Sports News

Fan Fest Headlined by Tim Byrdak and Wallace Johnson

GARY, IN. – The first player to advance to the majors after playing for the Gary SouthShore RailCats, New York Mets reliever Tim Byrdak will join Gary Roosevelt High School graduate and former major leaguer Wallace Johnson as the featured guests at the third-annual Fan Fest on February 5 at the Radisson Hotel in Merrillville.

Fan Fest 2011 will begin at 10 a.m. on Saturday, February 5 at the Radisson Hotel at Star Plaza in Merrillville, Ind. Discount pre-sale tickets are on sale now at www.railcatsbaseball.com or by calling the RailCats ticket office at 219.882.2255. Ticket prices will go up on the day of the event so be sure to take advantage of $15 tickets for adults and $10 tickets for 2011 season ticket holders and kids (age 12 and under).

Your ticket not only includes a pass to minor league baseball’s premier fan event, but also a ticket to Opening Night of the RailCats first season as members of the American Association on Friday, May 20. But that’s not all as the first 1,000 fans through the doors will receive a Fan Fest poster and program, and the first 500 adults and first 300 kids will each receive a free t-shirt.

Byrdak, 37, made his major league debut in 1998 at the age of 24 and is now a veteran of 690 career games in the professional ranks, including 343 games in the majors with four different teams. Thus far in his major league career, Byrdak has earned a record of 9-10, a 4.36 career ERA over 266.0 big league innings and amassed 242 strikeouts against only 164 walks.

However, like many pitchers before him, Byrdak’s path to a successful big league career was slowed by injuries.  In 2001, he was forced to undergo “Tommy John” surgery, a reconstruction of his left elbow that involved a ligament transplant.  He pitched in just four games that season and only 11 more the next year, all in the Cleveland Indians organization. By 2003, he was in the Northern League, pitching at U. S. Steel Yard where he started 10 games for the RailCats. Following the 2003 season, his contract was sold to the San Diego Padres and after a spring training stint with that club, he was signed by the Orioles and had a solid year with their Triple-A club in 2004 leading to a call-up in 2005.

Like a fine wine, Byrdak has only gotten better with age posting some of the best numbers of his career in the last four years while well into his mid-thirties. After a strong finish to 2007 in Detroit, where he posted a 3.20 ERA in 39 major league games, the Oak Lawn, Ill. native signed with the Houston Astros and excelled posting sub 3.50 ERAs each of the last two seasons. In January 2011, Byrdak signed with the Mets looking to bolster their bullpen.

Gary Roosevelt High School graduate Wallace Johnson has been prominent part of baseball in Northwest Indiana for more than 30 years, including making his second consecutive trip to RailCats Fan Fest this year. After being drafted by the Montreal Expos in 1979 out of Indiana State University, Johnson enjoyed a 10-year major league career that saw the master pinch hitter bat .255 in 428 big league games.

After Johnson’s playing career ended he moved into the coaching ranks in the Atlanta Braves minor league system.  In 1998, Johnson joined Jerry Manuel’s White Sox staff as Third Base Coach and remained in that position through the 2002 season.  Johnson still lives in The Region where he runs the Northshore Amateur Sports Academy in Gary and is heavily involved with youth programs.  For more information, visit www.northshoresportsacademy.org.

Byrdak and Johnson will headline an exciting group of guests at the 2011 Fan Fest. So far, the RailCats list of guests includes two-time Northern League Manager of the Year Greg Tagert, hitting coach Mick Curran and former hitting coach Kenny Graham. In addition, the RailCats will unveil their Tenth Anniversary Team at the 2011 Fan Fest and will have the following finalists in attendance at the Radisson: Eric Blakeley, Tony Cogan, Willie Glen, Travis Kerber, Mike Rohde, Dan Soria and Tanner Townsend.

The Radisson Hotel is located at the intersection of I-65 and US-30 in Merrillville and is adjacent to the Star Plaza Theater, The Region’s foremost indoor entertainment venue.  For more information on the Radisson Hotel at Star Plaza, visit www.radisson.com/merrillvillein.