They’re minor league in name, but these Illinois sports teams are major in excitement and talent.
You probably know the names of Illinois’ major league teams in the “big four” American sports of baseball, football, ice hockey and basketball. The Cubs, Sox, Bears, Blackhawks, Bulls – they’re larger-than-life names ingrained in the minds of everyone with even a passing interest in sport.
But there’s more to sport in Illinois than just the big names. Illinois’ minor leagues serve up top quality action every season. Often, they’re the place where the big stars get their start – so grab a ticket now to see a future star of the major leagues today!
The Kane County Cougars started life as the Wausau Timbers, based in Wisconsin. Come 1991, they saw the light and moved to Geneva, taking a place in the Midwest League of Minor League Baseball. It’s worked out really well for them. The Cougars have won two Midwest League championships, sent 150 players to the Major Leagues, and in 2013 became the first Class A Minor League Baseball team to reach a lifetime fan attendance of 10 million.
See them play at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark, Geneva
Like the Cougars, the Peoria Chiefs play in the Midwest League of Minor League Baseball. The club began as the Peoria Suns back in 1983, but the name didn’t stick for long – by the next season they were playing under the current Chiefs name.
See them play at Dozer Park, Peoria
The Gateway Grizzlies play in the West Division of the Frontier League, the oldest currently running independent baseball league. Since they started in 2001, they’ve had a strong record, including a Frontier League championship win in 2003 and 30 players sent to MLB affiliates.
See them play at GCS Credit Union Ballpark
The Joliet Slammers play in the East Division of the Frontier League. They took over from the former Joliet JackHammers back in 2011, and since then have won two Frontier League championships. And yes, the name is indeed a reference to that famous Joliet landmark.
See them play at Joliet Route 66 Stadium, Joliet
The Boomers are one of the most successful teams in the Frontier League, championship winners in three of the seven seasons they’ve played. The Boomers are named in honor of the greater prairie chicken, which performs a mating dance known as “booming.” Mascot Coop the Boomer leads the crowd in that very dance every game.
See them play at Boomers Stadium, Schaumburg
The Miners, named for the Southern Illinois region’s history of coal mining, play in the West Division of the Frontier League. The Miners began their season in 2007, though this was not Marion’s first professional baseball team. The Marion Indians previously played there in the class D Illinois State League – though only for two seasons, 1947-1948. Fifty nine seasons would go by before another professional baseball team – the Miners – would take the field.
See them play at Rent One Park, Marion
The ThunderBolts are one of the oldest teams in the Frontier League. But it was some path getting here. They started out in the former North Central League as the Will County Claws, before joining the Heartland League as the Will County Cheetahs and then the Cook County Cheetahs.
See them play at Standard Bank Stadium, Crestwood
Before their inauguaral season in 2010, owner Steve Malliet launched a naming contest for the team. But after suspected voting fraud (the lead name “Nutz” was suspected to have business ties), he started the poll over. Hackers got the best of voting again. Nonetheless, they settled on the name Normal CornBelters, a reference to Normal’s prime location in the Corn Belt. The CornBelters first played in the Frontier League, but as of the 2019 season, they are moving to the Prospect League.
See them play at The Corn Crib, Normal
The Chicago Dogs are Illinois’ newest professional baseball team. They joined the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball in 2018, with a vision of “the best ballpark experience in America.” The name isn’t canine in nature – it’s named after the famous Chicago street food.
See them play at Impact Field, Rosemont
The Bloomington Edge are part of the Indoor Football League. The team has a strong community spirit, including in their mission a commitment to “teaming up with local youths and charitable organizations to positive impact in our community.” In 2018, they achieved the impressive feat of winning every single one of their games.
See them play at Grossinger Motors Arena, Bloomington
The Quad City Steamwheelers are Illinois’ newest professional football team, starting off with the Champions Indoor Football league in 2018. Though this team is new, the name should be familiar to area fans: they’re named after a Quad Cities team of the same name which played arena football between 2000 and 2009.
See them play at TaxSlayer Center, Moline
The Wolves are one of minor league hockey’s most successful teams. They’ve posted a winning record every one of their 24 seasons, gone to playoffs 19 times and won four championships. In addition to their winning record, the Wolves are well-known for their community involvement – in particular, their Adopt-a-Dog program. They’re also renowned for their pre-game pyrotechnics.
See them play at Allstate Arena, Rosemont
The Rockford IceHogs are part of the American Hockey League, often going head-to-head with the Wolves. The team came to Rockford via Baltimore and Cincinnati, taking over from another different team named Rockford IceHogs back in 2007. They’re an affiliate team of fellow Chicago-area hockey team, the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks.
See them play at BMO Harris Bank Center, Rockford
The Peoria Rivermen were born out of a true love for hockey in their hometown. The former Peoria Rivermen were bought by the Vancouver Canucks in 2013 and moved to Utica, New York. That left Peoria without a professional hockey team. The former owner and two former executives of the previous team thought that just wouldn’t do – so they quickly formed a new team under the same name, joining the Southern Professional Hockey League.
See them play at Peoria Civic Center, Peoria
The Quad City Storm is Illinois’ newest professional hockey team, starting up in the 2018-2019 season. Like the Rivermen, they play in the Southern Professional Hockey League.
See them play at TaxSlayer Center
The Danville Dashers play in the Federal Hockey League, sharing their name with the original Danville Dashers, who played in the 1980s. After a shaky few first seasons, the Dashers took out the league championship in the 2016-2017 season.
See them play at the David S. Palmer Arena
The Windy City Bulls play in the NBA G League, as the affiliate of Chicago’s NBA team Chicago Bulls. The Chicago Bulls also own and operate the team.
See them play at Sears Centre Arena, Hoffman Estates