Pete Vonachen, the guiding spirit behind the Peoria Chiefs (Low Class A; Midwest League) since 1983, passed away yesterday at the age of 87.
Vonachen was already an important member of the Peoria community when he bought the then-Peoria Suns in 1983; he was a high-profile restaurateur and entrepreneur with several businesses to his name. With his Chicago Cubs connections, Vonachen engineered a PDC with the team in 1985 and led a rebranding of the franchise as the Peoria Chiefs. The moves were instant successes, with the team setting a league attendance record in 1985 — a record that would be broken again in 1988 and 1989.
After selling and then buying the team again, Vonachen engineered another major event with the opening of O’Brien Field in 2002. The ballpark is now known as Dozer Park after naming rights were sold to Caterpillar.
It’s been a rough past few years for Vonachen: his health has been bad, and the team experienced financial setbacks, with debt restructured and the city forgiving payments on the ballpark, which was largely built with private financing. And the Chiefs lost their player-development deal with the Cubs before the start of this season — a move that surely saddened one of the biggest Cubs fans on the planet. Still, Vonachen’s accomplishments should be celebrated: he had an enormous passion for the game and went to extremes to please Peoria baseball fans. And the team will remain in the family, with Rocky Vonachen still president of the franchise.
As you might expect, the Peoria Journal-Star is memorializing Vonachen with a series of articles:
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