The leader of one of the most successful runs in the history of the Midwest Collegiate League enters his first season in charge of the Northwest Indiana Oilmen in 2020.
After guiding the Southland Vikings to tremendous success from 2011-2014, Chris Cunningham has been hired as the manager of the Northwest Indiana Oilmen. The final two seasons of Cunningham’s tenure with Southland saw the team win back-to-back MCL championships, a feat that has not been replicated since. His 2014 club posted a .692 winning percentage and a record of 27-12, earning the regular season title to go along with the eventual league championship.
“Chris managed the Southland Vikings to great success during his time in the league, so he is well aware of what it takes to win in the MCL,” Oilmen Owner Don Popravak said. “He also brings a significant amount of professional experience to the position. Chris is a players’ manager who has the ability to teach the game at a high level. I can’t wait to see the positive impact he makes on our organization while managing the team.”
The 2014 Vikings were one of the most powerful teams in MCL history, slugging 32 home runs and scoring 286 runs in a 41-game season. They hit for a team batting average of .332 that season. Cunningham’s first MCL title came in 2013, when the Vikings swept the Oilmen in the league championship series. Now, he’ll return to Oil City Stadium, this time set to occupy the top post in the home dugout for one of the league’s premier franchises.
“I’m extremely excited about the chance to manage the Oilmen,” Cunningham said. “The Oilmen have always had a strong tradition, and I’m thrilled to experience that while managing for the team instead of for a league rival. Oil City Stadium is such a good place to play and a great atmosphere. Northwest Indiana is a good area with quality baseball fans that enjoy and appreciate the game. It’s always been a great place to play with a good fan base that loves good baseball.”
Cunningham played four seasons of professional baseball in the Tampa Bay Devil Rays organization from 2004-2007. He reached as high as Class-A Advanced, playing for Vero Beach in the Florida State League in 2007. He played in 252 minor league games over his four seasons.
“Having played professional baseball, I understand the grind of what it takes to be successful in this sport,” Cunningham said. “Minor league baseball is a full 142 games over 150 days. You have to take care of your body and stay mentally strong. It’s a hard game. You have to always be prepared and when your opportunities come, you have to make the most of those.”
Cunningham served as an assistant coach at South Suburban College from 2009-2016 and last year joined the staff at Homewood-Flossmoor High School. He was a First Team All-American as a player at South Sub during the 2003-04 season, batting .506 on his way to being named the 2003 Midwest Top Hitter by Rawlings. He followed that up by earning Second Team All-American status in 2004.
“I’m an aggressive manager,” Cunningham said. “I’m definitely a guy who expects you to play hard and respect the game. I want players to be themselves. In the summer, you have to see what the team can do and try to manage around that. My Vikings teams were strong hitting teams and not the fastest, so we didn’t steal as many bases. You have to read the players and see how they jell together and adapt your style accordingly.”