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Published On: January 21st, 2015

A Look at Chinooks in the Minor Leagues

Mike Hollenbeck  – Chicago White Sox – AZL White Sox (Rookie)

Hollenbeck, John & Linda Walters

Hollenbeck with his Lakeshore Host Family, John & Linda Walter

Drafted in the 14th round by the Boston Red Sox out of Joliet Township High School (IL), Mike Hollenbeck chose to pursue a college career and education at Illinois State and hopefully improve upon his draft standing. But after becoming draft-eligible again in his junior year, a down year for Mike on the field, the catcher with a cannon for an arm was overlooked. Hollenbeck stoked the fires, though, and headed to the Lakeshore Chinooks on a late temporary contract for what turned out to be a memorable and potentially career-saving summer!

When neither of the full contract catchers signed by the Chinooks was able to fulfill his playing obligation, Hollenbeck embraced the roster spot and took charge of the pitching staff. At the same time, Mike turned around his performance at the plate by posting a .314 batting average and garnered respect from the league as he was selected to play in the Northwoods League All-Star Game. By the end of the summer, the former temporary player with no draft prospects was named the Chinooks team MVP and became a fan favorite with an enthusiastic style of play.  John Walter, Hollenbeck’s host dad for the summer, recalls, “Mike had a funny and somewhat dry sense of humor that would make your stomach hurt from laughing so much. We truly enjoyed having Mike stay with us and we know that he will go a long way in baseball.”

With a loyal support group from Lakeshore, including Walter and his wife, Linda, Hollenbeck returned to Illinois State as a man on a mission. “Mike’s dedication to the game, his workout schedule and his commitment to get to the next level is what he lived for,” says Walter. Hollenbeck took his hot hitting back to Normal, where he would go on to hit .338 with 41 RBI and a .458 slugging percentage.  Through regular at-bats with the Chinooks, Hollenbeck had changed his approach.  “My senior year I started being more selective at the plate and I learned to take a couple of pitches. I’m more of a gap-to-gap hitter and I plan to stick with that.”  And that’s what the Chicago White Sox want for Mike as well. Chicago made Hollenbeck’s life-long dream come true as his favorite team selected him in the 23rd round and immediately sent him to Arizona to play for the White Sox Rookie League team. Hollenbeck spent the summer adjusting to professional pitchers, both as a receiver and as a hitter. He’ll need to find that patience again as he hit .227 in 24 games with an on-base percentage of .363.

After getting his feet wet, Mike knows that the offseason will go a long way in determining his fate. He has returned to the Illinois State campus where he is working out with fellow Chinooks player Eric Aguilera, who is also a Redbird alum and currently playing in the Angels’ minor league system. “I need to have a great spring training so I’m doing whatever it takes to make that happen,” says Hollenbeck. And as he does that, Mike has fond memories of his run with the Chinooks, including the camaraderie with his Lakeshore teammates. Hollenbeck recalls, “I’m proud to have played in the longest game in Northwoods’ history and I still laugh when I think of Kyle Bouman (Lakeshore 2013) jumping in and running with the kids in the minnow race.” Hollenbeck made the most of his summer at Lakeshore and was a frequent visitor in 2014. As he pursues his dream in the White Sox organization, he knows he has the support of the entire Lakeshore community.