By Mike Monahan

ARCOLA – In the inaugural season for the Arcola Riders Eastern Illinois Baseball League, picked up their first victory Sunday in the second game of a doubleheader against the Paxton Swedes at Moore Memorial Park. Arcola lost the first game, which was nine innings, 10-0, but won the scheduled seven inning second  game 1-0. 

Arcola is 1-5 in the four-team league and the win was against the defending Eastern Illinois Baseball League champions and snapped a five-game losing streak in which they were outscored by an average of 11-1 before the victory. The other teams are Royal Giants and the Buckley Dutch Masters. 

A while ago Juan Rameriz, a former player for Urbana, approached Arcola mayor Jesus Garza.

“He wanted my help to help pay for the fee for the league ($350),” said Garza, who added Libman is the team sponsor and provided the red uniforms. Rameriz is the manager, while Jeremy Smith of Rantoul is the general manager/head coach and Garza is a general manager. 

Eastern Illinois Baseball League board member and third baseman for Paxton, Mark Prina,  at age 46 said, “Rameriz called up Trent Eshleman (league secretary) and said he would like to get a team in the league. “It is good because it gave us our fourth team because Gifford folded, which was sad.  We really need about two more teams in the league.”

Games are played on Sunday’s and are always doubleheaders at 1 and 4 p.m.

The team has 21 players on the current roster, including eight from Arcola, three from Mattoon, one from Rantoul and one from Buckley. 

Arcola began the season with a doubleheader at Moore Memorial Park on May 29 against the Royal Giants and lost 8-2 and 4-0. The next games were against Buckley on the road and the Riders lost 10-0 and 25-1 on June 5. 

For three players, who had played together since they were nine, Mattoon 2022 graduates Zach Wetzel, Chandler Melton and Kaiden Rice all were there for their first games. 

“I was working at Hibbett Sports in Mattoon and the head coach came in wanting some baseballs for the game,” said Melton. “I was wearing one of my high school t-shirts and he asked if I played baseball. He told me it was a league, but I didn’t know what I was getting into. We didn’t think it would be against college kids throwing 88-90 miles per hour. It was not what we were expecting at all.”

Now that he knows what it is like Melton said, “I think it is really good. We enjoy it all lot more. It gives us reps for travel baseball. Anytime we can get more reps we will take the opportunity.”

Melton, who recruited Rice and Wetzel, also plays for the Mattoon 18U travel team. 

During high school he played left and right field and also pitched (sidearm pitcher) for former Arcola baseball coach Jarod Kiger, who guided the No. 9 seeded Green Wave to the  Class 3A regional championship game before falling to Effingham 3-2. 

While Melton wishes the opportunity to play college baseball would have come, he will be attending Lake Land College and not playing baseball. 

“The thing about baseball is that it is one of the sports where size doesn’t matter as you can be 4-10 or seven foot,” said Melton. 

Arcola 1, Paxton 0

After four and half scoreless innings  there was no score. Melton singled between first and second and the next batter walked before Marquis ripped one down the third base line, scoring Melton. 

Marquis was also the winning pitcher in what was believed to be  his first appearance. 

“Aldo pitched one of the best games I have seen,” said Melton. “Kaiden Rice came in to pitch and got the save.”

The win was a feel good moment for the players, as Arcola improved to 1-5. 

“They were really excited to get the win,” said Melton. “They were thanking us so much for playing. The first game was rough. I think if we just hold our opponents down we are not a bad hitting team. If we can get the bats going we could get the third seed for the league tournament. Mattoon was the No. 9 seed and made it to the regional championship. Anything can happen. I can see us getting the third seed once we find our groove.”

Meton believes the chemistry of the Mattoon players will help the team.

“We have been on the same middle school and high school teams,” said Melton. “The chemistry is there. If we can build chemistry with the rest of the team that will go far. I know enough people from Mattoon and a lot of guys are playing their last year for American Legion Post 88 and I hope I can get some of them to play next year. It is a different atmosphere and I enjoy it a lot.”

One of the catchers is Jeremy Smith, 39 years old.

“He said he has played for just about all teams in the league,” said Melton who plans to play legion and in the league next summer. 

Paxton 10, Arcola 0

In the first game Arcola dodged a bullet in the first inning as the Swedes only had one run despite having the bases loaded with no outs on two walks and a hit batsmen. Arcola turned a 5-3 double play and the Riders starting pitcher struck out the next batter. 

Jarboe walked two and struck out eight in the victory as he faced 25 batters. 

Offensively for the Swedes Ecker had a sensational day going 4-for-4 with five runs batted in, two doubles and a triple. Norman had two of the five stolen bases for Paxton, who is 2-4.

The rest of the regular season schedule has Arcola playing host to the Buckley Dutch Masters on June 26, an off week due to July 4, and on July 10 the Riders are at Paxton. On July 17 Arcola travels  to the new St. Joseph’s Meijer Field before playing host to the Buckley Dutch Masters on July 24. July 31 Arcola is at Paxton to close out the regular season before the league tournament starts August 7. 

Members of the team are Aldo Marquis, Jason Castro, David Cerrano, Trevor Frohling, Ramiro Gonzalez, Lupe Leal, Chandler Melton, Juan Rameriz, Nate Reed, Kaiden Rice, Ramiro Rodriquez-Limon, Luc Servandi, Jeremy Smith, Efrian Trejo, Owen Trybom, Jorge Vasquez, Jose Vasquez jr., Jose Vasquez srHunter Weeks, Zach Wetzel, and Darian Woods. 

Eastern Illinois League

Shelby Himes, Jack Waldron, and Dock Leedy started the Champaign County League in 1933.  Prior to the start of the 1936 season, the name was changed to the East Central Illinois League.  Teams for that season were: Leverett, Royal, Flatville, Buckley, Sadorus, Thomasboro, Seymour, Chanute Field, 106th Calvary of Urbana, and Rankin. It later became the Eastern Illinois Baseball League and In 2015 there were eight teams, including three of those original teams, Buckley, Royal and Flatville (now Gifford-Flatville). Buckley has been in the league every year since its inception.

The league has included players that are in college as well as those who finished their college careers as well as several players that went on to play in the Major Leagues such as Jason Anderson and Kyle Hudson.