The Region's Team Of Northwest Indiana


Pat Hughes, Curtis Granderson, former MCL player Corey Ray among honorees at Pitch & Hit Club Banquet

02/01/2016 1:17 PM -

Tinley Park, Ill. – February 1, 2016 – Maybe it was the unseasonably warm temperatures.

Maybe it was Cubs radio play-by-play voice Pat Hughes providing an imaginary introduction to a midsummer broadcast of a game between the Cubs and White Sox. Maybe it was New York Mets outfielder Curtis Granderson talking about the greatness of Chicago as a baseball city.

Whatever the exact reason, attendees exited the Tinley Park Convention Center after Sunday’s 70th Annual Pitch & Hit Club Banquet longing for the start of baseball season. Now, the countdown is on: 17 days until pitchers and catchers report, 61 days until Major League Baseball begins and 115 days until the Oilmen Opening Day in Bloomington against the Bobcats.

Each year, the banquet celebrates the top baseball talent from the Chicagoland area. Hughes was this year’s Pitch & Hit Club Hall of Fame inductee after providing the soundtrack to the Cubs’ dramatic National League Division Series win over the rival Cardinals. 

“I was thinking when the Cubs established that exhilarating win against the Cardinals in the postseason, that was fun and that was the ultimate,” Hughes said. “For the Cubs to beat St. Louis in a postseason series, it was unbelievable. The only thing that could top that in terms of drama, excitement and exhilaration would be a Cubs/White Sox World Series. I hope it happens; I really do.”

The theme of the White Sox vs. Cubs rivalry being among baseball’s finest was echoed by Chicagoland native Curtis Granderson, who is on the New York Mets team that ousted the Cubs from the 2015 postseason. Granderson has played on both sides of the Yankees/Mets rivalry, but he said no city showdown compares to North Side vs. South Side.

“The city is absolutely amazing when Chicago teams are successful,” Granderson said. “I play for the New York Mets, but I brag that I’m from Chicago. This is exactly where I’m from and this is what helped me get to where I am today.”

UIC connection
Two of this year’s honorees – Granderson and Cubs hitting coach John Mallee, played at the University of Illinois-Chicago. UIC is the home of 2016 Oilman outfielder Chris Baker, and also produced former Southland Viking Jeff Boehm, who is among the top players in MCL history.

Granderson, who donated $5 million to help build a new baseball stadium at his alma mater, established the Grand Kids Foundation in 2008 while playing for the Detroit Tigers.

“We’ve been able to do some amazing things, helping with education, childhood obesity and baseball,” he said. “We’re slowly growing; we’re steadily getting bigger. We’re trying to spread out and impact as many kids as possible.”

Granderson, who was recognized as the Major League Player of the Year at the banquet, fondly recalled the experience of playing collegiate summer baseball.

“What stood out the most was getting to play with talent from across the country,” he said. “Players from big schools and small schools, guys you had heard about but didn’t get a chance to play against. Now you get a chance to play against them and measure up. It helps build your confidence and get you ready for the next college season.

Mallee played shortstop for the Flames during the 1990 and 1991 seasons after starting his collegiate career at Chicago State. He has coached professional baseball for 21 years and is entering his fifth season as a major league hitting coach. Mallee was recognized as the Major League Coach of the Year.

Mallee has ties to Northwest Indiana and lives in Schererville.

“I hit .210 in the minor leagues, and now I’m a major league hitting coach,” Mallee said with a laugh. “Go figure.”

Ray recognized
Corey Ray, one the best players to come through the Midwest Collegiate League, was named the Pitch & Hit Club’s College Player of the Year.

Ray, who batted .328 in 17 games with the Southland Vikings in 2013, was drafted by Seattle in the 33rd round of the 2013 draft, but elected to attend Louisville instead.

Ray burst onto the college scene as a freshman in 2014, batting .325 and moving into the starting lineup in the final week of the regular season. He followed by earning All-American honors after hitting .325 with 11 home runs and 56 RBIs as a sophomore a year ago.

Last summer, Ray played for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team and hit .355 to rank second on the team. Entering his junior campaign, Ray has been named a Preseason All-American by
Ray was in Louisville and unable to attend the banquet, so his father, also Corey Ray, spoke in his stead.

“My father always preached to me to enjoy the ride and always have fun playing,” Ray wrote in the speech read by his father. “That’s something I try to do each and every day. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to play for one team at a great university, and the greatest blessing to me is representing the greatest city in the world with this award. The fact that my dad and my grandpa, the two most important people in my life, get to accept the award for me makes it that much more special.”

Hughes’ advice simple but sound
In his 34 years as a major league baseball broadcaster, Pat Hughes has seen many successful players go about their business. He said the secret ingredient to baseball success is simple: hard work. 

“Take as many swings in batting practice, as many fly balls and as many groundballs as you can,” Hughes said. “If you’re a pitcher, throw as many pitches as you can. It’s one thing to achieve a certain level, but the idea is that if you get to college baseball, you want to exceed and excel so that you can be drafted into pro ball. Once you get to pro ball, you try to get to the big leagues. It’s one thing to get to the big leagues, staying there is a whole different thing. It’s all about work.”

That same approach has allowed Hughes to remain a fixture in the competitive world of sports broadcasting.

“I still prepare; I don’t take any game lightly,” he said. “I still focus as much as I can on every single play of a game. I know I’m going to make mistakes, but I try to keep them down to a minimum.”

Former Snipe wins award
The Minor League Player of the Year award winner also has a connection to the Midwest Collegiate League. Eric Aguilera, who played for the Lexington Snipes in 2010, is coming off a stellar season in the Angels’ organization. He hit .392 for Class-A Inland Empire to earn a late-season promotion to Double-A Arkansas.