END OF AN ERA: After 15 years, the Southern Illinois Miners will no longer play baseball in Marion

MARION - In what they described as "a bittersweet decision," team owners Jayne and John Simmons announced on Wednesday that they would be retiring from Frontier League baseball ownership.

That makes the 2021 season the last for the Southern Illinois Miners in Marion.

"We love the southern Illinois community and our family roots run deep here," the Simmonses said in a news release.

"We appreciate the years of support we have enjoyed from baseball fans, civic leaders, business owners, vendors and the City of Marion. We are at a time in our lives where we really would like to spend more time with our children and grandchildren."

While rumors of a possible sale of the team have been swirling over the past month, Wednesday's announcement came as somewhat of a surprise to the community and even to some employees.

Along with General Manager Mike Pinto and the 30 players on the Miners roster, there are also interns, concession workers, ushers, parking attendances, servers, bartenders and press and box workers who will be out of jobs.

"It's tough for a lot of people," said Pinto, noting that reaction on the team's Facebook page was running the gamut of emotions from anger to sadness.

"I understand all those emotions," he said. "I have those myself."

Pinto, who entered what would turn out to be the Miners' last season with a .575 winning percentage, led the Frontier League.

"Personally, I'm going to choose to be grateful I had this opportunity," he said in a phone call Wednesday afternoon. "I've had the best job in baseball."

Pinto said team officials and owners had been "looking at other options for quite some time," before the retirement was announced.

He said Wednesday's announcement was made after all other options had been exhausted.

Frontier League CEO Jon Danos would not comment on whether the Miners could be moved to another venue.

He did say the Miners' 14-season run in Marion was a "successful" one.

"Out collaboration with the Simmons family was an enjoyable and productive one," he said Thursday. "We collectively believe there were a lot of family memories created as a result of the team's contribution to the community."

Danos did not rule out the possibility of professional baseball returning to Marion, saying "We would be open to any possibilities that might present themselves in the future."

He also said there also is a good possibility the players, who now are free agents, being picked up by other teams in the league.

Danos also commended Pinto on his "good work in that market," saying he has been a great representative of the league.

"Based on his career and success operating and assembling a team, I'm sure Mike will have good options," Danos said.

Shortly after the announcement, the City of Marion released an official statement, thanking the Simmonses for their commitment to and investment in Marion.

Mayor Mike Absher credits the team and its home at Rent One Park for much of Marion's growth west of Interstate 57.

"This about all the infrastructure," he said, "a new exit, Morgan Avenue, Love's, all of that real estate. None of that would have been built if not for the stadium."

Absher said that while it's sad the Miners won't be in Marion, the city will continue to benefit from the construction.

The Miners also have had an emotional investment in the community.

Over the years, the Miners' owners, management, players and team members have invested thousands of hours in the community through programs such as the Miners Reading Club, the anti-bullying campaign, mascot appearances, local fundraising efforts, visits to the Marion VA Medical Center and other hospitals, ticket giveaways for Military Appreciation Night and the Miners Hometown Hero Awards.

<b>What's next?</b>

The future of Rent One Park is uncertain.

When the park was built beginning in 2006, Bob Butler was the mayor of Marion. Absher said he believes it cost more than $20 million.

As part of the deal to bring the Miners and the stadium to town, the city agreed to give one-eighth of sales tax collections to help defray the costs of the mortgage.

"That's pretty common," Absher said. "These kinds of things would not be built without city help."

That deal is transferable to future owners of the stadium.

Absher said that figure is around $600,000 annually.

The stadium has seating for 6,000 and includes three concession stands, 14 suites, a 10-hole mini golf course, and a banquet facility that can accommodate 300.

Rent One Park has been the site of other community activities including concerts and the Marion High School graduation.

"The stadium is a wonderful asset to the community and has incredible potential as a multiuse facility," Jayne Simmons said. "We have high hopes for its future, and we will share more information about the stadium in the coming months."

<b>Miners legacy</b>

Pinto, who has become a familiar face in southern Illinois over the past 15 years, said he had no idea where Marion was when he accepted the job.

"I had never been south of Champaign," he said. "I lived in Chicago all my life and suddenly here I am in the South where they drink sweet tea. But the people took me in like their own."

Pinto said it wasn't long before he was getting standing ovations after being ejected from games.

"It's been my home for 15 years and I'm going to miss it," he said. "The Miners family ... it's a real thing. We built something here that was legacy. That will continue long after this is gone. In that sense, we'll stay forever."

Mike Pinto congratulates his Southern Illinois Miners on another victory. Marion Republican file photo
Beth Butler speaks with Miners manager and Chief Operating Officer Mike Pinto prior to the start of one of the last games at Rent One Park. Marion Republican file photo
Fans climb down onto the field to get a better view of the postgame fireworks at Rent One Park. Marion Republican file photo
Local kids, including Nicole Galloway of Sesser, left, benefitted from community programs run by the Miners such as "Passing The Game On," a program that provided baseball and softball equipment free to kids from across Southern Illinois. Marion Republican file photo
Rent One Park has been the host facility for several community functions, including the Marion High School graduation ceremonies. Marion Republican file photo
Members of the Marion Colt Team celebrate their victory over Brownsville, Texas, in the championship of the Colt World Series at Rent One Park this summer. Marion Republican file photo
The Southern Illinois Miners games have provided a venue to inductions to the Southern Illinois Coaches Hall for Fame, beginning with local coaching legends Rich Herrin and Mike Rude. Marion Republican file photo