Heartland League (1998)
Frontier League (1999-2003)
Born: 1998 – The Will County Cheetahs relocate to Crestwood, IL
Re-Branded: 2004 (Windy City Thunderbolts)
- 1998: Howie Minas Field
- 1999-2003: Hawkinson Ford Field
Owners: David Arch et al.
The Cook County Cheetahs were a low-level independent pro baseball team in Crestwood, Illinois, a south suburb of Chicago. The team’s origins trace back to the Will County (IL) Claws (1995) of the obscure North Central League, who were later renamed the Will County Cheetahs (1996-1997).
In 1998 the Cheetahs, now playing in the shaky Heartland League, were lured from Romeoville, Illinois to Crestwood with the promise of a new $3.7 million, 2,500-seat baseball stadium. The team adopted the Cook County Cheetahs name with the move, but construction on Hawkinson Ford Field was not complete in time for the season, so the Cheetahs played the 1998 season at a temporary facility, Howie Minas Field, in Midlothian. That summer the Cheetahs won the last championship of the Heartland League, which barely managed to complete the season and folded soon afterwards.
In 1999 the Cheetahs joined the Frontier League, a much more stable and reputable Midwest-based independent league that began play in 1993. Hawkinson Ford Field opened and the Cheetahs hit an attendance peak of 86,248 fans for the 1999 season.
Attendance dwindled in subsequent seasons. Crestwood mayor Chester Stranczek, a former minor league baseball player from the 1950’s and an early champion of building Hawkinson Ford Field, began to publicly criticize the management of Cheetahs’ owner David Arch. During the summer of 2003, Stranczek announced that he would not renew the team’s lease when it expired following the 2004 season. In September of that year, Arch sold the Cheetahs for a reported $700,000 to a group led by former State Senator Patrick O’Malley. O’Malley had been another early proponent of building Hawkinson Ford Field and helped secure state funding for the project in the late 1990’s.
The new ownership group re-branded the team as the Windy City Thunderbolts prior to the 2004 season, bringing the Cheetahs era to an end. The Thunderbolts continue to play in Crestwood today.
Undrafted Australian pitcher Chris Oxspring (14 appearances, 2000) was the only Cook County Cheetah to go on to play in the Major Leagues. He appeared in 5 games for the San Diego Padres in 2005.