer League Astros in 2008. Prior to managing, Lopez served as a hitting and infield instructor in the Astros Venezuelan program and as a scout for the organization from 1999 to 2007. He was the Astros International Man of the Year in 2005 and Player Development Man of the Year in 2010. A native of Valencia, Venezuela, Lopez was an infielder for three seasons in the minor league systems of the Chicago White Sox (1996-97) and Arizona Diamondbacks (1998). He played two seasons for the rookie-level Bristol White Sox and his final season with the South Bend Silver Hawks of the Midwest League.
Former major league pitcher Dave Borkowski returns for his second season as the River Bandits pitching coach and fifth as a coach in the Astros organization following 15 seasons (1995-2009) as a professional pitcher. Borkowski's first Quad Cities staff issued the fewest walks (394) in the league and posted a 3.62 team ERA that was fourth-best among 16 teams. Borkowski, 36, appeared in 181 Major League games (21 starts) and was 13-20 with one save and a 5.87 ERA in seven combined seasons with Detroit (1999-2001), Baltimore (2004), and Houston (2006-08). His first professional season was in 1995 after being selected in the 11th round of the June 1995 draft by Detroit, and he pitched in the Midwest League for the 1997 West Michigan Whitecaps. Borkowski coached the pitching staff of Class-A Lexington in the South Atlantic League in 2011 and 2012, and he was the pitching coach of rookie-level Greeneville in 2010.
Joel Chimelis returns for his second season as the Quad Cities hitting coach and ninth consecutive season as a hitting coach in the Astros organization. In 2013, Quad Cities was fourth in the league with 636 runs and third with a .338 team on-base percentage. The 2014 season will be the 11th overall as a minor league coach for Chimelis, 46, following a 14-season professional career. He has also coached in the Astros organization with short-season Class-A Tri-City (2006-10), Class-A Lexington (2011) and Double-A Corpus Christi (2012). Chimelis was on a championship-winning staff with Tri-City in 2010. He spent 2004 and 2005 with the Savannah Sand Gnats of the Washington Nationals (Montreal Expos in 2004) organization. As a player, Chimelis was drafted by the Oakland Athletics in the 11th round of the 1988 Major League draft. He was a minor league infielder in the Athletics (1988-1991), San Francisco Giants (1991-1995) and New York Mets (1996) organizations. He was called up to the Giants major league roster in 1995 but did not appear in a game. Chimelis also played in Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Taiwan and Korea.
Former major league All-Star Vince Coleman is entering his second season with the River Bandits and Astros organization as a development specialist focused on outfield and baserunning. He will again be with the club for homestands and also be a scout and roving instructor within the Astros organization. Quad Cities led all Midwest League Western Division teams with 151 stolen bases as a team in 2013. Coleman, 52, played 13 seasons for the St. Louis Cardinals (1985-90), New York Mets (1991-93), Kansas City Royals (1994-95), Seattle Mariners (1995), Cincinnati Reds (1996) and Detroit Tigers (1997). He was the National League Rookie of the Year when he set a major league rookie record with 110 stolen bases in 1985 – the first of a major league-record three straight 100-steal seasons to start a career. In his first six seasons, he was a two-time All-Star, and led the National League in stolen bases every year from 1985 to 1990. In 1989, Coleman set the major league record when he stole 50 consecutive bases without being caught. His 752 career stolen bases rank sixth in Major League history.
Michael Rendon enters his first season as the River Bandits athletic trainer and fourth season overall with the Astros organization. Rendon worked with rookie-level Greeneville in 2011, and he was with short-season Class-A Tri-City in 2012 and 2013, when the ValleyCats won the New York-Penn League Championship. A 2010 graduate of Southern Illinois University, Rendon completed two internships with the athletic training staff for the Double-A Springfield Cardinals in the St. Louis organization and worked for the Southern Illinois University Clinical Experiences, assisting with the rehabilitation and treatment of injured student athletes.
James McNichol enters his first season as the River Bandits strength coach and second with the Astros organization. McNichol was with the Gulf Coast League affiliate in 2013. Prior to joining the Astros, McNichol worked at the National Basketball Academy in Orlando, Fla. He received his bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Central Florida, where he majored in applied exercise physiology.
In 2013, the Houston Astros had a franchise-record six minor league playoff clubs, becoming the first organization to have six domestic affiliates qualify for the playoffs in the same season since Pittsburgh in 2003. Each of the highest six affiliates - Triple-A Oklahoma City (Pacific Coast League), Double-A Corpus Christi (Texas League), Class-A Advanced Lancaster (California League), Quad Cities, short-season Class-A Tri-City (New York-Penn League), and rookie-level Greeneville (Appalachian League) - made the postseason. Quad Cities and Tri-City each won their respective league championships. The combined regular season winning percentage of all affiliates (.569, 476-360) ranked second out of 30 MLB organizations.
UP NEXT: Season-ticket holders can still guarantee their same seats for the upcoming season, but time is running short! Ticket-plan holders must renew their plans with a $50 deposit per seat by Jan. 31, in order to keep the same seats as last season. Contact your account representative or call 563-324-3000 today to renew your ticket plan. To order ticket plans - with new lower prices - for next season, call the River Bandits box office at 563-324-3000 or visit www.riverbandits.com to download the season ticket order form. Season ticket and mini-plan packages start at just seven games and begin at less than $40. Call a River Bandits account representative today to choose your seats and get the details of our various mini-plan packages.
ABOUT THE BANDITS: Having just been named Ballpark Digest's winner of Best Ballpark Improvement in America under $1 million, the River Bandits ownership is making one of the biggest improvements to Modern Woodmen Park since the ballpark was first built back in 1931! A new Ferris wheel, standing 112 feet over the playing field, is opening this spring, along with a carousel, a new ride called a "Drop and Twist," an expanded zip line, and many other new games and attractions. In 2013, the team unveiled a new 220-foot long dual zip line, a rock climbing wall, and a number of new bounce houses. The team's major league affiliate, the Houston Astros, just saw all six of its affiliates reach the playoffs - the first time in a decade any MLB team can claim such success. The River Bandits were one of three affiliates to reach the championship round and one of two to win their league championship.